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

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