Creating a Sensory Garden

Do you know we have 5 senses? Of course, you do! When one of them is jeopardized, we focus so much on what’s missing than what we have left.

I am called by many 'The Haphazard Gardener’ because I tend to throw things into my garden to see how they do. That may mean that things get moved or re-moved later. There are some plants that do exceedingly well like my rebloomer gardenia. For most of the year it has blossoms. In the Spring, it’s heavy with buds which turn into beautiful large blooms. The scent is incredible! I was cutting blooms to bring them indoors when I thought again about a sensory garden.

A sensory garden

As I was gathering my gardenias, the headline of an article came to mind. It had gotten a lot of responses in my Facebook group: Japanese Man Plants a Field of Flowers for His Blind Wife. She’d lost some of her vision due to diabetes. He planted a garden filled with plants with lovely scents which become a tourist attraction in Japan.1

What could be in a sensory garden? Here are some suggestions, some from my garden, some from the gardens of others.

Sight

Moonflowers have large blooms that open at night and are easy to see if you take a flashlight outside with you or if you have the light of the moon (gee, there’s ‘moon’ in their name!). There are various colors, but I like white because they show up best at night and reflect what light they get. Night-blooming cereus is a plant that fits into two categories because not only do that have huge white blooms at night, but when they open, the scent is awesome!

Bright colored flowers

There are other plants that have large blooms including hibiscus, dinner plate dahlias, and sunflowers. Plants that are white, blue, yellow, or red are great since those are the colors that those with macular degeneration can see best. Don't forget to include plants whose leaves are light-colored.

Light-reflecting baubles

Other things you can include are objects that reflect light such as gazing balls and mirrors. Mirrors are a great way to make your garden look larger. Think about adding colorful banners, too.

Taste

The first plants that come to mind are fruits and vegetables. I’ve been known to take a salt shaker outside to harvest tomatoes and eat them there! Yum! Have you ever harvested vegetables such as green beans and munched on a few before they got into the house?

Of course, herbs and spices are wonderful for our sense of taste. Do you know that there’s a chocolate mint that does taste like chocolate and mint! Also, there’s sage, rosemary, oregano, lemon verbena, rosemary, spearmint, chives, garlic, basil, dill. You can sit in the middle of your herb garden and taste them all as you decide how to use them in food.

Smell

The list of aromatic plants in long: gardenia, jasmine, some roses, honeysuckle, lilac, lavender, sweet alyssum, lemon-scented geraniums, peonies, hyacinth, mock orange.

Don’t forget the not-as-obvious scents such as that of pine needles.

When you’re sitting in your herb garden tasting the mint, sage, rosemary, and other, don’t forget to pinch them and breathe in their scent.

Touch

When I was little, my parents would take us to the farm that was my dad’s home place. There were wild plants everywhere, but my favorite was lamb’s ears with their velvety feel. You can grow it in your garden. We also had pussy willow with their fuzzy ends. I love hens and chicks which are very easy to grow.

Don’t forget the feel of fern fronts, Irish moss, and the barks of trees. Be careful with the thorns on roses, but that certainly has an obvious feel.

Sound

I love the sound of wind chimes. I have them spread around my yard so that when I’m outside, I’m never out of range of their ‘tinkling.’ My favorite one is made of metal tubes cut to various lengths. It’s bulky, but the sound is distinct and loud.

Rustling wind

Tall grasses such as fountain grass, bamboo, corn stalks make rustling noises when the wind blows through them. In the fall, there are fallen leaves that we can hear crunch below our feet.

Buzzing and chirping

I have quite a few plants to attract bees, hummingbirds, and yardbirds, so I have plenty of buzzing, whooshing, and chirping. For the bees, I have butterfly bushes and black-eyed Susans. For the hummingbirds, I have a nectar feeder right outside my screened-in porch. For the birds, I have several different kinds of food in several feeders. I also have holly, beautyberry, and pyracantha berries for different seasons of the year.

Running water

Water features are extremely popular, and it’s no wonder why. The sound of running water is very relaxing, isn’t it? Make sure there’s enough room for the birds and other critters to get their drinks.

Your sensory garden

I hope I’ve given you some ideas for your special garden. One last thing: Make sure you and your guests can get close to the plants. Climbing roses, honeysuckle, and jasmine are great especially when you can get close to them. Vary the type of plants so you have ones that creep, trail, or are upright. Don’t forget to vary the types of materials you use for the path.

Most importantly, use all of your senses to enjoy nature’s variety.

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