Sensory Gardens

Suse Greenstone
Horticultural Therapist & Adams County Master Gardener

Sensory plants are plants that have special smell, taste, touch and sight qualities. Sensory stimulation refers to the impact that the environment has on our minds and bodies and how we receive and process that information in our brains by way of our sensory organs, which include: our eyes, mouth, nose, skin, and ears. Planting a Sensory Garden is a wonderful way to experience nature and plants through the diversity of forms, textures, tastes, fragrances, and sounds that they may offer. A Sensory Garden not only stimulates the human senses, but also attracts desirable wildlife, such as butterflies and hummingbirds. For most people, plants by their very nature inspire a sensory response. This comes as a result of the plant’s colors, scents, tastes, or other notable features.

The idea of intentionally creating gardens especially designed to impact the senses—known as Sensory Gardens-- has a history of being created for the blind or visually impaired, as well as for others with special physical or emotional needs. But this has changed today with Sensory Gardens becoming more and more popular—especially when gardening with children. Sensory Garden design is now focused on creating a greater appreciation for the natural world -- with all persons and with all abilities. This enhanced appreciation is brought about by thoughtful selection of plants for outdoor gardens that produce positive sensory and cultural experiences for people, which may enhance their well-being and overall quality of life.

The Sensory Garden plot is divided accordingly into the five sensory sections—Sight, Taste, Touch, Smell, and Sound, featuring plants as well as natural and human-made elements that can inspire a particular sensory response. A brochure is available at the Garden that provides brief descriptions about each human sense and the selected plantings, including cultural information and use.

With many plants having characteristics that awaken basic sensory functions, Horticultural Therapy programs use Sensory Plants and Gardens to help people with sensory impairments and/or to enhance their creativity and self-expression in order to enjoy life more fully. Horticultural Therapy Program activities vary seasonally and have proven to help people of all ages and abilities with concentration, mental functioning, and memory; with social interactions, improved sense of calm, relaxation, and sense of control. Perceptions of self-worth and well-being often result, as do enhanced physical functioning and overall health. Goal setting and achievement have also been documented for program participants.

Horticultural Therapy programs take place in both indoor and outdoor settings. Hands-on program activities may include: propagating houseplants, culinary arts, nature crafts, landscape design and the growing of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. More passive and reflective activities may also be included, such as: nature journaling, listening to and observing nature, participating in group discussions and practice exercises that use nature and wellness imagery to reduce stress, anger, anxiety, and depression--while improving relationships and communications with others. The American Horticultural Therapy Association works to promote the profession and practice of Horticultural Therapy in hospitals and rehabilitation centers as well as at public schools, and other institutional gardens nationally and internationally.

Community Re-entry participants valued being involved with the Sensory Garden project and found both mental health and educational benefits. The participants appreciated being able to take part in the project at the Agricultural Center and interact with Master Gardeners and the public. It is hoped that visitors to the Sensory Garden Project plot will take time to interact with the plants in the Sensory Garden, enjoy, and leave with a greater appreciation for the natural world, which is afforded through the senses.

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