What is a Sensory Garden? A sensory garden is meant to appeal to ALL the senses, not only our visual sense. They are often utilized with special needs populations and are found to have therapeutic value for many individuals.
We are most familiar with the sights of a garden. Enhance the visual appeal with plants of varying flower colors, including red, soft grey and mixed color foliage. Consider plants with different textures and shapes and some (like grasses and tall plants) that will sway with the breeze.
The sense of sound will be enhanced with features, such as wind chimes, grasses that rustle and textured paths that make sounds as you walk on them. Having a birdbath will add bird calls and visual interest. If you have a pathway, incorporate gravel or stones that produce sound when walking.
For the sense of touch, include plants that can tolerate some touch and “petting.” Hosta, coneflowers and yarrow are all quite tolerant of touching. Vary the textures of plants, so that you have some smooth leaves and flowers and some larger or fuzzy textures (purple sage). Some plants are just fun to touch, such as lamb’s ears, astilbe (with its fern-life foliage) and sunflower heads.
For the sense of smell, choose plants with appealing scents, such as roses, lily of the valley, honeysuckle, and the annual nicotinia, which produces a scent at night. Grow some annual herbs, such as mint, thyme or rosemary. Pick them for a salad or crush the leaves in your hands to experience the scent.
What are native plants and why should I have them? Native plants and trees grow naturally in a geographic area, and provide food and sustenance to birds and butterflies. Many of the plants and trees we see in garden centers are lovely, but they are not native to the United States. They don’t provide the needed support for our native wildlife and are not as hardy.
Consider plants, such as coneflowers, sunflowers, yarrow, hosta, beebalm, coreopsis, veronica and native blueberry shrubs. Any variety of milkweed is an important food plant for monarch butterflies. These are all perennials, so they return each year.
How to get started! Planting and tending a garden is a wonderful child and family-friendly activity, and a fantastic way to welcome Spring! And, of course, when your plants and flowers come into bloom, you can enjoy them all season. Whether you want flowers or food, there are easy growers to get start started on this Spring.
A garden can be a large plot of ground, or as simple as a container or a flower pot. It can be fancy or as simple as three ingredients (pot, soil and seeds).
There are many seeds that will grow well when planted directly in the garden. Some easy and hardy annual flower seeds are zinnias, sunflowers, marigolds, cleome and alyssum. Seeds are available at garden centers, home stores and even some supermarkets.
It’s fun to look through the seed packages together and decide what to grow. Easy, high-producing vegetables include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and zucchini, which are easily planted from small containers. If you are adventurous, hot pepper varieties are pretty. Luckily, all seed packets have instructions! Watering and weeding your garden are two activities everyone can do together. And, then, pick some flowers for your table, or make a salad, and enjoy what you have created!
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Written by Allison Weideman, Chatham School Psychologist