When I was small, my grandmother’s garden was a wondrous place. It had a mystical forest, an imposing fort, magic pathways sparkling with fairy dust and giant, fragrant, colourful roses with blooms the size of my head. When I returned later as a young adult, I was astounded to discover that the “forest” was five dwarf fruit trees at the end of the garden, the “fort” a small wooden garage, and the “fairy dust” the luminous trails of snails. The roses really were that terrific, though—my grandmother rocked at roses!

For children, it is a given for them to be immersed in and inspired by the natural world, especially a garden. They are so receptive to all the senses: the sound of the wind in the trees; the sight of birds and flowers; the feel of mud or stone; and the scent of herbs or freshly cut grass. It sparks the imagination and nurtures the self. We can keep this in mind when we are gardening by creating a sensory garden.

The options and ideas are endless. It can be simple, multifaceted, small, expansive, long term or short term. The base of all sensory gardens is different elements that stir the senses and encourage imagination and play.

Smell
• Just cutting the grass to create that heavenly smell!
• Adding scented flowers such as herbs, roses, wallflower, carnations, nicotiana
• Some herbs, such as thyme can tolerate being crushed so can be grown between paving slabs to release their scent when walked on

Sound
• Grasses or plants that have seed heads that rustle
• Wind chimes are great and can be made at home with a variety of objects
• The most wonderful sound is of water, so a small water feature is lovely
• Birdsong—encourage them with feeders and a bird bath

Taste
• Veggies that are easy to grow such as lettuce, radishes, peas, beans
• Plant delicious fruit such as berries or invest in a fruit tree.
• Herbs such as mint, and lemon balm can be added to hot water to make tea, or dried and used later especially during the winter to bring back fragrant memories of sunny days

Vision
• Of course wonderful flowers!
• Let’s not forget structural elements such as giant sunflowers, and the contrast between foliage shapes
• Trees provide a beautiful canopy of leaves that is heaven to lie underneath in the dappled sunlight.
• Movement is visual too so plants that sway and bend in the wind or close their petals at at night and open them in the day.
• Birds are gorgeous and enliven a garden. Bird, bug and bat houses are also a wonderful addition to encourage visiting creatures.

Touch
• Leaves with furry surfaces, soft moss, grass and dirt are all enticing
• Cement or stone slabs capture heat for bare feet to enjoy
• Water dripping out of a watering can

Practical Tips & Safety
• If the space isn’t fenced for deer, use deer resistant plants to avoid disappointment
• Speaking of fencing, parents should use their best judgement as to level of supervision according to their child’s age and character as well as the garden environment and its surroundings
• Water features should also be suitable for the age of the youngest child that is playing in the garden
• Learn the best spot for certain plants so that they have the best chance of doing well
• Impress upon your child(ren) that some plants can make them sick if eaten and to check with you before anything goes in their mouths, even if it is part of a “magic potion” or if even if they have seen birds eat it (birds’ tummies are not the same as ours!)

Play
• A twig tent covered with cedar branches or one made by growing beans or other vines up supports for a magical hideaway
• A muddy corner for making mud pies
• A sand play area (this is best covered when not in use to avoid local cats visiting it)
• Let’s not forget the wonder of twigs, leaves, pebbles, moss and just plain dirt for creating little kingdoms! Sturdy toys such as plastic animals or dinosaurs can happily roam this magic land
• Bring the garden inside by painting a picture (outside like the Impressionists did—also much easier for clean up!), pressing flowers or gathering them with herbs or branches to make a cheerful vase on the kitchen table
• Make a fall leaf “stained glass” picture by putting leaves between two sheets of wax paper and ironing them together (with a cloth in between to avoid the wax melting onto the iron). Tape it onto a window, and voila!, watch the sun light up your creation.
• Make stepping stones and decorate with marbles, broken crockery or buttons
• Fairy lights or lanterns (the flameless kind) makes a warm and magical atmosphere
• And let’s not forget the old classics of bubbles and sidewalk chalk to enjoy
There are lots of ideas to try and even creating a small corner is a great start to enjoying the beauty and wonder of the garden—for kids and parents too!

Louise Berry is a mum of three, an avid gardener, writer, and lover of chocolate!