Best Sensory Garden Plants To Stimulate Our 5 Senses

light purple flowers in a garden

What are the best sensory garden plants to stimulate our five senses? Various trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses can heighten all of our senses — sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. 

For example:

  • Lavender and mint provide sweet scents
  • Glossy leaves from rose plants provide a rich texture.
  • Ornamental grasses offer sound from the wind.
  • Vibrant colored blooms add visual appeal.
  • Edible fruits or herbs offer delightful tastes.

What is a sensory garden? A sensory garden is an outdoor space in the landscape designed to have various plants and other elements that stimulate, heighten, and engage your five senses — sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. 

Incorporating the best sensory garden plants into your garden will create an enjoyable and calming environment that helps build an emotional connection with nature.

In this article, we’ll cover the following:

Sensory Garden Plants That Simulate Each Sense






Let’s take a closer look at plants that stimulate each of our senses. The plants are clustered under the sense they stimulate the most and we have included each plant’s “stats.”  


For a pleasurable visual experience in the home garden, select plants that provide contrasting shapes, different textures, diverse colors, and forms. Consider trees known for their pendulous drooping branches and shrubs with delicate spiky flowers shooting out of sword-like branches. 

Flowering plants with bright, vibrant hues like zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers, and nasturtium and the subtle movement of the foliage in even the slightest breeze are some of the features you want to see. 

Sensory garden ideas for sight could include certain plant species that attract pollinators, songbirds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. 

Seating areas are great next to water features to reflect and watch the water cascading into a base. Consider a trellis along the path surrounded by seed pods for an extra boost of a visual sensory experience. 

The reflection of moonlight on a pond featuring colorful koi fish, or even just the subtle yet pleasing visual of the slight movement of bamboo wind chimes of chimes creating mild, muted clicks that bring a sense of peace and tranquility to your outdoor space.

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

Photo Credit: Fernando Losada Rodríguez / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

A butterfly bush is a beautiful shrub that attracts butterflies into your summer garden. Butterfly bush is extremely easy to grow, and any novice gardener will have success with this genus. This showstopper of a butterfly draw will provide you with a beautiful visual performance!

Plant type: Deciduous shrub

Habit: Arching

Sun: Full sun

Soil Type: Moist but well-drained soil of average fertility, but isn’t too finicky about soil type

Soil Acidity: 6.0-7.5

Average height: 5-10 feet high

Mature height: Up to 15 feet high

Bloom time: Mid-summer to early fall

Colors: White, purple, blue, pink, yellow, orange, or a reddish-purple color that marketers like to call “red.”

Hardiness Zones: 5-9

Note: In the colder zones, butterfly bush will die to the ground yearly like a perennial plant, but in more southern regions, the plant is somewhat evergreen. In warmer states, butterfly bushes often grow to 10 or 12 feet high and require pruning to keep them shapely.

Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)

Photo Credit: Antilived / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

When you gaze upon a weeping willow tree, the sight before you is enchanting and serene. 

The shape of the willow is full and graceful, with long slender branches gracefully arching from the trunk like ribbons blowing in the wind. The foliage is lush and beautiful, sprouting small oval-shaped leaves that flutter in the breeze. 

This combination of visual textures creates a calming sensory atmosphere perfect for any outdoor space. 

Plant type: Deciduous trees or large shrubs

Habit: Weeping

Sun: Full sun to partial shade, meaning at least 4 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight per day 

Soil Type: Moist, well-draining, slightly acidic soils. Loves wet soil.

Soil Acidity: Slightly acidic, moist soil

Average height: 15-40 feet high, depending on variety

Mature height: 30-40 feet high and a spread of around 35 feet

Bloom time: April and May

Colors: Yellow flowers borne on short catkins

Hardiness Zones: 4-10 

Peace Rose (Rosa peace)

Photo Credit: KJRSeattle / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Your eyes will get lost in the flowers of the peace rose — creamy white petals that deepen to light buttercream yellow and as they age, a subtle hint of red to pink is more intense near the edge. 

Heavy, straight stems hold the blooms aloft. Richly vibrant, glossy green leaves are a perfect visual foil to the bi-colored blooms. This is a stunner for visual perception. 

