If you are a gardener, it is likely that you, like me, love to touch, smell, taste, and even listen to plants. It’s not weird! When we garden, we like to gaze at plants, run our hands over the leaves and petals, and bring our noses down to take in the beautiful scent. Something about this brings me great pleasure – to know that I have planted and cared for such a beautiful thing and then to have the joy of partaking of it with all of my senses!
Sensory gardens are excellent therapy for people with emotional and physical challenges and anyone who wants to engage all of their senses in their garden. Here are my favorite plants to touch, listen to, taste, and smell.
You don’t have to create a specific sensory garden to enjoy the experience, but it is a wonderful experience and something unique to share with others. If time or space does not allow for such a venture, try incorporating some of these beautiful plants in your garden and home landscape.
Plants for sight
The eye-catching beauty of these garden favorites makes them a must in any garden.
- Delphinium – This upright burst of color grows to 1-4 feet in height with flowers in white, pink, lavender, blue, purple, or even multi-toned. These plants are stunning in any garden setting and do well as long as they are protected from the wind and get plenty of sunlight.
- Bleeding heart – When given just the right conditions (shade and moisture), these sweet plants grow to be up to 3 feet tall. Downward facing blooms which resemble hearts appear in May and June on delicately arching stems. Flowers may be red, pink, or white, and the foliage is a beautiful dark green color.
- Sunflower – Just the thought of a sunflower makes me smile. With their huge happy faces, sunflowers come in a wide variety of sizes — some reaching up to 10 feet — with colors ranging from a brown hue to a bright yellow or orange. These late-season bloomers also provide food for birds and other seed-eating animals.
- Cockscomb – Showy feather-like flower spikes set this plant apart. Cockscomb blooms come in orange, lavender, peach, yellow, and red and appear in June and persist until frost. To enjoy these beauties indoors, cut a few and bring them inside for a stunning table arrangement.
- Zinnia – These flowers are timeless and have graced gardens for centuries. They are easy to grow well worth your time, even though they are annuals. Their spectacular flowers draw pollinators and bloom from June until frost. Zinnias can grow from 1-4 feet tall depending on the type, and they perform best in full sun.
Plants to smell
Take a whiff of these aromatic plants and enjoy their unique scents. Some energize while others help you relax.
- Creeping thyme – This low-growing, mounding plant reaches about 6 inches tall with a 12-inch spread. It smells so lovely when you rub the leaves between your fingers or step on it, making creeping thyme a popular groundcover. Delicate purple flowers appear in June and persist until August when thyme is planted in full sun.
- Hyacinth – This perennial spring-flowering bulb has a beautiful strong and sweet scent and white pink, red, purple, or blue flowers. Common in flower arrangements, this early bloomer smells lovely indoors or outdoors and is a popular border plant.
- Daffodils – Who can resist the smell of a daffodil in spring? In fact, when you fill a garden space with these easy-to-grow bulbs, your whole yard will smell spectacular, so open your windows and enjoy. Daffodils are hardy, growing up to 2 feet in full sun.
Plants to taste
Of course, you don’t want to go around tasting just any plant – that could end up being really bad as some plants not only taste yucky but are also poisonous. However, if you plant the following edible plants in your garden, you are in for a tasty treat.
- Chives – Not only are chives pretty garden plants, but they are super tasty as well. These clumping plants grow about 12-18 inches high, and the stalks have a mild, onion-like taste. A pretty flower appears in April through May in pink or purple when this perennial gets fun sun or a little shade.
- Nasturtium – If you like a little spice, you will love nasturtiums. The old-time favorites have a sprawling habit and spread out several feet with showy flowers in red, orange, and yellow from May to September. All parts of this pretty plant are edible, so go ahead and munch. This annual plant prefers full sun.
- Mint – Keep this prolific herb in containers, or it will for sure take over your garden, and your sidewalk…and your patio. Mint comes in all sorts of flavors like spearmint, peppermint, orange mint, and chocolate, to name a few. Mint is delicious in tea, salad, or desserts.
Plants to listen to
When you walk through the garden, stay quiet and listen to the sounds of your favorite plants. Believe it or not, many plants make beautiful sounds in the wind or when touched, an orchestra of botany that is pleasing to the ears.
- Balloon flower – Balloon flowers can reach up to 2 ½ feet tall and spread out 1 foot. They have inflated buds that make a unique popping noise when squeezed. Attractive white, pink, or purple flower appear from June to August. Plant these hardy perennials in full sun or part shade for the best results.
- False indigo – This hardy perennial garden plant grows 3-4 feet tall and has a wide spread, up to 3 feet. It produces brown seed pots containing seeds that create a rattling sound when shaken. Flowers appear from May to June and do best in full sun to part shade. False indigo plants are drought tolerant and live a long time.
- Switchgrass – When the wind blows, the leaves and stems of this ornamental grass rub against each other and create an interesting and appealing sound. Varieties of switchgrass grow between 3-5 feet and have a similar spread. Tall and leafy stems are followed by seed heads which come in August. This true performer is drought tolerant once established and also offers winter interest—plant in full sun.
Plants to touch
- Lamb’s ear – This velvet-leaved plant reached about 18 inches tall and spreads over 1 foot. The fuzzy and furry leaves and stems are super soft and bring a sense of relaxation when touched. Grown as a beautiful groundcover, this hardy perennial likes full sun to part shade and produces a pretty lavender flower from May through July.
- Chenille – This tropical beauty thrives in the warmest growing zones but is often grown in containers or even as a houseplant. Its furry red cattails are like super soft pipe cleaners and delight the senses when you run your fingers through them. Plant in hanging baskets and provide plenty of sun and moisture for a brilliant display.
- Satiny wormwood – This wormwood variety has very fine and silky foliage that feels wonderful between the tips of your fingers. It is a small plant, growing only about 12 inches tall, and does best in full sun to part shade and well-drained soil.
These beauties are just some of the many that you can plant in your garden to entice your senses!
-Susan Patterson, CBHC and Master Gardener