“The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.”
Almost thirty years ago, my husband and I took our first trip to France. Our destination was Paris but along the way we scheduled a romantic anniversary visit to the lovely town of Reims. It is considered an essential stop on France’s champagne trail with big-name bubbly houses headquartered there among wide boulevards and well-preserved medieval churches.
Our three-night stay was at an elegant boutique hotel known as Domaine Les Crayeres. Nestled discreetly in a seven-hectare park full of lush vegetation, it remains one of my most treasured travel memories. During our stay, it was suggested that we visit a little-known sensory garden in a charming village just outside of town. We were told that not many tourists take time to visit the garden but because of our desire to experience the lesser-known places, we were excited to make the trip. The cost to enter the garden was minimal but the joy we shared that afternoon was priceless. Our enchanting visit was to a place called, “The Garden of the Five Senses”.
It was a beautiful day in August with temperatures hovering comfortably in the seventy-degree range. Unlike summer weather in Texas, we had chosen a perfect time to spend the day outdoors. An incredible bottle of French champagne led to countless toasts and smiles as we leisurely enjoyed a beautiful afternoon in the garden.
Each of the five individual gardens were created using a loosely defined circular formation. Plants were carefully selected for the role they would play in stirring up the senses: sight, smell, taste, sound and touch. Unhurried and totally caught up in the moment, our hearts and souls were rejuvenated. A quaint, little “off the beaten path”, and privately owned garden, had given us the gift of a lifetime memory.
Reflecting on that wonderful day in France, this spring our volunteers introduced a Texas style version of a sensory garden to the edible landscape. Our sensory garden is on a much, much smaller scale than the one in France, but we’ve packed in a pleasing variety of edible plants. Summer into early fall we will be featuring some of the following:
Sight: Variegated Oregano, Variegated Tomato, Hibiscus Topiary, Balsamic Blooms Basil, Calendula, Epazote, Hoja Santa, Red Roselle Hibiscus, Hyacinth Bean ‘Moonshadow’, Lamb’s Quarters
Smell: Alyssum ‘Oriental Nights’, Anise, Apricot Coral Drift Rose, Cinnamon Basil, French Tarragon, Provence Lavender, Red Stemmed Apple Mint, Scented Pelargoniums: Chocolate, Lavender and Peach
Taste: Cutting Celery, Dill, Eggplant, Lemon Variegated Thyme, Mushroom Plant, Peppers, Stevia, Vietnamese Coriander, White Velvet Okra, White Leafed Savory
Sound: Bay Laurel ‘Lil Ragu’ (gently rustling in the breeze), Bees buzzing around all of the pollinator-friendly plants, Wind Chimes
Touch: Archer’s Gold Thyme, Curry Plant, Golden Pineapple Sage, Purple Sage, Rosemary, Variegated Lemon Balm
10 Tips for Creating a Sensory Garden
1. Choose an ideal location. Find a quiet place in your yard or somewhere that naturally draws you into a “time-out” or relaxing place in the garden.
2. Measure the space and create a map of the area. Detailed information is beneficial when the time comes for selecting plants.
3. Decide what plants and features will best achieve the atmosphere that is desired. Accessories like gazing balls, mirrors and sculpture can add to the visual effect.
4. Provide a bench, swing, or some place to sit and relax. A unique idea would be to install a chamomile lawn. The recommended variety of chamomile for this particular purpose is Roman Chamomile (C. nobile ‘Treneague’).
5. Create a safe place using plants that are non-toxic, non-allergenic and with no pesticide application.
6. Choose plants that will keep the senses aroused each season of the year.
7. When selecting plants pay close attention to growing conditions whether sun or shade, poor or good drainage, clay or other types of soil.
8. Decide which plants are best for stimulating each of the five senses. Start with 3 plants for each one, then expand as space and growing characteristics allow.
9. Feature elements that appeal to the five senses:
Color – may be seasonal, grouped in clusters or spaced for maximum contrast.
Texture – use plants that add a variety of tactile stimulation.
Water and Wind Chimes – items like bird baths, fountains and small ponds provide a refreshing sensory experience for sight, sound and touch while attracting birds, butterflies and other pollinators to the garden. Enhance the sense of sound with wind chimes and/or whirligigs.
10. Be inspired throughout the process. Creating a sensory garden will elevate your environment into one that gives interest and stimulation to people of all ages.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008