Reach out and touch me

I have been talking recently about sensory aspects of gardening, with colour and form.  Today it is the turn of texture.  Specifically, flower texture.

Rosa ‘Royal Jubilee’. The softest silk.

When I was a child, I liked fluff.  I remember staying in a hotel one night and having an incredibly fluffy blanket.  I kept pulling off bits of wool all night and in the morning I had a great big fluffy ball.  I remember my family a little bemused as to why I would do this!

Didiscus ‘Blue Lace’. Lambswool.

We get more cautious about touching things as we get older.  We become more aware of the physical risks and social risks of poking and touching what is not ours.

Echinops ritro. Surprisingly spiky.

In my early-twenties I worked as a support worker.  Much of this involved personal care, and I developed an allergy to many household products, and especially the powder in the gloves designed to protect!  If I handled tomatoes or potatoes, my hands would become red raw and itchy.  I remember working nights once, and bathing my hands in cold water, crying, because it was so hard to resist the urge to scratch them until they bled.

Eryngium alpinum. Ticklish. Can be a little bit abrasive.

For several years afterwards I was afraid to touch things.

Astilbe ‘Vision in Red’. Feathery temptation.

I couldn’t mix any food ingredients with my hands.  Joining in with my children whilst they played with sand, cornflour paste, finger-painting, or popping bubbles came with the risk of a flare-up.  Touching animal fur was often painful.  It is surprising how not being able to touch things, squeeze things, mould things and stroke things restricts your playfulness!

Phlox paniculata ‘Europa’. Deliciously soft.

Gradually, my hands have calmed down.   They have learnt to trust the world again.  I wear gloves in the garden, but no longer have to wear cotton gloves at night or under my gardening gloves (even the seams on the inside of the gloves would set my hands off at one point!)  Occasionally I forget to put gloves on.  The insides of my fingers will tingle a bit when I hold a bunch of flower stems.  If I resist the urge to itch for 10 minutes then it calms down.  I can touch things freely with my finger tips, and I can let things brush past the backs of my hands.  Soft textures are fine.

Lychnis coronaria and Geranium psilostemon. Lychnis has the softest nap to its petals, and bunny-soft stems. This geranium is lovely to pass your hand through, with its cloud of flower.

There are no more tears at bedtime!

Borago officianalis. A little bit menacing.

I never take my sense of touch for granted.  Now that I can sweep my hands through swishy grass seed, I do.  I try to do it with my full awareness and appreciation.  I think having eczema has, weirdly, enhanced my enjoyment of touch.

Nigella damascena ‘Albion Green Pod’. Trying to fit as many textures as possible into one flower. And an upside down bee.

We don’t just enjoy texture with our sense of touch.  It involves our eyes and ears.  As adults, we can imagine what something feels like just by looking, because we have a bank of previous experiences.  Children don’t, which is probably why they do have to touch something in order to see it properly.  They want to experience the world in all its multi-sensory glory.

Dahlia ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Bronze and silk.

Children are naturally brilliant at looking closely, looking at things from a different angle.

Digitalis mertonensis. Delightfully frayed edges.

They incorporate their other senses beautifully, exploring movement and balance and how they feel against different parts of their bodies.  They waggle stems.   They take things apart.  They collect things.  They weave them together.

Dahlia and Gladioli. Silk and satin.

Children don’t have prior knowledge, so are more creative in their thinking.  I remember my daughter telling me that fingernails and teeth are made of plastic.   And the more you look, the more you see that natural materials resemble man-made materials.

Antirrhinum ‘Rust Resistant Mix’. A bald pate and a slightly hairy chin.

Flower textures often remind me of fabric textures: silk, satin, velvet, crepe.

Hemerocallis ‘Summer Wine’. Silk or satin?
Rosa ‘Hot Chocolate’. Damask or velvet?

Stems and calyces might look woolly or metallic or papery.

Acanthus mollis. Curled paper with a tissue lining.

There might be bobbles, or fringes, or dangly bits or bouncy cushions.  They are asking for us to play with them.

Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’. A perfect pouffe, with Flamenco skirts.

We can enhance our pleasure in everyday life by tuning into our senses like this.  Rather than taking touch for granted, we can indulge ourselves by concentrating on the feel of something.  We are born into an incredible three-dimensional world that is there for us to explore.

Amaranthus. Cheeky feathers.

What are your favourite textures?  I would love to hear from readers who know their fabrics!  Are there any textures that give you the icks? Mine are anything sticky, like the stems of Nicotiana or Erodium.

