WOLFTOWN, Virgina—What is the sound of basil growing? Calendula? Hyssop? Sage? I love it when my two passions, music and herbs, collide. That happy collision reinforces my conviction that all life forms are connected, interacting strands of a single, universal, vibrating web. Leading biologists, botanists and physicists now confirm these age-old insights, using late-twentieth-century terminology.
My herb garden and my choral directing come together when I read that the sound of the universe is A above middle C. This becomes less abstract when I discover that notes of the scale can be attached to particular colors. Remember Walt Disney’s Fantasia, when organ music became a swirl of colors on the screen? I think Disney was on to something profound.
All energy manifests itself in vibrations that can be measured and graphed. We’ve all seen the colors in the visible spectrum. This spectrum arranges radiant energies in order of wavelength (vibrations).
According to William David in The Harmonies of Sound (Marina Del Ray, California: De Vorss & Co., 1980), when the vibrations of colors are matched to sounds, middle C is red, D is green, E is yellow, F is purple-violet, G is orange, A is indigo, and B is blue. Translated, that means that were my ears keener, I would be able to hear D when I lean over to snip back the top leaves of my basils. (Would the cutting away of their heads alter the sound? What is the color of “ouch”?)
Many of us use the word “harmony” when we describe garden design or flower arranging. We select plant and flower groupings for their color harmonies, borrowing a musical term to justify our choices. This color/sound connection adds a delightful dimension when I converse with the green leaves of basil, caress the yellow flowers of calendula, enjoy the spears of purple-violet salvias, cheer on the deep orange of butterfly weeds. I feel emboldened by the red flowers of a pineapple sage, more so by the almost violent red of some zinnias. Sometimes, when I take a midnight walk under the indigo of the new-moon sky, I tune in to that A above middle C. It is a pure, clear sound.
In the garden, when I pause to listen, quieting my own heartbeat, I may not always tune into the color/sounds of individual flowers, but I have heard the faint rustle of a mole as he schnozzled up to a fresh young green plant. I love to listen to the hum of bees as they burrow into the heart of purple sages and flowering thymes to gather pollen. They scrape yellow—sometimes red—pollen onto their back legs, forming miniature pantaloons, before they head for the hive. The whirring vibrations of the wings of hummingbirds as they forage for nectar in my ruby bee balm stir my soul.
Yes, color and sound collide in the garden, and for a rare few moments I am consciously at one with the universe.
Portia Meares of Wolftown, Virginia, a long-time herbalist and author, is founder and former editor of the bimonthly magazine The Business of Herbs.