I love a good sensory garden and how they can delight and heighten our senses, how they can evoke fond memories and how they can draw us in to be immersed within the garden. Immersed in a visual, audible, olfactory, gustatory and tactile kind of way!
Sensory gardens are designed to encourage us to connect with the plants and other elements within the garden with each of our senses. This style of garden should really invite us into it rather than just providing a nice visual to be enjoyed as you casually wander past.
As a designer I thoroughly enjoy the fact that there is no set recipe for a sensory garden. While this could make it more challenging to design them, I believe that it actually makes them more exciting. These gardens are not something that come off a production line with each one being uniform and looking exactly the same as the next one, with an obligatory wind chime, fragrant rose, a lavender and a pot of mint!
We all engage with gardens in different ways depending on our interest, ability and also our stage of life. A successfully designed sensory garden is one that recognises these aspects and is in tune with those who will be using it. Which, amazingly, is the same principle for any garden design. I’ve seen a variety of sensory gardens with each one being completely different and I’ve really enjoyed each one. I’ve seen ones designed for the elderly that have a focus on reminiscence and familiarity, for children that focus on fun and discovery of new experiences within the garden, and for those with disabilities that incorporate a blend of both these focuses. Each garden met the needs of the users wonderfully.
There are just so many plants that work well for a sensory garden and it is difficult for me to limit my favourites, but in true sound of music style, these plants are a few of my favourite things for a sensory garden.
Pelargonium tomentosum – Peppermint Geranium
I love the soft texture and fragrance of the leaves, but interestingly I’m told it can also apparently be used when making a chocolate cake to add a peppermint flavour and also as a soothing effect for sore nipples of breastfeeding mothers! Suffice to say I’ll only try one of these suggestions!
Tradescantia pallida – Purple Hearts
This is an absolute favourite of mine. With its great purple foliage and small pink flowers. I think it just looks sensational especially when contrasted with lime green like the agave attenuata.
Passiflora – Passionfruit
This is a double whammy – fruit and an amazing flower. How can you not like a passionfruit flower with its layered structure and fabulous detail?
Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla – Rainbow Chard
It’s edible and it has wonderful foliage contrast colours. It reminds me of a map with green fields and roadways
Helianthus annus – Sunflower
This is a great bright and cheery flower that attracts the pollinators. It’s also a great plant for children as they can grow tall and tower over.
Iris germanica – Bearded Iris
These irises have a nice subtle fragrance and there are so many colours and varieties to choose from depending on whether your colour palette preference is strong and bold or soft and pale, or even a combination of both.
Heliotrope arborescens ‘Cherry Pie’
This has a lovely subtle sweet vanilla fragrance with soft purple flowers.
Kalanchoe beharensis – Felt Bush
While this is not the most glamorous looking plant, it has an amazing statuesque presence with wonderful large soft velvety leaves that are in contrast to its rough stem.
Rosa ‘Mr Lincoln’
I’m a sucker for a fragrant rose and this one just sends me back to my childhood at the local floral shows and I have a vivid memory of smelling a single stem specimen in a green wine bottle … brilliant!
Pelargonium ‘Mabel Grey’
One of my favourite pelargoniums! Rough textured leaf with a strong citrus fragrance.
Aeonium arboreum var. atropurpureum ‘Schwarzkopf’ – Black Rose
This is a great structural succulent with deep burgundy foliage and a bright yellow flower. I just love how the sunlight heightens the richness of the burgundy leaf colour and when you get close enough you can see it highlighting the finely toothed leaf margins.
Oh, but there are just so many more that I want to include, like curry herb, daphne, rose geranium, lamb’s ear ….. but that’s what I love about plants, there are just so many to choose from.