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27 Mar 2019

Creating sensory spaces for therapeutic gardens

Gardens allow us to perceive and experience the world around us. Therapeutic and sensory gardens are extra special as they engage our five familiar senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and sound.

With over 600 Community Greening gardens across New South Wales we have established special spaces for a variety of ages, backgrounds, landscapes and uses. There are even gardens specifically designed for animals and native wildlife.

When designing Community Greening gardens, we take the sensory garden concept a step further by creating zones through colours, textures, hard and soft landscaping and by considering non-traditional senses like temperature, space and the feeling of enclosure.

sensory gardens
Sensory and therapeutic gardens can be used to engage all ages and abilities.

A safe space

That ultimate goal is to create a safe, welcoming atmosphere for people of all abilities to enjoy and spend more time in nature. 

If you are thinking about creating a sensory garden consider the specific sensory limitations that can be explored and other ways of making the garden full of sensory pleasures. 

By creating a safe space people are encouraged to interact with plants and other elements in the garden, often directly. For instance, they may be encouraged to crush or taste a leaf or read a book on a cool, smooth rock.

raised garden bed, community greeing
Raised garden beds are a great solution for gardeners with limited mobility.

Sensory plants

Low maintenance and hardy plant varieties such as French lavenders, bamboo, dianellas, lomandras or saltbush can cope with foot traffic and handling. Delicate flowers and herbs are a great addition to any garden and can be placed in planters or pots around the garden.

To the delight of many, some plants make sounds when dried - seed capsules rattle in the breeze and become impromptu musical instruments. Harvesting edible plants creates a sense of pride and can be recycled to make natural paints for activities in the garden. It's important to remember that all plants and garden accessories should non-toxic and sturdy.

bamboo, zen, community greening
Use hardy plants and materials that can cope with handling. 

Nature as a healer

Sensory gardens can be places to relieve tension, reconnect with nature and create a sense of community while also improving physical and mental health. When we surveyed Community Greening participants, many of whom have established sensory gardens, the feedback demonstrated an 85% positive effect on health and 91% said it had a positive effect on their community; 73% are exercising more and 61% are eating better.

These gardens have been introduced in the school environment to allow students to experience the restorative properties of nature and compliment their curriculum. When learning about senses, students can design signs and symbols for the garden such as mouths next to a veggie patch or noses near a bed of roses.

People are also more inclined to interact with the plants and the environment if they know it's okay to smell, touch and taste them.

Aged care facilities, hospitals, mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres also harness the power of sensory gardens to help reduce anti-social behaviours and tackle economic disadvantage.

Community greening
Alexi is a visually impaired gardener that uses brightly coloured pots and plants to help him see.

Meet the team

The Community Greening team is taking part in Farm Chats 'Garden as Therapy' in Camperdown on 3 April to chat about all things sensory gardens and therapeutic horticulture. Visit Pocket City Farms for booking information.

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