Sound in the Garden

by Krys Klassen is an enthusiastic amateur balcony gardener with twenty years on a southwest facing seventh floor balcony.

We talk about scented gardens, and edible gardens, and texture in gardens but who mentions sound in the garden? I’m not talking Japanese temple bells or wind chimes or piped in music or even trickling water, but the woodwinds in rustling grasses, the xylophone in fluttering leaves and the tambourine of seed heads. On a wind blasted balcony over a siren-soaked street, the sounds of the horticultural orchestra are an incalculable, but frequently unexplored, pleasure.

soundOh, you can add a few bird songs and the pleasant drone of benign insects if you must, but the sound effects of the seemingly inarticulate leaves, stems and seedpods are quite enough to be going on with.

I first noticed this rich panoply of sound at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton where, on a hot August afternoon, the breeze in a six-foot stand of a grass nearly made me swoon with pleasure.

You’ll notice my language is getting florid. That is one of the inherent benefits, or dangers, of exploring the sensual side of gardening.

Why is sound in the garden neglected? We are a visual society. Visual effects are stunning and captured easily and often in photographs. But they are, at least partly, a cool and slightly removed experience. The other senses are somewhat harder to satisfy at a distance. Potpourri is a credible attempt at capturing the scent of the garden, and summer meals, with fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flower components, give us its tastes and a few textures a step or two away from the garden site. The feel of dewy roses on your face, and the sound (that I’ve only read about) of their long thorns clicking in the breeze, are seldom, if ever, recorded and transported, except in memory.

That six-foot grass was never likely to make it onto my seventh floor balcony but, if it had, I hoped it would have drowned out the constant swish of traffic that I try to mentally transform into the sound of waves. I can still recall the rushing sound of the wind in that grass, as of a waterfall or mountain stream.

The sound of exploding pea shrub pods bouncing seeds (or peas) off the neighbour’s air conditioner is musical in a minor key and tickles my funny bone. Evening primroses make an actual pop when they open in the evening. (Again, I’ve only read about it.)

In the breeze at sunset, the fluttering leaves of the native clematis trellised against the wall are like soft wings or the lyrical whisper of a flute.

Even wintry blasts are moderated by the cheery castanets of perilla seed pods, bringing a southern intimation to the bleak Canadian winter scene.

I’ll close with a credit to the wind in this celebration of sound in the garden:

“What mighty battles I have seen and heard waged between the trees and the west wind – an Iliad fought in the fields of the air” Edith M. Thomas