What is a Sensory Garden and How Do They Work?

The concept of sensory gardens emerged as a response to the growing recognition of the therapeutic benefits of nature and the need for inclusive outdoor spaces.

In more recent times, the idea of sensory gardens gained traction in Europe and North America during the mid-20th century. Organizations such as the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in the United Kingdom played a significant role in promoting the concept and advocating for its widespread adoption.

Today, sensory gardens can be found in various settings around the world, including public parks, botanical gardens, schools, health care facilities, and residential communities. Let's explore how sensory gardens are used on a regular basis.

What exactly is a sensory garden and how do they work?

A sensory garden is a thoughtfully crafted space that captivates visitors through their senses. 

Unlike traditional gardens, which often prioritize visual appeal, sensory gardens are inclusive environments intended for anyone with functioning senses to enjoy. These gardens are meticulously designed to engage all the senses, offering visitors a multi-dimensional and therapeutic experience.

Sensory gardens work by providing sensory stimuli to people of all ages and abilities. Let's break down some key components and principles to understand them better.

Multisensory design

Sensory gardens are intentionally crafted to engage multiple senses simultaneously, offering a holistic experience. For instance, the rustle of ornamental grasses, the scent of aromatic plants like lavender or rosemary, and the visual spectacle of colorful flowers combine to create a sensory symphony.

Inclusive accessibility

A successful sensory garden considers accessibility for all, including wheelchair users and individuals with sensory processing disorders or sight loss. Paths are often wide and smooth, allowing easy navigation, while tactile elements like lamb's ear or witch hazel cater to the sense of touch.

Therapeutic benefits

Beyond mere aesthetics, sensory gardens offer profound effects on physical health, emotional well-being, and cognitive function.

Educational opportunities

Sensory gardens serve as outdoor classrooms, particularly beneficial for children and individuals with special educational needs. Exploring different plants, textures, and smells fosters curiosity, learning, and sensory development.

Mindfulness and relaxation

Intentional periods of mindfulness amidst the sensory splendor of a garden can promote relaxation, mindfulness, and emotional resilience. Simply sitting amidst fragrant blooms or listening to the gentle trickle of water can be profoundly calming.

Creating your own sensory garden

Creating a sensory garden involves incorporating elements that stimulate each of the senses—sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. Here's a breakdown of sensory garden elements for each sense:


  • Vibrant flowers: Choose a variety of flowers with different colors, shapes, and sizes to create visual interest such as roses, lilies, and dahlias.
  • Ornamental grasses: Add texture and movement to the garden with ornamental grasses such as fountain grass and Japanese silver grass.
  • Water features: Install water fountains, ponds, or cascading waterfalls to create a visually soothing focal point.


  • Fragrant flowers: Incorporate flowers known for their delightful scents, such as lavender, jasmine, and roses.
  • Aromatic herbs: Plant herbs like mint, basil, and rosemary bushes.
  • Fragrant shrubs: Like lilac, viburnum, and mock orange, which produce sweet-smelling blooms in spring.


Lamb's ear
  • Soft textures: Plant lamb's ear, known for its velvety soft leaves that beg to be touched.
  • Rough textures: Include plants with rough or textured foliage, such as ornamental grasses or plants with coarse leaves like coneflowers.
  • Tactile features: Install touchable elements like bark-covered benches, moss walls, wood carving details or wooden sculptures.


  • Edible plants: Create a dedicated area for edible plants, including vegetables, fruits, and herbs like tomatoes, strawberries, and basil.
  • Edible flowers: Introduce edible flowers such as pansies, nasturtiums, and calendula, which add color and flavor to salads or desserts and can be tasted on the spot.


  • Wind chimes: Hang wind chimes in strategic locations to capture the breeze and produce soothing sounds.
  • Rustling leaves: Choose trees with leaves that rustle in the wind, such as aspen, birch, or bamboo.
  • Running water: Incorporate water features like bubbling fountains or flowing streams to create a gentle, rhythmic sound.

Final thoughts

Being outside in the sun is always beneficial, as nature can significantly aid with mental health issues and various other diagnoses. So, why not create a space at home that can facilitate your healing journey and provide a safe haven for your senses? Regardless of your purpose, a sensory garden can offer solace, inspiration, or simply a beautiful setting to host a dinner party!


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