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Sensory Gardens


It all makes sense.

I’m a dad to three young girls and I notice that they don’t do a lot of walking around, admiring the beautiful flowers when in the garden! However, they will often touch them, smell them, even taste them if they know they can (they like nothing more than a good nasturtium!) They use all their senses when enjoying the garden, although to be honest there isn’t much quiet listening going on.

Sight, and to a large extent, smell are the two obvious senses used in most gardens. All gardens appeal to the sense in one way or another but a sensory garden strives to maximise the sensory experience for the visitor through plants and landscaping, encouraging them to touch, taste look and listen, and to interact with particular plants, features or objects.

Sensory gardens are often created in schools to introduce children to the pleasure of gardening, and they are also being designed more and more for people living with disabilities, poor eyesight or dementia as they offer a peaceful, safe and tactile haven for them to enjoy. They are therapeutic and help to reduce stress levels, so a lovely place to sit after a fraught day at work; the perfect spot to enjoy reading a book or sharing a glass of wine. Sounds perfect doesn’t it, so how do you design one to enjoy yourself?

Well, designing a sensory garden takes a slightly different approach depending on who will be using it. Schools using it as a teaching tool would probably keep the area fairly small with plant heights low and lots of colourful flowers plus veg like tomatoes, strawberries and radishes for the kids to eat.  A garden for people in wheelchairs would ideally need to be larger with wider paths and easy turning spots while a garden for the blind would benefit from lots of fragrance, plants that were good to touch and the sound of birds, crunching gravel, moving water and wind whistling through leaves.


If you would like to create a sensory garden or just add a few elements to your existing garden here are a few suggestions to help you on your way:

  1.  Start with a well thought out plan and be sure to accommodate space for the mature size of the plants you have chosen.
  2.  Incorporate hardscape elements such as benches, paths, bird feeders and bird baths - even garden art or mirrors for an added effect. 
  3.  Choose a mix of plants that will give year-round colour, fragrance and interest.
  4. Select specific colour schemes to create different ambiences. Bright oranges, yellows and reds are energising and stimulating while blues, greens, soft pinks, creams and whites are more calming.
  5. Choose plants that have scent during the day and also those that have it at dusk such as Nicotiana.
  6. Choose plants that are great to touch as both sighted and blind visitors will enjoy the soft velvety leaves of Stachys or spiky plants like Aloe Vera (avoid roses or anything with thorns) Fleshy leaves and feathery ferns are ideal, and the bark of certain trees can give a tactile experience.
  7. Include Edible plants like strawberries, raspberries and other cane fruit, as well as vegetables, herbs and spices, or fruit trees.
  8. Movement is important and grasses are perfect for this.
  9. Incorporate a water feature as the sound is calming, and children and adults will love running their fingers through it on a hot day.
  10. Ideally, pathways should be bordered with aromatic plants, whose scent is released when brushed against. 
  11. Plant shrubs and flowers that will attract bees and butterflies like Buddleia, Lavender, Echinacea, Sweet Rocket and Michaelmas Daisies.
  12. For children plants such as Sunflowers, Zinnias and Marigolds are a must.
  13. Tasting. Stick to fruit and vegetables you know are safe if children are using the sensory garden unsupervised.
  14. Make sure you have places to sit, preferably in the shade and sunny spots.
  15. Incorporate raised beds at different heights if possible.  

Follow these tips, and I am sure your garden will develop into a haven where the sights, scents, sounds, flavours and textures make you and your visitors feel happier, calmer and better about the world. 

Posted by Charlie Groves

Charlie is the manager at Groves Nurseries.  He is the 6th generation of C.W. Groves to run the garden centre. 

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