Designing a sensory garden: why, where and what

Sensory garden design

A sensory garden has a simple goal: maximize the sensory experience of its visitors. Designing such a garden isn’t very difficult. You can follow various themes, set portions up into dedicated areas, or fuse all the experiences together as a whole. They’re generally very guest-friendly and inviting, leading their visitors to touch, taste, admire and listen.

Why set up a Sensory garden ?

Creating a sensory garden is an exciting project that’s very useful, a fabulous opportunity to teach about nature. It even has therapeutic virtues and appears in techniques related to garden therapy (naturopathy, hortitherapy, aromatherapy).

Frog making a sound in a sensory gardenEvery garden appeals to the senses in one way or the other. Indeed, every single plant has individual characteristics that appeal to the 5 senses in a unique manner. There is nothing more pleasant that to stroll through a garden to admire the rainbow of colors and diversity of textures, all the while taking in the soft fragrance of blooming flowers.

Sensory gardens bring together objects, surfaces, ornaments and plants that stimulate our senses of touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing. Each garden is a space that might aim to trigger a great number different sensations.

Design and set-up

There are countless sensory garden designs, and they can usually all be adapted to match the goals of any garden in particular.

If you aim to create a garden as a tool to teach little children, for instance, keep in mind that it shouldn’t be too large, and that plants should remain within reach of their little hands.

If preparing a garden for people who are in wheelchairs, on the other hand, make sure that plants are not only within reach, but that paths remain convenient for these people to use.

The deeper beauty of sensory gardens lies in the fact that they can be infinitely enhanced to answer the wishes of a great many users. Start with a well-thought out plan. Project yourself in the future so that there’s enough space still when the plants you’ve chosen have grown to their mature size. Incorporate landscaping elements, as well, such as benches, pathways, water fountains, bird feeders and even garden art to make your sensory garden patch an even richer experience. Don’t forget topiary, either.

Guidelines for what to include in a sensory garden

First and foremost, before you even choose the plants to grow in your sensory garden, it’s crucial to limit your selection of plants to those that will thrive in your region. Native plants are an excellent choice because they’re already used to growing in the area and will resist diseases much better. Moreover, they tend to require much less care than non-native plants. Lastly, include plants and objects that appeal to the senses.

Two senses not often considered in a garden

  • Touch is an important feature in a sensory gardenSound – To stimulate hearing, select flora that makes sounds when the wind runs through it, such as bamboo stems. May types of seed pods also produce interesting sounds. At the end of the year, fallen leaves may also trigger hearing as they crisply crinkle underfoot. You might also want to include plants that attract local fauna to the garden. The buzz of a bee, the chant of a cricket, a frog’s ribbit-ribbit or the tweet of a bird all greatly stimulate the sense of hearing.
  • Touch – Plants that offer surprising textures abound: they’re perfect for the sense of touch. Imagine the sweet sensation of bear’s ear, the irresistible feeling of plunging your fingers in cool, fresh moss, or the bulging of rough seed pods! It’s possible to add an unending series of varying textures in the garden.

However, don’t plant anything that might be dangerous, such as thorny roses or spiky agave plants.

Three senses that immediately come to mind

  • Sensory garden smell idea with lavenderSmell – The sense of smell has a particular place in our beings, and is tightly bound to memory. Specific fragrances “click” and project us back in time. Smells relate us to other places and people connected to them in our personal memory banks. Most sensory gardens are filled with different smells that bring on a wide palette of emotions. Very fragrant plants, such as the smooth-scented gardenia, honeysuckle, herbs and spices provide excellent stimulation for smell.
  • Sight – Beauty is key in a sensory garden. This is easily achievable thanks to plants that grow into different habits or shapes. For example, vegetation can crawl, climb, creep, stand short and bushy or tall and spindly. Add plants with flowers, leaves, bark and stems of various colors and sizes to increase visual appeal.
  • Taste – In a sensory garden, all sorts of edible fruits and herbs help visitors discover the abundance of nature. All the while tickling our taste buds! Even vegetables have their place in a sensory garden.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Chime and portal by Silvia Konrath under Pixabay license
Holding a trunk by Mona El Falaky under Pixabay license
Ribbit by Gabriela Fink under Pixabay license
Scented in Violet by Ulrike Mai under Pixabay license