How to create a sensory garden
The silky petals of a fragrant pink shrub rose; the crunchy texture of a gravel path; a nook where grass rustles and a stream runs. What we smell, see, hear, touch and taste can make a garden walk a wonderful sensory experience.
If you’re designing a garden, consider creating one that’s a feast for one, several or all of the senses. For a sensory garden, consider two things: your area’s hardiness zone and which senses you want to focus on. Think about what attracts you to a garden. Is it mostly the scents, or is it the visuals? Perhaps you’re moved by how elements in a garden sound. Or are you a tactile person who likes to touch every plant, rock and tree?
Sight: A swath of cool blues, purples and whites provides a soothing, tranquil atmosphere. Warm yellows, oranges and reds are more energetic. Varieties of green — pines, grasses, ornamental shrubs — can bring a Zen vibe to the garden. You may want to add some artistic elements as well, especially if you have small children: hanging ribbons or mobiles, or ornamentals that attract wildlife. Consider bee balm, red columbine, lantana and trumpet vine to draw hummingbirds. Echinacea, buddleia, black-eyed susan, Joe Pye weed, coreopsis and violets will call the butterflies.
Touch: Consider plants with an interesting feel. Fuzzy lamb’s ears, soft mosses and succulents, cottony silver sage, prickly or spiky thistles, broom, conifers and other trees with intriguing bark. For the hardscaping, you’ll want pebbles, stones or gravel, or a padded path of grass, fine mulch or sand. A metal bench that warms in the sun and cools in the shade provides additional tactile interest, as does fencing, and vessels made of textured or smooth materials.
Sound: Put seating near rustling grasses or hard-stemmed plants like bamboo that make knocking noises in a breeze. Deciduous tree leaves whoosh, and pine trees whisper. A little portable trickling fountain makes even a small garden feel grounded in nature; a water feature of any sort will likely attract songbirds and small animals or reptiles. A wind chime may play a tune in the slightest breath of air.
Taste: Plant edibles like nasturtiums, mint, pansies and berries that can be eaten right off the bush as visitors walk your garden.
Smell: Jasmine, geranium, rose, honeysuckle, gardenia, lavender. If your zone allows for one or two of these heady scents, you’ll have a featured performer in your sensory garden. Herbs like lemon balm, thyme and peppermint are aromatic and easy to grow. Consider blending scented plants like chocolate cosmos and mock orange; pineapple sage and vanilla-scented clethra; curry plant and ornamental pine or cedar. Night bloomers like tuberose, moonflower, white nicotiana, and peacock orchid have intense perfumes that give the evening garden a chance to perform.