A stimulating sensory garden is undoubtedly an excellent way to teach children about plants. It can also be seen as an ingenious method of getting them interested in gardening as a whole. There are many types of sensory gardens, and a myriad of different ways of creating them, but overall, the more plants you use, the better. It is possible to create something which stimulates all five senses to maximum effect, the perfect sensory garden.
The idea behind a sensory garden is to create an exciting area, where there are not only visual, but textural plants and these can include sounds, tastes and fragrances.
A houseplant or two is an excellent addition to a child’s bedroom, but why not take it a step further and create a miniature garden? It’s an ideal project to do together, and giving a child (of almost any age) some autonomy over plant choice and decorations means that they will engage with it that much more.
The child’s age will, to some extent, influence the type of garden that is best to create; for example, a display full of prickly cacti is probably not the best choice for toddlers. Encourage children to look at the colours and feel the different shapes and textures of plants, and to take some responsibility for looking after them.
The following suggestions include some ideas for plant displays that will work well together and have mainly sensory properties. As long as the plants all have similar light, heat and watering requirements, it’s possible to let their creativity run riot.
Excitement and interest can be added to the sensory garden with the use of bright, fun colours, mainly red and yellow. These plants will stimulate the eyes, and foliage will also serve the same purpose, with interesting patterns and shapes. It is surprising as to actually how many shades of green can be found, along with more unusual colours such as silver, purple and gold. Green is also relaxing.
Visually appealing plants can also help with teaching children about colours and can be grouped together with labels for easy identification. Colourful accessories can be added to any display, such as little walls, hand-painted stones and steps, creating interest all year round.
Being able to touch the plants and explore their different textures will add a whole new dimension to the gardening experience. Try to aim for a mix of soft and spiky, and take the opportunity to explain about which plants should be avoided. Think about the thorny stems of roses or the stinging nettle leaves.
There are many sensory plants which have textures that are either feathery, soft or succulent, and children will enjoy comparing the different feel to each of them.
Carnivorous plants appeal to the vivid imaginations of children, and they will be fascinated by the likes of the African sundew, and its sticky leaves, designed to trap insects. Other textures to add, include little walkways made of bark or pebbles, or maybe a water feature. A simple dish of water among the plants simulates the addition of a pond, and even if it develops slimy algae, it is something new to discover.
Fragrance, Sound and Taste
Fragrant plants add a new dimension to a sensory garden, and using herbs for this purpose is simple, and they are easy to maintain. Popular choices which can be grown all year round include lemon balm, mint and rosemary. Plus, you have the bonus of using them for culinary creations.
Splashing water over the plants is a fun activity and good for them too, or just merely trickling the water over the soil, between the fingers is a sensory experience. Think about including plants whose leaves can be rustled or adding those that have seed pods which can be snapped open or shaken.
Edible plants, fruit and vegetables can quickly be grown indoors and can lead to a useful discussion as to what is safe to eat. Children will be astonished that you can actually eat nasturtium flowers, although they may not enjoy the slightly bitter taste. Salad vegetables are favourite and grow quickly enough to keep children interested and not get bored waiting for them to be ready to eat. Cucumbers, strawberries and tomatoes are easy to grow, and for the more adventurous, hot chillies are a great option and a definite conversation starter.
A Hot, Sandy Desert
The varied forms and low-maintenance nature of succulents make them ideal starter plants for children.
For the cowboy fans in your life, create a little desert landscape in a full, shallow container.
Plant miniature succulents, such as money tree (Crassula ovata), aloes (Aloe vera and other species) and living stones (Lithops). For older children, perhaps add some differently shaped cacti.
Leave some space between the plants or around the edge, and cover the compost surface with a layer of sand and /or glass pebbles or gravel, which will introduce different textures.
This display could be the basis for some imaginative playtime activity with desert animals, or for acting out a Hollywood western.
A Jungle of Textures
A broad, deep and stable pot housing some plants of different heights and textures can bring a jungle feel to the corner of a room.
Planting everything in one large pot, rather than having a collection of smaller ones, means it is less likely the container will get knocked over (intrepid explorers may want to hide in this new “jungle”).
The tree-like ornamental fig (Ficus) can look effective in a jungle display and will leave enough root space for other plants to grow. Ctenanthe work well with other leafy plants, such as the colourful croton (Codiaeum) or banner plant (Anthurium), with its weird waxy flowers.
Underplanting Fittonia, which has brightly veined leaves, completes the jungle layers. Enlist little hands to help mist and clean the leaves regularly.
Jungle plants are ideal for budding naturalists and explorers.
Which plants would you recommend as an essential addition to a child’s sensory garden?