The Acoustic Garden

Design Tips | The Plants | The Accessories

Now is the time to create a wind garden, one filled with the sounds of insects and birds, grasses ruffling in a breeze and chimes that play with the wind. In this almost Zen-like spot you can hear nature with a nuanced overlay of what you?ve chosen to add. You do this without speakers set in fake stones. Music is not to be taken out of doors?ever.

In Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum has a roof top garden that will let you look at an acoustic garden (designed by Plant Architect with Terry McGlade Green Roof Consultant). Swaying trees and Equisetum spp (horsetail), cables to support birds and plants that change with the season are all good fundamentals. Even better, the idea that the wind can be made visible with only a few elements added is one we should add to our own gardens.

Design Tips

First of all work out what you want to mask out with your own acoustics:? a road, public transportation or street noises. Then look at the layout of your garden and figure out what makes the most rustling sounds.? Move those particular plants close to seating areas or windows.

It?s important to figure out where the prevailing winds come from (usually from the north west but double check this). Put your wind chimes, grasses and bamboos in the path of the wind if you want to hear them all the time.

Keep them in sheltered spots if you only want to hear them occasionally. This is especially true for wind chimes. They can drive you nuts.

The Plants

One of the most glorious trees to show off the wind is a katsura (Cercidiphyllum spp.) And the other is the Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) in southern Ontario. They both have the kind of leaves that move in the lightest of breezes.

Bamboos are the hottest plants of the year. They look great and rustle without a wind. They are tough and do well in both containers and in the ground. Look for clumpers such as Fargesii nitida.? Spreaders such as Phyllostachys spp and Pleibolastus spp must be planted in big rubber tubs with bottom cut out.

In a sunny spot try Salix purpurea ?Nana? a dwarf arctic willow which is both drought tolerant and has great silver foliage, grows to 1.5M.

Ornamental grasses with a big feather ?bloom? at the top guarantee the best sound from now through to the end of winter.? Here are some suggested by bluestemnursery.ca:

  • Calamagrostis acutifolia ?Overdam? and C. ?Avalanche?,? 130cm
  • Schizachyrium scoparium looks great when undulating in the wind grows 100cm.
  • For those living on the seashore: Stipa tenuissima which has long very fine leaves and moves like ocean waves.

My favourites are:

  • Miscanthus sinensis ?Huron Sunrise?? 1.2M
  • Panicum virgatum ?Heavy Metal?? 1M
  • Andropogon gerardii (Big bluestem) as native that grows to 1.8M+
  • Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium spp attracts bees (native), butterflies and moths by the dozen.? It comes in small (?Gateway?) to gigantic? E. caerulean which can grow to 3M.

The Accessories

THE WATERFALL:
You can get them cheap and you can get them expensive. A wonderful stone with a hole in the middle, re-circulating pump and a container can be had for $500.

Build yourself a shelf of rocks for water to run over and you?ve got a waterfall.

Fill the container with river rock as an added bonus.

BIRD BATHS:
Water will draw in birds and insects but you?ve got to refresh it on a daily basis.

SOUND BITES:
The Japanese always have the right moment in a garden:

  • Stone water basin with a T-bar fountain. The circulating pump raises the water, it flowers through the bamboo bar with a little ?plonk? scaring animals away (theoretically).
  • Rain chains are hot right now and the loveliest are made of copper that verdigris over time. It?s a good way to direct the rain off the roof and into the garden to do some good.
  • Temple bells: experiment to get the right tone. You don?t want to terrify neighbours but just the occasion deep ?pong? is always restful.