As part of our wider Outdoor Spaces feature, we delve into the benefits of a sensory garden for residents and how to make this a focal point at your venue.

A sensory garden is a green space which has been designed to appeal to as many of the senses as possible. In healthcare settings, sensory planting is often designed for people with dementia, as colour, touch and scent can calm, ground and inspire the recollection of distant memories and sensations.

Care Expert Manager at Lottie, Hannah Karim, sees that outdoor spaces give residents the opportunity to connect with nature and offer a calming environment to relax and unwind.

What’s more, outdoor activities organised by many care homes such as planting flowers, gardening or even a gentle walk have a wealth of benefits such as boosting residents’ mood, reducing any feelings of stress or anxiety, and helping them to stay active.

At Lottie they’ve partnered with a number of care homes that offer amazing outdoor spaces, activities, and sensory gardens for residents across the UK including the likes of Bucklesham Grange in Ipswich, and Shinfield View Care Home in Reading.

Sensory gardens include various features such as water displays, plants, flowers, benches, and bird feeders to stimulate the five senses (touch, sight, scent, taste and sound). They offer a calming space and can be designed with different purposes in mind.

“In care homes, sensory gardens offer a safe and calming space for those living with dementia or other neurological conditions. Igniting each of the different senses often triggers powerful and positive memories and emotions – making sensory gardens a great tool for reminiscence therapy.” Added Hannah.

Key benefits of sensory gardens in a care home:

  • Creates a peaceful and safe haven for care home residents
  • Can be helpful for supporting those living with dementia
  • Encourages residents to get outside and enjoy nature
  • Encourages residents to stay active
  • Promotes good wellbeing and mental health for residents

 

There are lots of different ways to create a sensory garden and this will depend on the purpose of your garden, space, location and any plants or flowers that will thrive in your area. Hannah did, however, explain that it’s important to consider including features that incorporate all five senses.

Hannah shared five features to consider when creating a sensory garden: Visual impact – From colourful flowers to calming plants there’s lots of ways you can create a visual experience in your sensory garden. Similarly, additional features such as water displays, bird or animal feeders, ornaments or even fairy lights can create a visual impact.

Calming noises – Creating relaxing sounds throughout your sensory garden is key to creating a safe haven for care home residents. Wind chimes, running water and inviting local wildlife into your sensory garden will fill your space with calming sounds.

Don’t forget taste – Sensory gardens create the perfect opportunity to grow your own fruit, herbs, and vegetables – whilst also enticing your residents to engage with taste and smell. Herbs such as rosemary, basil and mint are easy to grow, whilst fruits and vegetables like strawberries and tomatoes can be enjoyed by residents in the sensory garden, or even as a part of a nutritious meal.

Stimulate touch – Incorporating different surfaces and textures into your sensory garden is a great way to stimulate touch. This can be done by using different types of landscapes such as gravel and decking; as well as different variations of plants – from pampas grass to aloe vera.

Fragrant plants- Smell is a powerful sense and can trigger fond or distant memories from the past. Including fragrant plants such as sweet pea, gardenia and honeysuckle are a great way to feature inviting and warm scents into your sensory garden.

It’s important to make sure your sensory garden is accessible all year round to reap the benefits. For example, including a sheltered area that covers visitors from any rain or showers makes sensory gardens accessible in the colder, wetter months. Shaded areas with seating means residents can continue to enjoy being outdoors in the warmer summer months.

Hannah explained how opting for pathways that have been created from hard wearing materials such as pebble, stone or decking will help you to navigate your sensory garden and keep on top of any maintenance issues – keeping your sensory garden open all year round.

“Try to include a range of plants and flowers that bloom all year round and thrive in your local area – this will keep your sensory garden looking vibrant throughout the seasons.” Hannah added.

Ensuring your on-site sensory garden is durable will massively impact the effectiveness of it, and there are plenty of ways you can create a durable sensory garden. For example, including raised garden beds or using a range of planters made out of long-lasting materials such as wood or terracotta.

If you’re looking to add seating areas to your sensory garden, Hannah advises looking for materials that can be easily packed away after the summer months or wooden benches that can remain outside all year long: “Having a storage area such as a small shed where you can keep any seasonal items for your sensory garden such as deck chairs and tables, as well as any gardening equipment, will keep it free from rust and ready to use when you need it.”

Details from an article by NHS Forest (nhsforest.org) explained that at Logandene, a mental health unit in Hemel Hempstead, many of the service users living with dementia had previous horticultural experience through their own allotments or gardens, or working as gardeners. They were heavily involved in the creation of the site’s sensory garden – adding compost, sowing seeds, watering and transplanting seedlings, writing labels. The resulting green space is a place where the service users can build their concentration, motivation and confidence through gardening and social interaction, and the addition of level walkways, handrails and seating means it is fully accessible.

When designing a sensory garden for your care home, it’s important to consider the needs and preferences of the residents. This may include choosing plants and features that are easy to access and maintain, as well as incorporating seating areas and shaded areas for comfort. Additionally, safety considerations such as non-slip surfaces and secure boundaries should be taken into account.

Overall, sensory gardens can be a valuable asset to care homes, providing a space for residents to connect with nature and engage their senses in a relaxing and therapeutic environment.