Plant type: Hybrid tea rose (deciduous shrub)

Habit: Vigorous, bushy, upright, handsomely shaped shrub 

Sun: Lots of sunshine and requires at least 6 hours of sunlight

Soil Type: Moist but well-drained, chalk, clay, loam, sand

Soil Acidity: Acid, alkaline, neutral

Average height: 4-7 feet high, 2-3 feet spread

Mature height: 7 feet high

Bloom time: Spring into fall

Colors: Pink-dusted margins on ivory-yellow blossoms 

Hardiness Zones: 5-9


“Seasonal smells,” meaning different scents at different times of the year, is a vital concept for the selection of your best sensory garden plants that stimulate our senses. 

During the winter, if you reside in the Northeast, pine and bayberry can bring you scents of Christmas and remind you of the holiday season. 

In the summer, the sultry scent of honeysuckle brings thoughts of summer as the intoxicating fragrances waft through the air captivating your attention.

Planting plants with strong scents, such as lavender, can add a delightful fragrance, especially in the spring and summer months. Try experimenting with different plants and enjoy the smells from the pleasant environment in your own sensory garden.

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

Photo Credit: Mokkie / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

As you wander through the garden at dusk on a warm summer evening, Japanese honeysuckle, a woodland climber with white and yellow trumpet-like blossoms, fills the air with delightful hints of jasmine and vanilla. 

Many of us have picked this twining vine’s blossom and sucked the honey from the base giving up dewy sweet nectar. 

Plant type: Perennial, deciduous to semi-evergreen twining vine

Habit: Woody vine

Sun: Full sun to shade

Soil Type: Prefers moist, loamy soils, but dry conditions help slow down its rampant growth

Soil Acidity: Acid to moderately alkaline soil with ranges from 5.5 to 8.0 

Average height: 10-30 feet high depending on the variety

Mature height:  30 feet high depending on the variety

Bloom time: April-July, September-October

Colors: Fragrant white flowers

Hardiness Zones: 4-9

English Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)

Photo Credit: Webserendipity / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

This 2 to 3-foot perennial with its fragrant purple flowers (a combination of floral, herbal and evergreen woodsy scent) is perfect along a walkway or as a shorter plant used in the foreground.

English lavender has been appreciated for centuries as it was widely used as a perfume for royals. It is a must-have for a unique olfactory sensory experience.

Plant type: Herbaceous perennial 

Habit: Semi-woody growth habit

Sun: Full sun

Soil Type: Relatively sandy or gritty but very well-draining soil

Soil Acidity: Well-drained, slightly alkaline soil with a pH between 6.7 and 7.3

Average height: 2½ to 4 feet high, 1-5 feet spread

Mature height: 4 feet high

Bloom time: June or July and tends to last 3-4 weeks.

Colors: Highly scented dark purple flowers

Hardiness Zones: 5-10

Peppermint (Mentha × Piperita)

A peppermint plant which is used to repel insects
Photo Credit: Pxhere

Mint provides an unmistakable aroma thanks to the menthol in the herb. If you’ve ever rubbed Vicks VapoRub on your chest when you were sick, that aroma that emanates from the vaseline is the best way to describe its scent. 

This herb crosses into the taste sensation as well. It offers a distinctive sweet taste that has been described as a cooling sensation on the tongue. Typically, the peppermint’s leaves are eaten and not the flowers. 

This squatty, hardy herb is often vigorous and spreads by stolons to form large colonies in the garden. Tiny pale purple, pink, or white flowers appear. 

Plant type: Medicinal herb, ground cover

Habit: Ground cover that spreads with underground runners

Sun: Partial shade

Soil Type: Sandy, loamy, and clay soils, moist and well-drained

Soil Acidity: Neutral soils of 6.0-7.0 pH

Average height: 18-36 inches high and 24 inches wide 

Mature height: 36 inches high

Bloom time: July-August

Colors: Pink

Hardiness Zone: 5-9

Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Magnolia grandiflora
Photo Credit: Syrio / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Southern magnolia is a beautiful evergreen tree with flowers that emit a scent that has been described as a combination of sweet floral notes, citrusy lemon, earthy musk, anise, licorice, and even some traces of vanilla. 

When in bloom, the creamy-white blossoms add a wonderful fragrance to the air and a lovely aesthetic charm to the surrounding landscape.

