Get grounded with a garden that engages all five senses. The benefits of a sensory garden are endless — it’s the perfect place to relax after a long day, learn more about nature, and create a safe place for people of different abilities and ages to explore.
What’s the difference between a regular garden and a sensory garden? Any outdoor space has components that provide a sensory experience, but a sensory garden is intentionally designed with elements that bring all five senses to the forefront in creative, delightful ways. Sensory gardens include both hardscaping (nonliving features like benches) and softscaping (living features like flowers) to create an immersive experience.
The top 10 benefits of a sensory garden
- Pollinator-friendly landscaping
- Discourages use of pesticides
- Encourages use of native plants
- Helps kids learn about nature
- Supports seniors
- Healing for people with disabilities
- Perfect place for socializing
- Bolsters mental health
- Supports physical health
- Appropriate for all backyards
1. Pollinator-friendly landscaping
Birds, butterflies, and bees are essential elements to sensory gardens. A twittering songbird provides a lovely soundtrack to your garden walk, colorful butterflies put on a visual show, and bees cover sight and sound.
Not only do pollinators add extra pizazz to your outdoor living space, they help keep your plants healthy and your local ecosystem thriving. Some edible plants like cucumbers need pollinators to produce fruit, so if you’re planning a vegetable garden, you’ll want to invite bees to the party, too. On a broader scale, pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you eat.
How do you attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds? For these flying friends, native plants with tasty nectar are key. Consider adding flowering perennials and vines like:
- Trumpet vine
- Bee balm
- Butterfly milkweed (make sure it’s the native variety)
How do you attract songbirds? Birds gravitate toward yards that provide food, shelter, and water.
- To provide food, include trees with berries and seed pods like holly trees, elderberry, and mulberry in your landscape, as well as bird feeders.
- To provide shelter, plant trees and shrubs like oak trees, cotoneaster, and dogwoods.
- To provide water, install a bird bath (and clean it weekly to protect your aviary visitors’ health).
2. Discourages use of pesticides
To fully enjoy your sensory garden, you’ll be experiencing it with your hands, mouth, and lungs. You don’t want to have to worry about scrubbing off a toxic pesticide before nibbling on a homegrown strawberry.
This is especially important if any vulnerable populations will be enjoying your sensory garden, like elderly people or young children (for whom low levels of pesticides can affect neurological development). Plus, broad-spectrum insecticides can be lethal for both unwanted and wanted insects, including the pollinators you worked so hard to invite to your garden.
Broad-spectrum insecticides aren’t the only option for pest control. Although every garden pest has its own specific treatment, there are a few organic pest control techniques that work to get rid of most crawling critters.
Alternatives to pesticides:
- Neem oil
- Beneficial nematodes
- Increase biodiversity by inviting pollinators (by planting native plants and having clean water and feed available for birds)
- Good cultural practices (like dethatching lawn grass and eliminating standing water from your landscape)
3. Encourages use of native plants
Native plants are the unsung heroes of backyard gardening. They’re literally made to grow in your landscape — they’ve adapted over hundreds of years to thrive in a specific climate.
Why would you want to use native plants in a sensory garden? Not only are native plants easier to maintain, they also produce some of the showiest, most fragrant blooms because their survival relies on their ability to attract pollinators. That means they have a star power ability to delight your sense of sight and smell, and they’re key to making your landscape pollinator-friendly.
Native plants help the environment because they:
- Require less water
- Don’t need fertilizer to thrive
- Have fewer pest problems
- Provide food and shelter for local wildlife
4. Helps kids learn about nature
If you’re looking for a way to foster a child’s relationship with nature, a sensory garden is the perfect path. A sensory garden is a stimulating environment that can keep a child engaged, inspire their curiosity, and be both playful and calming.
Climbing trees and “secret” areas can be safe places to explore and foster a sense of independence in a known environment. A sensory garden is the perfect thing to inspire a sense of creativity, learning, and adventure.
5. Supports seniors
Not only are sensory gardens beneficial for our children, they also help our seniors. Caring for a garden in general provides physical activity, access to sunlight, and a sense of joyful purpose.
