Typical flower gardens create a visual delight of multicolored flowers to appeal to the sense of sight–sensory gardens create a sensual delight that activates all the senses. While both induce relaxation and reduce stress, the sensory garden provides a deeper sense of well-being and appreciation for nature. Often designed to meet the needs of children and adults with disabilities, sensory gardens provide much needed sensory input via all five senses making it accessible to all.
Designing and planting a sensory garden brings the wonders of nature into your own backyard and provides an oasis of sound, color, fragrance and texture to relax away the stress of your day. Although many sensory gardens encompass a large area, there are no rules that govern its size. A backyard sensory garden can be tucked into a small nook or even be planted in containers and placed on the deck. Whatever size you have available can be used to create a sensory garden.
Consider the overall effect you wish to achieve. Large gardens can incorporate several areas designed to elicit a specific atmosphere-but small gardens are best when plants and accessories are chosen carefully to create one specific mood. Cool colors, relaxing fragrance and melodic sounds of water create a space for relaxation while hot colors mixed with spicy uplifting fragrance and lively sounds create an invigorating and energizing garden.
Select flowers and herbs that provide variety in color, size, texture and fragrance that fit with your overall theme.
Hot or warm colors create excitement and set an invigorating mood. Choose reds, oranges and yellows to enliven the garden. Sunflowers, marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums and geraniums add brilliant color, and provide variation in size and shape as well. Look for a selection in varying heights to add depth to the garden.
Cool colors promote relaxation and create a peaceful atmosphere. Choose greens, blues and purples to create a soft flush of color. Purple coneflower, bachelor’s buttons, pansies, iris and violets and many herbs-like thyme, oregano and chives– add cool color to the garden.
Consider the sense of taste and choose herbs that provide a variety or flavors that can be touched and tasted by curious visitors. A variety of mints, oregano, chives, lemon balm and sweet basil provide a burst of fragrance when brushed and can be nibbled for an unexpected burst of flavor.
Line walkways or seating areas with scented geraniums, mint or thyme to release scent when the foliage is disturbed.
Choose a water feature to include in your garden. This creates movement and adds natural sound to the garden. Water features range from simple birdbaths to miniature ponds and elaborate fountains. Keep in mind the atmosphere you wish to create, matching water features to the theme to set the mood for your garden. Slowly trickling water or graceful fish swimming lazily in miniature ponds promotes relaxation-while tumbling fountains and waterfalls add excitement.
Add hummingbird, butterfly or bird feeders to the garden. This adds movement, sound and visual stimuli to the garden. Songbirds enhance the natural elements of a sensory garden with their bright colors and cheerful song. Hummingbirds add zest as they zoom through the garden in search of nectar, and their bright feeders create brilliant color.
Add wind chimes in breezy areas to create background sounds. Use care when selecting chimes and avoid those produce tinny or harsh sounds. Natural bamboo creates soothing music in a gentle breeze.
Design a sitting area for visitors to rest and take in the joys of the garden. Garden benches, large stones or fallen logs add to the appeal or the garden, and provide an area to rest and relax. Consider the comfort of garden visitors when choosing seating.
Once your sensory garden is complete, grab that cup of morning coffee–or a cool drink at the end of a long day–and sit back and relax. If you are feeling generous, invite the neighbors over to share a bit of paradise for a while.
Herb Society. Herbs for the Sensory Garden.
Country Side Ranger Service.How to Plan a Sensory Garden
University of Vermont Extension: Using Color in the Garden