Plants for a sensory garden

Information sheet

Create a sensory garden at school that is not only beautiful to look at but tantalises the senses too

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s):

Plants with a * can be easily grown from seed.


Flowers have bright, bold colours to attract birds and insects to them for pollination and seed dispersal, but they are wonderful for humans to look at too! Choose bold leaved and architectural plants.

  • Sunflowers, Helianthus annuus; a bright, bold looking flower that can grow 30cm in height in a week in ideal conditions.*
  • Love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena; sun-loving, bright blue flowers.*
  • Chameleon plant, Houttuynia cordata ’Chameleon’, three-toned foliage which smells of lemon.
  • Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’, Beta vulgaris; brightly coloured stems and foliage.*
  • Heuchera cultivars are available in many vibrant colours and shades from lime green to red and dark purple.
  • Tulips, Tulipa, can bring a splash of bright colour to those dull spring days.
  • Dogwood, Cornus varieties have many different colourful young stems that will bring colour and contrast over the winter months.

Don’t forget about the wonderful displays of colour trees can have in the school garden or grounds. Acers and liquid ambers have striking colours during the autumn. Ornamental cherry trees bring a floral display of white and pink flowers in the spring.  


There are so many delicious plants that it’s difficult to choose just a few. Although many of these are used in our cooking, please remember that some children could have allergies to any one of the following:

  • Spearmint, Mentha spicata; a vigorous growing herb, which tastes great with peas or new potatoes.
  • Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis; highly fragrant leaves used to flavour meat and fish. Its scent is wonderful.
  • Chives, Allium schoenoprasum; in addition to delicious foliage that can be used in salads. This plant also produces pretty pink, mauve or purple flowers.
  • Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus; a colourful salad can be made from the beautiful peppery orange, red or yellow flowers and the foliage.*
  • Wild strawberry, Fragaria vesca; this plant loves partial sun and fairly damp conditions and produces small, sweet, delicious fruit.*
  • Pot marigold, Calendula officinalis; gorgeous, sunny flowers, with aromatic, dark green leaves. The petals brighten up any salad.*
  • Sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum; the Italians wouldn’t consider cooking without this delicious, fresh-tasting herb.*
  • Vegetables. These are plants too and taste best when you grow them yourself. Try carrots, radishes, lettuces, broad beans or peas.*

Your trees and hedgerows may be a source of foods that can be used in cooking such as elder, for both its flowers and berries, hazel that produces nuts or wild roses that produce rosehips. 


The aromas given off by plants are wonderful to enjoy, but the smells have a purpose too. Plant scents attract insects to the flowers for pollination and some smelly leaves deter insects from eating them.

  • Curry plant, Helichrysum italicum; curry smelling leaves which give off a spicy aroma on a warm, sunny day.
  • Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia; relaxing, fresh aroma with tiny purple flowers.
  • Chocolate cosmos, Cosmos atrosanguineus; beautiful, maroon flowers give off a chocolate/ vanilla scent - a big hit with the kids!
  • Stocks, these scented summer flowers are very traditional and come in a variety of pink, white & red shades.*
  • Lemon scented geranium, Pelargonium crispum; crinkly leaves that smell of lemon when rubbed.
  • Mint, Mentha family have huge variety of different scents and flavours to smell and taste including apple, ginger, pineapple and chocolate. 
  • Oregano/wild marjoram, Origanum vulgare; the aromatic leaves are delicious dried or fresh in pasta dishes. This plant also produces pretty pink or white flowers in midsummer to early autumn.*

For more structural plants try growing lilac (Syringa vulgaris), Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternate) or viburnum shrubs or climbing plants such as Honeysuckle (Lonicera) and Jasmine (Jasminum) for rich fragrance throughout the year.


Sit in your garden and listen to all the sounds of nature around you; the bees buzzing, the birds singing, the sounds of the wind rustling through grasses and plants. Add a water feature or wind chimes to enhance the sounds in your garden.

Dried grasses and deciduous hedges such as hornbeam, were dried leaves stay on the shrub until the new leaves emerge in spring, will create rustling sounds throughout the autumn and winter. 


Leaves vary between plants, from rough to smooth, furry to spiky. Every texture has a purpose; many plants that are nice to feel have adapted to a specific natural environment in some way. These can be succulents or have hairy leaves to cope with dry conditions. Here are a few plants that are nice to touch.

  • Lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina; as its common name suggests, its downy leaves resemble the ears of a lamb.
  • Silver sage, Salvia argentea; large, silvery –white leaves covered in cotton wool like down.
  • Jerusalem sage, Phlomis fruticosa; soft, downy leaves and stems with pretty, yellow flowers.

The bark of trees can bring different textures to your outdoor spaces, mature trees like oak, sycamore or horse chestnut have ridged and plated bark whereas silver birch and paperbark maples have bark that peels off like thin paper. 

Consider if spiky plants are suitable for your school garden and pupils before planting them.