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What is a Sensory Garden?

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  • Written By: Soo Owens
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Images By: n/a, Antonioguillem
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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A sensory garden seeks to enliven sensory nerves through specific selection and careful arrangement of various garden elements. Sensory perceptions that range from sight and hearing, smell and touch, to even taste may be evoked by a sensory garden. Anyone can partake in the experience of a sensory garden, but it is especially helpful for individuals with disabilities that affect their sensory responses.

The common focus of all sensory gardens is the creation an immersive experience that appeals to one or more of the five senses and that is beyond the scope of a normal garden. The experience for observers and participants is often described to be invigorating, relaxing and stimulating to some degree. A sensory garden can serve therapeutic and educational purposes for children and adults alike. These gardens are often devised, however, with the needs of disabled groups, such as the visually-impaired, in mind. As a result, individuals with compromised or non-functioning sensory nerves can derive a sensory experience rooted in physical or mental revitalization that would otherwise be lost to them.

Garden elements that comprise the main features of a sensory garden include hardscape and plant display. Hardscape elements are the physical details of the garden that exclude plants. They are integral parts of the sensory experience, as the arrangement of walls, footpaths, seating and signage can allow ease of access and interactivity, all of which are important aspects to consider when designing a sensory garden for use by disabled individuals.

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The selection of plants depends on the level of interaction visitors are allowed in the garden. Visitors are usually encouraged to closely view and touch the plants for an immersive experience. Reactions from tasting and smelling plants may also be elicited, and such actions could require detaching a piece of the plant to do so. Due to the high level of interactivity expected, plant selections should be safe for touch and consumption, durable and hardy, and appropriate for its intended use.

Sensory gardens can be designed to stimulate one particular sense or multiples senses and are usually adapted with consideration for the particular disability of its intended audience. A visually oriented garden may focus on such details as texture, color scheme, shape and size, and movement of the plants and hardscape elements. The garden may offer audible cues by incorporating plant sounds, such as the rustling and crunching of leaves, and it may use waterfalls, chimes, and other physical components to enhance the sound experience. For an olfactory experience, the specific fragrant properties of each plant are considered because some plants may emit smells only at specific times of the day or under physical stimulation. In addition to promoting a sensory experience, a sensory garden can be a therapeutic and rejuvenating venture for visitors.

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