If you are struggling to get children away from screens this summer, take them into the garden, a park, a woodland, the beach.  Being outdoors stimulates natural curiosity.  Let them get dirty.  Let them try things out.  Let them poke, peel and shred.  Warn them about the obvious dangers, and help them learn to assess and manage risk.  Being within shouting distance is often more fun than being right in front of you.  Play too.  You never know what you might discover!

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30 Comments Add yours

  1. janesmudgeegarden says:

    I just love that Helenium (a new plant to me this year) and your description of it is absolutely perfect. Wonderful photos Ali- the Eryngium is amazing- and a good read, as always. I’m glad you can touch your garden almost as much as you want! I dislike the feel of petunias very much.

    1. Ali says:

      Ooh yes. Another icky sticky one. Exactly why I stopped growing them!

  2. Cathy says:

    It makes me realise what a disability it must be, not being able to reach out and touch things on impulse as I do it all the time – so pleased to hear it has improved for you and as always you have described the sensory experience of your garden brilliantly. I was thrilled on Grannie Day last week when I took my just-walking granddaughter into the garden and she didn’t know where to look, lingering for ages at the first leaf she touched. I am currently enjoying my amaranthus and anything with a cone but like Jane above I am unsure about the texture of (some) petunias and dislike the stickiness of their dead heads. Surprisingly, annual verbena dead heads are ‘wet’ despite looking anything but!

    1. Ali says:

      Ah, I love that age when the world is all new. It used to take forever to walk down the road with my eldest because she used to try to stick leaves back on trees!

  3. It is fantastic when you can use all senses, especially touch in a garden walk. Such beautiful imagery. 💟

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Lisa!

  4. Beautiful photos Ali! I find lately that I must be getting allergic to weeding. Every time I weed, my hands and arms up to my elbows are very itchy. Not a good thing for a gardener and I’m not fond of gardening with gloves on. Happy Sunday!

    1. Ali says:

      Oh no! It is annoying, isn’t it?

  5. bcparkison says:

    More beauty from your point of view. And so thankful you can now enjoy every inch of the creation.

  6. Thank you so much for this vulnerable post about your struggles with eczema! I also love this exploration of the sense of touch. I think all of my walking outside recently has really brought my senses, including touch, to life. I really have this reawakened desire to explore the world, and it makes me feel like a child again. I think one of my favorite textures is satiny lining on blankets. I also love my kitty’s fur. And I love the feel of walking in dewy grass.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes! That lovely soft satin edging! I’d forgotten that!

  7. Angela says:

    Wondrous observations and photos.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you, Angela.

  8. Heyjude says:

    We take a lot of things for granted don’t we. Touch is so important that it must be miserable when doing so causes such misery. I was ‘burnt’ by something I came into touch with last year and ended up with blisters on two fingers and my wrist which lasted for months – first painful burning sensations, then itchy. Like many gardeners though I dislike wearing gloves. I like the feel of the earth.

    1. Ali says:

      That sounds awful! I do like to ‘feel’ properly too. It feels like a treat to stick my hands into compost!

      1. Heyjude says:

        I wasn’t even gardening. Think I must have brushed against a Leylandii hedge getting into the car.

      2. Ali says:

        Leylandii are evil on so many levels! 😂

  9. Eliza Waters says:

    Lovely post, Ali. I guess the only thing that I don’t like is thorns and prickles. It’s why I have so few roses!

    1. Ali says:

      I forgive my roses anything! Some of them are more accident-prone than others!

  10. Another beautiful post. That must have been an awfully frustrating time when you couldn’t touch and feel. My favourite texture is skin

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, I guess that is partly why we have developed such a sensitive sense of touch – because we have soft skin rather than fur!

  11. I also have a problem with an alergic reaction, to tomato plants, not tomatoes. There may be more plants I react to but tomato plants are the worst. Putting my hands into as hot a water as I can stand, helps a lot but I have got out of bed to stick my hands in the freezer, that helps as well.

    1. Ali says:

      Totally identify with this! There were times when I would rub my hands raw on a towel because it just got rid of the itching!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Ali, thanks a lot for the post.Really thank you! Much obliged.

    1. Ali says:

      It’s my pleasure.

  13. jjspina says:

    Love your photos – gorgeous. Thank you for sharing! They brighten any day and any sour mood. 😆

    1. Ali says:

      That is lovely to hear. Exactly why I write a blog. X

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