University of Illinois Extension

Garden of Sensory Delights

Sensory gardens invite interesting experiences whether a container garden on a condo balcony or a five acre spread.

Nancy Pollard

"Combine plants with a variety of textures, colors, shapes, fragrances, and sounds to create gardens to savor," said Pollard. "When choosing plants, check to be sure they will do well in your growing conditions: sun or shade; wet, medium, or dry soil."

These suggestions are only a small taste of the sensory experience a garden can offer.

Touch Me

Look for contrasting textures like rough bark, smooth, soft, fuzzy, sticky, or waxy surfaces. Lamb's ear (Stachys) is soft and woolly gray. Yarrow's stiff flowers contrast soft foliage. Smooth stones invite touch.

Lamb's Ear

Lamb's Ear

Eye Candy

Look for contrasting line, form, shape, texture, color. Lady's mantle (Alchemilla) traps dew drops which sparkle in the waxy, crinkly, folds. Gayfeather (Liatris spicata) displays soft vertical flower spikes in white, pink or purple blooms from the top downward. Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' exhibit vibrant, near fluorescent colored midribs running the length of the leafs. Hens & Chicks (Echeveria elegans) sculptural waxy gray leaves form rosettes (the hens) which send out runners (the chicks).


Nature's Music

Ornamental grasses and pines make gentle sounds. Moving water from a solar water fountain also provide water for song birds. Hedges or soil mounds (berms) planted with evergreens softens the sounds of traffic.

Fragrant Memories

Look for rich, culinary, sweet, pungent, spicy, scents. Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) smells like vanilla or cherry pie. Sweet Four-o'clock (Mirabilis longiflora) blossoms open in the evening or on cloudy days revealing an orange-blossom scent. (Other Four o'clocks may not be fragrant, but still interesting.) Lavender which flourishes in dry gravely soils shares both fragrant flowers and foliage.