Sensory Garden Guide: Design, Planting Tips, and Plant Recommendations

A sensory garden is a purposefully crafted sanctuary meticulously designed to engage and delight the senses of its visitors. Tailored to specific environments and audiences, such gardens serve as havens of exploration and connection with nature. In educational settings like schools, vibrant colours, captivating scents, and tactile features foster curiosity and sensory exploration among students. Similarly, in healthcare facilities such as care homes, the focus shifts to creating tranquil spaces conducive to relaxation and reminiscence, especially for individuals with memory impairment or dementia. Here, gentle hues, soothing textures, and familiar scents aim to evoke cherished memories and provide solace.

In all contexts, planting choices are key, with aromatic herbs, luscious berries, and sensory-rich foliage offering tangible connections to the natural world. Whether crafting a sensory retreat for a community or designing a personal sanctuary in one's own garden, the goal remains to curate an immersive sensory experience tailored to individual preferences and needs.


Sensory Garden Design Principles

A sensory garden is exactly what it implies – a garden that stimulates and engages the five senses of sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. Therefore, the principles of sensory garden design tend to revolve around creating a space that provides a multi-sensory experience specifically for the users of the environment and visitors.
Here are some key principles a garden designer works to:

Include A Variety Of Sensory Elements

First up, you need to think about what you want to feature in your sensory garden. Incorporating a diverse range of sensory experiences to engage all the senses is key. This may include colourful flowers, fragrant herbs, textured plants, edible plants, and features like wind chimes or water features. Here are some ideas for a wide range of sensory elements:


Colour is the obvious play here which offers so much opportunity for creating amazing visual displays. It’s not just about plants either. You can include all kinds of materials in your plans too such as bark, berries, path, and wall surfaces to create a spectrum of colour year-round. Here are our favourite ways to get the visual senses tingling:

  • Plant vibrant flowering plants in beds and borders throughout the garden. Choose diverse colours and consider seasonal blooms to ensure continuous colour throughout all seasons. 
  • Designate specific areas of the garden for distinct colour themes. For example, create a ‘blue corner’ with plants like lavender and bluebells, or a ‘red zone’ with roses and poppies. This is a playful way that allows users to experience colour in a focused way. 
  • Select plants with colourful foliage to complement flowering plants and add interest even when flowers are not in bloom. Plants with variegated leaves, such as coleus or heuchera, can provide striking contrasts and vibrant colour.
  • Incorporate vertical elements like trellises, arbours, or living walls adorned with colourful climbing plants or trailing vines such as a mauve wisteria. 
  • Use coloured gravel, paving stones, Victorian tiles, or mosaic tiles to create engaging pathways. Experiment with assorted colours and patterns to create visual interest and guide the eye. 
  • Install outdoor lighting with coloured filters or LED lights to illuminate the garden at night with a spectrum of colours. You’ll not only enjoy an enchanting ambience, but you will also be able to enjoy the garden after dark too.


Touch is perhaps the most vital sense when experiencing a sensory garden, even for those who can see. Exploring with our hands allows us to understand the nature of things—the softness of a leaf, the weight of a fruit, the surprising dryness of moss. The opportunity to touch various elements is essential.

Textures thrive outdoors and individuals with visual impairments rely on these to understand their surroundings. Designing a sensory garden with a diverse range of textures is crucial. Our suggestions are:

  • Incorporate textures throughout the garden, including wall surfaces, paths, sculptures, seating, and tables. Use a variety of materials for new features and consider adding tactile objects to existing ones.
  • Choose plants and pathways with a variety of textures, such as fuzzy lamb's ear, smooth succulents, rough tree bark, and feathery grasses. Smooth paving stones, rough gravel, or tactile tiles designed for visually impaired individuals are good choices for pathways.
  • Create a tactile experience wherever you can. This might include seating and tables made from materials with interesting textures, such as rough-hewn wood, woven rattan, or textured metal. Also consider tactile plant labels for visually impaired visitors, containers such as textured ceramic pots woven baskets, or rough concrete planters. You may even be able to integrate sculptures or artistic installations with diverse textures such as carved wood or mosaic tiles that would double up as great garden focal points.


