Sensory gardens are gardens that are designed to offer an enjoyable time for all kinds of visitors, but they are especially beneficial to young children who greatly benefit from a wide variety of sensorial experiences. They are usually geared towards a particular sense such as scent or sound, but you can integrate all sorts of sensory installations in your garden to offer your kids a fun and stimulating environment to learn in.
Here we have listed the aspects of a sensory garden you should take into consideration if you want to make some changes to your home garden, especially if you want your kids to reap the benefits that these sorts of outdoor installations can bring. We will outline the benefits of each below, so you can decide for yourself which ones will best suit your family!
- Think like a child
When you’re making a sensory garden for your small child to learn through the experience of moving through it, you’ll want to get on their level (literally and figuratively) so you can custom-design the garden to suit their small bodies and curious minds.
How will they experience the space you create for them? What stories are you going to tell them as you guide them through the garden?
You’ll need a well-thought-out plan for your sensory garden. You may need hard landscaping elements such as paths, water fountains and seating areas. This is why it pays to plan for these things in advance so you don’t have to undo any of your hard work at any point in the future
- Keep it local
This is good advice for any garden, and especially true if you’re not the biggest fan of garden maintenance. To keep your sensory garden as low-maintenance as possible, choose plants from the local environment. They’ll also thrive much more easily.
Having plants that are native to your area will also allow you to teach your child about the biosphere and how it all works together. You will also be supporting local wildlife which is always a positive thing to do.
- What’s that sound?
Supporting wildlife also encourages the use of one of the five senses that the sensory garden will stimulate – hearing! Insects like crickets make sounds that you can point out to your child. Other insects will also be more likely to come if you use local plants.
Common plants used to stimulate the sense of hearing are bamboo shoots and ornamental grasses, that make lovely sounds in the wind. It is important to know that bamboo grows very fast so you must watch out for it and not let it overrun your garden.
You can also use installations to create beautiful sounds like wind-chimes and water-fountains.
- Is it soft or hard?
Touch is an important sense to stimulate and can be done in many different ways. Plants like soft lamb’s ear and different kinds of mosses provide various textures for your child to explore. Stimulate their curiosity by allowing them to touch all of the plants around them – so don’t include anything dangerous or prickly like roses or agave.
You can also use cape sundew, a sticky, colourful, and carnivorous plant – children love to learn that plants can also eat like us!
- Here, smell this!
Smell is a very important sense for memory-making. Think of gardenia, honeysuckle especially. It has a very strong smell and will perfume an entire area around it. Plant a herb garden and allow your child to hold bunches up to their nose and mouth.
Lavender and mint are lovely plants to have though mint can easily overrun a garden (like bamboo) so watch out for that one! Other scent-filled plants include geraniums and chocolate cosmos – a very interesting plant that releases a chocolate-like smell which kids will love!
- Look, what’s that?
Think of using a variety of plants in terms of what they look like. Are they stout and bushy, tall and proud, do they climb, crawl or stand by themselves? What colour are they? Choose brightly coloured flowers such as sweet alyssum, sunflowers, fuschia and lavender.
Some of these have the double whammy effect of smelling good, feeling interesting and looking stunning! Stimulate your child’s artistic senses by having them trace around the outlines of the beautiful flowers, or by pressing them into a book and writing down their names.
- Mm, try this!
Don’t forget about the most delectable of senses – taste! Kids who otherwise might not be interested by fruits and veggies can learn to appreciate what plants taste like when they try them in the garden.
You can have fruits bushes or trees, herbs and spices as well as veggies to eat right there and then in the garden. Snap peas and tomatoes are especially scrumptious like this.
Some flowers are also safe to eat (like pansies, evening primroses and hibiscus – you can also make tea out of hibiscus flowers), so try to pick some and add them to your salads to show your family the value of growing things ourselves and how beautiful dishes can be with some extra colours!
Sensory gardens are especially beneficial to children with disabilities but integrating the ideas and principles behind them will help any child to connect with nature and their own body. This is important to build a strong and curious mind, especially in the very early years. Take some of these ideas into consideration for next year’s garden if you have curious little ones! Get in touch with a gardener if you have more questions – they’ll be able to help you out.