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Can happiness grow on trees? How to create a sensory garden

Most of us would agree that the colour and style of plants plays a big part in what we choose when cultivating a garden - after all, what else are us proud plant parents going to post on Instagram if not aesthetic urban jungles? Well folks, there’s a new way to design your plantscapes. We spoke with Robert Elley, horticulturist at The Eden Project, to find out how to grow a garden that  is a feast for the senses.

From a loud phone conversation on public transport, to heavy traffic fumes and the sticky feeling of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe - everyday life can feel like a sensory overload at times. But before you go home to shut yourself off from the world and wrap yourself in a duvet cocoon, think again.

Engaging our senses in a positive way can be amazingly beneficial to our wellbeing, helping us to feel more emotionally connected to people and our environment. While most of us were taught that we have only five senses (sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing), some psychologists argue that we actually have over 50 different senses, ranging from the perception of balance to the perception of body awareness. Tapping into all our senses is a simple technique, which is often used in meditation and can help us to feel more present.

You may well be wondering how plants can help with this. Well, plant pro and horticulturist Robert Elley is on hand to explain how our green friends can teach us patience and help us tune in to our senses: “Humans can learn to cohabitate with plants, look after them, know how they grow, and use them to enhance the world that we live in.”

Still not convinced? Don’t throw in the trowel just yet. Creating a green space around these principles can lead to the ultimate chill space. Here’s how you can create your very own sensory garden:


Whether you live next to a busy road or you just want to make your green space extra zen, use sound to your advantage. This doesn’t have to mean blocking out traffic noise with half a dozen jingly jangly wind chimes, instead, there are a few natural options. Bamboo and grasses will rustle when the breeze catches them, while plants such as Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) will add a percussive element to your garden as their seeds rattle in the wind. Studies have shown that being near water is beneficial to our wellbeing, so try including a water feature in your space and enjoy the calming benefits that it brings.


Make your space more memorable with scented plants. Robert suggests opting for plants that have sentimental value to you: “Humans love scents that remind them of things in the past, so start by picking plants that you have familiarity with.” Choose blooms such as Lavender, Honeysuckle, and Gardenia which have strong, nostalgic aromas.


Edible plants will add a new dimension to your garden and are a healthy and rewarding way to enjoy the hard work you’ve put into growing a gorgeous space. If you’re limited on space choose something easy like tomato plants, chillies or herbs that you can grow in window boxes.


To maximise the visual impact of the space, work with a variety of different textures, heights and habitats. Choose contrasting levels such as high grasses and low, ground coverage plants and incorporate a range of natural materials such as slate, wood or bark chippings. This will not only make your space more engaging, it will also help to attract more diverse wildlife.

The colour palette that you choose will also have a big influence on your space. While reds, oranges and yellows may stimulate and create a sense of warmth, cooler colours, such as blues, indigos and greens, can be a pacifying pick for your space. The Health and Wellbeing Garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is a great example of how different textures and a comforting colour range can be used to establish a sensorial space.


By using different textures in your space, you’ll also enhance experience. Try using different materials like mosaics, or grow your own moss path so you can enjoy the spongy feeling of a green carpet underfoot. Choose plants which encourage touch, from hairy plants like the the velvety soft Lamb’s Ear (Stachys Byzantina) to herbs which people will instinctively stroke to release the scent.

A well designed sensory garden can be aesthetically pleasing, great for wellbeing and quality of life, but above all, a fun educational tool for everyone involved. If you’re looking for more unusual ways to design your garden, take a look at how to grow your very own scented garden. Go on, pop on your wellies and get growing.

Robert Elley


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