The Sensory Garden

By Toni Salter

Imagine experiencing a garden with all five senses. That's what a sensory garden allows you to do. A carefully designed garden can stimulate, not only the sight, but also sound, smell, touch and taste.

A trolley with an assortment of potted herbs and vegetables is an example of a sensory garden. This can be placed in a sunny courtyard or balcony where space is limited.

It could also be set in an aged care facility where residents may have more limited mobility. A trolley will allow the garden to come to them. People living with dementia respond to sensory stimulation and tasting, crushing and smelling different herbs can be beneficial.



Take lavender and chamomile, for example. These plants can have very soothing qualities, as when the oils are released through rubbing the leaves. The smooth and furry leaves of various lavenders are also soothing to the touch. Do this while sipping a cup of tea made from fresh Chamomile flowers and the effect is multiplied.

Now, imagine the crunching sound when someone walks along a loose gravel path. It's almost rhythmic. As people get older, sight can become impaired and so we learn to rely more on our other senses for orientation.

The sounds and sensations of stepping onto a wooden boardwalk may remind us of how close we are to the entrance doorway. Or the familiar smell and softer sensation of walking over a lawn of Corsican mint may orient us to another part of the garden.






Wind chimes of different resonance can set our minds at ease. The deep long, echoing tones of heavy copper metal pipes can bring peace and tranquility while the short, clacking of lighter bamboo chimes can stimulate creativity and uplifting feelings.

Stones can be used in a number of ways around the garden. While small gravel paths are an auditory stimulant, large smooth stones or ornamental stone orbs can be stroked with the fingers and palm for a calming touch.

Agave plants are large structurally and can dominate in the landscape. Some species can be spiky and squishy at the same time introducing a bit of fun and daring in the garden. Aloe Vera is a great example of this sort of stimulation with the sticky gel adding another element of touch when the leaf is broken.

Not all smells in the garden are pleasant. We can use Dogbane (Plectranthus ornatus) to ward off dogs and although this herb has a lovely blue flower, many find the aroma quite unpleasant.






Similarly, taste can also challenge our senses. Try including plants that introduce a bitter or spicy element for something different, like chicory or mustard greens.

You can experiment with a sensory garden for old and young alike, including plants that simulate sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Then you will have truly "sensational" garden.

Toni Salter, 'The Veggie Lady', is an Australian registered horticulturist living in Sydney who runs therapeutic gardening programs. Follow Toni on Twitter and 'Like' her on Facebook


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