How To Create A Sensory Garden

17/06/2009 13:30 | Updated 22 May 2015

I admit there's more plastic in my garden than I'd like. There's the swing (actually metal and plastic), sandpit (not wooden, alas) and the climbing frame.

While I don't resent their garden toys, I'm keen not to introduce any more.

But I also want our garden to be a place where my children can explore, a haven from their busy world and somewhere we can all enjoy.

So I've been pondering long and hard about our back garden. And I've decided to make it more of a sensory garden.

Luckily for me I had the chance to think about this in greater depth when I was asked to come up with some plans for a new outside area at my children's school.

Once I had started on this new endeavour, I found I was literally bursting with ideas, most of which can be incorporated into a family garden.


My most favourite idea, I think, is a path made out of various materials, which is wonderfully tactile. It can be straight, although I think meandering is more interesting, and easy and inexpensive to do.

Mark out a path with sand and divide it into sections (how large your sections are depends on the length of your path). One section can have pebbles collected off a favourite beach or on holiday, embedded into cement and another mosaics, perhaps spelling out names or initials. Other sections include sand, bark chippings, wood, bricks and a checkerboard planting alternating creeping thyme or chamomile with concrete.

Plants play a large part in the garden and there are some special ones which will engage not only children's sense of smell but of touch too.

Children love touching plants so it would be a lovely idea to include teasels, chinese lanterns and honesty. The last, which forms papery discs, is a firm favourite of mine and reminds me of my grandparents' garden. All of these are wonderful to look at and touch but can also be used for crafting once dried.

There are also wonderfully soft plants like lamb's ear (Stachys lanata) which is irresistible to stroke along with salvia argentea and senecio cineraria which make wonderful beds for fairies and elves.


Plants for smell could include chocolate scented cosmos, sweet peas, honeysuckle and a variety of herbs. My children adore these and even mint comes in a wide range from chocolate, black pepper to ginger. Be sure to plant these in pots rather than straight into the ground as they have a tendency to take over.

Grass stools made from filling large terracotta pots with soil and growing sweet-smelling chamomile on top are also on my list of must-haves.


I found the sense of hearing a bit tricky to incorporate into my plans but entice birds into your garden with houses and food in the form of some flowers left to seed like sunflowers and you'll always have a wonderful soundtrack.

Black bamboo, which has gorgeous black stems and lush, green leaves, creates a wonderful swishing sound when rustled by the wind and makes a lovely place to hide.

Include different grasses into your garden and they too will give off a soft rustling noise. Trees should also be considered and, although it can dominate , we've been lucky to have a weeping willow in our garden. It rustles in the wind and its canopy of leaves brushing the ground makes a wonderful curtain for children to hide behind (or leap out from).

The balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) is a wonderful addition to a sensory garden; the buds, which are large like a balloon, make a delightful popping sound when squeezed. Quaking grass (Briza maxima) has large, papery seed heads which rustle in the breeze.

Wind-chimes can also be made, or bought, but I'm not a huge fan of these. Instead garlands made out of apple rings, popcorn and peanuts can be regularly strung up, providing food for birds and making a slight sound in the wind.


This is easy to include in a garden, even if you don't have much space. One way to do this is to grow espalier fruit trees which can be trained along a fence or a wall.

And, of course, herbs and vegetables can be grown. If space is tight grow strawberries and tomatoes in hanging baskets and veggies in containers. Last year I had a large crop of carrots from some grown in a pot, along with dwarf french beans and a range of salad. Pumpkins and courgettes are also easy to grow in pots.


All of these ideas are, of course, a feast for the eyes but if you want to grow specific eye-catching plants you can't go far wrong with sunflowers. They come in a huge variety but children love the classic giant ones. Poached egg plants, with its yellow and white flowers, are loved by bees and hover flies and are easy to grow.

Dahlias are also a favourite (I don't bother to lift my tubers in the winter), rewarding you with blooms after blooms if picked regularly.

Nasturtiums are also easy for children to grow as they are generally reliable but be warned, they self seed so you may have some appearing in places you'd rather not the following year.

Don't panic if you feel you've missed the boat in growing many of these plants this year. Take this time to sketch out your plans and get the bones of your sensory garden in place; make the path and decide where your herb garden, potager or veggie patch and flower beds will go.

Buy a few plug plants from a nursery now and order your seed catalogues in the autumn. Come next spring your sensory garden will take shape and, with a bit of work, will become a joyful reality.

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