What makes sensory gardens such valuable spaces?
The first sensory garden opened in 1939 and was initially designed to support those with visual impairment. As our understanding of the impact of these spaces has grown, so has the scope and detail of the designs. Sensory gardens and sensory garden paths are now designed to enhance the lives of people with any sensory processing disorder and their effectiveness is beautifully described by the Sensory Garden Trust.
What exactly is a sensory garden path?
A sensory garden path is carefully designed to engage the senses. There are many elements to this, from sections with crunchy gravel, areas with tactile stimulus, as well as ones with materials like bark and plants to offer scent.
Sensory garden paths are designed to be experienced by your child, rather than exist purely as a means of getting from a to b. They can be as passive or as interactive as your child needs.
Some sensory paths are designed and created as a permanent structure to be used year-round as part of a gardens design. These require a little extra planning, to structure the route of your path, dig it in, lay a solid border for your path, and finally fill the sections with differing sensory elements.
Other options sometimes used are to create a moveable sensory path that can be enjoyed indoors or outdoors, or even to sensory panels which can be fitted outside.
How do sensory garden paths work?
A sensory garden path supports children with sensory processing disorders by stimulating a range of neurological responses. The experience will be a blend of familiar and new experiences and the relationship between perception and performance means these experiences can have a significant impact. A sensory garden path allows for cognitive function to grow in a safe and peaceful environment.
What are the benefits of a sensory garden path?
UK leaders in gardening therapy describe the following benefits of a sensory garden path for people with a sensory processing disorder.
The tranquil splash of water, the cheery crunch of gravel, the nearby whisper of wind through bamboo – all of these sounds work to help create an environment that stimulates but doesn’t overwhelm.
You can curate the textures of your sensory garden path – smooth pebbles, soft moss and sturdy logs all provide a variety of experiences for the senses.
Plants like chamomile and thyme offer calming scents as they’re walked on, and even elements such as bark can add to the fragrant atmosphere.
Colour comes into its own in a sensory garden path – use paint to add stimulus with hot vibrant colours or incorporate cool blues and greys of pebbles to bring an air of calm.
This requires care and consideration and it’s vital to be sure your children understand which elements of the garden are safe to sample. Edging your path with edible herbs and flowers can add a whole new aspect to the experience.
How to build a sensory garden path
Building a sensory garden path is straightforward and is something that can be achieved in a smaller garden too, so it’s a great way of creating a sensory environment at home.
Starting with a basic sketch of where you want your sensory garden path to go, get outside and begin to mark out the path. For this, you can use a long 100 ft tape measure, some stakes and string. Try to ensure to use a stake every 1m when marking out your paths design.
Doing this part will help you visualise how the path will look and see if it works well with the space you have. Walk along the marked-out path and ensure there’s enough space, are the curves gradual enough if included, and have you got enough space for the different sections you may want?
If your happy with the initial planning, then it’s time to get muddy! Using a shovel dig out the shape of the path, being sure to make the ground level so all your sensory elements can be walked on safely. A spirit level can be used for this to ensure your finished design is easy to use.
Use bricks or pavers to define the edges and create the different sensory sections. Cement them in to keep them secure. For this stage, you will need a rubber mallet and spirit level, along with cement bricks or pavers and cement tools.
Check out this short video on laying a block edge course, which demonstrates how to complete this stage.
Laying a block edge course for your sensory path
This is the fun bit – decide how you want your path to work. Consider what senses you want to engage, as well as the tactile experience. Within each of the sections of your path, you can add each different element. Having a good variation from one section to the next can enhance the experience, such as smooth pebbles followed by rough bark, and then soft silky plants.
Here are some sensory path fillers you might consider:
Chamomile or thyme
These release a scent as you walk and feel amazing under bare feet. You can buy chamomile plants or grow them from seed, but you may find buying thyme plants easier – be sure to buy a creeping or ground cover variety.
Choose to leave them loose and lively or cement them in. If you have space, you can have both to provide contrast.
Choose log roll, sleepers or responsibly sourced tree branches. Bed them into sand for extra stability.
Fine sand can offer a unique addition to your sensory path as your child’s feet sink in and it surrounds their toes!
Any added extras
If you have enough space, you can bring in other elements to work with your sensory garden path. Carefully chosen plants such as lavender stimulate both scent and touch, while including chimes or water will add a calming sound.
Whether you have a whole garden to build or just a small space to play with, incorporating a sensory garden path will enhance tactile perception and support children with any level of sensory processing disorder. It’s a simple and fun project that will benefit the whole family.
Why not download our free checklist for everything you need to create your very own sensory garden tactile path?
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