How can I make my garden more exciting?

Indulge your senses with a more engaging design, says Louisa Gilhooly

Design for a sensory garden

by Liz Potter |

Gardens appeal to our senses in so many ways – through sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. A garden that provides sensory experiences can be a place that makes you feel more alive, enhancing mindfulness, promoting relaxation and reducing stress.

This design has been created using the Five Senses Mindfulness Exercise. This aims to calm your mind by using your five senses to focus on your immediate environment, instead of dwelling on negative thoughts. By activating your senses you are brought into the current moment, forgetting worries about the future, or dwelling on past regrets.

There are five steps to complete the exercise, which can help you appreciate what might be missing from your own garden. Start by stepping outside and looking around you:

1 Notice five things you can see. Look around and become aware of your environment. Here I’ve included colourful flowers to delight the eye, and grasses for movement. Other aspects of the planting also draw your attention such as repeated shapes and forms, eye-catching ornaments that work as focal points, and so on.

2 Notice four things you can touch. Draw attention to elements you can get your hands on and feel, such as the softness of pennisetum flowers or stachys leaves. Remove your socks to feel the grass or paving underfoot.

3 Notice three things you can hear. Listen for quiet background sounds that you normally ignore. It could be the birds singing, wind rustling through a tree, or a water feature bubbling.

4 Notice two things you can smell. Focus on the fragrances you might sometimes filter out. Catch the scent of sarcococca in winter or herbs growing in summer.

5 Notice one thing you can taste. Take a cup of tea outside, or maybe pick some delicious mulberries to pop in your mouth.

Try not to just notice these things – really indulge your senses to benefit from a sense of wellbeing. You’ll be amazed at how fascinating a simple stachys leaf can be when you really give it your fullest attention.


How the design works
How the design works ©BAUER

SOUND: Include elements with a soothing sound – a splashing and bubbling rock water feature, nectar-rich flowers that attract buzzing bees, and grasses and birches that will rustle in the breeze.

SIGHT: Domes of Sarcococca confusa contrast with upright grasses. These in turn create eye-catching movement in the breeze. Echinacea adds a pop of bright pink while perovskia makes a lovely lilac haze. Meadow flowers on a raised mound produce a tapestry of natural hues.

FRAGRANCE: The small winter flowers of Sarcococca confusa smell divine near a seating area and attract bees on warm, sunny winter days. Russian sage (perovskia), salvia and other fragrant herbs all give summer scent. Some herbs need crushing to release their aroma, so plant them beside a path where you’ll brush past them.

TASTE: Here we’ve planted a mulberry tree, quince (chaenomeles) and herbs for easy foraging around the garden.

TOUCH: Stroking soft stachys leaves or the peeling bark of birch trees can make us feel more connected to nature. Create a barefoot grassy trail or lay a meditative path comprising a mix of different textures to experience underfoot – from smooth paving slabs to rough setts, timber decking, rough-hewn stepping stones, compacted gravel and water to dip your toes into. A circular lawn is ideal for lying on too!

Plant list, plan and shopping ideas for a sensory garden
Plant list, plan and shopping ideas for a sensory garden ©BAUER


1 Betula albosinensis septentrionalis Birch with tactile peeling bark in shades of honey, cinnamon and copper. Autumn colour and spring catkins provide year-round interest. H8m (26ft) S4m (13ft)

2 Sarcococca confusa Neat, evergreen shrub with glossy, bottle-green leaves and small, highly-fragrant, white flowers in late winter. Tolerant of shade. H2m (6½ft) S1m (3ft 3in)

3 Polystichum munitum Evergreen fern that produces a new crop of large, lustrous green fronds each spring. Thrives in shade in fertile soil. H1m (3ft 3in) S1.2m (4ft)

4 Hakonechloa macra Low-growing ornamental grass that forms loose cascading hummocks of slender green foliage that sways in the wind. Matures to gold. H35cm (14in) S30cm (12in)

5 Chaenomeles superba ‘Pink Lady’ Flowering quince with rose-pink, blossom-like blooms on bare branches March-May, followed by glossy, green leaves. H1.5m (5ft) S2m (6½ft)

6 Anemone hupehensis japonica ‘Prinz Heinrich’ Pretty late summer/autumn flowers in a deep pink whose shade softens as the blooms age. H1m (3ft 3in) S75cm (2½ft)

7 Calamagrostis brachytricha Clump-forming grass with fabulous fluffy flowerheads in autumn that are silvery-grey with hints of pink. H1.5m (5ft) S90cm (3ft)

8 Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ Perennial with fragrant foliage and upright, silvery stems dotted with tiny, lavender-coloured flowers Aug-Sept. Stems provide winter structure. H1.2m (4ft) S1m (3ft 3in)

9 Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ Compact, long-flowering perennial with aromatic, grey-green leaves; slender almost-black stems and deep purple blooms May-Sept. H50cm (20in) S35cm (15in)

10 Thymus vulgaris Ground-hugging herb with tiny, aromatic leaves and small, pink, bee-friendly flowers; needs well-drained soil and full sun. H20cm (8in) S40cm (16in)

11 Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ Purple sage is both ornamental and edible, making low mounds of grey-green leaves with tints of purple. Good for a patch edge. H and S60cm (2ft)

12 Allium schoenoprasum Both the long green leaves and spherical pink flowers of chives are edible. The flowers are especially popular with bees. H50cm (20in) S45cm (18in)

13 Origanum vulgare Bushy, edible herb with aromatic leaves and pretty clusters of small, pink, bee-friendly flowers that last throughout summer. H and S50cm (20in)

14 Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Majorca Pink’ Fragrant herb with tall stems, dark green leaves and lots of pale pink flowers. Needs well-drained soil and plenty of sun. H and S1m (3ft 3in)

15 Stachys byzantina ‘Siver Carpet’ Groundcover perennial that forms rosettes of green leaves covered in soft, silvery hairs, hence its common name of lamb’s ears. H25cm (10in) S60cm (2ft)

16 Pennisetum villosum Low fountains of narrow, grey-green foliage erupt in spring followed by a profusion of creamy-white flowers; not fully hardy. H and S60cm (2ft)

17 Echinacea ‘Rubinstern’ Perennial that produces masses of striking flowers with neon-pink petals and orange-brown cones July-Oct. H90cm (3ft) S50cm (20in)

18 Morus nigra Mulberry tree with attractive gnarly bark, heart-shaped leaves that turn yellow in autumn and delicious black fruit. H8m (26ft) S10m (33ft)

19 Cornfield annuals Meadow Mix Choose a seed mix or make your own using: Centaurea cyanus (cornflower), Agrostemma githago (corncockle), Anthemis arvensis (corn chamomile), Papaver rhoeas (poppies), Silene latifolia (white campion) and Rhinanthus minor (yellow rattle).

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