Sensory garden ideas: 12 ways to stimulate the senses with planting, water features, and landscaping

Love the thought of sensory garden ideas? Discover our suggestions for creating a beautiful and engaging space

sensory garden ideas: pond with stepping stones
(Image credit: David Giles/Future)

Sensory garden ideas are all about engaging the five senses: touch, smell, taste, sound, and sight. And all it takes is a little creativity and know-how to elevate an environment into one that's interesting, stimulating, and immersive.

When thinking about a garden revamp, it's easy to simply focus on how it will look. Practical aspects are often second in line for consideration – a kid's play area, or a space to eat outdoors, for example. But a garden can offer so much more. By thinking carefully about features that will enlighten the senses, even a small, courtyard plot can be transformed into a much more soothing space. 

A sensory garden allows us to feel more connected to nature and our surroundings – which, in turn, encourages mindfulness. And once you know where to start, you can begin adding sensory features to any of our garden design ideas

So to bring a stronger sense of zen to your plot, keep reading. We've selected our favourite sensory garden ideas – from cooling water features to beautiful planting schemes that smell just as wonderful as they look.

1. Add cooling pools

sensory garden ideas: water pool in plot

Pools of water add a soothing vibe

(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny/Future)

Water feature ideas are, of course, a wonderful addition for a sensory garden. Water sends sparkling shimmers across the plot as it reflects the midday sun, it welcomes dragonflies, frogs, and other wildlife, it's refreshingly cool to the touch, and the gentle splash of a visiting bird taking a dip is surely a soothing sound for anyone.

Weathered-steel pools such as these add a rustic yet modern feel to a plot – you could even add more than one, to really make a statement. Surround with lush foliage to soften the edges and create a more natural feel. The serene sight of a lily or two floating across the water's surface is a delight for children and adults alike and will only add to the appeal.

2. Surround doorways with scented flowers

sensory garden ideas: lavender

Fill the air with fragrance

(Image credit: Polly Eltes/Future)

Nepeta (otherwise known as catmint) and lavender are two beautiful perennials that sport breathtaking purple blooms. Position in a sunny spot by your front or back door and you'll be welcomed not only by their sumptuous sight but also by the pleasing fragrance they release into the air. 

Lavender works equally well positioned along a pathway, bringing joy to anyone passing by. Take a look at our guide on how to plant a lavender hedge to get started.

3. Add stepping stones across water

sensory garden ideas: water in lawn with stepping stone path

Make a pond a focal point for your plot

(Image credit: David Giles/Future)

A pond can make a stunning focal point for a sensory garden, and we love the sleek edges of this one above. It provides a striking contrast against the surrounding beds that are filled with vivid Alchemilla mollis and purple Salvias.

Meanwhile, stepping stones encourage mindfulness, allowing visitors to slow their pace and consider their journey across the water more carefully.

Roses on a nearby pergola will add to the sensory impact further – providing a fragrance that is well-loved by any gardener. If you love a rose as much as we do, take a look at our guide on how to prune roses to keep them in tip-top condition.

4. Transform courtyard paving with plants

sensory garden ideas: tom howard small courtyard

Garden designed by Tom Howard

(Image credit: Tom Howard Garden Design)

Even a small terrace, patio, or courtyard can be turned into a soothing oasis, as demonstrated here by Tom Howard Garden Design

Many sensory features have been incorporated to provide an immersive and stunning environment. For one, the living wall adds a breathtaking backdrop, rich with textural foliage. Water peacefully trickles nearby, due to the contemporary water feature. Alliums provide a pop of colour and will welcome the buzz of visiting bumblebees.

However, one of our favourite aspects here is the planting strip, which cuts across the patio. A mixture of Lysimachia nummularia (creeping Jenny) and Soleirolia soleirolii (otherwise known as mind-your-own-business) has been used, Tom Howard explains. Not only does it prevent the paved area from being dull, it also helps to lead the eye from the house to the garden, he adds. 

You could also use hardy herbs such as thyme, or even dwarf chamomile, to add a scented element to the scene.

5. Use corten steel for a contemporary look

sensory garden ideas: water feature in plot

Corten steel is a stunning material for water features

(Image credit: Colin Poole/Future)

Get back to nature by encouraging a wilder look in your garden. Curved, freeform beds can be filled with the likes of ferns, ornamental grasses, small trees and blousy heads of Hydrangea for a visual treat. Opt for similar hues to keep it feeling balanced.

Combine with a water feature to create a sensory vista – corten steel is a popular choice and adds a warming tone with its rusted patina.

Take a look at our guides on how to grow ferns and how to grow hydrangeas to recreate the scene.

6. Create a sense of discovery with pathways

sensory garden ideas: pathway through garden

Surround winding pathways with tons of ornamental grasses

(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny/Future)

Pathways are crucial for getting from A to B, but they can provide a sensory experience, too. This design incorporates an element of tactility, as passers-by can reach out and feel the soft stems of ornamental grasses, planted en masse either side. 

