How to Design a Sensory Garden Part 3: Sound

by Leah Heiser, Flowerscape Director

This post is the third of a 5-part series to offer suggestions on designing a sensory garden. The flower suggestions here will appeal to the sensory garden design for sound.

Coneflowers attract pollinators.

Sounds found in the garden are from the wildlife that come to pollinate, as they’re attracted to its environment for food and/or shelter.

By choosing indigenous plants, you can be sure that pollinating insects, birds and other critters will seek refuge within your garden. The Ohio Prairie Nursery sells native seeds for a great price.

For additional interest, Douglas W. Tallamy has written a wonderful book called Bringing Nature Home. This book does a wonderful job of explaining which Ohio native trees provide a habitat for local insects and birds. Til then, below are some of my top-of-mind suggestions.

Garden Suggestions to Ensure the Lively Sounds of Wildlife

Bee Balm, Coneflower, Salvia, and Yarrow attract hummingbirds.


Tall Milkweed growing naturally in a Keep Akron Beautiful Adopt-A-Site

Milkweed, typically thought of as a weed, is the host plant to monarch butterflies. Support monarch by leaving Milkweed in your beds and by purchasing different cultivars that are found at your local nursery such as Butterfly Weed, another native Milkweed variety not to be mistaken with the butterfly bush. The butterfly bush is a non-native and only supports pollinators at the end of the life cycle while Milkweed supports monarchs through all of their life stages.

If you want to attract the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly, add a Spicebush plant to your sensory garden.

Host plants for the tiger swallowtail butterfly include: Tulips trees, Lilacs, Birch, Chokecherry and black cherry trees.

Song birds, like chicadees, robins and finches, will add character to your yard. The Audobon Society suggests including a water source and a song bird border of shrubs along your property’s edge: The Northern Bayberry, native Gray and Red-Oiser dogwood species, Nannyberry Arrowwood, which is a virburnum species, and Winterberry–one of my all-time favorites.

Provide food sources and make sure they are located a fair distance from the main action of the yard so as not to scare off birds.

If you have big picture window, plant a pollinator garden and watch birds and butterflies from the comfort of your home and not disturb the wildlife. Gold finches love Thistle. If you wish to attract them to your yard, I would recommend purchasing Thistle seed or even leaving one or two Thistle in your yard. (Just make sure the Thistle doesn’t get carried away.) Coneflower seed pods feed chicadees in the fall, so if you want to attract these birds, make sure not to cut down Coneflowers in the fall as a typical maintenance would require.

Past posts:
How to Design A Sensory Garden Part 1: Sight
How to Design A Sensory Garden Part 2: Smell

Next Post: How to Design A Sensory Garden Part 4: Taste


How to Design a Sensory Garden Part 2: Smell

Leah Heiser, Flowerscape Director

This post is the second of a 5-part series to offer suggestions on designing a sensory garden. The flower suggestions here will appeal to the sensory garden design for smell.

Scents are especially effective as reminders of past experience–more so than cues from other senses.

Smell, unlike sound, sight, or touch, get routed through your olfactory bulb, the smell-analyzing region in your brain that’s closely connected to brain regions that handle memory and emotion.

Aromatic Garden Variety Suggestions

The Metro Adopt-A-Site in Kenmore with Dianthus plantings. The popular pink and white “Super Parfait” Dianthus biennial, shown in front, may appeal to all senses, even though a hybrid. See more Dianthus facts below.


Dot your landscape with aromatic trees, shrubs and flowers to make stepping into your garden extra special.

Some of the more fragrant trees include: Crab Apples, Magnolia, Lilac and Vibrnum. Imagine a fragrant lilac planted near or under your bedroom window. What a wonderful way to wake up!

Fragrant shrubs include: Mock Orange (Philadelphus), Sweetshrub (Calycanthus), Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia). These choices are great for attracting pollinators.

Another frangrant shrubs is the Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), which is ideal for wet sites and tough soil.

Perennials such as the sun loving Lavender, Peonies and Dianthus and shade-loving  Lily of the Valley and Woodland Hyacinths offer fragrance as well. Perennials, unlike annuals, live more than two years.

Some Dianthus Facts

Dianthus come in many varieties, and although some are hybrids (cross-pollinated), they seem to keep their clove-like fragrance but may not bloom all season, even after deadheading, like non-hybrids. Therefore, they should be planted around other plants that bloom consistently. Still some of the popular variegated varieties will appeal to all of your senses, with interesting color, ruffly petals that are also edible, and some pollinator attraction.

A Caution on Buying Roses

Be careful when you purchase roses. Many have lost their fragrance over the last half-century as hybridizers pursued traits such as brighter colors, bigger flowers, compact growth or long stems for cutting. So before you purchase a rose for your sensory garden, make sure to take it away from other plants and smell it before you buy it.

Visit previous post: How to Design A Sensory Garden Part 1: Sight

View next post: How to Design A Sensory Garden Part 3: Sound

How to Design A Sensory Garden Part 1: Sight

Leah Heiser, Flowerscape Director

We all know that gardens add visual appeal to a yard, but gardens also can appeal to our all of our senses: Sight, Smell, Sound, Taste and Touch.

What is a Sensory Garden?

KAB Alexander Park Flwsp

Keep Akron Beautiful’s Alexander Park Flowerscape is full of texture and color all growing season.


A sensory garden is one that is specifically designed to appeal to the five senses through the use of soft and hard landscaping. It can be a portion of a larger garden as well.

