Where did the sensory garden originate?
The concept of a sensory garden was first developed in the United Kingdom in the 1970s. Originally defined as a ‘horticultural therapy movement’, these areas were made to allow easier access and enjoyment of outdoor spaces for physically disabled people. The purpose of a sensory garden today is to develop and stimulate an array of sensory experiences using textures, scents and sounds, as well as being aesthetically pleasing.
It is now understood that these ‘multi-sensory environments’ can be used to support a variety of outcomes. These include, as stated in a study on sensory gardens by Hazreena Hussein (2012), leisure and recreation, therapy, education, or any desired combination of all three. Due to the understanding of the wide advantages that a sensory garden has to offer, these magical areas are now available in many public places from schools to local parks. However, the benefits that these spaces offer can be easily created at home too...and we’ll help show you how!
Planning your sensory garden
The first stage in planning your sensory garden, as outlined by the Sensory Trust, is to establish what the garden's primary purpose is. Are you looking to engage and stimulate the senses? Maybe create a quiet shaded area with functional aspects of seating and easy access? Do you want plants that offer shade, or vivid colours and beautiful scents?
Once you have an idea of these, you can work out what your key aspects to include are, and then build upon these for your garden design. Having somewhere to sit and enjoy the garden is a great place to start. You could add in wooden benches, or tree stumps work well for a woodland area. These magical Story Telling Chairs make a great addition and come in both adult and child sizes and are perfect for taking story time outdoors.
What plants should you include?
When it comes to planning what plants to use for your garden, you just need to consider what senses your trying to engage. A fantastic guide by RHS offers an in-depth description for those of you who are greener fingered! For colours, you can add your favourite flowers, but also try to include some plants that offer colour year-round such as chard and beetroot with their deeply coloured leaves and stems.
For adding scent to your garden look at incorporating herbs such as lemongrass, mint or rosemary. You can also find some great textures from the velvet-like leaves of rose campion or sage, to the ‘stringy’ feel of grasses. Why not also grow some edible plants you can harvest with your child? The sweetness of strawberries is a great choice for the summer and offers a fun way to incorporate taste into your sensory garden!
More ways to explore textures
Introducing textures through a selection of plants is a great way to encourage your child to interact with nature whilst developing their senses. Other interactive approaches are to include activity areas where children can quite literally get their hands stuck in…and we all know they love to get messy! These areas can be incorporated easily by adding raised Troughs where a selection of textured items can be stored to explore.
Maybe this could include strips of rough bark, fine sand, smooth pebbles or maybe some leaves and pinecones you collect whilst on a nature walk! If your feeling adventurous and happy to explore more mediums, you can even use an Activity Table with its waterproof easy to clean tray.
Ever heard of proprioception?
This is basically your sense of movement and balance. By incorporating balance into your sensory garden, you can encourage active play, exercise, and learning. Activities such as a Balance Scale is a great way for children to learn through cause and effect. Why not also consider activities such as Balance Beams, Stepping Blocks and Balance See Saws, all of which can be used as an exciting and engaging course for your child to improve their own balance. You could set these items up in any number of pathways and configurations to lead them through to different areas of their sensory garden. Encouraging active participation within the garden is all part of the fun!
Including sound through nature and play
A sensory garden would not be complete without the element sound. This can be achieved with the inclusion of certain plants. Those that work well include grasses as these offer a gentle sound as the wind breezes through. For a more active enjoyment of sound through plants, why not add Love-in-a-mist as the seed heads can be sprinkled over a hard surface such as a patio area.
Other options are to include a water feature that can be of great benefit to gardens where calming elements are a priority. To get your children involved in creating sounds and interacting why not add an outdoor instrument they can actually play. Great choices are these large Musical Chime Frame, Musical Cowbell Frame, and Musical Bamboo Glockenspiel.
There are so many choices when it comes to creating your sensory garden at home. Once you have established what benefits are most important for your child to achieve from the sensory garden, designing around this is simple and fun. Including an area to sit to enjoy your garden and activities that encourage your child’s sensory development and exploration are all key. By including a wide selection of carefully considered plants with different sensory benefits will also complement and enhance your garden.
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