Read this post if you want to WAKE UP!!!

We visited Great Dixter for what is probably the last time this season.

When I got home I realised that some of the photos I had taken were bright and bold and banging, and some were pale and soft and calming.

Which got me thinking about Sensory Integration.  Sensory Integration is the way our brain makes sense of the various incoming stimuli from all of our senses, so that our brain and body knows how to respond.

Some sensory experiences WAKE YOU UP!!! and are therefore ALERTING!  Examples include:

  • walking to a steady rhythm
  • listening to music with a fast beat
  • going outside into daylight
  • seeing leaves shimmering in your peripheral vision
  • eating something sour, spicy, crunchy, cold or fizzy

Some sensory experiences c a l m  y o u  d o w n. Examples include:

  • slow, heavy, back-and-forth movement, like you would get in a rocking chair
  • pushing or pulling heavy objects, for example wheeling a heavy pram or wheelbarrow.
  • feeling deep pressure from a long hug
  • eating something with a consistent smooth, thick texture
  • smelling the familiar scent of a loved one or a favourite food

Some sensory experiences are DisorGAnising! Examples include:

  • bouncing on a bouncy castle with lots of people on it
  • being tickled
  • listening to music and talking over the top
  • eating something of mixed texture and confusing tastes, for example salty and sour; fizzy and crunchy
  • smelling lots of different perfumes in quick succession

There is a certain amount of personal preference and sensitivity in all of these things.  We all have slightly different thresholds of tolerance.  What is unpleasant for one person might be highly stimulating for another.

Once you tune into what sensory experiences you find calming, alerting or disorganising, you can use this to wake yourself up when you are feeling dopey, or to cope when you are feeling overwhelmed.

Just to warn you, these photos tend to WAKE ME UP!!  If you want to c a l m  d o w n , I am working on a companion piece, to be published in a couple of days’ time.

This zinnia wakes me up because there are contrasting colours, extremes of light and dark, and interesting shapes.  We appear to have zoomed in rather suddenly, which is also alerting!


We can zoom out just as quickly: hold on to your hats now!


There are lots of details to focus on, and this is alerting, as our eye moves from one interesting area to another, noting patterns.


I don’t generally like asters.  I find them too dry looking!  But I do find the deeply saturated colours here rather stimulating and satisfying!


As does this bee.  I am also a little excited by the contrast between the focused and unfocused areas, and the contrasting colours of purple and green.


This is a deep-pressure kind of a dahlia.  It is like wearing a weighted blanket or cushion, or indeed having a dog on our lap, which is calming, and helps us to feel grounded.  Then the spiky buds and the spiral patterns are kind of alertingCalm AND alert is good!


There is lots of action in the background of this photo, as well as fine detail in the subject.  Having coherent areas, each of which have a consistent colour and texture, means that this photo is alerting, but does not tip into disorganising.


Sudden splats of colour and shape are alerting.


These textures could tip into ticklish, and therefore disorganising, but brief periods of titillation are good!


I’ll focus in on a detail a bit.  These interesting outlines are alerting.


Ooh, but the competing lines are a little bit disorganising.  Especially if we were to be tickled unexpectedly by them.


A butterfly’s flight is a bit disorganising.  It is a bit of a flippertigibbet.  Phew.  It has settled.  Focus is good.  The butterfly is drinking deep.  Sucking thick liquids through a straw is calming.


Woah!  Now I am awake!


Yellow and blue are alerting because of the colour contrast.  The shape is also pretty zappy.


As a child of the eighties, I love red and blue together. I find that the red rosehips provide points of interest which are alerting against the clear blue sky.


Zingy green leaves are alerting. The arching shapes of the branches with the vertical dangles of fuchsia flowers capture my attention, just like baubles on a Christmas tree.

The pops of colour from this salvia are fairly evenly sized and spaced, and so there is a sense of order. It reminds me of strings of fairy lights.

I like the repeating pattern of dark stems and calyces of these salvia. Repeating patterns help us to feel calm and alert.

