Sensory Garden Ideas

In the United States, people often rely too heavily on visual cues when building a garden. While a pleasing visual design is important, it is beneficial to create a garden that involves all of your senses. Surrounding yourself with pleasant smells and soothing sounds will help you relax after a stressful day's work.


Frame a view with a thick hedge or tall flowers close to a narrow path pointing to a distant landscape, or build an arbor leading to a corner filled with squares of different colored and textured herbs. Explore color with plantings of bright, contrasting flowers in yellow and violet, blue and orange or red against deep greenery. Add ornaments, like gazing globes, statuary or mosaic stepping-stones inlaid with colorful tiles and bits of polished glass to catch the light.


Odors are released by warmth, so fill sunny spots with fragrant herbs and flowers. Herbs such as creeping thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) grow well between stepping stones, providing scent when trodden on. Night bloomers like flowering tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) or night-blooming cereus (Hylocereus undatus) are delightfully fragrant near a garden bench to be enjoyed on a summer evening. Of course, you do not want to overlook roses, but many less showy plants like basil have leaves redolent of cinnamon, cloves, licorice or lemon. Geraniums are also valued for the variety of scents their leaves produce. If you live below zone 8, citrus trees (especially oranges and lemons) produce highly fragrant flowers.


Create a small garden pool in a shady nook. Surround it with rounded rocks---some smooth and some rougher textured. Grow soft mosses over the ground for comfortable poolside seats, and add feathery ferns between stones. Enjoy the feel of the water, moss, stones and plants all the more in the dim light, where vision takes a back seat to touch. In brighter areas, plant mullein (Verbascum Thapsus), sometimes called "beggar's blanket," for the soft, blanket-like leaves, or plant velvetleaf mallow (Abutilon theophrastii) or lamb's ear (Stachys lanata). Position velvetleaf in the back of a border or near a fence as it can grow well over 6 feet tall. Lamb's ear is a cute, front-of-the-border plant.


Add taste to the garden with fruits and vegetables. Of course you can incorporate ornamental cabbages in flower borders, but many pepper plants make lovely additions to flower gardens as well. Hanging baskets of cherry tomatoes provide bite-sized nibbles, as do edible pod peas--which also have pretty flowers. Strawberry pyramids or potted blueberries are other nice additions to a flower garden. Intersperse onions and garlic (Alliums pp.) with nasturtiums (Tropaeolum spp.) and calendula (Calendula officianalis)---for edible, ornamental plants.


Invite birds to sing for you in the garden by planting bird-loving plants. Sunflowers attract a variety of seed eaters, and goldfinches are particularly fond of thistle seeds. Do not forget to entice hummingbirds. Plant red salvias (Salvia spp.) or trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) close to a bench so you can listen to the whizzing sounds of their tiny wings as they zoom past. Hang wind chimes in the garden for a distant tinkling sound, or enjoy the gurgle of a garden fountain. If Japanese styling suits your design, the traditional bamboo fountain or shishi odoshi, which splashes and clacks, is a nice touch.

Keywords: sensory gardens, garden for senses, fragrant gardens, gardens for touch

About this Author

Deborah Stephenson is a freelance writer and artist, who brings over 25 years of both professional and life experience to her writings. Stephenson features a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. She is an anthropologist & naturalist, and has published a field guide on Michigan's flora & fauna as well as numerous political and environmental articles.