As I walk through the garden in winter, I hear a breeze coming before I feel it brush my face. The pin oak, still in its infancy at a mere 20 years old, holds its leaves through the winter. It is brown and nondescript until the wind blows, and then a wonderful sound occurs. Looking up, I see the leaves shimmering like a hula skirt, giving me a sense I should shimmy a bit myself. As I listen, all around me the garden has become a symphony of sounds.
Sound in the garden is often overlooked as a garden design element. I’m not talking about boombox sound, although there is a time and place for music in the garden. I’m talking about the sound of nature. The leaves, birds, bees, bugs, bats, and even man-made ornaments bring life to a silent spot. Frogs croaking, insect wings vibrating, cicadas buzzing—these sounds can conjure up memories and instill curiosity. Billowing grasses bend in the wind, causing a quaking between their blades. Seeds rattle in the rustle of wind, giving you the pleasure of hearing their call, a dinner bell for seed-eating songbirds.
Complete silence in nature is a fearful thing—we think of it as a harbinger of storms and tornados. Perhaps the crickets can be deafening during the summer when the windows are open and you are trying to sleep. But not hearing any sound at all, in reality, is much worse. Happy are the sounds of nature.
Water provides one of my favorite garden sounds. Whether it’s a recirculating fountain muting the ambient noise of nearby traffic or a pond fully stocked with fish creating sounds with their splashes, calling you over to investigate—the sound of moving water is at the same time peaceful and full of life.
Water will also invite wildlife and its noises to your garden. A water feature will attract amphibians, which need water for part of their life cycle and protection. You will delight in the sounds of frogs and toads silencing their croaking and taking a dive as you approach on your evening walk around the garden. They not only provide you with sound pleasure, they diminish the sound of the approaching mosquito that is about to become some frog’s nighttime nosh.
A garden abuzz with bugs and insects adds yet another layer in the garden symphony. Try attracting pollinators for reasons beyond pollination, for the pure pleasure of the sounds they bring, such as the sound of busy bees working the flowers in the beds out back.
Wildlife brings so much more than sound to the garden. Animal and insect interaction in the garden is part of what keeps your garden in nature’s balance. Many birds in the garden will feed on insects and reward you with song. Attracting birds is easy to do and part of the fun of building a garden. Include plants for food and protection, as well as to provide nesting material. The more sustainable the garden, the more likely birds that don’t migrate will call your garden home year-round. A simple water source, such as a birdbath, will provide the birds a necessity and bring you joy as you watch and hear the the birds coming close for a sip or a dip.
One of my favorite sounds in the garden is one I hear when I travel down the gravel path on the south side of my house. I hear the birds take flight from my approaching footsteps crunching on the gravel path. The sound of the birds taking flight never ceases to heighten my senses. As the birds depart, a smile always forms on my lips.
Though not a part of nature, chimes can be charming as the wind sways their wands. The size of the chime and the material they are made of affects the sound. Large metal chimes cause deep melodic sounds, while tiny treasures will sound like a chuckwagon dinner bell used in music lessons to count beats. Bamboo provides a muted sound, while shells cause a clatter. It’s a personal preference—in all cases, the chimes will alert the gardener, even inside the house, to changes in the wind outside.
We people add sound as we journey through the garden too, whether crunching on gravel or brushing against languid plantings that soften the edges along the paths. When we walk the garden, we contribute to the life of the garden.
For better or worse, if I’m reading on a Saturday afternoon in a comfortable location, listening to the kids play outside, I will slip into the nap position. I don’t have the luxury to plan a nap, but when the melodic sounds of kids playing in the garden last for too long, I’m soothed to sleep.
Sound in the garden is one of my greatest joys. Whether it’s from the birds chirping, bees buzzing, children keeping score, or just the sounds the wind brings, sound comforts me. And when many sounds blend together, chaos becomes calm, resting the soul.