It is always sad when a friend moves away. My friend and I keep in touch through FaceTime and texts, but that is not the same as a visit. Recently, Duane and I made the trip to Charlottesville, VA, where my friend moved to be near her three-year-old granddaughter, Lucy. Spending time with my friend and seeing her new home was beautiful. Making a sensory garden with Lucy was enchanting.
For children to acquire knowledge of the natural world, I believe there's no better way than through a sensory garden. Children learn about their environment through sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell; in a sensory garden, the gardener chooses plants to enliven the senses. Therefore when my friend asked me to help Lucy make a garden at her house, a sensory garden seemed an appropriate choice.
There are a few rules to follow:
- The sensory garden must be a safe place if users are to interact with it. Plants should be non-toxic, non-allergenic, and with no pesticide application. It would be best to place thorny plants like roses out of reach.
- When choosing plants make sure they will do well in your growing conditions, whether sun or shade, poor or good drainage, clay or another type of soil.
- Select hardy, durable plants and those of various heights, colors, textures, and scents.
With these thoughts in mind, we set off for the garden center.
A few years ago, I wrote an article for Extension. There follows some brief excerpts about each sense, plus lists of the plants Lucy and I picked out at the garden center:
The Sense of Touch
When considering touch, think texture. Include soft flowers and fuzzy leaves. The first plant that comes to mind for tactile stimuli is lambs' ear (Stachys byzantina) with its soft fuzzy leaves.
Lucy chose the lambs' ears, of course, and yarrow (Achillea millefolium) for its stiff flowers and soft foliage. She picked cockscomb (Celosia) and three varieties of spiky hens and chicks (Sempervivum)
The Sense of Smell
When planning the sensory garden, think about both subtle and robust smells that a child can explore by sticking her nose in the flower or rubbing the leaves then sniffing her fingers.
Lucy chose two herbs with wonderful aromas: lavender 'Phenomenal' and perennial catmint (Nepeta x faassenii 'Walker's Low'). She also picked a scented geranium 'Atar of Roses.'
|Lucy's first choice was a yarrow for the sense of touch.|
The Sense of Taste
I must stress that everything in a garden for children should be non-toxic. Grow vegetables and herbs – an early introduction to fresh, healthy food helps young children as they begin to make their own food choices.
Lucy chose oregano and basil. She sowed carrot seeds because she loves to eat carrots.
The Sense of Hearing
Some sounds in a sensory garden occur without planning – the wind through leaves, for example. Enhance the variety of sounds by including wind chimes. Adding a birdbath encourages our feathered friends to stop by with their sweet songs.
Lucy chose false indigo (Baptisia australis) when I explained that she could shake the seed pods in the fall to hear the seeds rattle.
|Clockwise from top left: celosia for touch, oregano for taste and smell, scented geranium for smell, and scabiosa for sight. |
The Sense of Sight
Contrasting elements of color, form, movement, light, and shadow add to our sensory experience when we look at a beautiful garden. Create a balance between energizing and restful, soft colors to avoid overstimulation. Plant flowers of varying colors and blooming times, foliage of different shapes and sizes, and plants that butterflies love.
Lucy chose gayfeather (Liatris spicata) with its soft, vertical flower spikes that bloom from the top-down and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) to attract monarch butterflies. She picked a pincushion flower (Scabiosa columbaria) 'Butterfly Blue', a coneflower (Echinacea Artisan™) 'Red Ombre', and a pretty pink and yellow Verbina. Her grandmother added some petunias.
|When Lucy learned that the liatris would have purple flowers, she was delighted. Purple is her favorite color. (Note the sneakers.)|
|She carried every plant to a cart, pulled the cart over to the car, and loaded the trunk. Well done, Lucy!|
|Lucy's grandmother had purchased two 4'x4' grow boxes for Lucy's garden. We put them together -- no easy feat -- and filled each one with soil sold specially for raised beds. |
|We didn't have enough bags of soil. While my husband and my friend went back to the store for more bags, Lucy and I arranged the plants ready for planting. |
We decided to put plants for 'sight' and 'sound' in one raised bed and 'smell', 'touch', and 'taste' in the other. We placed Lucy's garden chair between the two beds.
|Planting was the most fun. Lucy's favorite part was 'teasing' the roots.|
|False indigo (Baptisia australis) will develop interesting seed pods.|
As there was only one plant for the sense of hearing, we added a lovely glass wind chime that Lucy's grandmother moved from the back garden.
|The wind chime has glass hummingbirds.|
|Sowing carrot seeds.|
|The sensory garden is finished.|
|Lucy is thrilled with her garden.|
|The final task was to add a special 'ornament' to each grow box. We took a trip to Home Goods where Lucy found a white elephant wearing a crown and a gnome with a red, pointy hat.|
|A delightful 'garden dance' by Princess Lucy. |
Lucy is taking outstanding care of her garden, watering and deadheading where needed. She stays at her grandmother's house while her parents work, so she can check it almost every day. This week my friend sent the photo at the top of the page -- if you look closely you can see that the carrots germinated.
Lucy's sensory garden is a beautiful, safe, and calming way for her to explore her senses and learn about the environment around her. Sensory gardens, however, are not just for children. They are an innovative way to promote health and nature for everyone.
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