Nature study organisers often use listening activities to help people relax and connect with their surroundings. Children, in particular, may need encouragement to tune in to subtle sounds. These activities can involve both natural sounds like rustling leaves, bird songs, and flowing water, as well as sounds activated by people such as splashing water or chiming sculptures. Even a deaf person can enjoy a sensory garden by feeling vibrations. For example, they can touch large resonant sculptures, such as a metal gong when struck or feel the vibrations of water features. This allows them to experience the garden's soundscape through touch. Wind chimes, water fountains, bird feeders, bird baths, musical instruments, natural elements (rustling leaves, swaying grasses, or gently waving bamboo), and seasonal sounds (such as chirping crickets in summer or the crunching of snow underfoot in winter) are all fitting examples of how to incorporate sound into a sensory space.


The most obvious way to stimulate this sense is through different plant scents. You could try plants with strong pleasant scents such as roses, lavender, jasmine, lilacs, and honeysuckle. Aromatic herbs like basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, and sage. Visitors can brush against the plants to release their fragrant oils or even crush the leaves between their fingers to intensify the scent. If you prefer scented shrubs and trees, opt for flowering viburnums, mock oranges, citrus trees, or magnolias. If it is groundcover plants you’re after, consider creeping thyme, chamomile, or sweet woodruff to add subtle but inviting scents to pathways and borders. When crushed underfoot, these plants release their aromatic oils for an additional sensory surprise.

Plants such as eucalyptus, lemon verbena, or lemon balm boast a scented foliage and when brushed against or touched will release their fragrance. By lining pathways with fragrant blooms you’ll create a scented corridor that engages visitors as they walk through. Consider using plants with varying heights and textures to engage more than one sense.

It's not just about plants either, there are many other materials that have distinctive aromas too. Pond water, wood shavings, autumn leaves, and cut grass are good examples. Water can affect smells too, like fresh rain on dry, warm soil or a tarmac pathway.



When incorporating taste into a sensory garden, it's important to choose plants that are safe for consumption and free from toxic substances. Here are safe examples:

  • Edible herbs: Plant basil, mint, parsley, chives, and coriander.
  • Fruit trees and berry bushes: Include apple, pear, cherry, plum, fig trees, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
  • Edible flowers: Incorporate nasturtiums, pansies, violets, and calendula.
  • Vegetable gardens: Grow tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, and peppers.
  • Heritage or heirloom varieties: Explore unique-flavoured plants with rich histories.
  • Tasting stations: Set up stations for sampling fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Organic practices: Ensure plants are grown organically, free from pesticides or chemicals.

By incorporating these safe examples of taste into a sensory garden, visitors can enjoy a culinary experience that engages their senses and connects them with the natural world.

Accessibility And Usability

When you know what you want to include in your sensory garden, you will be able to think about the user’s journey around it. If visitors are going to enjoy their time in the garden, they will need to be able to easily navigate it and access all areas for a fully immersive experience. Think about the path widths, smooth surfaces, and gradients as opportunities to sit, rest, and admire. Thinking about the details will also ensure the garden is accessible to people of all ages and abilities, as well as those with disabilities.

Consider access in terms of reaching prominent features in the garden you want visitors to explore further, for example, think about height and proximity of plantings (ensure they are within reach), water, and features where touch is encouraged (you’ll need these to be close to a path). Because you are encouraging users to explore, touch, smell, and interact you’ll need your design to be as robust as possible. Choose plants that can tolerate handling by curious visitors. 

Design pathways that meander through the garden, encouraging exploration and discovery. Incorporate features like stepping stones, archways, or pergolas to create focal points and guide the visitor's journey.


Comfort is often overlooked but crucial in landscape design. Seating in particular is essential yet frequently neglected. It provides a resting place for those who tire easily and enhances overall enjoyment by allowing visitors to pause and relax.

Shade is another key consideration for comfort. Offering a variety of shading options, from solid structures to dappled shade, allows everyone to choose what suits them best. Protection from rain and wind further extends the usability of outdoor spaces. Incorporating fixtures like pergolas and brackets for canopies adds flexibility to the design and ensures shelter is readily available when needed.

Additionally, amenities such as water features or misting systems can help cool down outdoor areas during hot weather, while thoughtful placement of plants and trees provide natural cooling and enhance the overall ambiance. Including comfortable seating options with backrests and armrests, as well as accessible pathways, ensures that we create welcoming and inclusive environments that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Engagement With Nature

Foster a connection with nature by incorporating native plants, wildlife-friendly features like bird feeders or insect hotels, and opportunities for firsthand interaction such as herb gardens or tactile sculptures.

