Gardens are, by their very nature, a wonderfully sensory experience. Even the simplest walk through a rose garden or a apple orchard will immerse you in a variety of scents, sights and sounds.
Creating a sensory garden for kids is a great way to encourage them to spend time in nature and to help them develop a love of gardening and all things green.
You can specially plan your sensory garden to appeal to all five senses and, by doing so will provide kids with education, rich experiences and a sense of having been on an adventure.
What is a Sensory Garden?
A sensory garden allows the individual to enjoy a variety of sensory experiences by stimulating all five senses. They have a range of benefits especially amongst children.
A sensory garden should include all five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. This will be easier with some senses than with others, but with a bit of thought and planning, all the senses can be incorporated into your garden.
What are the Benefits of a Sensory Garden?
Sensory gardens have a range of benefits for children both physically and mentally especially for those living with disability.
Some of the benefits of a sensory garden include:
– Sensory stimulation – it wouldn’t be a sensory garden without sensory stimulation of course!
– Encouraging physical activity – get moving in the garden to increase muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness and even coordination and balance. Being physically active can also improve mental wellbeing.
– Creating and maintaining relationships – working with others can teach children team work, communication and patience.
– Creating a calm space for reflection and meditation
– Building responsibility and accomplishment
Here are some ideas of how you can use plants and other gardening elements to appeal to your child’s senses.
Sight is probably the easiest sense to create in your garden. You should try to plant flowers from all colors of the spectrum. A fun, and educational, way to group them could be either in the seven colors of the rainbow, or in primary colors.
What plants are good for a sensory garden? Here are some plants that you could consider including in your garden, to appeal to your kids’ sense of sight.
– Roses come in all different colors but red roses usually smell fragrant as well.
– Lavender and some salvias are a beautiful lilac and purple.
– Nasturtiums and marigolds are yellow and orange.
– Pansies and violas come in every shade and have happy faces.
– Borage flowers, hydrangeas, clematis and rosemary blossoms are a beautiful blue.
– Begonias and Dianthas come in all shades of pink.
– Don’t forget white flowers. They add an ethereal feel, ideal for moonlit strolls.
– Blacks and browns are found in bark, seeds and cones.
Another way to appeal to a kid’s sense of sight is to include different shapes. Flowers, trees and grasses all come in different shapes and sizes.
Fennel and asparagus are feathery. Borage flowers are shaped like stars and passion fruits are oval. The list goes on and on – it’s as long as your imagination!
Including these kinds of plants can help kids to learn about different shapes, patterns and other tactile experiences.
One bonus of planting a garden, is the arrival of butterflies and bees, which will naturally gravitate to a garden filled with bright colors and sweet nectar. Click here to learn more about Creating a Butterfly Garden for Kids.
Hearing is probably the most difficult sense to incorporate into your sensory garden, as plants are generally silent.
However there are ways to include sound in your garden. Using the seasons is a great way to appeal to a kid’s sense of hearing.
During fall, you can hear the rustling leaves and the sound of the wind through trees. In winter you can listen for the crunch of the frosty grass beneath your feet, and in spring and summer you can listen for the sound of the humming beetles and buzzing bees.
All year around you can make your garden a home for birds. You can place bird feeders and bird baths to encourage bird song.
You may want to include an artificial sound like a wind-chime, which hangs in a tree. Another idea is to create a sensory pathway, through the garden, with crunchy wood chips or gravel. You could even add a solar powered water fountain for the soft trickling of water in the background.
Whenever you are out in the garden, ask the kids what sounds they can hear, to make them aware of the subtleties of sound in the sensory garden.
Kids love to smell things and the garden is a wonderful place to find all sorts of scents. The smell of flowers, damp earth and aromatic herbs are just some of the many scents you can find in the garden.
As you walk around, you can help guide them to name scents of the plants. For example, mint smells like toothpaste and roses smell like Granny’s perfume.
You can make a sensory pathway of mint, thyme or lawn chamomile. As the kids walk along it, their little feet will crush the plants and they’ll be delighted by the smells which are released.
This is also the perfect opportunity to explain how plants smell strongly to attract pollinators or to repel pests.
The sense of taste is a really fun one for kids to experience out in the garden. Herbs are probably the best plants to include in your sensory garden, as many of them are edible.
Herbs like mint, thyme, fennel and rosemary will offer kids a variety of different tastes. Plus, they will love recognising and tasting the different flavors, like the liquorice flavor in fennel or the roast chicken flavor in thyme. If you are short on space, check out our latest Herbie Aerogarden reviews.
Some flowers, like pineapple sage, have sweet tasting sap which children can suck from the base of the flower.
It’s very important to teach children not to taste plants without asking first though, as some plants are poisonous. Even though you would not plant them in your own sensory garden, they might get into the habit of tasting plants in other situations.
You can also teach kids about different tastes, like bitter, sour, sweet and salty, as long as you supervise it. Wormwood and aloe are bitter. Lemons and sweet clover are sour. Stevia and fennel are sweet and salt bush is very salty!
There are loads of ways to incorporate taste in your sensory garden, you could even make a herb tea or cordial as a treat at the end of the walk.
It’s easy to find plants with different textures and shapes. Rough, smooth, sharp, furry, spongy and soft are just a few of the tactile experiences plants can offer.
– Aloe vera is spongy and full of gooey sap.
– Lambs’ ears are soft and furry.
– Rose thorns are sharp.
– Many conifers are rough to touch.
– Lemon leaves are smooth and shiny.
Let the kids gently rub leaves to release the scent. It teaches them to handle plants safely and responsibly, and it’s fun.
A children’s sensory garden can be created in big and winding spaces or in smaller areas like large patio pots.
Wherever you decide to create your sensory garden for kids, remember they are ideal for kids of all ages but can be particularly beneficial for kids with learning problems or disabilities.