All about creating a sensory garden at home

What is a sensory garden?

  • A Sensory garden is a collection of plants and materials with different textures, shapes, colours, scents and heights.
  • The collection of plants and materials is laid out in such a way as to stimulate our Senses, Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Touching and Tasting.
  • Sensory gardens can also be therapeutic, Helping reduce stress and lowering blood pressure by offering a lovely place to escape too, to take time-out and simply relax, time to think after a stressy day at work or looking after the kids, to escape from the television, read a book, listen to flowing water or just feel the leaves.
  • Most gardens offer visual appeal, but a sensory garden gives a bit more. It is primarily designed to stimulate the senses and for people living with disabilities, poor eyesight or dementia a sensory garden can also be a safe and tactile environment to enjoy, touching, hearing, smelling, seeing   -tasting even-   the plants and natural materials.

Depending what you want to get out of your sensory garden, plant selection, materials and design will play a part and I have included a few tips on this and my other pages;  Sensory plants  Design  Herb garden  plantas-para-un-jardín-sensorial

 

I hope this article helps to transform a bit of your own garden into a lovely sensory garden experience.

chill out and feel the wind and touch the leaves!
chill out and touch the leaves!

What materials and plants can I include when creating my sensory garden

These are the materials and plants you can use to stimulate the five senses in your own sensory garden.

I have given more information about plants and the senses they could develop with their different types of scent, texture, sound, taste, visual effect here plants and the senses they could develop.

Seeing.

Plants which change colour through the seasons are interesting to watch as the leaves and berries grow and change colour.

Most flowers are very colourful during the summer, whilst many trees will blossom in spring before the leaves turn to shades of gold, brown and red in the autumn.

For winter colour check out my article, plants for winter colour 

 

Changes in colour and appearance of materials like paved and pebble pathways when they get wet also add colour. 

Shapes are also important in a sensory garden, materials like crazy paving and rough cut flags. The distinctive shape of oak and sycamore trees, flowers such as the daisy and poppy, the varied fruits of fruit trees.

 

Movement catches the eye too, so maybe add trees such as willow that wave in the wind.

A fountain or waterfall will add movement and attract birds rustling feathers as they bathe.

Hearing. 
 

There will be plenty of sound to listen to, the natural sounds of wind in the trees, wildlife sounds. A shallow stream flowing over pebbles or a waterfall, even wind chimes.

 

 

 

Scent and smell.

Plant a mix of plants and flowers which give off different scents. Ones you can smell without touching, honeysuckle and roses, some you will need to "get up close to" like daffodils and violets and some you will have to "get up very close to and gently crush them" mint and most herbs come to mind.

 

Also include plants in your sensory garden that might mean something to you personally, from way back. Composting leaves and grass clippings give off a distinctive smell and the compost can come in handy too.

Touch.

Texture is very important in your sensory garden both rough and smooth (mosses, lichens, holly leaves, rivened stone and smooth pebbles, leaves, slate) and the stuff nature will provide like frog spawn and caterpillars.

Taste.

Be careful with this one!-  Only include berries and fruits which you are sure are safe to eat.-   I was given this tip by a very rich widow I know who still has her sensory garden.


What's different about creating a Sensory garden for children.

Children might not always want to just chill out and feel the wind and touch the leaves!

So it's a good idea to include plants, materials and structures that will encourage play.

  • Think about Including a maze painted or raised on the side or top of walls for the kids to follow with fingertips
  • Vary the textures of walls, paths and paving by using wood, brick, stone, flints, tiles, cobbles, setts, gravel, pebbles, bark, rubber, or metals to add interest.
  • Also you could include a raised bed or area for young gardeners to practice gardening skills
Moss and lichen 
Grow it on walls to add interest over time, growth can be sped up by painting surfaces with yogurt.

Colour
Colour will come from the plants and materials, but don't be afraid to add colour by painting and hanging stuff on the walls.

Games and Activities
Building a chess board from slabs, old bricks, etc. will stimulate most of the senses. See my design page for more. 

Natural materials

Woven willow for fencing or cover over a seat, looks, sounds and feels good.

 
 

 

 

The Wind

Air can generate soothing sounds as it blows through trees, bamboo, grass and fences. Don't forget wind chimes and the different sounds different materials make.

 

Sound 

  • Sound comes from the plants blowing in the wind and features you design into your sensory garden.
  • If you live near a noisy road some of the background noise can be partially blocked by screening with a barrier of noise absorbing trees or fencing, but never removed totally. Remember background noise in itself is a stimulant to our senses and these days something we have to live with, so don't get over anxious about it.
  • If you live under the approach to Heathrow airport or the proposed new runway, it might be easier to move house or reconcile it with the fact that your overseas holidays wouldn't happen without airports

 

Water 

  • Moving water will make different sounds just by placing stones, pebbles or rocks in the flow and varying the speed of the pump. Moving water is relaxing and always attracts children.
  • Be aware of the dangers of even shallow water, some of us love the sensation of getting wet and dangling our hands or feet in a pond. Some kids and grown-ups who might otherwise rarely get wet in an outdoor situation, might not. 
  • If you are planning to include a moving water features, you will need electricity and water.

 


What's the best position to create a sensory area.

 A sensory garden can be created almost anywhere that gets sunshine.

All of the human senses can be stimulated even in a small area of a garden or patio or even a pathway

Pathways can be planted with scented shrubs and plants that will tolerate foot traffic, surfaced  with cobbles, rivened flagstones or slabs and fenced with rustic 1/2 rails for truly great sensory experiences. 

Containers can be used for decked or paved areas, I recently designed and built a Sensory area using only bulbs, flowers and shrubs planted in flowerpots and containers. 

more information to help design and build a sensory garden 

With a few design changes a sensory garden can be a good place for people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia too.

In summary. even if you haven't  seen, touched and smelt the atmosphere and aroma of sensory gardens in parks, schools and care homes, they are becoming popular in domestic gardens too, providing a wide range of sensory experiences smell, touch, vision, and hearing. 
 
I hope I have shown on this and my other related pages how easy it is to set aside, even a small area of your gardens to create a sensory experience for grown-ups and kids too.
 
Ask your landscape gardener to include a sensory area in your garden. Its simpler than it sounds, sensory gardens encourage us and our kids to touch and feel plants and sometimes even small structures like water features are included in the design and can appeal to more than just the five basic senses,  gravity i/e changes in height, slopes, etc. temperature, space and the changes between areas in the garden. 
 
A sensory garden and its plants will attract plenty of wildlife. Small areas or large gardens will provide habitat for wildlife and delight your senses, in a small area you would probably not plant oak trees or encourage nettles, but big or small give it a try. 
 
No area is to small and it is not too difficult to make. Basically a Sensory garden area, is a collection of plants and materials with different textures, colours and heights, and can include a bench to sit and enjoy the plants and a range of structural experiences, built to enjoy.
A garden can present the perfect opportunity for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and special needs to learn, play and strengthen body and mind. 
 
This book empowers teachers and parents with little gardening know-how to get outside and use nature to motivate young learners and those with special needs. 
.
With a focus on the therapeutic potential of nature, the book shows that gardening can help reduce feelings of anxiety, provide an outlet for physical aggression, build self-esteem through the nurturing of plants and much more.

flowerpotman.com