A sensory garden is created to stimulate and appeal to all the senses – smell, sound, sight, touch and taste. Sensory gardens are great for both children and adults alike and are a great place to connect with and explore nature. They can be a great place of learning and also a haven and a place to relax and unwind.
Sensory gardens can be particularly beneficial and therapeutic for children and adults with sensory processing issues such as autism, as they allow gentle stimulation of their senses without being overwhelmed by them. Below I will look at some of the best plants to use in sensory gardens for each of the senses.
Sight is the sense that is responsible for most of the information we absorb. It allows us to observe the environment around us, keeps us safe and connects us with people and our surroundings.
Visual appeal in a sensory garden is very important and can easily be achieved with plants and flowers.
When planning a sensory garden, it is important to design it for the people who will be using it most.
Children for example, respond well to bright and bold colours. Flowers such as roses, sunflowers, daisies, snapdragons, daffodils, tulips, cosmos and brightly coloured salvias are sure to delight a child’s visual sense.
However, on the other hand and just as beautiful and effective, muted and soft tones in a garden can create a relaxing and peaceful atmosphere where one can find their inner calm.
For a calm garden, plants such as perennial grasses, lavender, yarrow, sea holly, and perennials with softer colours (cool blues, purples and whites) combined with green foliage are the perfect calming combination.
It’s important to remember that flowers aren’t the only way to stimulate sight, there are many plants that have interesting foliage, fruit and bark too. Enhance the visual appeal of a sensory garden with pots, mirrors or water features and be sure to include seating, so people can take time to sit, relax and enjoy the garden.
The old saying of “take time to stop and smell the roses” certainly runs true in a sensory garden. Your sense of smell enriches your experience of the world around you and plants can help appeal to that sense of smell.
Fragrant plants such as jasmine, roses, lavender, scented geraniums, lilacs, honeysuckle, gardenias and stocks are great additions in a fragrant garden. There are also plenty of edible herbs that are highly fragrant and combine two senses in one (taste and smell).
Herbs such as rosemary, lemon verbena, passionfruit marigold, curry plant, thyme, oregano, basil, lemon balm and all the different mints (common mint, spearmint, peppermint, lemon mint, basil mint, Moroccan mint, Vietnamese mint, apple mint) are excellent additions in a sensory garden.
Herb gardens encourage people to feel and rub leaves between their fingers and smell and taste, helping to stimulate the senses.
A variety of edible plants including fruits, vegetables and herbs can be added to a sensory garden to stimulate taste.
Creating a vegetable and herb garden helps to encourage children and visitors to taste. Some great ‘pick and eat’ additions to an edible garden include, chocolate mint, pizza thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries and small fruit trees such as citrus, apples and thornless berries.
Edible flowers are another great option to add to a sensory garden. Plants such as nasturtiums, violas, marigolds, borage flowers and calendula are edible and not only will they appeal to your taste buds, but also give visual appeal.
Including gentle sounds in a sensory garden can help create a sense of calm, mindfulness and relaxation. It can be especially important for people who are visually impaired, because it can help them connect with nature and their surroundings in a non-threatening environment.
Creating sound through plants isn’t always easy (plants don’t tend to be overly noisy!) however many perennial grasses will have a gentle rustling sound in the breeze as do many trees.
Including plenty of bird and beneficial insect attracting plants such as grevilleas, bottlebrush and salvias will help to encourage birds and bees into the garden and their gentle song and hum can be very relaxing yet uplifting to listen to.
Also consider the use of wind chimes (particularly bamboo wind chimes) or running water features to further engage your sense of hearing in the garden.
It’s human nature to touch things that look inviting or soft. This is especially true for children, whose inquisitive little minds are constantly learning and engaging – their sense of touch is an important part of that learning.
One of the best plants for touch in my opinion is Lamb’s ears. Its soft and velvety leaves just ask to be touched and feel much as the name suggests, like a soft lamb’s ear.
There are a number of plants that when their leaves are rubbed together by our fingertips they create a beautiful fragrance – incorporating two of the senses, touch and smell.
These ‘touch and smell’ plants include lavender, passion fruit marigold, lemon balm, rosemary, scented geraniums, mints and Prostanthera (native mint bush).
Other plants with interesting touch textures include succulents such as Aloe Vera, bottlebrush, fountain grass (with its fluffy flower heads) Woolly Bush and sea holly (a little bit spiky, but fun to touch nonetheless)
Sensory gardens are beneficial for everyone. We live in a world where our lives can be so busy and stressful. Taking time out to enjoy and explore a garden and nature, along with all it has to offer in terms of engaging our senses and tapping into the principles of mindfulness, just makes sense!
The old saying of “plants make people happy” is certainly true in a sensory garden.
If you have any good gardening old wive’s tales, feel free to share them by leaving a comment online on the Barossa Mag’s website.
I do love hearing a good tale!
In the meantime, happy gardening!