Stepping-stones are a great addition to landscape design. They provide safety and a guide to a visitor as to where it is appropriate to walk. They also reduce environmental impact by providing a surface to walk without causing soil compaction. But a little known use for stepping-stones is to create a surface for a sensory experience in the garden.
A sensory experience is very important for any landscaper and garden visitor or general homeowner. Sensory experiences flood the memory so the old saying, “Walking down memory lane” is true.
To create a sensory experience with stepping-stones first analyze the 5 senses. Vision is an easy sensory experience to address. Colorful stepping-stones and/or textured rocks add a contrast to a green backdrop. Also colorful vegetation adds to what the eyes take in during a split second glance that most gardens receive. Hearing is another sense that is easily addressed by stepping-stones and their surrounding. Everyone has experienced the sound of walking onto a different surface or the sound of two surfaces rubbing together like mulch against stone. Also vegetation adds to this sensory journey by adding crushing, crashing, and scraping sounds as one walks along the path on stepping-stones.
Touch is slightly more complicated in design. Landscape should be touchable but sometimes there are things that one should not touch in the landscape. These can be poisonous plants, sharp edges, and delicate plant and stone material. Utilizing informal stepping-stones and providing steps along the path where one would be invited to stop and “feel the roses” can accomplish this in a safe manner.
The sensory information that smell brings to any experience can trigger memories, create a stress free, relaxing environment, and can work hand in hand or nose to mouth with taste. We all have walked into a kitchen that smelled like Grandma’s and triggered the memory of her delicious chocolate chip cookies. This sensory stimulation then causes the mouth to water and the craving for Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies.
This type of sensory stimulation is easy to mimic in the landscaping. Creating a path leading to a niche that contains a smell oasis and placing a bench or setting arrangement in this area will give any visitor a reason to stop and “smell the roses.” While in this niche, the visitor’s taste buds may be stimulated, so have plants safe for human consumption and make sure they are labeled. Examples of plants that create this type of safe, sensory stimulation are honeysuckle, herbs such as basil, lavender, and thyme.
To give an example how sensory stimulation works in the garden one only needs to get in there own yard. Listen to the environment and ask yourself are there areas of nuisance such as sounds of traffic, barking dogs, or loud talking neighbors. Feel the texture of the gardening space not only with your hands but also with your feet. Are there areas uneven or inviting due to wind direction or sun? Look around the garden and evaluate positive aspects of the garden and negative ones that need to be concealed. Examples of positives would be outlooks, certain plant specimens and/or unique features of that environment while negatives can be neighbors, and trash cans. Smelling one’s environment can provide additional information about what should be highlighted and improved upon. Compost bins, trashcans, and dog kennels may be areas that you do not want to lead one’s garden visitor to explore. Also analyzing if there are areas where visitors could be encouraged to stop and get a snack such as orchards or vegetable gardens.
Once the gardener has analyzed their gardening space deciding where the path will be located is important decision that needs to be made. What areas will be set aside for stops for contemplation and areas that maximize sensory stimulation. And whether the environment is going to be a formal or informal space. Formally designed environments do not encourage visitors to go beaten path and/ or give them permission to experience the touchable environment. Stepping-stones that create a formal feeling are usually very structure with sharp edges and sometimes ornate designs. Stepping-stones that create an informal feeling are ones that typically are handmade and mark milestones in family history such as births, deaths or are just created for fun while giving the garden a whimsical feel. This type of garden design invites visitors to explore off the beaten path while at the same time creating a general direction that one should follow.
Stepping-stones also craft a safe environment for the visitor to follow by creating a level surface to walk on and in some situations are embedded with LED lights or solar panels to help light the way.
So next time you look at your garden think about inviting your garden guest into your oasis by leading them down the garden path. Take them safely down memory lane and create niches by which one can stop and smell the roses. And if everything works out you will taste sweet success when your garden visitors have a memorable experience that brings them back every season for more.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.