Create a Sensory Garden

Create a Sensory Garden

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A sensory garden for children and adults with special needs provides a relaxing area to stimulate all five senses. A safe haven to touch, smell, taste, see and hear the wonders of nature. Sensory gardens are intimate spaces that can be used for meditation, reading, and maybe a nice nap.

Girl in flower field
Photo by Thu Trang Nguyễn Trần on Unsplash

Sensory Garden Benefits

A sensory garden is filled with plants that are edible, soft, stimulating, fragrant, and interesting. If you have a special needs child, you are used to keeping a watchful eye for danger in the environment. In a sensory garden, children can be free to explore, touch, smell, and taste without fear.

Sensory Gardens in Medicine

I have updated this article to show just how mainstream Sensory Gardens are becoming. In the UK, doctors are prescribing them for mental health and dementia patients. I think this is incredibly exciting to use all modalities instead of just medications. Read more about GP’s prescribing them for health.

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Design and Layout

A popular design for a sensory garden is the keyhole design with a shape that look just like an old-fashioned keyhole lock on a door. A short path leading to a circular pad of grass or ground cover suitable for sitting on.

The path can be made from different textures that are to be felt under bare feet. A rock path with step-able ground covers planted in the cracks or irish moss. A sandy path to squish between the toes is another option.

Moss growing between pavers
Photo by Thomas Dils on Unsplash

The top of the keyhole should have plants that are in graduating heights to create a small room or private area. You could plant large grasses around the back and shorter plants as you come closer in to the center.

Garden Features for Wildlife

It’s always a good idea to incorporate housing, food, and water for the wildlife to attract them to your garden. A bee and butterfly waterer, hummingbird feeder, bird houses, and bug hotels are great ways to make your garden welcoming to wildlife.

Hummingbird at feeder
Photo by Jeremy Lwanga on Unsplash

Here are some great links to a few DIY projects for the sensory garden:

Plants & Bulbs - Shop Now - BloomingBulb

Decorative Garden Features

While you are planning your sensory garden, imagine it in use. Walking down the path to a small, intimate area to sit or lay down. You may think about using a bench or an old tree stump or large rock.

Child planting in raised garden bed
Photo by Charlotte Coneybeer on Unsplash

A small fountain or water feature provides the garden with the relaxing sound of water bubbling and trickling. I prefer a bubbling fountain to avoid standing water that can be a drowning hazard and attract mosquitoes.

Sensory Garden Elements

Sight

Plants that are visually interesting in their textures, shapes, and colors are perfect for the sensory garden.

  • Sunflowers for color and extreme height (also taste when the seeds are ripe)
  • Rhubarb and Rainbow Swiss Chard (also edible)
  • Marigolds
  • Echinacea (color and spiky center for touch)
  • Chameleon plant
Girl in sunflower field
Photo by Charlotte Coneybeer on Unsplash

Smell

Many herbs release their fragrance just by brushing your hand over the leaves. Smell the lovely familiar aromas that you often find in the kitchen.

  • Lavender (also great for sight and touch)
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Sage (Silver sage is also good for touch and sight)
  • Chocolate Cosmos
  • Lemon geraniums
  • Mint
Children in lavender field
Photo by Phil Hodkinson on Unsplash

Taste

I love bringing in edible plants to the garden. There’s nothing like fresh veggies, fruits, and herbs from the garden that you know are safe from pesticides.

  • Spearmint
  • Rosemary
  • Chives
  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry
  • Basil
  • Lettuce
  • Radish
  • Peas
  • Green beans
Strawberry plants
Photo by Farsai Chaikulngamdee on Unsplash

Touch

Plants that have interesting textures just beg to be touched and experienced. Bring these safe options into the garden and encourage visitors to touch them.

  • Sage
  • Lamb’s ear
  • Irish Moss
  • Ferns
  • Echinacea
Moss growing on rock
Photo by Jacob Li on Unsplash

Sound

Nature brings her own harmony to the garden but why not supplement with some soothing sounds?

  • Quaking grass
  • Fountain grass
  • Bamboo
  • Wind chimes
  • Water feature
Water feature for sensory garden
Photo by Dan Wayman on Unsplash

Your Sensory Garden Awaits

Create a sensory garden today in your own yard. Don’t have a garden? Create a sensory planter with lovely smelling herbs and flowers in a container. Don’t let space hold you back!

Rosemary, lavender, thyme, oregano and sage.
Rosemary, lavender, thyme, oregano and sage.

A sensory garden is a great place for children to explore and play. Design your garden with safe plants and elements for children with special needs. This type of garden is not only beneficial to children, but also for adults with dementia, anxiety, and depression.

Sensory Garden for children with special needs
Sensory Garden for children with special needs

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41 Replies to “Create a Sensory Garden”

    1. Love these ideas! I have a large backyard garden and it includes all of these elements, for the Joy and pleasure they bring. I had not thought about it in this way, however it is a sensory garden! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Honestly, I think it’s good for everyone, but especially children with special needs. I sit in my garden and try to be still and quiet my mind and listen to the nature speak.

  1. A sensory garden looks such a great idea! I would love to actually make something like this in my garden too. I might try to make a sensory planter instead, as I don’t have much space. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

    Isa

    1. The last picture of the planter with herbs is a mini-sensory garden. I encourage visitors to touch the leaves and run their hands across, then smell their hand. My daughter thinks it smells like pizza. It’s wonderful to breathe it in! You could easily do this in a small space. Thanks for reading.

  2. I absolutely LOVE this – what a wonderful way to not only worth with sensory input, but also to teach a love of the natural world at the same time!

    1. Thank you Britt! I agree, now more than ever, we need to connect our children to nature and disconnect from the digital world. Thank you for your comments!

  3. What a fantastic idea! I don’t have a garden, but my parents always had a massive garden. It was always so peaceful to stroll through it as a child, and even as an adult now. People need to connect with nature; it has stopped in the 20th-21st century. Especially those with special needs, I can see how this could help them so much. Thank you for this post!

  4. A lovely post, filled with creative ideas! I love the sensory garden. When my daughter was little, I had a Waldorf-inspired family childcare and we incorporated many of these ideas into our environment. Fragrant herbs are loved by children, and so many fun activities can be done with them. Another cool thing I’ve seen in public gardens are chimes installed in the ground that children (and adults) can step on to create musical sounds.

    1. Thank you for the wonderful comments. You understand exactly what I was going for with this. I love just clearing the mind and using the senses to relax!

  5. I’ve never heard of a sensory garden, but I am really interested in doing this in my own yard. I think it would be perfect, especially with the ideas you wrote about.

    1. I wrote this with elders and special needs children in mind however, I think it’s good for everyone! A relaxing place to unplug and refresh. Thanks for your comments and I hope you try it!

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