Plant type: Evergreen tree

Habit: Large, beautiful, saucer-shaped 

Sun: Partial shade or full sun

Soil Type: Well-drained, loamy, moist, rich soils

Soil Acidity: Acidic (pH 5.0 to 6.0)

Average height: 60-80 feet high

Mature height: 80 feet high

Bloom time: May-June

Colors: Cream or white

Hardiness Zones: 7-9


Tactile sensation has an important role in sensory gardens so the best sensory garden plants for tactile sensation should invite touch and exploration. Think about texture by including soft velvety flowers, fuzzy leaves, rough bark, prickly seed pods, smooth stones, and springy moss.

Even succulent plants with their fleshy water-holding leaves can add a fun and interesting tactile experience!

Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantine)

Lamb’s ear is a sun-loving ground cover plant known for its velvety look and feel of its namesake foliage.
Photo credit: Pxfuel

Lamb’s ear is a popular silver-leaved herbaceous perennial ground cover in the Lamiaceae or mint family. The plant grows into a dense clump of thick, soft, velvety, silver-green leaves that form a low-spreading ground cover. Lamb’s ear is evergreen in warmer climates.

Lamb’s ear is named for its furry leaves, which feel like a lamb’s ear to the touch. It’s perfect for sensory gardens as children can interact with it and enjoy the unique texture. 

Plant type: Ground cover

Habit: Rapidly spreading mat

Sun: Full sun

Soil Type: Dry to medium moisture 

Soil Acidity: Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline

Average height: 4-6 inches high

Mature height: 6 inches high

Bloom time: Late spring to early summer

Colors: Insignificant

Hardiness Zones: 4-8

Silver Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

Photo Credit: Lazaregagnidze / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Silver grass is a tall, elegant grass with fine blades that arch over gracefully. Its silvery-green color gives the grass an eye-catching sheen that is especially visible when the blades sway in the breeze. 

Running your hands through the fine blades and feeling the delicate foliage is intriguing.

Plant type: Herbaceous perennial deciduous grass

Habit: Long arching branches and leaves that spread or droop and form clumps

Sun: Full sun

Soil Type: Moderately fertile, moist, well-drained soils

Soil Acidity: Acid, neutral, and basic (alkaline) soils

Average height: 3-7 feet high

Mature height: 12 feet high

Bloom time: Late August to October

Colors: Pink to red flowers turn beige by mid-fall

Hardiness Zones: 5-9

American Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)

Photo Credit: Fyn Kynd / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Pussy willow is a narrow shrub or small tree usually growing to 20 feet tall with multiple trunks and dark-gray, scaly bark. The branches comprise furry buds called “pussies,” also known as catkins. 

If you close your eyes while touching these fuzzy buds, they really do feel like tiny cat paws. 

Plant type: Wetland plant, native deciduous shrub 

Habit: Upright and spreading habit, forms a small multi-stemmed tree

Sun: Full sun to part shade

Soil Type: Loamy, moist, rich soil. It likes to be kept wet

Soil Acidity: Acidic, loamy, neutral

Mature height: 6-25 feet tall, 4-15 feet wide

Bloom time: January-May

Colors: White

Hardiness Zones: 4-5 in the north, 6-8 in warmer climates but will grow slower


Plants that are edible in gardens are all the rage these days, and with good reason! Not only can you create a beautiful landscape to admire — you can also add a variety of plants that provide tasty treats. 

You’ll find fruit-bearing trees, culinary herbs, vegetables, and flowers with edible parts like nasturtiums and pansies to taste and enjoy. 

Start small by planting one or two plants in your yard – and soon enough, you’ll eat from your garden! Edible gardening has become very popular in our age of sustainability and “off-the-grid” lifestyles. 

Here are just a few ideas to incorporate into your sensory garden for a “tasteful” experience. Careful planning is needed when designing the garden layout because certain vegetables grow better next to others. Certain scents are better combined, while others can clash. 

For example, you don’t want chives growing next to mint. 

Edible flowers such as pansies, curry plants, allium (onions), and violets are beautiful and tasty. They might make a nice area planting in between the herbs and veggies. 

Highbush Blueberry Bush (Vaccinium corymbosum)

Photo Credit: Ryjil Christianson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Highbush blueberry bushes require patience and care but can live for many decades and reward your edible garden with abundant harvests over the years. 

It typically takes up to 10 years for these plants to reach full maturity and produce a decent-sized crop, but even within the first two or three years, you may be able to enjoy small harvests of ripe berries! 

Bonus points? Blueberries are good for your health.

