Sensory gardens

Just researching sensory gardens:

I quite like what has to say: “What is a sensory garden?

layout of sensory garden - Athelas plantsSensory gardens provide intimate spaces where young children can be immersed in the scents, textures and colors of plants and related elements. Along with specially selected plants, sensory gardens may also include elements such as wind chimes, wind socks, flags, and children’s art. Two popular forms of sensory gardens are sensory pathways and keyhole gardens.

Sensory pathways

Sensory pathways can be constructed of smooth, flat, stepping stones or tree cookies with gaps wide enough for in-between planting. Stepping stones can be natural stone or concrete or made by children to include hand prints, leaf prints, shells, marbles, colored tile mosaics, or smooth glass. Glass blocks or clay bricks can be laid in the sensory pathway to add additional sensory richness and variety. Sensory pathways should be considered part of the larger pathway system and should not dead end. They can be installed as a narrow (18″-24″), short loop off the primary pathway (Figure 1) or a broad (36″-72″) connection between settings (Figure 2).

Keyhole gardens sensory garden planting natural learning

Keyhole gardens provide an intimate space to rest while immersed in sensory plants. Keyhole gardens are shaped like a skeleton keyhole with a narrow entry and bulbous, interior space wide enough for a young child or two to sit and reach the plantings on either side (approximately 24” – 36” wide). Keyhole gardens can be installed as a subspace along a sensory path or be designed as a stand-alone setting.

Figure 1. Sensory pathway as a short loop off primary pathway. Keyhole garden added along sensory pathway.”embankment slide - cool

“How wide should I make my primary pathway?

Primary pathways should be wide enough to accommodate intense pedestrian and wheeled-toy traffic, helping children stay on the pathway and pass each other without conflict.

In our experience, primary pathways within preschool outdoor learning environments should be a minimum of 5 feet, with a preferred width of 6 feet.  Primary pathways within infant and toddler outdoor learning environment can be narrower (4 feet minimum), because the children are smaller and do not move through the environment as quickly.”

Athelas Plants similarly write: “Sensory Gardens – We are finding more and more schools, parks, hospitals, and therapy/care centres are talking to us regarding the creation of sensory gardens. This page is a resource for sensory gardens, what they are, who they are for, how to build one, and what plants are used in creating a sensory Garden.

What is a Sensory Garden – very much as the name suggests a sensory garden is a designated area that is landscaped and planted out with the sole purpose of stimulating the sensations of Touch, Smell, Sight, Taste, and Sound.

Who are Sensory Gardens for – really anyone who likes the concept, it can be considered as recreational, educational, and also therapeutic.

A sensory garden will have great appeal to children and people with special needs, encouaraging active participation in a fun and stimulating outdoor setting, encouraging exploration of the colours, textures, sounds and scents in the garden.

A successful Sensory Garden might have:

  • Plenty of seating, places to relax and enjoy
  • Running water, waterfalls/water features – always very relaxing.
  • Strategically placed wind chimes.
  • Diversity of shapes and textures through landscaping, Wood, brick, plastics, rubber, cobbles, gravels, metals.
  • Ease of Access around the Sensory garden, but also to the various plant and landscaping textures to allow touch.
  • Artwork, murals, bright colours, strong shapes.
  • Lighting, can transform Sensory gardens, especially if the setting can be enjoyed in the evenings.
  • Highly scented and visual plants are a great way to attract birds, bees and butterflies to the Sensory Garden.
  • Situate the Sensory garden in a bright sunny spot to maximise the selection of plants.
  • Do not create Sensory gardens near noisy busy roads.

Plants to tantalize the senses


  • Scent can be employed in a sensory garden by various means.
  • Fragrant flowers – Roses, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Sweet Peas, Hardy Gardenia.
  • Enticing aromas of the Curry Plant, Wisteria, Chocolate cosmos, Mock Orange.
  • Rubbing and crushing foliage – many herbs such as Lavender, Rosemary, Mint, Lemon Balm.
  • It’s important to groups the fragrant and aromatic plants accordingly.


  • Sound is derived by movement affected by wind. This can be both subtle and calming.
  • The rustling of leaves and stems the whispering sounds of wind passing through ornamental grasses or the busy rustling of bamboo stems can all be found in a succesful sensory garden.
  • Other natural sounds in the sensory garden will be the buzz and drone of bees and insects industriously going about their business in spring and summer.
  • Bamboo to use can be black bamboo and the big leaved Arrow Bamboo.
  • There are many grasses which would grace a sensory garden including fountain grass, feather grass, japanese blood grass, Zebra grass to name but a few.


  • Ok this can be a fun thing, but great care must be taken especially around the young, when it comes to eating plants.
  • Make sure the edible plants are clearly identified and ideally separated from othe non-edible plants.
  • There’s a great number of edible fruits, vegetables and herbs to choose from. Some favourites are wild strawberry, Mint, Chives and rosemary.


  • The diversity of life, and its ability to protect itself from predatation, and climate creates means there are a multitude of textures to be found within plants.
  • Leaves can be glossy, hairy, furry, flat, serratted, spiky to name but a few. This incredible variation also applies to the very many types of bark that can be found.
  • The touchy feely plants we like to use include Cotton Lavender, Fatsia japonica, Mahonia x Charity, Banana plants, Colocasis, Ferns, Oranmental Grasses, Lamb’s ears, Silver sage, and soft fleshy succulent plants


  • Plants with vibrant coloured flowers, contrasting foliage colours, and strong, bold architecture, make fantastic subjects in a sensory garden.
  • Great flowering, happy, fun plants – Poppies, Cornflowers, Marigolds and other wildflowers, sun-flowers.
  • For the selection of structural plants consider Palm trees, Cordylines, Phormiums and Jungle Plants, ferns, especially tree ferns.”

Web resources: AND related page:


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in early years education, ecological literacy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s