Sensory Gardens

What has the ability to calm, creates options for accessibility and wellbeing, and can stimulate your mind and creativity?  A garden, naturally.  What makes a sensory garden any different to your regular back yard? It’s all about highlighting the 6 senses.

Taste - have you got plants in your garden that you can eat? You don’t have to have a vegetable garden, it would be something as simple as a bay tree for adding leaves to stews and soups, or a lemon scented myrtle for creating a delicious citrus tea. Maybe you even have a beehive or chickens, or a thriving kitchen garden and really do get to taste your backyard, or perhaps it’s just a lime tree in a pot on the balcony that is your go too for the evening aperitif.


Sound - plants don’t talk, I can hear you say, but perhaps they do? If you’ve ever read The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben you could be forgiven for thinking perhaps they did chatter amongst themselves. Of course, there are some fantastic sounds trees make in the breeze as their leaves rustle, and then there’s the wonderful music made from birds and even some insects like bees and cicadas as they go about their daily business. If that’s not enough sound, or perhaps you’re trying to block out unwanted noise, consider putting in a water feature...and not only do they sound great, but they also attract birds as they quench their thirst and bath. Even a backyard fire pit can add the enticing sounds of the crackling of a fire, and certainly an alluring glow and warmth.


Sight - the colours of the garden are of course one of the reasons we all get caught up in the magic. Flowers, changing autumn leaves, bright new growth, the tracery if stems in winter or the lush green of a lawn; all pull you in to their spell. Utilise architectural and sculptural plants to create garden rooms with hedging and focal points; the more you can screen out boundaries, yet still give glimpses of borrowed landscapes and trees, the larger and more interesting your space will feel. To extend your seasonal interest from spring to year-round, one good tip is to visit us every month, and buy a flowering shrub or perennial then, that way over a year you really do have a garden for all seasons, with something flowering at all times.


Touch - Many plants are tactile, some in a delightful way like the downy leaves of Lamb’s Ears (Stachys) and others with less friendly thorns and prickles. To make an interesting garden that you can touch, imaging various feelings you might want to experience - the coolness of grass, the crunch of dry leaves, the feathery softness of ornamental grass flowering heads. Consider plant combinations so that play up shiny and felted foliage, large leaves and fine textured ferns, and succulent leaves to contrast them with each other.


Smell - it’s hard to get carried away, not only by the breadth of plants that have fragrance, but also by the scents themselves, when it comes to the garden. There are so many wonderful perfumes in the garden, from floral, to herbaceous to woodsy and citrusy. Plant things like creeping mint or thyme where the leaves will be bruised when you walk on them, and you can experience the wafting fragrance on your travels. Plant fragrant foliage like lavender next to pathways to brush past and enjoy them, and consider planting scented trees like lemon scented gums, lemon scented tea trees and many others like pines and Eucalypts so that you have those wonderful essential oil permeating the air after rains or on hot days. Perfumed plants outside bedrooms will help you with “sweet dreams” and climbing plants with perfume, such as jasmine, will envelop you when your outside under a pergola.


Anticipation - so strictly speaking the sixth sense is not anticipation, but it is a subtle combination of other preceptors that help us keep track of our own bodies and anticipate changes. In the garden, think of the sixth sense of the expectation of what’s to come, the knowledge of the seasons, the hope of success, the joy of harvest... it’s the ache for fulfillment and prides that all gardeners yearn for.


By: Meredith Kirton