Gardening with Children: The Sensory Garden

May 17, 2024

By Veronica

Temperatures are rising and the sun is out (at last!), so it is time to get out with the kids (young and old) and enjoy the great outdoors.  Whether you have a large garden or a balcony, you can get growing together edibles or ornamentals and tune in to the rhythm of nature. Make it a full experience by adding elements or plants that stimulate all 5 senses: Sight, Touch, Smell, Hearing and Taste.

Include short activities like seed sowing or repotting, give responsibilities like watering every two days… to involve all family members. Grow a few edibles, is there something more empowering than being able to grow your own food?

Lastly, make of your outdoor space a place to share. To share with your family, your friends (incl. four-legged ones) or even just the wildlife.

You can choose to divide your outdoor space into five sections, so that each sense is stimulated at one time or mix things up a little. If you have little space, you can even have just one planter with one element for each sense.

 

Sight: Colour and Shapes

 

Sight is the first sense to be stimulated and the most obvious, so let us make a feast for your eyes! You might want to create a serene haven by selecting a scheme of similar colours such as blue, purple and whites, or pink with violet and lilac. Yellows, oranges, and reds will create a more dynamic atmosphere. Try bold combinations of complementary colours like blue and orange or red and green for an eye-catching contrast. This may be achieved not just by using flowers but foliage too. The maroon leaves of the Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’ will pair beautifully with the bright Choysia ‘Sundance’ for example.

As for shapes, topiary and standard trees will add structure to your design. Clouds, lollipops, or screens are some of the shapes you can play with to stimulate little ones’ imagination. Add vertical lines with the sought after Italian cypress, ideal for hide-and-seek sessions. All sorts of shapes can be added through flowers and foliage again: round, stars, oblong, oval, heart… So, let us unveil a world of geometrical shapes and learn how these are found in nature.

 

You may want to use props to take full advantage of your outdoor space. A bench, or any kind of sitting area (it can be just a little cushion) will create an area where you can relax and let it sink in. Mirrors will help the child to see himself in nature and how he is part of it.

 

 

Touch: A world of sensations at your fingertip.

 

‘No touching’, ‘Look with your eyes’… There are enough occasions and places where children are reminded that they need to keep their hands in their pockets. Let’s make the garden a safe place for them to explore. Plants offer an array of textures they will love to experience.

Introduce the soft ponytail grass (Stipa Tenuissima) that dances in the breeze, or the Callistemon with its bright red, bottlebrush flowers if you have a little more space. The downy, silvery foliage of the Senecio ‘Angel Wings’ is like velvet while the sea holly is prickly (the berberis darwinii nana is little safer around children as the thorns are smaller). A sizeable number of varieties have serrated leaves like the photinia or the hydrangea for a softer one, or wavy, like the pittosporum. The leathery thick leaves of the Aucuba or the Rodgersia will complement the delicate foliage of the Thalictrum for a mix in shade. Bark can be another way to add texture. You don't need to plant a tree if you do not have the space. A log or even a pot cover made of natural material will serve the same purpose.

 

 

Hearing: Sounds of nature, Melody to the Soul

 

In our busy lives, being able to simply listen to wind in the branches is sometimes a luxury. Rustling and whooshing sounds gently bring awareness to the pace of nature. Complete the musical canvas with a water feature and/or a windchime. You could even make your own windchime or hanging xylophone with repurposed copper pipes or large bamboo canes.

Inviting wild animals to join in is another way to bring music to the garden. Make a roosting nest and fat balls, not only will you have great fun with the kids, but you will also help songbirds along the way. Add a birdbath, does not need to be very fancy, a simple soup plate will do the trick and the children can decorate it to make it theirs.

Do not forget the planting, provide a reliable source of seeds and berries in the garden. Sunflowers are fast growing and spectacular, so perfect for children to grow. Share your redcurrants with your winged friends so you can both benefit from the healthy antioxidant.

 

Smell: A fragrant heaven

 

The smell of the grass freshly cut or the soil after the rain are the heart notes of the perfume you are about to create. Floral, Woody, Fruity or Fresh, the combinations are endless.

If lavender is one of the first plants that comes to mind for strong fragrance, other aromatic herbs such as mint, rosemary or thyme might be less powerful and best suited for the littles noses.

Sweet sounds are always a big hit with small ones (and older ones), the summer offers a bounty of honey or sweet-scented annuals. Some of the most popular and easy to grow are the nemesia, the alyssum and the Heliotrope. They are also perfect for growing in pots and will suit any garden size or bacony.

 

The Salvia microphylla has a ravishing and powerful fruity scent while the Prostanthera exhales mint when crushed.

In the winter and spring, wallflowers will cheer you up with their floral notes perfect with the Acacia (Mimosa) in larger gardens.

 

Taste: Wake up your tasting buds

 

‘Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food’. Learning from an early age to appreciate all tastes is one of the best gifts that can be given to a child. However, it is not always easy to fit veg growing into our busy urban schedules. So, start small to not get overwhelmed and grow only fruits and veg you and your little one like so you are less likely to get overwhelmed and give up.

Strawberries and tomatoes are a good start. They can be grown in pots and the red fruits are extremely attractive to children. Fast growing vegetables are a good option too. Lettuce and radish will be ready to harvest within a few weeks after sowing or planting, they are, therefore ideal for our impatient little gardeners.

You can grow larger fruit as well. Coronet apples can be grown in pots, and you can have 2 varieties on the same tree, so you do not need to worry about pollination. In general, choose self-fertile varieties for apples, pears, plums or even blueberries so you will not need to have several trees/bushes of each type for a decent crop.

 

Last tips:

 

  • Prepare bite size activities: prefer activities that engage children for 30 minutes on average. The younger they are, the shorter should the activity be. A few ideas of simple activities:

. Water a few plants.

. spot the snails or other bugs.

. sow seeds in a pot.

. transplant seedlings.

. make fat balls.

. spot or draw the birds…

 close up photo of black ant in front of plant

  • Watch out for plant toxicity. Some plants are gorgeous but poisonous as well, like the foxglove or Monkshood. If in doubt, ask a member of staff. We will make sure that you return home with suitable plants for your little ones.

 

  • Mindfulness exercise for all ages to tune in to nature.

 

Take a deep breath and focus on:

. 5 things you can see.

. 4 things you can touch.

. 3 things you can hear.

. 2 things you can smell.

. 1 thing you can taste.

 

This exercise can help you to relax when you are overwhelmed or, simply teach you to be present and enjoy your surroundings.


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