I’ve always loved visiting parks with nature trails, arboretums with their variety of trees, and National Trust style gardens featuring formal, walled and wild meadow areas. I feel like there’s something soothing about spending time outside somewhere green, with lots of colourful, scented plants or trees, and the sound of birds or a stream nearby.
I heard about the idea of ‘sensory gardens’ recently; these gardens use carefully selected plants and other elements to enhance people’s experience of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. I love this idea, and thought it would be a great way of bringing some of the elements I like from nature to our own doorstep. I developed the idea of using the little space tucked away at the bottom of our garden to create a nature ‘sensory’ area; somewhere for me to sit and enjoy a cup of tea, and for the boys to have their very own ‘nature trail’.
I wanted to include things that appealed to all the senses – were nice to look at, colourful, had texture and scent, and made lovely sounds.
The area is only small, but we’ve managed to incorporate lots of elements already.
When building a sensory garden there are lots of ways to harness sound. Natural sounds of plants – the sound of the wind through long grass or trees for instance.
The maple tree provides lovely rustling of leaves in the breeze; I added some wind chimes too – lovely bamboo ones that make a soothing, soft muted chime, plus a little tinkley metal one with a seahorse at the top. Toddler loves to run underneath and bash them with his hand to hear them chime.
The gravel underfoot also makes a satisfying crunch as it is walked on.
Next year I’d like to add a (child-friendly) water feature to add to the natural sounds.
There are so many plants to choose from to add fragrance to the garden.
One thing to think of when adding plants is, how do they release their scent? Lavender for example sometimes needs to have a hand run over it to generate its fragrance. Some plants need to have their leaves crushed and some release their fragrance in the evening.
I chose to add Lavender – my all time favourite plant. Nice to look at and creates an amazing scent when brushed – little hands like to do this I find! I also have some Honeysuckle growing up a trellis at the front of the garden, and this should create a nice scent in the evening should I wish to sit out and enjoy the fruits of my labour on a warm night.
One of the key elements for my garden is touch, particularly good for small children. I’ve planted some really lovely foliage for this:
Stachys Lanata, better known as ‘Lamb’s tongue’. It is a nice silvery-green colour, but best of all, the leaves are ‘woolly’ to the touch, adding some texture to the garden.
Artemesia Schmidtiana ‘nana’ – a semi-evergreen perennial with soft silvery leaves that feel silky and it has a nice fragrance adding to the texture and scent of the area.
Carex ‘frosted curls’ – a compact grass plant, with iridescent foliage that shimmers in the breeze and feels nice to run your hands through.
My intended water feature will also be good for little hands to feel the running water.
We have plenty of fruit plants in the garden, including a plethora of tomato plants – I may move one into the sensory area to add to the taste element. The smell of tomato leaves is also nice. I am also intending to plant some herbs in pots to dot around, which the boys might like to taste, including mint and basil.
Colour, visual texture, form and movement are key elements here, and the range of plants I’ve put in should stimulate the sight fairly well. There’s a range of colours too – orange-red flowers on my exotic palm style plant (can’t recall the name!), purple on the lavender, and the lovely shimmery silver greens of the ‘nana’ and lamb’s tongue. The gravel is a light colour and makes the front of the area very bright, whilst the back is more shaded and has a lovely dappled sunlight effect through the branches of the tree.
To add to the overall experience, we’ve placed some slabs (aka stepping stones) in a nice pattern to encircle the tree, allowing the little ones to jump from one to another, going underneath the wind chimes and around the tree as they go.
Finally, my finishing touches were to add our ornaments, ‘Greenbert’ the frog, and ‘Sammy’ Snail, our very own little guardians of the garden.
I’m sure we’ll be able to add more to the garden as time goes on, I’d love to add a bee-log and some bird feeders to encourage more nature to visit, but for now, I’m pretty pleased with the results from our weekend of hard work and Toddler seems pretty impressed by it too.
I would like to give a special thanks to Mr N who worked extremely hard to transform the ground by clearing away the old gravel, adding a groundsheet and new gravel, moving slabs around and doing lots of lifting and digging! Without him our sensory garden would still be a dream 😀