When adding visual interest to a sensory garden, it's important to remember that our sense of sight can be stimulated by a number of different elements:
The easiest way to entertain sight in a sensory garden is to incorporate colour. The way we see colour has evolved primarily as a survival mechanism, and today colours still give us important messages about safety - for instance, the warning colours of a poisonous snake, or the red-orange glow of a hot ember - but more than this, colour helps us to enjoy the beauty of our environment.
Colour provides a visual stimulus while adding order and balance, unity, rhythm, focal points, accents, and definition to a garden. Warm colours such as red, orange, and yellow, brighten the emotions and promote activity. Cool colours, such as blue, purple, and white, tend to be soothing and promote tranquility. Traditionally flowers are an effective way to add colour. However colourful fruits, foliage and bark can also enhance a garden’s visual appeal.
While the visual elements of a garden would not ordinarily be designed with the visually-impaired in mind, partially sighted people may be able to see large blocks of riotous colour. Yellow is also a colour that is more readily visible to people with limited sight, so having bright calendula flowers on the edge of a path can assist their navigation around the garden.
Colour should be considered not only when planning and planting beds but also when designing hardscape components. For example, if you want to integrate a raised concrete flowerbed into your garden, perhaps think about painting it a bright bold colour.
Plants with interesting visual texture add to the sensory garden experience. Excellent additions for sensory gardens include plants that are smooth, rough, ruffled or fuzzy.
The overall texture of a plant is another consideration. For example, a fine-textured plant has small leaves and a somewhat sparse appearance, while a coarse-textured plant has large leaves and a fuller appearance.
When you plan your planting, also consider the layers you can develop with large, taller plants at the back and smaller ones at the front. For example, a backdrop of tall bushy lemongrass looks appealing and creates a contrast to the soft grey blue tones of sage and the bright green of a spreading thyme plant acting as a ground cover or border edge.
Plants come in many shapes and forms including:
Individual parts of plants, such as leaves or fruit, have their own shapes too, be it round, toothed or spherical.
Mix up the selection of plants in your garden by choosing creeping, hanging, upright or miniature plant species. A variety of architecture, height, shapes and patterns can be created with different species of shrubs and plants.
You can incorporate movement into your garden in a number of ways such as including plants and flowers that sway in the wind, moving water features or floating leaves or flowers in ponds. A pond or fountain will also create beautiful reflections as well as adding fluidity and contrasting texture.
Light and shadow
Light and shadow are often overlooked but are visually important sensory garden elements, especially when held in contrast. Try experimenting with different possibilities for contrast that range from subtle, such as dappled sunlight through a tree, to dramatic such as a dark tunnel of willows or vines that leads to an area of full sun.
Don’t forget to include a bench or seating area in your garden to give you the perfect opportunity to sit back, observe and enjoy your surroundings.
And if you have limited space, such as a balcony or small terrace, you can grow and display colourful plants and flowers in pots and containers.
In terms of visual stimulus when planning sensory experiences for children, it's always good to incorporate colours, shapes, light and special features throughout the year. As sight can stimulate a mood where a collection of colours such as blues and whites can be calming whilst colours such as reds and oranges are more stimulating, plant flowers of varying colours that bloom at different times of the year. You can also consider adding colour in other ways such as brightly coloured pots and planters.
A vegetable garden with hidden treasures tucked into corners, such as sculptures, plant markers or mobiles are fun for children to create, place and find.
By choosing trees and shrubs that attract birds, you may also want to install a bird bath or some bird feeders so that children can engage in a spot of bird watching.
Brightly coloured flowers and plants also make great subjects for drawings and paintings and playing a game such as ‘I Spy’ is also a good way for getting children to see how many new things they can observe in the garden.
Below are examples of plants and flowers which can stimulate our sense of sight in the garden as well as some good ones for the children too:
Children love bright colours and these eye-catching flowers and leaves are sure to be popular: