A hand gently holds some pure white spring blossom growing on a tree in a garden
Touch can be an important part of how we experience a garden. We offer advice for creating a touch-friendly garden including recommended plants.
  • Enjoying your garden and nature at a sensory level, no matter your knowledge of gardening
  • Slowing down and gently touching plants can help to feel calm and de-stress
  • The thought of getting close to plants can provide the motivation to get out into the garden
Crimson bottlebrush
Crimson bottlebrush

As humans, we have a need to touch things. As soon as something interests us, we have a desire to understand it by touching it. You can see this clearly, even in very young children.

This is why our sense of touch is so important when it comes to experiencing gardens and nature.

Through touch, we gather information. This is processed by our bodies in two ways. First, via a sensory pathway for basic facts and figures, such as temperature and texture. Secondly, via a route that determines the emotional or social meaning behind the touch.

Designing gardens with plants that say ‘touch me’ encourages a unique interaction. This encounter can send a signal to our brain that it’s time to stop, turn off our thinking brain and feel something.

Touching plants is also a great way to practise mindfulness in a garden. It allows us to concentrate on the ‘here and now’.

lambs ears
Lamb's ear

Choosing plants for touch

There are so many different plant textures that can be included in the garden. For example:

  • The rough bark of trees
  • Soft, hairy leaves
  • Shiny, ribbon-like foliage
  • Silky-smooth petals of flowers
  • Fluffy flower heads

You can find some of our recommended plants at the end of this guide.

When choosing plants for touch, pick plants that are tough enough to withstand frequent brushing or handling.

You could create a dedicated touch-friendly area of the garden. Bring together touch-friendly plants in a small, enclosed area. If there is space, add some comfortable garden seats. You could use raised beds so your touchable plants are in easier reach.

If you don’t have much space, herbs in pots are a good option. Many herbs have great texture as well as smelling good.

Make sure any plants chosen for touch are not poisonous or prickly.

Choosing non plant elements for touch

It's not only plants that make a garden touch friendly. You could also add tactile hard landscaping elements, for example:

  • Smooth, polished round pebbles
  • The glazed surface of ceramics

Top tip

Did you know, every plant texture has a purpose. Furry leaves protect the plants from extremes of hot and cold weather. Fat succulent leaves help to store water. Sharp spines stop the plants from being eaten by hungry insects!

Engaging sense of touch snapdragon

Here are a few of our recommendations for touch friendly plants and flowers:

  • African violet: The texture of heart-shaped leaves on African violets provides a soothing tactile experience. The dark green thick leaves of the low, compact perennial have tiny hairs and feel soft and smooth when rubbed.
  • Aloe vera: The soft, fleshy leaves have spiky edges. These are wonderful to touch and enjoy the feeling of the soft spikes.
  • Crimson bottlebrush: These evergreen shrubs have bottlebrush-like bright crimson spikes of flowers that are soft to touch.
  • Geraniums: The soft petals of geranium flowers are a flower bed staple.
  • Jerusalem sage: Despite its name, Jerusalem sage is actually a close relative of mint. Its common name comes from the appearance of its soft downy pale green leaves which are like those of a sage plant.
  • Lamb’s ears: As its common name suggests, its downy leaves resemble the ears of a lamb. A popular ground-covering perennial, the plant has fuzzy, silvery-green foliage which is soft to touch.
  • Lemon balm: This low-growing perennial has small, slightly hairy leaves, which are soft to touch. When crushed, the leaves release its beautiful aroma.
  • Rosemary: This is a tall strong-looking plant with small grey/green leaves. It has coarse foliage to touch, along with its distinctive scent.
  • Silver sage: This is an eye-catching herbaceous perennial. It has large, ruffled-looking leaves covered in a fine layer of silver hairs, giving them a soft cotton wool-like downy appearance.
  • Snapdragons: These are cheerful annual plants, guaranteed to brighten up borders and containers. What child (or adult!) can resist gently squishing the sides of a snapdragon flower to make it ‘talk’?

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