Sensory gardens in particular can offer a lot of creative fun. Plus, the link between our sense of smell and our memory recall opens the door for pleasant recollection. The aroma of a sprig of rosemary can take you back to a particular meal or a trip to the Mediterranean.
Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can benefit from a space that’s joyful and interesting, but also safe and enclosed. If you’re designing a garden with someone like this in mind, include a winding walkway that loops through the garden to begin and end at the same point.
6. Healing for people with disabilities
Sensory gardens can be a place of refuge for someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). At the Els Center for Excellence, their sensory garden “honors individual strengths and preferences, reduces stress and anxiety, and encourages social engagement” by combining sensory stimulation in a calming environment.
Sensory gardens are an accessible way for people in wheelchairs to experience all the benefits of the outdoors without the inconveniences. Make sure paths are smooth (meaning no pavers) and debris is regularly cleared.
Anyone with a sensory deficiency like blindness or deafness can certainly benefit from a sensory garden. By amplifying the other senses, the garden allows people to enjoy an environment saturated with multiple types of beauty.
What could be a better setting for a dinner party than a sensory paradise? If you’re someone who regularly has friends and family over, a sensory garden will take your gatherings to the next level. Having a homegrown dinner, a butterfly show, and a songbird soundtrack in the background will make your party memorable.
8. Bolsters mental health
It turns out that a breath of fresh air is even better for us than we might have thought. Being outdoors can improve our mood, performance, and overall cognitive function. A study in 2019 found that people who listened to nature sounds performed significantly better on cognitive tests than people who listened to an urban setting soundtrack.
Not only does a sensory garden benefit your health by encouraging you to be outside, it also helps you by encouraging you to live in the present. Intentional periods of mindfulness (like sitting on a bench actively tuning into your senses) have profound effects on our ability to learn, recover from injury and sickness, and strengthen creativity and memory.
9. Supports physical health
An outdoor space that encourages you to spend time in nature benefits your whole body. Enjoying your sensory garden in a sunny spot is a great way to get vitamin D which supports immune health and can help regulate mood. Plus, planting tasty vegetables and fruits boosts your overall vitamin intake.
When you take care of your garden, you’re taking care of yourself, too. Gardening is a form of light aerobic exercise which helps improve your heart and lung health and prevent high blood pressure and diabetes.
If that doesn’t convince you, gardening also helps you get a better night of sleep. Getting outside in the morning helps regulate your circadian rhythm, and lower cortisol levels means fewer midnight wakeups.
10. Appropriate for all backyards
Whether you have a sprawling landscape or a tiny backyard, a sensory garden can be right for you. Even a balcony can be transformed into a sensory paradise with a little creativity.
If you have a large space, find ways to divide it with pathways, groups of trees, and defined living spaces like patios. This creates a sense of exploration and the opportunity for privacy and immersion.
If you’re looking for landscaping ideas for a small space, focus on ways to go vertical. Trellises, tiered carts, and gutter gardens are all great ways to utilize space efficiently.
How to create your own sensory garden
When you’re creating your own sensory garden, start by thinking about how you’ll address each sense. Consider what different plants would thrive in your climate and any hardscaping features you want to incorporate.
An example for creating your own sensory garden might be:
- Sight: Plant native flowers with vivid, showy blooms that attract butterflies like bee balm and coral honeysuckle.
- Smell: Include an herb garden with fragrant perennials like lavender and chives.
- Sound: Hang wind chimes near a walkway or install a gurgling water feature.
- Touch: Plant perennials with different textures like lamb’s ear or smooth succulents.
- Taste: Make room for an edible garden that includes fruits, vegetables, and even edible flowers.
Garden with a pro
If you’re interested in the benefits but not necessarily the work, hire a landscaping team. Landscapers will work with you to design and install the sensory landscape of your dreams from hardscaping to flower beds.
To take your relaxation to the next level, call a Lawn Love pro to take care of weekly mowing, edging, and general lawn maintenance.
Main Photo Credit: Pixabay | Pexels