How to Plan a Sensory Garden Sensory gardens can stimulate the use of all the faculties of young children and those with a disability, having a beneficial effect on well being and even helping a process of recovery or readjustment. They have the potential to turn school grounds into a rich and exciting sensory experience. The benefits are shown starkly when you consider that many children with additional support needs spend a large part of their lives indoors, undergoing long periods of treatment or requiring demanding routines of physical care. Issues to consider Access Sensory gardens should be accessible to all, regardless of their age or disability. Paths should avoid gradients steeper than 1:12, and must be wide enough to allow two-way wheelchair traffic. Textures/materials in the path could point the way and guide the path user into the garden, or towards a certain part of it. This is particularly useful for anyone with a visual impairment. Darker materials could be considered, as glare can cause discomfort. Consider a tapping rail for people with sticks. All sensory gardens should have seating, both for rest and to allow people an opportunity to sit and absorb the different stimuli. Leave at least a 900 mm gap next to any seating provided, so that wheelchair users may sit alongside their able-bodied friends. Plants that encroach on the path need to be maintained and pruned, particularly if they are slippery underfoot or overhanging. The level of planting is important: sometimes this will be at ground level, but more often in a raised flowerbed. Interpretation It is important that all young children, and users with a visual impairment, can safely negotiate the garden. Interpretation may appear at points of interest, particular sensory sections etc. Aim to provide a safe, uncluttered environment that is easy to move around in and to interpret; avoid conflicting or confusing messages. Bear in mind that signs need to be bold, clear and simple, with plain, large writing contrasted strongly against a dark background, or vice versa. Consider the use of tactile maps and Braille signs, positioned so that they are accessible for young children and people seated in wheelchairs. Materials Think about incorporating some of the following elements in your Sensory Garden: Walls, paths and paving * a maze on walls, which visitors can follow with a finger tip - the finger maze could be painted or raised * varying textures - as provided by wood, brick, stone, flints, tiles, cobbles, setts, gravel, pebbles, bark, rubber, tarmac or metals * moss and lichen - growth on walls can add interest * colour - paint or hang things on walls * a chess or chequer board * mosaics and clay murals * woven willow. Sensory stimulants Sound * as generated by plants or man-made features * remember that sound is limited by the amount of background noise - this can be partially screened by a barrier of noise-absorbing trees or fencing, but never removed totally. Water * moving water features - these will need supplies of water and electricity * water can be made to generate different sounds by placing baffles and obstructions and varying the speed of the pump, etc. * moving water is relaxing and always attracts people * be careful about the possible danger of ponds, streams etc * the sensation of getting wet is very powerful - particularly for people who might otherwise rarely get wet in an outdoor situation. Air * moving air can generate soothing sounds as it blows through trees, bamboo or grasses * bamboo will only grow in certain soil types and locations * man-made chimes of different materials will make various different sounds. Wildlife * wildlife should be encouraged because it is a vital aspect of life in the garden * most people appreciate the presence of birds in a garden - consider installing bird boxes * try to encourage songbirds, such as thrushes, warblers, tits, robins, wrens, etc. Plants ... with different textures * rough - comfrey leaves * sticky - goosegrass ('sticky willy'), burdock seeds * feathery - fennel * smooth - ivy, iris leaves * spongy - clumps of moss * papery - honesty seeds * jagged - holly, hawthorn, teasel, dog rose, mahonia * noisy - yellow rattle with seeds * soft - orange hawkweed leaves, coltsfoot, foxtail grass, thyme, buttercup petals, meadowsweet flowers, clover flowers. ... with different smells * herbs, whose leaves may be crushed to release the aroma - mint, lemon balm, thyme, rosemary, sage, curry plant, bergamot, fennel, wild garlic * any woundwort, sweet cicily, tansy * scented flowers - night-scented stock, sweet violet, evening primrose, bluebell, orange hawkweed, honeysuckle, clover, gorse, carnation.