Plant type: Upright, multi-stemmed, slow-growing deciduous shrub with edible fruit

Habit: Compact

Sun: Full sun works best

Soil Type: Moist, acidic, organic, well-drained soil

Soil Acidity: pH of 4.0-5.2

Average height: 5-8 feet high

Mature height: 8-15 feet high (6-8 years to reach full production)

Bloom time: Blue to purple small round fruits that show up in August, ripening from a green to pink color to full ripeness.

Colors: Blue to purple fruit

Hardiness Zones: 3-9

Violet (Violet odorata)

Photo Credit: Bernard DUPONT / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

These tasty, highly fragrant flowers will tempt your taste buds in any sensory garden. The leaves of edible violets have a slightly lettuce-like taste that pairs well with sweet peas. 

With their sweet and floral taste, edible violets can be used to create beverages, desserts, and even salads! 

Violets can be enjoyed in many ways, such as syrups, teas, and baked goods. In addition to adding flavor to dishes, edible violets are perfect for use as garnishes on salads and soups.

Plant type: Typically grown as perennials, but also can be grown as biennials or annuals

Habit: Compact

Sun: Moist, shaded areas, partial sun

Soil Type: Black fertile loam, moist to medium soil

Soil Acidity: Slightly acidic pH of between 5.4-5.8

Mature height: 3-5 inches high

Bloom time: Toward the end of early spring, into the start of mid-spring.

Colors: Purple/blue flowers

Hardiness Zones: 3-9

Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)

Photo Credit: H. Zell / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Wild strawberries offer an irresistible tasting experience to those exploring a sensory garden. Compared to regular strawberries, these wild ones have a much more intense flavor characterized by notes of sweetness, floral aromas, and a pleasant touch of acidity.

Plant type: Perennial herbaceous plant in the rose family

Habit: Trailing with underground runners

Sun: 10+ hours each day is ideal

Soil Type: Well-drained, loamy soil that has lots of organic matter

Soil Acidity: 5.5 and 6.5

Average height: 4-7 inches high

Mature height: 7 inches high

Flowering time: April to June then strawberries arrive for the entire summer

Colors: Flowers have five white petals surrounding a yellow center, then red strawberries arrive.

Hardiness Zone: 3-10


With a bit of effort, you can hear your sensory garden. The buzzing of hummingbirds, the singing of cicadas, the chirping of crickets, and the gentle sound of a water fountain. 

To encourage wildlife to come to visit, consider adding bird feeders, birdbaths, or insect houses. Wind chimes made of metal or bamboo add an additional layer of background melodies as they dance in the breeze.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

flowering dogwood
Photo Credit: Ram-Man / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

Dogwood trees offer so much more than just visual beauty, they stimulate our auditory senses by attracting songbirds and wildlife. In spring, their flowers come alive with buzzing bees and colorful azure butterflies who rely on the nectar for food.

Birds such as robins, northern mockingbirds, and sparrows use the dogwood’s horizontal branches to build nests. Other creatures seek shelter within their leaves for a cozy retreat.

Plant type: Ornamental deciduous tree

Habit: Upright to rounded habit, crown is round to flat-topped 

Sun: Full sun

Soil Type: Well-drained, fertile, and moderately moist soil

Soil Acidity: slightly acid soil 5.5 to 6.0

Mature height: 20 feet high with 30 foot wide canopy

Bloom time: Mid-late April through early May

Colors: White flowers

Hardiness Zones: 8-9

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Photo Credit: User:SB_Johnny / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Winterberry is a native deciduous holly shrub that stands out with its bright red berries that last throughout the fall and winter months. Its cheerful red color in the midst of a snowy landscape is pleasantly inviting but also beneficial to songbirds as they feed off its fruits during the colder days. 

Additionally, this sensory garden favorite is a welcome sight for birdwatchers and wildlife admirers who enjoy listening to birds singing around their beloved winterberry!

Although many winter berries are too bitter and unsafe to consume whole as raw berries, they do make delicious pies, wine, syrups, and jellies.

Plant type: Deciduous holly shrub

Habit: Female cultivar with an upright habit

Sun: Full sun 6+ hours, part sun 4-6 hours, full shade up to 4 hours

Soil Type: Moist, acidic, organic loamy

Soil Acidity: Low pH 6-6.5

Average height: 6-12 feet high

Mature height: 15 feet high

Bloom time: Late spring for flowers, bright red berries in late summer to fall. Berries persist throughout the winter and often into early spring.

