Plants give us multi-sensory experiences by tantalizing our senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. Visitors to the garden who may be impaired by one or more of these senses often find deep satisfaction from plants that offer another level of sensory enjoyment. But even garden visitors whose senses are fully functional will enjoy designing a sensory garden to explore the depth of what plants have to offer.
A Joy to See
A landscape awash with color immediately pleases our sense of sight. Although we typically think of flowers as adding the color to a landscape, foliage, fruits and even bark can also add colorful touches.
Representing every color in the rainbow, flowers are truly the visual workhorses of any garden. Cheery Stella d’Oro Daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Stella d’Oro’) brighten any sunny garden nook, and the blue flowers of Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus orientalis) rise in peaceful splendor above the strap-shaped foliage.
Some trees bear colorful flowers, too. The Yoshino Cherry tree (Prunus x yedoenis) is covered in dainty white blossoms in early spring to herald the coming of warm weather.
The sight of flowers also beckons butterflies to the garden. In fact, most butterflies are flower-specific, meaning they choose only certain plants as nectar sources and places to lay their eggs on. Soulmate Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata ‘Soulmate’) is a shorter version of the native milkweed. Its rosy-pink flowers are irresistible to Monarch butterflies!
Caladiums (Angel Wings) and Heucheras (Coral Bells) are plants that are most valued for their colorful leaves instead of their flowers. From the bright-red leaves of Florida Cardinal Caladium to the apricot- and caramel-colored leaves of Caramel Heuchera, colorful foliage plants are mainstays in the shade garden.
The red berries of American Holly (Ilex opaca) aren’t just for holiday decorations — they’re also a fruiting food source for birds!
From the romantic fragrance of Gardenias (Gardenia jasminoides) to the intoxicating scent of Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans), there’s a fragrant flower to suit everyone’s sense of smell. Be sure to plant fragrant flowers near your favorite sitting area – patios, verandas and decks – for maximum sensory experience!
A Pleasing Sound
As the wind moves through the trees in your yard, your sense of sound is stimulated. But you can even enjoy the “whoosh” of a breeze blowing through ornamental grasses, such as Purple Maiden Grass (Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’).
A Textured Touch
Plant some crape myrtle trees (Lagerstroemia spp.), such as Catawba (purple flowers), Tuscarora (watermelon pink flowers) or Natchez (white flowers), and you’ll not only enjoy the visual (colorful flowers), but the tactile (touch). As crape myrtles age, their bark peels away in curls to reveal a mottled trunk underneath!
If you grow plants that produce edible fruits and berries, you’ll enjoy “sensory garden overload” with flowers in spring, fruits in summer and vibrant foliage color in autumn! Depending on your taste preferences (and growing zone), plant Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), Apples (Malus spp.), Peaches (Prunus spp.) or Strawberries (Fragaria spp.).
Sensory Garden Design Tips
- Choose several plants in each sensory category to incorporate into your landscape design.
- Vary plant sizes, heights and textures.
- Add a water feature to add peaceful sounds (and attract birds) to your sensory garden.
- Consider using bamboo wind chimes instead of metallic chimes for a more natural sound.
- Don’t forget to add chairs or benches in your sensory garden. Then sit…relax…and enjoy!