Sensory ideas for your garden

29 June 2016
A garden is naturally a very sensory experience: stimulating in so many ways.

In retirement it is more important than ever to do this so that should any of our senses become less sharp, there will still be other things to experience.  

We've put together some sensory ideas for your garden so that it can provide you with a haven for enjoyment, year after year.

1. Sight


Colour is always high on the garden wish list, and choices for this are very personal. Some people love bright fiery hues. While others prefer a more restful palette. Here are a few things to consider:

  • A limited range of colours will give your garden the designer look.
  • Those with poor eyesight, often find that colours such as yellow, white and blue flowers can work best.
  • Berries, bark, and foliage add natural colour through the seasons.
  • Don't underestimate the power of colour on fencing, seats and garden structures.


Having some structure in the garden provided by paths, hedges, trees and shrubs is essential. The shapes created by paths, patios and lawns will be seen all-year-round and especially in winter so make sure that these are as pleasing to the eye as they are practical.

Think about using different heights of planting. And use at least one third of evergreens to give you all-year round structure. You can also use sculpture or interesting pots and practical objects such as a bird bath to add structural interest to the garden.

Sensory ideas for the garden
Image courtesy of sripfoto/Shutterstock


Foliage comes in a huge variety of sizes, shapes and textures which can be used to great advantage.

Beautiful shapes of leaves and stems can be used to bring extra drama and delight to the borders.

Try a bold-leaved plant like Hostas against a backdrop of finely divided ferns, or the delicate tiny leaves of Lonicera nitida.

Or try Hemerocallis (daylilies) near plants like Astrantia which have sprays of smaller flowers.

Raise delicate little plants up high where you can see them easily by using an étagère (a piece of furniture or stand with open shelves) or some old wooden steps.

2. Sound

Although gardens seem like very tranquil places, if you sit and listen there are many sounds to hear. Nature helps to drown out the sounds of the city. You can turn up the sounds of nature by encouraging the birds and insects to inhabit your garden with the right sort of planting or introduce some sounds of your own.


Bringing water to your garden adds a new aural dimension that can vary dramatically. The gentle lapping or trickling of water can be truly relaxing, so place your seating close by so that you can enjoy it.

A larger and slightly splashier water feature could help to disguise unwanted sounds.

And still water will bring the sounds of nature – the gentle humming of dragon flies or the splashing of bathing birds.

Birdbath in the garden
Image courtesy of photoiconix/Shutterstock


Planting can help to absorb unwanted sounds like traffic. Try planting a hedge instead of a fence to create a more peaceful garden. Or plants such as bamboo and grasses make wonderful swishing noises when the wind blows: a popular choice among landscapers.

3. Smell

A garden with perfume is immediately more thrilling than one without, so when thinking about sensory ideas for your garden it's well worth including some scented plants in your planting scheme. Scent has a strong association with memory, so whether you are evoking old memories or creating new ones, there's lots to think about.

Scented flowers

To enjoy the wonderful fragrance of your garden, plant some scented climbers such as honeysuckle and jasmine, so that their flowers are at head height for you to enjoy easily. Or think about roses around the door. You could even plant smaller plants in raised beds or in pots on a raised surface, bringing the perfume up close to you.

Did you know?

  • Flowers are scented to attract insects.
  • They produce more scent when they are in the sun.
  • The scent lasts longer if they are in shade for part of the day.
  • The strength will build up in a sheltered, enclosed space.
  • In winter when there are fewer insects around, plants that are in flower seem to produce stronger and more beautiful fragrances to attract them.

Aromatic foliage

Many plants also have aromatic foliage, often releasing their spicy aromas when crushed or touched. Think about lavender, giant hyssop, and scented geraniums.
In autumn the Cercidiphyllum japonicum (the Katsura tree) can fill the whole street with a cloud of candyfloss aroma: too yummy to ignore.

A bunch of lavender
Image courtesy of freya-photographer/Shutterstock

4. Touch

Exploring the tactile qualities of the garden can make it a more exciting and enjoyable place to be, with soft leaves to stroke, crunchy gravel to walk on or smooth sculptures to feel. And our sense of touch can also help us to navigate the garden safely. By using different textures of paving for paths and junctions, potential hazards can be highlighted.


There are many great examples of tactile plants.

Stachys byzantina (Lamb's ear) are woolly and delightful. Pulsatilla vulgaris (the Pasque flower) has beautiful fluffy flowers. The urge to comb your fingers through grasses such as Stipa tenuissima is irresistible, and who can walk past Lagurus ovatus (Hare's tail grass) without stroking it?

Objects and surfaces

Objects, sculptures and containers can bring a wealth of exciting textures into the garden.

Think of smooth pebbles warmed by the sun, cool granite copings, carved wood or polished metal.

We also feel changes of texture with our feet as we walk. Crushed shell mulch is a wonderful underfoot material especially in seaside themed gardens.

Gardens to thrill the senses
Image courtesy of Alexander Raths/Shutterstock

5. Taste

If you don't have the time or energy to grow vegetables, herbs are some of the easiest and most attractive garden plants. They look wonderful in pots and are an ideal project for gardeners of all ages.


A sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs from the garden can make your meal taste a hundred times better. Perennials such as oregano, sage, fennel, thyme, chives and rosemary grow particularly well and will reward you with years of produce.

And herbal tea is really easy to make and so much nicer than tea from dried tea bags. Try using some fresh mint for a lovely refreshing cup of tea.


If you are looking for some new inspiration, why not try these sweet suggestions with some edible flowers?

Salads taste and look great with some of these unusual additions:

  • Pot marigold – for a slightly peppery taste.
  • Nasturtium – the flowers add a spicy touch.
  • Corn flowers – for a sweet to spicy clove-like flavour.
  • Viola – for a lettuce-like flavour.

Cakes and biscuits taste great with unusual additions such as lavender and roses. Or edible flowers such as the huge yellow blooms of courgettes and marrows are delicious stuffed with ricotta and herbs, then fried in batter.

And if taste is the sense that interests you the most, then growing your own produce is a must.


Blue meadow sage image courtesy of Luisa Fumi/Shutterstock