Creating a School Sensory Garden

30-Mar-2015

Create a sensory garden at school that is not only beautiful to look at, but tantalises the children’s senses too! Talk to the children about the plants, their colours, how they smell and taste – be careful to choose safe, edible plants for tasting! Show them that there’s more to plants than just a pretty face.

Sight
 

Flowers have bright, bold colours to attract birds and insects for pollination and seed dispersal. They are also wonderful for humans to look at too! Choose bold leaved and architectural plants, perhaps mulched with different coloured items such as slate, pebbles or shells. Although you might want to steer clear of recycled coloured glass mulches.  

  • Sunflowers, Helianthus annuus; a bright, bold looking flower that can grow 30cm (11in)  in height in a week, in ideal conditions 

  • Love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena; sun-loving, bright blue flowers. 

  • Chameleon plant, Houttuynia cordata ’Chameleon’; three-toned foliage which smells of lemon 

  • Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’, Beta vulgaris; brightly coloured stems and foliage 

  • Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’; purple leaves with chocolate coloured undersides and pretty, pale pink flowers 

Sound

Sit in your garden and listen to all the sounds of nature around you; the bees buzzing, the birds singing, the sounds of the wind rustling through grasses and plants. Mostly grasses here, unless a water feature or wind chimes can be incorporated.

  • Greater quaking grass, Briza maxima; a grass that rustles in the wind with nodding, lantern-like heads of flowers

  • Miscanthus oligostachyus, ‘Nanus Variegatus’ ; pretty bamboo-like foliage, which creates a rustling noise

  • Sweetcorn, Zea mays; another rustler and good to eat too!

  • A bamboo, Phyllostachys; pretty foliage which whispers in the wind, with its stems knocking together, creating a hollow sound

  • Fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides; long, evergreen grass, with bristly spikelets

Smell

The aromas given off by flowers are wonderful to enjoy, but the smells have a purpose too; plant scents attract insects to the flowers for pollination and some smelly leaves deter insects from eating them. 

  • Curry plant, Helichrysum italicum; curry smelling leaves which give off a spicy aroma on a warm, sunny day

  • Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia; relaxing, fresh aroma with tiny purple flowers 

  • Chocolate cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus; beautiful, maroon flowers give off a chocolate/ vanilla scent - a big hit with the kids!

  • Sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus; a flowering climber that gives off a strong, sweet scent 

  • Lemon scented geranium, Pelargonium crispum; crinkly leaves that smell of lemon when rubbed 

Taste
 
There are so many delicious plants that it’s difficult to choose just a few

  • Spearmint, Mentha spicata; a vigorous growing herb, which tastes great with peas or new potatoes 

  • Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis; highly fragrant leaves, used to flavour meat and fish, its scent is wonderful 

  • Chives, Allium schoenoprasum; in addition to delicious foliage that can be used in salads, this plant also produces pretty pink, mauve or purple flowers 

  • Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus; a colourful salad can be made from the beautiful peppery orange, red or yellow flowers and the foliage 

  • Wild strawberry, Fragaria vesca; this plant loves partial sun and fairly damp conditions and produces small, sweet, delicious fruit 

  • Oregano/wild marjoram, Origanum vulgare; the aromatic leaves are delicious dried or fresh in pasta dishes. This plant also produces pretty pink or white flowers in midsummer to early autumn 

  • Pot marigold, Calendula officinalis; gorgeous, sunny flowers, with aromatic, dark green leaves. The petals brighten up any salad 

  • Sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum; the Italians wouldn’t consider cooking without this delicious, fresh-tasting herb. 

  • Vegetables. These are plants too and taste no better than when you grow them yourself. Try, carrots, radishes, lettuces, broad beans or peas

  • Although many of these are used in our cooking, please remember that some children could have allergies to any one of them

Touch

Leaves vary between plants, from rough to smooth, furry to spiky. Every texture has a purpose. Here are a few plants that are interesting to touch. 

  • Lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantia;  as its common name suggests, its downy leaves resemble the ears of a lamb.

  • Silver sage, Salvia argentea; large, silvery – white leaves covered in cotton-wool like down.

  • Jerusalem sage, Phlomis fruticose; soft, downy leaves and stems with pretty yellow flowers

  • Cape sundew, Drosera capensis; meat-eating plant that catches insects using a glue-like substance on the surface of its leaves—watch out, it’s sticky to touch.

  • Sea holly, Eryngium; spiny leaves and thistle-like flowers, make this plant a spiky customer.

There are many more plants suitable for a sensory garden than those we have listed here. But this should make a good springboard to get you started.

All these plants can be used to help teach the National Curriculum. Get the students outside and involved in the garden or bring samples into the classroom for more hands on, practical activities.