Colors: Inconspicuous greenish-white flowers

Hardiness Zones: 3-9

Common Bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris)

Photo Credit: Hans Hillewaert / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The rustling sound of bamboo gently blowing in the wind is widely known as “bamboo’s song,” and many people find it to be a soothing and pleasant sound. This song originates from the dense clumps of bamboo, as the winds that pass through them are partially blocked, creating a whispery flute-like noise. 

Buddha was said to have meditated in a bamboo forest, likely due to the calming environment this music creates. With over 1,500 uses, it is easy to understand why bamboo has been an important material since ancient times.

Plant type: Perennial flowering clumping bamboo

Habit: Open clump 

Sun: At least 6 hours of direct sun per day

Soil Type: Loamy, well-drained soil

Soil Acidity: Slightly acidic with a pH level of about 6

Mature height: 15-39 feet high

Bloom time: 3 to 150 years

Colors: insignificant flowers nothing showy, looks like a stalk of rice or barley  

Hardiness Zones: 8-10

FAQ About Sensory Garden Plants

What are watering requirements for sensory garden plants?

Plant “stats” watering requirements are not listed above because requirements vary from plant to plant, zone, location of plants on a property, soil type, newly installed vs. established plants, and rain. 

The amount a plant needs depends on its size and shape, as larger plants require more energy, and photosynthesis relies on an adequate water supply. Therefore, some plants may need more of the precious liquid to grow and thrive.  

For example, trees require more water than shrubs. Some plants love wet feet, while others’ roots will choke on standing water.

What plants should not be used to stimulate the senses?

Not all plants are suitable for inclusion in a sensory garden. Here are some examples:

Highly toxic plants, such as poison ivy and foxglove, should never be used, as well as those with spines, like cacti. Incorporating edible plants into a sensory garden requires extra care since some edible fruits, such as elderberries, are toxic when eaten raw. 

Hot and spicy plants, such as ornamental peppers, should also be avoided because of their potential to irritate skin or burn mouths.

What plants attract hummingbirds?

Hummingbirds are drawn to flowers with brightly colored and tubular shapes as these often have high amounts of nectar. 

Some perennials that make the best food sources for hummingbirds include bee balms, columbines, daylilies, lupines, and more.

Biennials like foxgloves, hollyhocks, and many annuals like impatiens and petunias also work great.

Can sensory garden plants trigger memories?

Sensory gardens look beautiful and allow vivid memories to be triggered via a phenomenon known as the “Proust effect.” 

This theory suggests that certain smells have an exceptional capacity to evoke powerful memories from our past. 

Scented geraniums, called pelargonium, chamomile, and gardenias, might remind you of your grandmother’s garden. 

Therefore, selecting scented and aromatic plants as part of your sensory garden will ensure that you can create a multi-sensory experience with limitless potential!

Sensory garden plants are also used in rehabilitation centers, retirement homes, adult day care facilities, and memory care centers. 

In fact, there is an assisted living facility near me with a fantastic horticultural section and a giant greenhouse. Patients with various issues such as spinal injuries, dementia, and disabilities can reap the benefits of sensory gardening. 

I visited there and instantly fell in love with the greenhouse. As I entered, I noticed the damp, humid air and the aroma of cherry tomatoes and mint. There were several raised wooden planters filled with flowering plants, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. I watched as the patients interacted with nature indoors. 

Some of the patients had pulled their wheelchairs up to the wooden planter boxes to feel the moist damp dirt between their fingers. They were placing seeds gently into the soil. Soft classical music played in the background adding to the calming environment. I just wanted to stay there all day.

When to Call a Landscaping Pro

If you decide you’d like to create your own sensory garden and don’t know where to start, it’s best to call upon the experts. LawnStarter makes it easy to find a landscaping pro near you who can help you turn your vision into reality. Landscaping pros have the knowledge, expertise, and experience to be able to create a beautiful garden to stimulate all of your senses.

Main Image Credit: Bryce Walker / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Harley Grandone

Harley Grandone

Harley Grandone, a writer and landscape designer, enjoys writing blogs for Lawnstarter. After 20+ years of being a landscape designer, she’s delighted to be able to combine her love of writing with her love of the industry. When not writing, she spends her free time on her sailboat, learning affiliate marketing, and having fun with her family in the Philadelphia suburbs.