Sensory garden
Engaging the senses is an important factor in enjoying any garden and certainly vital for maximising the therapeutic benefits of Thrive’s gardens.

Providing stimulating sights, sounds, smells and textures helps create an environment that promotes wellbeing among our client gardeners.

The Just for Fun garden at Thrive Reading is designed for children and illustrates the range of ways plants and features can offer sensory stimulation.

These different features provide interest that effectively holds the attention in an involuntary way, allowing restoration from mental fatigue and other cognitive benefits.

Among the plants in the garden is fennel, which is close to a path and grows to a readily accessible height. Its frothy foliage is attractive to touch and smell.

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Bright colours, like orange, stimulate the senses

There’s also contrast of colour in the garden. Cool colours, such as blue and purple, tend to be calming, while yellow and orange are stimulating and promote activity.

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.

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Watching nature in action holds the attention

Tall flowers that move in the breeze, interesting seed heads, bees feeding on nectar and unusual looking flowers all have properties that can draw people in and hold their attention, as can manmade features such as a tall knitted poppy which is very tactile as well as colourful.

A striking element of the Just for Fun garden is a round metallic water feature with a reflective surface. The sound of water offers a soothing distraction which can help overcome agitation.

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The Just for Fun garden water feature always catches the eye

Nearby is a wind chime which provides a permanent audio location marker, helping those with sight loss to find their way around the garden. It also provides others with a calming soundtrack to enjoy the garden’s overall experience.

Having gardens that engage the sense of smell can bring considerable value to social and therapeutic horticulture.

Fragrance can remind people of their past and invoke memories and emotions with happy and positive associations. Sometimes the reaction can be negative and that’s where horticultural therapists can help clients express and process these emotions.

When thinking about sensory stimulation, there’s one consideration worth keeping in mind, according to Thrive’s Training, Education and Consultancy Manager Damien Newman:

‘It is possible to make these sensory features too stark, too competing with each other, so they need to be used in a way that doesn’t lose the gentleness of nature.’

Plants to engage the senses in your garden

Sight: Sunflowers, poppies, passion flowers

Smell: Lavender; thyme; lemon balm, rosemary

Sound: Fountain Grass; Greater Quaking Grass

Touch: Stachys (Lamb’s ear); silver sage

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Bham connor and billy passion for gardening