A sensory Garden

Soft fluffy grasses waving in breeze stachys  'bunnies-ears' like velvet to touch lavender hidcote  releases smell on touch

A sensory garden

A sensory garden is  designed to appeal to all senses not just sight, smell and touch and has special importance for gardeners,  friends and family with impaired senses.  The aim is to construct a garden using plants which appeal to the other senses and which are tactile, and strongly scented. Plants may need to be incorporated into raised beds for easy access so they can be reached,  touched and  enjoyed. In a sensory garden, the choice of plants and flowers  is all about those which are especially good to be enjoyed by touch and smell. 

In addition to grasses, the image centre above shows Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears' which has lovely soft downy leaves which are soft to touch and will trail downwards if planted in a raised bed. Stachys have the additional benefit of producing a single soft flower spike with pale lavender flowers which are very attractive to bees, a good addition to the sensory garden.

Scent is very important in any garden and especially a sensory garden. Lavender and rosemary produce scent to the touch and there are a number of pelargoniums (known as geraniums) which have strongly scented leaves when stroked or picked such as 'Aroma', crispum 'Variegatum', (lemon scented leaves)'Fragrans', (pine scented) 'Graveolens' of gardens, (sweet scented) 'Old Spice' ,(spicy scented) 'Prince of Orange',(orange scented) Sweet Mimosa, and many more. These are available from specialist growers, but they are not hardy and must be overwintered under glass in frost free environment. Pelargoniums will survive well in a conservatory tolerating the extremes of heat and produce colour and scent as part of an indoor garden. In a raised bed they are colourful and the leaves release a variety of scents when touched, but they do need to be overwintered under glass.

What to plant in a sensory garden

The image above left shows Stipa tenuissima  with it's soft fluffy plumes, it invites being stroked. Grasses are very tactile, some are soft and fluffy, others with plumes ideal for touch which makes them very suitable for a sensory garden.  Grasses move on the breeze, sway and billow and if planted in large groups really can move like waves. Suitable grasses are Stipa gigantea, and S. tennuissima, Deschampsia, Calamagrotis and the annual grass Briza maxima. Grasses look best planted in groups so the wind can blow through them. If grasses alone appear too plain planted on their own, they also look good planted with alliums Achillea Crocosmia and the tall grasses look good with Thalictrum.


Scented plants are essential part of a sensory garden. Ideally, scented plants are needed all the year and below are lists of plants which flower and produce scent at different times which can be incorporated into the sensory garden. There are of course many roses to choose from and the expert growers can always advise on roses but there are many plants with strong scent other than roses, and which are easier to grow. The plants listed below are hardy. If space is limited the same area of a garden can be used to  create an area which is  sensory, contains scented plants and includes many plants which are attractive to bees and butterflies. Many of the plants in the lists appear in all three categories. 


Scented plants for a Sensory Garden

Winter scent 

Mahonia   japonica  and x media ' Charity'  

Daphne burkwoodii

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'

Spring scent

Philadelphus 'Virginal'

Syringa (lilic) 


Clematis montana 'Elizabeth'

Summer scent

Buddleja davidii




Lilium formosonum

Oregano (for bees and butterflies)

Cytisus battandieri (not fully hardy)

Late summer autumn scent

Lonica (honey suckle) 

Sedum (for bees and butterflies)



Another addition to a sensory garden is to plant to encourage bees, butterflies and birds to bring the garden alive. Many of the scented plants above are attractive to bees and butterflies and for further ideas on wildlife friendly plants . For the birds it's all about shelter and food, which means it is a good idea to introduce shrubs which give the birds protection and berries.

Suggestions suitable for a sensory garden creating a bird friendly area are:  Cononeaster, Crataegus (hawthorn) Ilex (holly) Pyracantha, Berberis and Viburnum.



Go to previous page