How to Design Gardens for Clients With Specific Sensory Needs

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    How to Design Gardens for Clients With Specific Sensory Needs

    When designing gardens tailored to clients with specific sensory needs, industry experts like a seasoned garden designer emphasize the importance of creating personalized sensory sanctuaries. Alongside professional insights, we've gathered additional answers that highlight the diversity of approaches to meet these unique requirements. From the careful placement of fragrant plants to ensuring navigable pathways for all, discover the key elements that transform a garden into a multi-sensory experience.

    • Adapt Design Strategy to Client Preferences
    • Harmonize Multi-Sensory Garden Elements
    • Incorporate Interactive Tactile Plants
    • Strategically Place Fragrant Plants
    • Design for Natural Auditory Features
    • Design Navigable Pathways for All

    Adapt Design Strategy to Client Preferences

    Over the last 23 years as a garden designer, I've noticed that people increasingly desire immersive garden experiences. Sensory preferences, whether due to conditions like autism, anxiety, or PTSD, have profoundly affected how people wish to connect with nature.

    Understanding my clients' unique sensory experiences is important. I recognize that I can't fully understand what it's like to have sensory impairments or heightened sensitivities, so I ask my clients to educate me. This cooperation helps me create personalized sanctuaries where they feel safe and inspired by nature.

    I like to imagine what my clients may experience, depending on their sensory preferences. Closing my eyes helps here, as this helps me appreciate other senses that become more powerful.

    Water features can be wonderful for visually impaired clients, providing gentle sounds that inspire tranquility, along with a cool sensation through touch. If powerful enough, people experiencing hearing loss may also feel the sounds of water through vibrations.

    All garden design facets are important, but I consider planting my key element, beginning with our sense of smell. Smell is deeply connected with memories and emotions, which can enhance gardens beautifully. For an immersive scent, I focus on plants like star jasmine. This plant has intense, sweet notes that are pungent in warmer evenings.

    Texture can be both visual and tactile. I often use Mexican feather grass, which grows in drifts that tickle the skin, while lamb's ear's velvety leaves feel pleasantly soft when wet. Taste can also be an aspect of sensory gardens, provided the plants are edible. Daylilies offer a fresh, peppery taste, while rosemary combines a herbaceous aroma with an invigorating flavor.

    When one thinks of design, one may think of visual aesthetics first. It's more vital to embrace and understand all sensory qualities of plants, however, and this includes how they complement and contrast one another, from a client's perspective.

    The vast array of plants means there's a garden design for everyone. If you are overwhelmed by sensations, we may keep the design to muted green or grey shades with unscented or minimally fragrant plants. If you prefer being flooded by all senses, we can select more vibrant plants that emit intoxicating scents.

    Perhaps the most beautiful thing about plants is their ability to enhance the unique way that one experiences the world, an experience I cherish with all my clients.

    Raine Clark-Wills
    Raine Clark-WillsGarden Designer, Raine Garden Design

    Harmonize Multi-Sensory Garden Elements

    As a gardener, I want to talk about designing gardens tailored to a variety of specific sensory needs. Each client brings unique requirements and preferences, making every project a new and rewarding challenge. One approach I consistently take is to begin by deeply understanding the client's sensory experiences, preferences, and limitations. This often involves detailed conversations and sometimes even collaboration with healthcare professionals or therapists who understand the client's needs better.

    One key element I always consider is incorporating plants and features that engage multiple senses in a harmonious way. For example, for a client with visual impairments, tactile and aromatic elements become crucial. I might choose plants with varied textures and strong, pleasant scents to create a garden that can be navigated and enjoyed through touch and smell. Plants like lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina) for its soft, velvety leaves, and herbs like lavender and rosemary for their aromatic qualities, are excellent choices.

    In one particular project, a garden designed for a client with autism spectrum disorder, the key element was creating a soothing and structured environment. This involved using a combination of sensory-friendly plants and carefully designed spatial organization. The garden included a variety of grasses and bamboo for their gentle rustling sounds, which can be very calming. Additionally, we incorporated pathways lined with smooth pebbles that provided a comforting, rhythmic, tactile experience when walked upon.

    The centerpiece of this garden was a water feature—a small, gently trickling fountain. Water features are known for their calming effect, and the sound of trickling water can help drown out overwhelming background noise, providing a serene auditory experience. This, combined with the visual and tactile elements, created a multi-sensory space that was both engaging and soothing.

    Designing gardens for specific sensory needs is about more than just aesthetics; it's about creating spaces that enhance well-being and provide comfort and joy through thoughtful, sensory-rich environments.

    Zahid Adnan
    Zahid AdnanFounder, The Plant Bible

    Incorporate Interactive Tactile Plants

    Landscape architects carefully select plants that can be touched and felt, considering varying textures such as the softness of flower petals or the roughness of tree bark to engage the sense of touch. They think about how different plants can provide sensory feedback when brushed against or handled, making the garden a more interactive space for those with specific touch-related needs.

    They also often incorporate features like stepping-stones that encourage visitors to reach out and feel their surroundings. The placement of these tactile elements is thoughtfully planned to invite exploration. Explore your garden with your hands and notice the diverse textures that surround you.

    Strategically Place Fragrant Plants

    To appeal to the sense of smell, landscape architects use plants and flowers known for their distinctive scents. They might choose aromatic lavender, or roses, to create a pleasing olfactory experience.

    The design often involves strategic placement of these fragrant plants along walkways or near seating areas, to maximize the exposure to their scents. Garden sections can be themed around various fragrances, which can evoke memories or emotions, enhancing the overall sensory experience.

    Design for Natural Auditory Features

    The sound of a garden is a critical aspect that landscape architects design for by including natural auditory features such as the gentle babbling of a brook, the rustling of leaves, or the chimes of wind. They understand the calming effect that water features can have and utilize this in their designs to benefit those with sensory needs.

    Birds are also invited into the space with the use of bird feeders and native plantings, contributing a natural symphony of chirrups and songs. The selection of specific plants can enhance the soundscape, with some leaves that rustle distinctively in the wind.

    Design Navigable Pathways for All

    Ensuring that a garden is navigable for all is a priority for landscape architects when accommodating clients with specific sensory or mobility needs. They design pathways that are wide and stable, using materials such as smooth gravel or flat stones that provide safe and easy travel. Smooth curves, rather than sharp turns, can help those with visual impairments or mobility issues to move through the gardens with greater confidence. Raised beds and container gardens are often employed to make plant interaction possible without bending or kneeling.