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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Nov 02


Posted on November 2, 2018 at 11:24 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

leaf and polenta
Top: Beauty of a leaf at Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Bottom: Polenta and pots (photo by Randy Yochum).

Although we use our five senses daily—touch, sight, smell, taste and sound—we generally don’t think too much about them. 

You might be thinking this is an odd topic to discuss in a water conservation blog. But is it? Our gardens require us to use all of our senses when we are walking about or working within them. It is difficult to resist reaching out to touch the soft fibrous hairs of Stachys byzantina, or lamb’s ear, as you walk by this wonderful water-conserving plant. It can also be a painful touch if a cactus brushes against your body, not to mention the prick of thorns while pruning our favorite rose bush.

The beauty of a leaf structure or the overall effect of a well-designed garden will please the sense of sight. Perhaps our eyes may pause at the intensity of color in a flower. That same flower may stimulate our sense of smell as we catch a whiff of fragrance. Sometimes the source of those fragrances can be hidden beneath the leaves or tucked under other plants.

The sense of taste is a particular challenge for this gardener, who cannot manage to pick the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes growing in the vegetable garden without devouring at least half the harvest. (Okay, to be honest, I don’t think any made it into the house this year.)

Our sense of hearing takes on a different twist. We can’t hear our gardens grow, but we can hear the squawking birds attempting to peck into the apples growing on our trees, or hear small pinecone pieces hit the ground as neighboring squirrels use them to ward off dogs from their bounties of stolen nuts. 

Our senses are used in all the above scenarios, plus many more too numerous to describe. Yet beyond experiencing our senses in the moment, there is something about the senses as they relate to our memories. A scent or taste or vision can transport us back in time. Past sensory experiences embed themselves, and later we find ourselves, in a nanosecond, carried back to our childhood or a special place long since gone.

This happened a few times while we were exploring the countryside in Europe. It was the fig tree heavily laden with fruit that began falling to the ground where we stayed at Lake Como. The smell of figs mentally brought me to my Noni and Nono’s garden in San Rafael so many years ago. It was the sweetness of smell and taste of the fruit that I had not experienced in such a long a time. 

And sitting at my cousin’s dining room table in Italy, I again experienced that déjà vu. That sense memory was triggered by tasting the kind of polenta my grandparents used to cook served with gorgonzola cheese and stew. As we dined, I savored the taste as well as the memory. It was if I had turned the clock back in time. The smell of the herbs permeated the air, just like the herbs always freshly picked from my grandparents’ garden. The copper pot containing the golden maize duplicated the utensils found on my grandmother’s stove. I could recall the cheese cloth spread out on a cutting board with a sprinkling of cornmeal atop prior to the polenta pot being turned upside down to form its own kind of cake. I viewed it all as though I were five years old once again.

We can all experience that kind of transportation in time if we stop and smell the roses during those special moments. It can come to us in the form of freshly cut lawns, first rainfalls, the earth as we dig into the richly prepared soils. Perhaps it can come to us in a song playing or in catching a glimpse of some past remembrance. 

As gardeners, we use our senses in so many ways. We are blessed with our passion for living the outdoor experience, which provides us with a treasure trove of memories stored for future, allowing us to have roses in December. 

Oh, and speaking of time—Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend. When adjusting your clocks, remember to dial back your irrigation timer, too.


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