Ideas to design and build a Sensory garden.

Some of the many different shapes, sizes and sensory experiences you can plan in to your sensory garden design.

Plants and materials to include that will stimulate the senses when designing a sensory garden.

We actually experience more sensations than the five senses. Gravity, temperature, space and enclosure are some of them.  

I have listed some ideas that highlight the many different sensory experiences you can plan in when designing, planning, building and creating a Sensory garden at home. 

Looking and seeing òó. Plants offer a complete spectrum of colour and foliage, changing and providing interest throughout the seasons. Flowers, leaves, bark, berries, lichens and mosses all give the richness and changing colour essential in a Sensory garden. Bright colours, such as red and yellow, are cheery and stimulating to the eyes. They will add excitement and interest to the garden.

For children, plants like zinnias, marigolds, red-hot pokers, blanket flowers, butterfly plants, and sunflowers add exciting colours and attract bees and butterflies to the garden.

Hard landscaping provides colour as well as texture. Stone, old brick, gravel, slate any new or reclaimed materials can be used to create patterns of colour mosaics, murals, paving. The changes in appearance and colour of hard landscaping in rain and sunshine are interesting to the eye.

----Movement. Its key to include moving objects and plants into your design. Movement can be both stimulating and relaxing and can provide sight, movement and sound.  Aspen, willow, ornamental grass, mobiles, chimes, animals,  ponds, moving sculptures all provide movement. Some should be reachable so that people touch and move them. Place wind activated items in places likely to receive some breeze.

Contrastcontrast in a sensory garden design is particularly valuable for partially sighted people. Hard surfaces, kerbs and edgings made from different textures and materials. Soft  flowers and foliage contrasting with Hollies and berries, etc.

Most natural and artificial materials can be used in Sensory garden design plans. Some of the simple, distinctive shapes are best, like the bark and leaves of sycamore, beech, ash and the bonus of the experience of taste with fruits like apples, currants, rose hips. Flowers like daisy, poppy, bell flowers provide both shape and colour. Stems, bamboo canes, round, square, rectangular paving, seating and plant containers all add shape to a sensory garden. Shapes, circular flowers, cubic containers, oval fruits, triangular ivy leaves.

PatternsThese can provide fascinating effects. Regular patterns are made with brick work, paving, cobbles, fencing and placement of dandelion clocks and pine cones.  Random patterns can be made with  bark (plane, birch, eucalyptus), variegated leaves, log piles (good for insects) and even a compost heap (good for the garden too)

Listening and hearing. Listening is calming as well as interesting, try to build in sounds that are natural and some that can be activated into the design of your sensory garden.

natural sounds are the beautiful sound of leaves rustling in the wind, birds singing, water trickling and splashing and raindrops pitter-pattering on windows and roofs. Remember the sensation of feeling safe and dry when taking cover in a rainstorm?

Activated sounds include water features and striking chimes, etc.

Feelingandtouching. Think of the different textures you feel at home or in town and in the country, eg. Soft sand, cotton, rough surfaces, lichens, stonewall, bark, smooth pebbles, polished wood, leaves, flower petals, ridged textured concrete, backs of leaves, hairy animals, leaves such as Stachys, buds, grass, bumpy cobbles, twigs.

  • Weight,  light bark, heavy clay, etc.
  • Temperature, sun-warmed water, cold shaded water; stone next to soil.
  • Wet and dry, moist and dry soil and sand, freshly shed leaves and older dry ones.
  • Contrasting densities, hard stone and soft moss. Lamb's ear with its soft  leaves is good for kids to feel as are strawflower and Chinese lantern.
  • Spiky grasses add texture too. Kids also like the feathery ferns and the feather-like blooms of Gayfeather and Liatris. 

Smelling and Scent. Scented plants are the first thing we think about in a sensory garden design, but there are other materials that have distinctive and interesting smells. I can think of pond water, wood shavings, autumn leaves, cut grass, wet soil, fresh hay, stone, leaves  and compost heaps, the smell of a well-maintained compost heap can be nice and earthy.

When you are choosing plants for your sensory garden designs, select plants for their different types of scent. Scents that fill the air and can be smelt without touching the plant, plants you need to get up close to and plants you will need to pinch or crush in your hand. I have listed plants for sensory garden on this page 
sensory garden plants.

If children will be using or visiting  the sensory garden, it makes sense to stick to safe fruits and vegetables, I have listed a few fruits and vegetables on my sensory garden plants page.

Mystery and surprise.
 Plan mystery into your design the "Ups and downs". The design and build of pathways is important in a sensory garden, a little bit of mystery, corners with high bushes or wooden structures blocking the view, width, changes in direction, branching, slopes, changes in textures, materials and colours are all important. plant fragrant plants  along paths and entrances where they can be fully appreciated. 
Logs, trees, platforms, bridges, stages to stand on or climb up. Hanging baskets and mobiles set at different heights all add interest to a sensory garden.

A short guide to Ideas that will stimulate the Senses in a sensory garden design

  • Colour.  Flowers for the four seasons, leaves, bark, berries, lichens and mosses all add to the colour experience in your sensory garden.
  • Shape.   Leaves, sycamore, beech, ash, fruits and vegetables, apples, currants, rose hips and ornamental cabbage, flowers, daisy, poppy, and bell flowers. Stems, bamboo canes, etc. Planting containers, round, square, rectangular.
  • Movement.  For interest combine movement with sound. Aspen, willow, white poplar and grasses. Plant some within reach so that people can activate them. Place wind chimes in breezy spot.
  • Contrast.  Contrasting textures and surfaces like smooth paving onto cobbles, flowers, foliage. (Cotton to holly etc.).
  • Texture.  Feeling and touching rough surfaces, lichens, bark, smooth flower petals, ridged textured concrete, backs of leaves, hairy leaves such as Stachys, buds, grass, bumpy twigs, soft mosses, fungi, slimy algae, etc.


  • Smelling/scent.   There are many other materials other than flowers that have distinctive and interesting smells, wet stone, compost heap, etc. Choose flowers and plants that give off scents in different ways, scents that fill the air, plants you have to get up close to, plants you will have to pinch or crush in your hand, chamomile gives off a lovely apple fragrance when crushed under foot. See Chamomile lawn tips.
  • Tasting. Stick to fruit and vegetables you know are safe if children are using the sensory garden unsupervised.
  • Path design, The design of pathways is important in a sensory garden, a little bit of mystery, corners with high bushes or wooden structures blocking the view. Width, changes in direction, branching, slopes, changes in textures, materials and colours are all important. 
A list of plants for sensory garden designs Sensory garden plants 

It's easier than you think to create a sensory garden at home and with a few changes a sensory garden can also be a good place for people with Alzheimer's and other dementia too.


If the sensory garden is being designed and built for use by a person using a wheelchair or a person with impaired vision some of these features will be obstacles to their enjoyment of the garden. Tips, designs and build information for people using wheelchairs  gardening with a disability 


And something different in your sensory garden plan.
You might want to try growing plants in a hay or straw bale, for smell, touch, taste and definitely surprise,


have a look at the hay bale garden page