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Enrich the Senses - Sharing a Sensory Gardening Experience

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/5/2012

A sensory garden is a chance for students with more severe disabilities to share in an experience that encourages them to use their senses, as well as providing tactile opportunities and the chance to improve motor skills.

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    Designing a Garden

    Designing a sensory garden takes careful planning, consideration of the needs of the student group, and the ability of the school to maintain the garden over the longer term. Consider issues such as:

    • Parsley The types of plants to use - go for hardy species which can survive some handling and extremes of watering.
    • Sensory needs - think about plants and materials that encourage use of all the senses - smell, vision, hearing, touch, taste.
    • Plants to avoid - learn about plants that can provoke allergic reactions, are poisonous if touched or swallowed, or may have rough or sharp surfaces.
    • The need to raise garden beds to a height where students in a wheelchair can reach them.
    • The need for plants and other objects to be placed at varying heights so they can be accessed by students with differing needs and abilities.
    • Whether the garden is to be purely sensory or will also serve as a kitchen garden, with herbs and vegetables for cooking.
    • Appropriate pathway surfaces which combine the needs of students with poor balance and mobility with the opportunity to extend skills in walking over different sorts of surfaces.
    • The funds which are available for the project.
    • The area of the school where the garden is to be created.
    • Access to a water source such as a rainwater tank for sustainable watering.
    • Appropriate mulch from a sustainable source to prevent water loss through evaporation in the summer months in particular.
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    Sensory Garden Activities

    These are just some of the activities you and your students can enjoy in a sensory garden. But you are really only limited by your imagination!

    • Snow Peas Involve students in planting, propagating from seed, spreading mulch, watering, and other routine and start up tasks.
    • Teach students safety messages, such as wearing gloves and a mask when handling potting mix.
    • Measure how much water is used in the garden in a week.
    • Gradually introduce tactile defensive students to the sensations of various plants.
    • Ask students to close their eyes and use their other senses to focus on the experience of being in the garden.
    • Encourage students to learn a routine of garden care they can carry out each week.
    • Help students find examples of insect life in the sensory garden (watch that they do this safely!)
    • Ask non-visual students to use words to explain to you where they are in the garden, and what they notice as they move about.
    • Ask non-hearing students to share their experiences about the garden with you using sign, gesture or writing.