LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
As we prepare for the spring and updates to the garden, there are many great plant options to choose from. Why not enhance your garden by planting for all five of the senses? By incorporating plants and other gardening materials that stimulate the senses of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch, we can enjoy the garden on every level.
A sensory garden is suitable for both large and small spaces. They can be limited to small sitting areas or encompass an entire landscape. Naturally, our landscapes do stimulate all our senses, but by thinking and planning you can enhance the experience.
The easiest place to start is with the sense of sight. Do this by including plants and materials that have coordinated colors. Or go for a monochrome look for more visual impact. If you have a particular color you like, create an area of one color in many shades. You can make it very diverse by including many different types of color, but don’t forget about texture of the plant materials. Ornamental grasses bring a fine texture to the landscape while large tropical plants bring coarse texture. All these elements should naturally bring the eye from one area to another.
Warm colors such as yellow, orange and red promote a higher sense of activity whereas cool colors such as blue, purple and white create a more relaxing environment. Do not forget to consider bloom times to bring year-round interest. Additionally, consider plants that have ecosystem services that attract other visually stimulating wildlife such as birds, butterflies and other small animals.
The sense of smell is one of the other major senses stimulated in the garden. The wind can carry the smell of fragrant flowers such as banana shrub, citrus blooms, hybrid tea roses and sweet olive. And don’t forget about fragrant herbs such as lavender, lemon verbena, mint and thyme. Bulbs such as hyacinth can be especially sweet in the spring. Lilac, freesia, honeysuckle, magnolias, peonies and wisteria also are very fragrant.
The sense of sound can be passive, or we can take an active role in recruiting it. Sound often occurs without any input by the gardener. The wind through the leaves and tall grasses, the sound of rain, the chirping of birds all occur without much encouragement from us gardeners. Even the sound of a gentle thunderstorm can be quite soothing on a sheltered patio. We can enhance sound by incorporating water features, adding wind chimes and placing bird feeders and birdbaths. Bring soothing music into the garden with outdoor wireless speakers and enhance garden gatherings.
One of the most rewarding things about the garden involves the sense of taste. Edible plant gardeners are no stranger to the fruits of their labors — pun intended. Fruits, herbs and vegetables in addition to edible flowers can enhance our sense of taste in every season.
Edible flowers such as citrus, pansies, violas and violets not only add color, but they can be harvested and utilized to garnish and enhance dishes and cocktails. Other herbs such as borage have a crisp, cucumber taste. Bee balm flowers are another double hitter in the sight and taste arena with a minty, citrus flavor and gorgeous, vibrantly colored flower petals. Lavender flowers smell wonderful and have a perfumed taste. Fruits such as blueberries, citrus and strawberries are a tasty treat and can be placed strategically in the landscape.
In the area of touch, gardeners typically like to avoid the pain of thorns and needles. However, there are many plant species with fuzzy leaves such as lamb’s ear that are very interesting to touch. They are soft and, as the name suggests, feels like a furry lamb’s ear. Additionally, mosses and highly textured leaves of plants such as yarrow feel nice to the touch and are appealing to the eye. Flowers such as strawflowers are tough like straw and make a crunchy sound when touched.
Sensory gardens are a good way to enhance your natural growing areas, to heighten the senses and to use as a teaching environment for children and as a relaxing retreat for adults.
Edible flowers such as violas are brightly colored and can be used to garnish dishes or added to salads for unique flavors. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Sweet olive trees have highly fragrant flowers that stimulate our sense of smell. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Lamb’s ear, as the name suggests, is soft to the touch. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Brightly colored flowers are a gorgeous sight in the landscape. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter