Sensory gardens

Bernadette Lancefield
A sensory garden appeals to our five senses of touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste. In sensory gardens people with disabilities can interact with nature in a safe environment. Various plants are close to paths to invite visitors to touch petals, leaves and branches. There may be sunny and shady areas. Sounds in a garden may include water splashing from a fountain. I visited Vision Australia’s sensory garden in Melbourne. As I moved through the garden I enjoyed the various smells and feeling the different plants. I especially loved the yellow rose bush, the rosemary bush and the Kangaroo Paw.
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Bernadette Lancefield on 21/01/2014
A close-up of a red Kangaroo Paw plant.

Kangaroo Paw has a coarse texture.

Sensory gardens were promoted in Australia around the 1950s. They are designed to appeal to all five senses. In sensory gardens, people with all kinds of disabilities can interact with nature in a safe and accessible environment.

It is believed spending time in a natural environment can improve people’s health. People’s moods tend to lift as they admire the beauty of nature.

Touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste

In sensory gardens various types of plants are located close to the path to invite visitors to easily handle petals, leaves and branches. Sometimes the walkway has different types of surfaces such as tiles, pebbles and bricks. There may be sunny and shady areas to provide a variation in temperature.

Listening to nature can be peaceful. In sensory gardens people are usually surrounded by the hum of birds, crunching of gravel and swishing of leaves. Sounds may also include wind chimes tinkling and water splashing from a fountain.

Our sense of smell is targeted when we rub fresh herbs in our hands or walk past scented flowers. Different fruits and nuts may also grow in the garden. Visitors to a sensory garden should ask permission, however, before tasting any fresh produce.

Vision Australia’s sensory garden

In 2013 the gardens at Vision Australia’s Kooyong site were converted into a sensory experience for people who are blind or vision-impaired. Well-known horticulturalist John Arnott and a team from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne worked together to create the sensory gardens. The gardening experts were assisted by staff and volunteers from Vision Australia. More than 200 shrubs were selected for their smell and texture and now form part of the garden.

John Poke is the host of “Pokey’s Garden” the garden show on Vision Australia radio. He gave me a personal tour of Vision Australia’s sensory gardens and described the various plants.

The tour

A metal handrail runs along the walkway. At some points, branches hang within easy reach of the bar. As we move through the gardens, I enjoy inhaling the various smells and feeling the different types of foliage. In particular, I love the yellow rose bush, the rosemary bush and the Anigozanthos Manglesii, better known as Kangaroo Paw.

The yellow roses are delicate and have a sweet perfume. John says the purpose of growing this flower is that it symbolises friendship and fellowship. It also makes a lovely display.

The rosemary variety is known as Cook’s Choice. John says the plant, which grows a blue flower, symbolises remembrance and fidelity. 

The leaves on a rosemary bush are needle-like in texture. I gently rub a branch in-between my fingers and it immediately gives off a strong herbal aroma.

Kangaroo paw has a coarse texture. I discover this plant is unscented and has a robust stem about a meter high. John tells me this flower comes in a diverse range of colours, including black, green, yellow and red.

Walking through the sensory gardens at Kooyong is a pleasant experience for my nose and fingers. I am impressed with the rich diversity of vegetation. Many plant species I encounter are unfamiliar to me. Visiting the sensory gardens has inspired me to broaden my knowledge of nature and spend more time looking after my plants at home.

Other sensory gardens

Other sensory gardens open to the public in Victoria:

  • The Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne (Sensory gardens include the Grey Garden, the Herb Garden and the Children’s Garden)
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne
  • Mambourin Sensory Gardens, Werribee
  • Bob Pettit Reserve Playground and Sensory Garden, Jan Juc
  • Gardens open via Open Garden Australia
  • National Trust properties such as Rippon Lea House and Gardens, and Heronswood
  • Heide Museum of Modern Art
  • Werribee Park


Readers comments (1)

Sounds fantastic! I remember the concept of sensory gardens from when I studied Cert. III in Community Work. I don't think I had any idea though that some of the sections of the Botanical Gardens were in fact set up as sensory gardens!

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