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Gardening for All Five Senses

Melinda Myers

Amid the lively chaos at the Wisconsin State Fair lies a little oasis with cooler temperatures and greener horizons.

The We Energies Energy Park offers daily talks (9:45 AM and 2 PM) by gardening expert and Lake Effect contributor Melinda Myers providing perfect solutions to energy and landscape problems. This year's talks are themed around how to “Follow Your Five Senses to Energy Savings and a Beautiful Landscape."

Myers says you can easily engage all of the senses, as opposed to simply concentrating on what's eye-pleasing. 

"It's a new way to experience the garden," she says. "I think we often rush through life, and, 'Oh, that's pretty!' And you go to the next garden area, but if it's something that brushes against your leg or you touch the soft Lamb's Ear - it really is a different way to experience the landscape."

Here are some easy ways Myers suggests you can bring senses other than sight into the garden:

Though we might take time to stop and smell the flowers in our gardens, Myers says we don't always plan it into the landscape. So she shows us how to easily include fragrant Bloomerang reblooming lilacs, scented geraniums, nicotiana, and heliotrope that attract hummingbirds and butterflies while giving off a vanilla licorice aroma.

Flowers aren't exactly a noisy bunch, but Myers says rustling grasses can be a beautiful sound to enjoy your garden by. Wind chimes in the breeze, nectar plants that attract buzzing bees, and water features can also help block out unwanted sounds, while adding a pleasant aural environment.

On a hot summer day, take it outside to the garden. Myers says plants reduce the air temperature. At State Fair, she says Energy Park is as much as 15 degrees cooler than surrounding areas, because of the plants.

Myers, who has worked with gardeners with limited vision, also suggests planting soft and fuzzy Lamb's Ear, prickly cactus, artemesia,or buttered popcorn plants for touchable beauty.

"Touch is something we don't think of, but the texture when we look at it, when you start touching it you can feel that difference," she says.

Myers says you can't eat just any flower, but you can add edible flowers like calendula, orange or yellow pot marigold (which once was used to season stews and soups), and herbs. You can also mix tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and even raspberry shortcake plants in with ornamentals; Myers says you don't need a huge lot to incorporate fruits or vegetables.

Myers also hopes to inspire Wisconsinites to construct beautiful, functional gardens that can save and conserve energy. A garden that produces fruits and veggies reduces the energy spent transporting food from the farm to your fridge. Strategically placing plants can greatly reduce the energy costs of cooling a home. Rain barrels and rain gardens can capture and utilize water that would otherwise run to the sewers.

Myers says any little thing we can do as individuals to improve our backyards, our neighborhood and our community carries “a huge impact."

The award-winning Myers has written numerous books on gardening, leads regular walks at Boerner Botanical Gardens, and has a new series of DVDs on gardening, called "How to Grow Anything."

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine.