A sensory garden is an outdoor space designed for stimulating all five senses: sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. It uses plants, objects and features to create a learning space for children and adults alike.
Sensory gardens can create environments with particular purposes in mind. Whether you’re creating a meditative zone, a space for playing, or an area to attract wildlife and grow food, a sensory garden can achieve it all.
If you’re designing your sensory garden at home, you’ll need to consider the senses you want to stimulate and which objects can help you achieve that. In our guide below, we detail everything you need to make your first garden and how to nail the perfect layout.
Where to build your sensory garden
The exciting thing about a sensory garden is that you don’t have to be limited by a lack of space. You’ll experience the benefits whether yours is in a window box or a large outdoor area.
The most important thing to think about when designing a sensory garden is the people who will use it. Will it be a learning zone for kids to encourage kids to play outdoors? Are you hoping to create an accessible garden so that people with disabilities can enjoy it to the fullest?
Start with a well thought-out plan. If you are designing with children in mind, you’ll want to keep plants within the reach of children, and have space for messy and creative play. If those in wheelchairs or with walking sticks are your audience, you’ll require even ground and wide walkways.
How to create a sensory garden
You may choose to divide your garden into sections to stimulate different senses at different times. Alternatively, you can mix plants together to create an exciting multi-sensory space.
As well as planting, you can also look at garden accessories and play equipment to encourage visitors to the garden to use each sense:
Plants that exhibit a range of shapes, sizes, and colours create a visually stimulating area for adults and children should make up most of your sensory garden.
For those of us who don’t have a garden and instead have to make do with a yard (or even a balcony), there is some good news – similar effects can be achieved with raised planters. Colourful plant pots can help create a vibrant mini-garden and trellises can help climbers and creepers cover concrete walls. You can even place them overhead to create green sheltered spaces.
Create a sensory feast for the eyes by planting a mix of colourful flowers like tulips, aliums and pelargoniums, or even native wildflowers like marigolds or poppies. These wildflowers will also attract bees and butterflies.
There are many simple ways to add texture to your garden. Incorporating different materials like stone, sand, water, plants and trees is a great way to get started. There are plenty of plants that have interesting textures: lamb’s ear, cool moss and grasses have very soft surfaces, and tree bark is rough to the touch.
Alternatively, spend a day at the beach selecting pebbles for the garden, and decide how to lay them out on the ground. Will you lie them flat, so that their texture is smooth and soft? Or will you lie them grouped together in a pile, so that they create a habitat for small insects?
Sand is especially loved by toddlers and makes for the perfect sensory activity. Sandpits are a great toy for this reason.. When playing with sand there are no rules: children are encouraged to dig around, build, pretend and explore. This helps to develop their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and creativity.
The sense of smell is an extraordinary thing. Different smells are often associated with memories, which makes it important to plant scented flowers in your sensory garden. Aromatic plants like honeysuckle and roses — as well as herbs like lavender, sage and mint — are fantastic additions to the garden.
If you are hoping to create a space for reflection or meditation, start with smell. There are as many plant scents as there are plant shapes, so try to include as many scented shrubs and flowers in your sensory garden as possible. You can also leave scented diffusers near the most-used parts of the garden or burn incense in a partially enclosed area. As you take deep breaths, inhale the scents of your garden to feel truly at one with nature.
On a summer’s day, there’s nothing quite like the gentle babble of water, the far-off buzz of a bee and the whisper of grass or leaves. Although it might seem initially difficult, it’s also possible to plant with the sense of sound in mind.
Love-in-a-mist is a beautiful blue flower that produces large seed heads that will gently rattle in the breeze. Remember to invest in evergreens too. With the background of winter, grasses are a fantastic way to add substance for a soothing backdrop to your garden all year round. Brizia is a good choice: it’s known as ‘quaking grass’ due to how it shakes in the slightest wind. Similarly, pheasant’s tail grass is a colourful evergreen that is ideal for creating year-round rustling.
Add small water features to create a trickling sound that mimics the great outdoors, and hang bamboo chimes for a relaxing, natural sound.
Some outdoor play equipment is designed to encourage water play. Known to help develop children’s gross motor skills, it’ll also help with coordination and fitness as children lift, reach, carry and pour — so it has some fantastic developmental benefits too.
You can stimulate the sense of taste in your sensory garden by planting herbs, or even fruits and vegetables. This doesn’t need to take the form of a full vegetable patch or a big apple tree: it could be small tomato or strawberry plants or any other edible herbs and climbers you can fit into your space. If you’re worried about pests, grow them in hanging baskets — this will also add a dimension of height to your space.
Hardy herbs like lavender, sage and rosemary are particularly easy to grow in pots that can be brought inside in winter. Encourage visitors to your garden to choose aromatic herbs to add flavour to drinks or meals.
Create your sensory garden today
One of the best things about creating a sensory garden is that you have the opportunity to be creative. Whether you’re starting from scratch or want to add sensory planting or outdoor toys that will encourage sensory development in your children, there’s plenty of ways to get started.