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Family-friendly Sensory Gardens

The goal of a sensory garden is to excite the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. A sensory garden can be designed to affect just one sense, or all five. It can be large like our Sensory Garden, or as small as a container garden, elaborate or simple. The important thing is that it engages the senses. A sensory garden can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Kids love to experience and process information through their senses. A sensory garden can be a safe place for them to explore, and a space for them to cultivate their curiosity for the natural world. 

You can be as creative as you want with a sensory garden. There are no rules, only loose guidelines, such as appealing to one or more senses and not using any toxic or harmful plants. You can follow a pattern where you create a zone for each sense or create mixtures to follow a particular theme. Beyond that, be creative! 

You could create a food themed garden to appeal to taste and smell. One perk of a food themed garden is utilizing this in the kitchen with kids, where they can assist in growing and harvesting plants used in their favorite dishes. Below are ideas for a food themed garden:

Pizza garden: tomatoes, peppers, parsley, oregano, basil, onions. 
Salsa garden:  tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers, cilantro, tomatillos, onions, garlic. 
Snack garden: cherry tomatoes, carrots, pickling cucumbers, sugar snap peas, corn (popcorn).
Salad Garden: lettuce, cabbage, arugula, spinach, micro-greens, spring/green onions, cherry tomatoes.
Fall Holiday garden: colorful pumpkins, ornamental corn and fun-shaped gourds.  

If you would like to experience a sensory garden today, you can visit Wellfield’s Sensory Garden. We created an inclusive garden for both children and adults. In the center, we added vegetables and herbs to excite your taste, touch and smell. In other areas, we have beautiful and fragrant flowers like roses, crocosmia and lilies to appease your sense of smell and sight. Other aspects of our sensory garden include a fountain that lends calming water sounds. 

For ideas to start your own sensory garden please see the lists below for some sensory-friendly plants!

Creating a garden that appeals to sight can be as simple as choosing plants or hardscape and landscape features that you find engaging to look at. A variety of colors, foliage, sizes of plants, and textures should be considered when choosing plants for your garden. Plants that attract butterflies and birds can add even more interest to behold the eyes. Examples would be: 
Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa
Blazing Star, Liatris spicata
Annuals such as Dahlias or Coleus 
Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata  

There are few flowers more interesting and beautiful than Crocosmia

Designating a place for herbs, vegetables, and even edible flowers is a great way to engage the  sense of taste in a sensory garden. You can even plant colorful chard, bright chilis, marigolds, and nasturtiums (edible flowers) to engage taste and sight all in one. Doing a food themed garden as discussed above is another great option. Some other ideas could include:
Serviceberry, Amelanchier

There is a long list of fragrant flowers that appeal to a sense of smell. Some that can really stand out are:
Summersweet Clethra alnifolia

When appealing to sense of hearing, think of seed pods that rattle like False Indigo Baptisia, or grasses that rustle in the breeze like Switchgrass Panicum virgatum, or plants, shrubs, or trees that attract birds to create music in your garden. Or, think outside the box and include varieties of plants that include music in their names like: Anemone x hybrida “Serenade” or Phlox paniculata “Franz Schubert”.

When considering touch, think of textures like the soft fuzzy leaves of lambs ear, Stachys byzantine, the spiny seed heads of coneflower Echinacea purpurea, or the peeling, paper-like bark of a River Birch Betula nigra. Other examples of tactile friendly plants could include:

Cockscomb Celosia
Yarrow Achillea Millefolium
Obedient plant Physostegia virginiana 

Fennel is light and feathery to the touch, is edible, and also quite fragrant

Creating a sensory garden can be a subjective and personal endeavor created for one individual, family and friends, or a public space enjoyed by many. One need only think of aspects that excite the senses when strolling through a garden, features that make you turn and engage with the natural world around you. Other than that, let creativity run wild. If you’re thinking of creating a Sensory garden at home, large or small, stop by Wellfield and take a walk through our Sensory garden, engage the senses and just maybe gain some inspiration. 

Kyle Strain
Lead Horticulturist

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