Texture And Contrast

Introduce a variety of textures and contrasts in plantings and hardscape elements to create visual interest and tactile stimulation. This might include rough bark, smooth stones, fuzzy leaves, or delicate flowers.

Consideration Of Light And Shade

Pay attention to the garden's exposure to sunlight and shade and select plants that thrive in the available conditions. Create areas of dappled shade for relaxation and relief from the sun.

Incorporation Of Water

Water features such as fountains, ponds, or bubbling streams can add auditory and visual interest to the garden while also providing a calming ambiance.

Water features can be relaxing too and lots of strategically placed benches will allow anyone spending time in the garden to soak the atmosphere in.

5 Top Tips For Sensory Planting

Director at Terra Firma Landscapes London, Luke Richards shares his top five tips for designing a sensory space in your garden:

Always prioritise safety in the design, ensuring that plants are non-toxic and free from thorns or other hazards. Avoid plants that may cause allergic reactions or skin irritation. When designing a sensory space, safety is key. Clear, weed-free, and slip-resistant pathways are vital for safe ease of movement around the garden regardless of mobility or cognitive abilities.
Appeal to wildlife. Choose plants that attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, as well as birds, to enhance the sensory experience and promote biodiversity. Include bee-friendly flowers such as lavender, butterfly bush, and coneflowers to lure pollinating agents!
Introduce interactive elements: Scent jars, touch panels, or taste stations through the garden are a great way to engage visitors. Fill scent jars with aromatic herbs or flower or provide textured surfaces for tactile exploration.
Create a “taste trail.” Designate a section of the garden as featuring edible plants arranged for sampling. Include unusual varieties of fruits, herbs, and veggies that users may not have come across before. For example, plant pineapple sage for its pineapple flavoured leaves, chocolate mint for its cocoa scent, and purple carrots for their vibrant colour and sweet taste.
Keep it personal. If it is your garden. Design your garden based on the senses you love. If it’s a family garden include a selection of everyone’s favourites and if it is a garden for a special purpose i.e. for children or the elderly – really think about their bespoke needs and loves.

Great Plants For A Sensory Garden

Here is a handy summary of great plants to include in your sensory garden:

  • Colourful foliage: Coleus and heuchera (particularly variegated varieties).
  • Scented foliage: Eucalyptus, lemon verbena, lemon balm.
  • Good climbers for vertical structures: Wisteria, clematis, climbing roses, passionflower, honeysuckle, and jasmine. 
  • Texture: Woolly Thyme, Stipa tenuissima and other feathery grasses, lavander, brachyglottis, lamb’s ear, succulents, tree bark, and bamboo.
  • Scented shrubs and trees: Buddleja, Osmanthus, viburnums, mock oranges, citrus trees, magnolias.
  • Plants with strong pleasant scents: lavender, jasmine, lilacs, honeysuckle. Everyone loves a rose too (but beware of the thorns) and there are so many varieties with thought-provoking names to choose from. They are also perfect for marking occasions if using within a communal setting. 
  • Scented groundcover plants: creeping thyme, chamomile, or sweet woodruff.
  • Aromatic herbs: Scented thyme, rosemary, sage, mint, lemon verbena, basil,
  • Edible herbs: Aside from the aromatic herbs above, try parsley, chives, and coriander.
  • Edible flowers: Nasturtiums, pansies, violets, and calendula.
  • Veggies: tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, and peppers. 
  • Fruit trees and berry bushes: Apple, pear, cherry, plum, fig trees, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.

By following the principles outlined in this article, you can create a sensory garden that provides a rich and immersive experience for those that are going to be enjoying it. It should foster relaxation, stimulation, and connection with nature. Luke adds:


“Sensory gardens are a safe space for anyone to enjoy. Whether it is for educational purposes, healing purposes, or just a relaxing social space for a group of people to enjoy spending time together. 

They should be bespoke designed for someone's needs and preferences whether that be attracting wildlife, evoking memories, learning new skills or just relaxing. The other benefit of a safely designed sensory garden, especially if the visitors are neurodivergent or if they have neurodivergent children, is that it provides important and exciting stimulus.”

The team at Terra Firma Landscapes are always happy to provide advice and share experience and knowledge. If you have a garden project that you would like to get underway, you know where we are 020 8769 7321.

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