A sensory garden is a garden that is designed to stimulate all of of basic senses: Sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. Fragrant plants are an ideal addition to such a garden as, although we often just think about the aromas of fragrant plants, aromatic plants can also stimulate by touch, taste, sight, and sound.
Helen Keller (1880- 1968), is quoted as writing1, that it is others who are actually blind “….for they have no idea how fair the flower is to the touch, nor do they appreciate its fragrance, which is the soul of the flower.” This remarkable lady found ways to communicate with the world around her, despite her disabilities.
Aroma-therapy for the Five Senses in a Sensory Garden
A growing discipline in the garden world is that of horticulture therapy. Hortilculture therapy allows people to become actively involved in designing and growing their own plants through various projects.
Gardens for the blind are created in various forms; some use touch, whereas others use fragrance to stimulate the senses. Taste is also important (in the area of fragrant herbs), as is the rustle of the wind in the garden, a fountain, birds chirping, and the sound of feet on crunchy gravel. For the deaf and those who suffer from anosmia (loss of the sense of smell), the color of fragrant flowers is more important.
Plants and Flowers for a Sensory Garden
There are a number of aromatic plants and flowers which can be used for a sensory garden. I have divided suitable plants and flowers into different sections for each of the five senses for ease, but many can be combined:
Taste: A lot of the aromatic herbs are suitable for tasting in the garden such as basil, peppermint, thyme, oregano, sweet marjoram, melissa and more. Taste is closely linked to our sense of smell and may heighten our experience of an aromatic plant.
Touch: The texture of aromatic plants varies widely; some are smooth, some are shiny, some are hairy, some are soft. Leaves and flowers vary in shape, too. To really get to know an aromatic plant, touch its leaves and foliage and learn its shape, feel, and size. Plants which are good to get to know using this method are: Sunflowers, borage (caution: possible skin irritation), basil, geranium, rosemary, and rose (caution: thorns).
Color (Sight): Some animals and birds are attracted to certain plants because of their color. Colorful aromatic plants in the garden include: Geranium, sunflower, rose, larkspur, echinacea, borage, bee balm and more.
Smell (Aroma): Aromatic plants vary in aroma in the garden; some are strong, but most are subtle. The more plants you have, the greater the possibility of increased aroma; for example, roses. Some plants only give off an aroma when their leaves or flowers are crushed.
Hearing: Although hearing doesn’t relate directly to aromatic plants, it is important to the overall experience of a sensory garden. Think about running water, rustling leaves, and wind chimes.
Fragrant Trees for a Sensory Garden
In addition to the smaller plants and herbs, trees can also stimulate the senses in the garden. Aromatic trees include orange, lemon, pine and cypress. The citrus trees are usually found in warmer climates whereas those trees such as pine and Christmas tree firs are found in colder climates.
Designing a Sensory Garden with Fragrant Plants
This article is a very brief introduction to using fragrant plants in a sensory garden. Watch this space for further information on the subject! In the meantime, consider the Sedona Aromatherapie Linguistics of Aromatics Program to learn more about aromatic oils! Visit the courses home page to learn more.
Keller, Helen, To Love This Life: Quotations by Helen Keller, AFB Press 2000
Author is a 20 year veteran in the health care and aromatherapy industry, a UK-certified aromatherapist and, published author in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, a consultant, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.