I love this potted partnership. I adore vermillion and magenta together, and find them highly alerting. I feel alive when I look at this plant combination.

My final photo is a calming and alerting. The texture of the centre of the rudbeckia looks heavy and warm and velvety, which is calming. The fiery and shimmery ray florets are alerting, as is the contrast of orange and green, and of light and dark tones.

You might completely disagree with what I find calming, alerting or disorganising.

What colour combinations, patterns, textures, sounds, sensations, smells or tastes do you find calming, alerting or disorganising?

Does your garden or home reflect your sensory preferences?

Stay tuned for another post from Great Dixter, which will focus on the more calming sensory aspects of the garden.

Do you need small pops of wonder and intrigue? I try to bring you a little twinkle in this blog.

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28 Comments Add yours

  1. Gorgeous photos, I particularly like the bee on the asters and the butterfly on the yellow flowers.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Heather.

  2. Beautiful photos! I have to agree with you. I feel alive and inspired when I see bright colors paired together perfectly. Soft lighting, the sound of rain, listening to the birds are calming, a natural way to relax. Love this post! 💟😊

    1. Ali says:

      Birdsong is one of the most relaxing sounds, isn’t it?

  3. Wonderful post! I hadn’t thought about it before, but our backyard is calming, alerting and disorganizing depending on where you stand. From the patio, the rose garden in full bloom is alerting because of the many colors and shapes. Up close, an individual rose is calming. Elsewhere, the cacophony of different trees and shrubs (some tangled and overgrown) is disorganizing. Great visual. Thanks for the perspective!

    1. Ali says:

      Thanks Laurie. I find shady areas a bit disorganising at this time of year. Especially if their leaves are shrivelled and half hanging off!

  4. This is brilliant! I’ve never thought before about how plants can make me feel … but it’s true, they do! I’ve always loved soft and muted colours and have stayed away from bright colours which make me a little agitated! Like the wind … the wind bothers me too! Lovely post and pictures. Katie x

    1. Ali says:

      Wind is definitely disorganising!Especially if gusty!

  5. bcparkison says:

    I love all colors. but from now own I will not be coloring the back side of my paper zinnias. Yours are white. lol. The blue and yellow remind me of the trend to use blue and yellow in decorating like an ‘Italian’ kitchen years ago. Always has been bright and happy.

    1. Ali says:

      Oh yes! I’d never noticed that! Blue and yellow is a gorgeous combination, isn’t it?

  6. Stunning photos Ali!!! I could just fall into some of those photos and live there. Pure beauty is very calming and peaceful.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Cindy!

  7. Eliza Waters says:

    Fun post about what we find in our gardens sensory-wise. While I love pops of color, I tend to want soothing environments. I really love the yellow and blue in your photos.

    1. Ali says:

      It is a lovely combination. I think I only have it in spring, with forget-me-nots and primroses.

  8. Where do you live to enjoy such vibrant late summer/early fall colors in October? I’m guessing the Deep South — um, before Hurricane Michael that devastated middle parts of the Florida Panhandle, where I grew up.

    1. Ali says:

      We’re in Kent, in the South East of the U.K. We don’t really seem to get winter until January.

  9. M.B. Henry says:

    Beautiful photos – and great calm down tips!

  10. Great photos Ali! I especially like the one with the bee on the aster, and the shot of the rose hips on the bare branches. 😊

  11. awww, look at that bee bum in the aster!

  12. Cathy says:

    You have put into words (as you do so well!) the sensory effect that gardens n have – but we need to slow down to be aware of them…thank you for reminding us

  13. Your question about whether our gardens are calming or alerting has interested me as my gardens for a long time have definitely been disorganising due to our life circumstances and constantly moving, and consequently I have felt more disorganised in life generally – and have yearned to create a relaxing, peaceful oasis of calm garden again. If only we listened to our inner voice more….great inspiration, thank you xx

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Lucy; I am really pleased you found it interesting. X

  14. Lovely, interesting post and great photos!

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