Small trees overhead add a forest-like feel, and help to screen the building behind. Allow the path to gently wind through your plot to add a sense of discovery and intrigue.

Head over to our garden path ideas for more walkway inspiration.

7. Adorn steps with roses

sensory garden ideas: roses up steps

Roses will delight the senses

(Image credit: Mark Bolton/Future)

Even steps can have a sensory boost with the help of some glorious rose bushes planted either side. For everyone knows that these blooms are beautiful to see and to smell, and their silky petals have an irresistible softness. If you'd like to plant some of your own, our advice on how to plant bare root roses is a good place to start.

Can you spot the lavender planted up the steps, too? It'll only enhance the sweet summer fragrance further.

8. Add plenty of softness with Stachys

sensory garden ideas: Stachys byzantina lamb's ear

Stachys byzantina has a velvety touch

(Image credit: Mark Bolton/Future)

Stachys byzantina is otherwise fondly known as lamb's ear due to its velvety leaves. They have a beautiful silvery hue, and often sport spikes of purple or white flowers come summer. Place them around a seating area or along a pathway for a soothing touch, literally. 

They make a lovely addition to a sensory garden, and work well in our small rock garden ideas, too.

9. Enjoy your surroundings from a pretty bench

sensory garden ideas: blue painted bench

A pretty blue bench is the perfect spot for relaxing

(Image credit: Simon Scarboro/Future)

To make the most of your sensory garden, you'll need a comfy place to sit and take it all in. Position one of the best garden benches in a shady spot to shelter from the hot sun, add a soft cushion and surround with your favourite flowers. 

Then all you need to add is a nice cup of tea to sip as you sit back and relax – a perfect way to spend an hour or two.

10. Add mirrors and lighting to elevate the scene

sensory garden ideas: levelled garden

Accessorise your sensory garden

(Image credit: Colin Poole/Future)

Extra accessories such as garden mirror ideas or festoon lights can go a long way in elevating a sensory garden. 

Soft lighting boosts the ambience of any type of plot, and will also enable you to enjoy the features of your garden after dark. Mirrors hung on a wall or fence increase the feeling of space and light. And, by reflecting sensory features such as colourful planting or soothing greenery, will double the visual impact of your plot.

11. Go for all-green for a soothing vibe

sensory garden ideas: shaded area

Create a tranquil oasis filled with foliage

(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny/Future)

Creating an all-green scene is a wonderful way to feel immersed by nature. This is especially the case if you take the vertical space into account too, using the best trees for small gardens. Underplant with ferns and other verdant foliage for a view that's rich in textural interest.

You could also train foliage over one of our pergola ideas to create an intimate seating spot. 

12. Or, create a carnival of colour with bright blooms

sensory garden ideas: colourful blooms

Combine brightly coloured blooms

(Image credit: Graham Rice/Garden-Photos.com/Future)

If you're looking to electrify the senses rather than soothe them, then fill your beds with vivid blooms of all different hues. Marigolds, sunflowers, alpine strawberries, Cosmos, geraniums and bright blue Delphiniums look fantastic all jumbled together. They will entice butterflies to your garden too, adding an extra sense of movement and life.

And, to awaken your sense of taste, why not add in some edible varieties? Nasturtiums are a great choice with their peppery flavour, flame-coloured flowers, and pretty foliage. Head over to our guide to edible flowers for more ideas.

What plants are good choices for a sensory garden?

sensory garden ideas: kew gardens

Great Broad Walk Borders at RBG Kew

(Image credit: Richard Wilford/RBG Kew)

When it comes to good plants for sensory gardens, the experts at Kew Gardens have a few suggestions. For a bright, bold scene, they recommend the likes of Echinacea purpurea, pelargoniums, tulips, and alliums. 

You could also try a cheerful mix of wildflowers, such as common poppies, corn marigold, and ox-eye daisies. Ornamental grasses make a more subtle addition, adding tons of textural interest and movement. The team at Kew suggests Cortaderia (pampus grass).

There are lots of lovely scented plants to incorporate too. All the flowering herbs make great additions – think rosemary, lavender, and thyme. Other scented favourites include honeysuckle, roses, jasmine, and Daphne. Head over to our 5 stunning plants for spring scent for more ideas.

How do you make a small sensory garden?

sensory garden ideas: pink flowers

Think about colour, scent, and texture when it comes to choosing sensory garden plants, and if you don't have much space, pop them in pots

(Image credit: Mark Bolton/Future)

You don't need acres of land to implement sensory garden ideas effectively. Even a tiny terrace or balcony can be transformed into a stimulating space. Sure, you might not be able to experiment with winding pathways or huge borders, but the most sweetly-scented and brightly-coloured blooms can still be included by using a mixture of containers. 

Small, bowl-shaped water features or even bird baths can add to the sensory appeal without taking up much room. And herbs are a wonderful choice for window boxes, which take up no floorspace at all. And whilst we're on the topic, head over to our window box ideas for lots of lovely designs.