Photos and story contributed by Wendy Richard-Mount
A sensory garden is a garden environment designed with the purpose of stimulating the senses through harmonizing plants and materials that engage sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound.
These types of gardens are popular with both children and adults, and are beneficial to those living with sensory processing barriers such as autism, anxiety and dementia. These types of garden settings are especially beneficial to those living with hearing and visual impairments.
A sensory garden can be a collection of plants and other elements such as ponds, walkways and benches that can provide a wide range of sensory experiences.
While gardeners often choose plants for their visual beauty, exploring plants that stimulate the other senses is also something to think about. We actually experience more sensations than the five senses. Gravity, temperature, space and enclosure are some of them.
A sensory garden experience can be created by planting scented and tactile plants in pots and containers of different sizes and textures. Window ledges, walls and verandas make great spaces for these groupings.
Many outdoor plants do well as house plants. Pictured below are Red Zonal Geranium with Coleus. Both make great houseplants, and can easily be transferred from an outdoor pot to a one suitable for a window sill or plant hanger.
Sensory gardens encourage interaction with plants and other elements found in nature, so interpretive signs and access to the plants are important. Wide pathways, rest areas with benches, and wheelchair accessible raised garden beds are commonly found in sensory gardens. Safety and security is a number one consideration in designing a sensory garden. It is important that visitors can they can wander in wonder without barriers or expectations.
Sensory gardens can serve many functions. They're commonly used for teaching, socializing, meditation, reflection and as post-surgical therapy.
More than Just Plants
A sensory garden does not need to contain just plants that appeal to the senses. Pathways, hardscapes, feeders, and water features can be used for added sensory opportunities.
Hardscapes provide different textures that can be seen and felt, such as features created with concrete or stone. Water features provide another sensory experience providing opportunities for sight, sound, and touch.
The use of several elements, beyond plants, add to the sensory experience and enables the opportunity for flexibility in users. Through the creation of sensory gardens, many people can experience the beauty of the outdoors through more senses than just sight. Sensory gardens allow for an outdoor experience which engages all human senses which results in relaxation.
Lavender, pictured below, is most recognized by its scent and color, and is most commonly used in aromatherapy. The fragrance from the oils of the lavender plant is believed to help promote calmness and wellness. It’s also said to help reduce stress, anxiety, and possibly even mild pain.
Seen here, a path through the forest. The smell of fresh leaves,mosses, pine, spruce, maple and oak. Decaying leaves and evergreen needles makes for a soft footpath through the dense overhanging branches.
Opening the ears in a garden expands the senses and broadens the garden encounter. Provide seating areas in your sensory garden to pause and hear the sound of wind rushing through leaves, bamboo stems knocking together, grasses rustling, palm fronds swaying. Leaves can be left on the ground to crunch while walking and strolling through the gardens.
Plants offer a complete spectrum of color and foliage, changing and providing interest throughout the seasons. Flowers, leaves, bark, berries, and mosses all give the richness and changing color essential to a sensory garden. Bright colors, such as red and yellow, are cheery and stimulating to the eyes, creating interest through contrast, shape, patterns and movement.
Texture is most alluring in a sensory garden. Lamb's Ear is an example of a plant that invites touch. This plant's texture is often described as "fuzzy" or "velvety." Upon seeing the foliage, you are tempted to reach out and stroke it.
A Wandering Garden
A wandering garden is a type of sensory garden commonly designed for those living with dementia. But those living with other barriers can also enjoy this type of safe garden environment.
A safe outdoor garden environment can feel less threatening to others who live with physical limitations. For example, anyone undergoing restorative post-stroke therapy will be less self-conscious about manifesting physical deficits, such as tripping or stumbling, in a enclosed wandering garden setting.
A few of the many benefits of gardens for dementia patients include:
● An opportunity to enjoy the outdoors
● Exercise for the body, mind and spirit
● Decreased agitation and anxiety
● Helps promote a better quality of sleep
● The chance to regain self-confidence
● Increased feelings of self-worth
● A chance to find purpose
Whether being part of a gardening club, or simply having a space to share with friends and family, gardening is a great therapeutic intervention to encourage feelings of well-being.
Master Gardner Wendy Richard-Mount has been gardening and landscaping in the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia for eight years.
Wendy specializes in both residential and industrial design and maintenance.
She is also a photographer, writer and artist and creates art using elements found in nature.