Sensory gardens are becoming increasingly popular in schools, hospitals and hospices to create a therapeutic environment. There are vast amounts of literature that acknowledge sensory gardens as having value for people with visual disabilities or dementia. They contribute to emotional well-being and can be used to improve mental, emotional and long term physical health. They can also just be beautiful places to relax, reflect and talk.

This post is one of a 5-part series to offer suggestions on designing a garden that appeals to the five senses, beginning with sight.

Consistent Blooming for All Year Visual Appeal

Beauty is one of the most sought-after benefits of gardening. However, many homeowners put so much effort into one particular season that they may not ensure the garden looks good all year round. Here are some plant suggestions for all-year interest:


Daffodils in early spring kick off season of blooming color in Keep Akron Beautiful Flowerscape.

Spring bulbs can bloom from late winter to late spring. Crocus and Snowdrops appear while snow is still on the ground. Daffodils, Tulips, and Hyacinths bloom anywhere from early to late spring depending on the variety.

Most tulips are at their best the first spring after planting. In subsequent springs, although the foliage may return, flowering is often sporadic. To ensure a lavish display of tulips every year, many gardeners treat tulips as annuals, by digging up and discarding the bulbs after the first bloom and replanting fresh bulbs in the fall.

Some tulips are willing, though not guaranteed, to put on a good display for more than one year. They include the Darwin Hybrids and the charming Wild Tulips, which are sometimes referred to as Species Tulips.

red bulbscape tulips

Red Tulips and Grape Hyacinths from KAB’s Bulbscape Fundraiser

In general, tulips will last longer when planted in part shade part sun, and Colorblends is a great company from which to order bulbs. Also, Keep Akron Beautiful periodically offers bulbs as part of their Bulbscape Fundraiser through Dutch Mill.

Spring ephemeral’s are various woodland wildflowers that appear above ground in early spring, flower, bear fruit, and die in a short two-month period. Trilliums, Bloodroot and Trout Lily are great early spring ephemerals. Virginias Blue Bells offer color mid to late spring and pair well with Hosta. Jack in the Pulpit and Mayapples stick around the longest.

Daffodils can also be planted in shaded spots. Daffodil Trail at Furnace Run Metro Park near Richfield is a great example of this.

Alliums offer late spring interest and look especially good when planted in-between Catmit, Ferns, and Hosta.

Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Alliums are deer resistant.

Make sure you leave the foliage on bulbs until it turns yellow, this helps the bulb rejuvenate for the following year.

The best time to plant bulbs is in the fall and early winter. There are a few exceptions to this, Gladiolas, Dahlias, and Lilies like to be planted in spring when the ground thaws.
Annuals offer constant summer blooms, while most perennials bloom for about 2-3 weeks.

In June Rozanne Geraniums, Catmint and Knockout Roses bloom. They can provide a second flush of blooms if cut back or deadheaded early. However the second flush is never a great as the first.

You can keep Daisies, Coneflowers, Salvia and Bee Balm blooming longer if you stay on top of deadheading.

Mixing in foliage plants like Coral Bells, Hosta, Solomon Seal and ornamental grasses will add visual interest all summer long while perennials are going in and out of bloom.

Aster, Autumn Joy Sedumn, Beauty Berry and Caryopteris will fill out in the autumn.

Winterberry, Japanese Kerria, Red Twig Dogwoods, Holly, and Mahonia look lovely all winter long because of their evergreen leaves or brightly colored stems.

Hellabores/ Lenten Rose also offer winter interest and are a great option for dry shaded sites. They bloom in early spring and offer a nice evergreen ground cover the rest of the year.

I would recommend leaving seed pods on your perennials and cutting back ornamental grasses in the spring. This provides winter interest and a habitat for birds.

Next post: How to Design A Sensory Garden Part 2: Smell

The Keep Akron Beautiful Adopt-A-Site Program

Leah Heiser, Flowerscape Director

The Keep Akron Beautiful (KAB) Flowerscape program, in 2018, consists of 33 agency maintained beds that are found throughout the City of Akron. Our Adopt-A-Site (AAS) program is a separate part of Flowerscape and allows neighborhood volunteers to plant and maintain beautification sites on public land, like devil strips and parks.

dusty millers

Karona Park Adopt-A-Site 2015 maintained by Parkway Estates

While many question the ability to put AASs on vacant lots, these areas are not considered public spaces due to ownership rights.

To become an KAB AAS, certain criteria must be met, but basically volunteer groups are able to choose their own public space location that is near a fire hydrant. The location needs to be determined by the volunteer group in the fall, rather than during the spring/summer, as KAB’s Flowerscape crew needs to ensure the topography is good for planting and also will help with the first year bed prep. The crew is unable to do this during their busy planting and growing season.

When it has been decided in the fall that an area is going to become a KAB volunteer-maintained AAS the following year, volunteer representatives (ideally the entire group) must attend the annual AAS Clinic in April of the following year to receive proper planting and maintenance techniques.

When the season begins, the KAB Flowerscape crew, as mentioned earlier, will assist the group in landscape planning and first-year site preparation. Subsequently, AAS signage will be ordered for the location. Each season, as an AAS, the group can purchase wholesale plant materials and have free hydrant connections for watering the site.

In addition, KAB provides bags for end-of-season bed cleanup as well as trash bag removal.

The AAS program currently has 64 sites throughout the City of Akron neighborhoods. If you are considering on becoming an Adopt-A-Site through Keep Akron Beautiful, it is recommended that you start getting your group of interested volunteers together now and choose your site. Then you will be ready to contact Leah Heiser with your site location and group by the fall.