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Garden is alive with a feast for all the senses

The North Northumberland Branch of the Autistic Society's Garden at Howick Hall. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
The North Northumberland Branch of the Autistic Society's Garden at Howick Hall. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

The creation of a sensory garden in the grounds of Howick Hall by the North Northumberland Branch of the National Autistic Society is to be applauded.

It’s aim is to provide a stimulating environment for all ages with autism and other disabilities.

As I explored the garden after its official opening on the most glorious of sunny days, various thoughts sprang to mind – heavenly choice of site, safe environment, great design, all Howick visitors will benefit from its presence.

It is an illustration of what can be achieved when several parties work together for a worthy cause. Well done Lord Howick in generously encouraging the venture, and full marks to the National Garden Scheme for funding it.

The way plants appeal to our various senses is such an enjoyable aspect of gardening, and one that knows no crop boundaries.

If we associated vegetables with taste alone, what a boring plot it would be. The remaining four senses can be so easily stimulated by planting appropriate edible treats. It follows that colourful, fragrant, ornamental borders can also provide items for the kitchen table.

Purple-podded peas, yellow courgettes, red lettuce and runner beans with red and white flowers are but some of the possibilities for colour amongst the vegetables. Chives offers striking blooms and that unmistakable allium fragrance.

Texture is ever present, from smooth-skinned marrows to coarse-leaved corn on the cob.

And even an occasional mistake can end on a positive note. Seeing a mini sweet corn in the catalogue, I decided to try it, assuming the plants would also be dwarf. It produced masses of tiny cobs, but the corn grew 2m-tall and needed supports. However, the sound when wind rustled gently through the leaves, added another dimension to the garden.

There has always been an element of fascination and urge to interact in a tactile way with plants that catch our attention. When admiring those in our own gardens, how often do we feel the need to touch, smell and engage in close visual contact? Some have a surprise in store.

The Eglantine rose is a sweet briar with single pink blooms. It can be raised from hardwood stem cuttings. Rub a young leaf between finger and thumb to release the fragrance of ripe apples, but be wary of the thorns as you do it. Try this with borage leaves to discover a cucumber scent.

To fully appreciate Cosmos atrosanguineus flowers, close the eyes before you sniff, and be rewarded by a rich, dark chocolate fragrance.

After a difficult winter and late growth, it’s natural to celebrate the return of the fragrances that ooze throughout the garden. A spot in the border has a dwarf lilac, three David Austin roses, choisya and variegated lemon balm

(Melissa officinalis Aurea). The roses are Just Joey, Chandos Beauty and Olivia Austin.