Sensory gardening tips
Today is the last day of the school term for us and I feel like we are limping towards the holidays. We are all tired and in need of a rest and recharge. The spring break is a great time to get outdoors and into the vegetable garden. Spend some family time together, relaxed and enjoying some spring sunshine. I may be a little biased I would argue that a vegetable garden provides the best opportunity for children to explore and activate each of their five senses.
Actively engaging with the environment has many proven health benefits, with studies consistently showing that vegetable gardening has a positive impact on pain relief, mental health, stress relief, weight and pain management and healthy choices.1
The senses play an important role in allowing children to actively engage with the environment, encouraging them to connect with the cycles of nature and to provide motivation to learn and care for the space.
With the weather warming it is a good time to begin planning and planting for your summer garden. Take the opportunity to tidy up after winter and to re-explore and be energised by the new life and growth that Spring brings to the garden. If you are planning to add a new vegetable garden or to plant a new season of produce I encourage you to think about incorporating plants and elements to your garden that engage each of the five senses. I have provided my tips on how to go about this below.
Sight can stimulate a mood, a collection of colours, such as blues and whites, can be calming. Colours such as reds and orange tend to be more stimulating. A vegetable garden with hidden treasures tucked into corners, such as sculptures, plant markers or other objects are fun for children to create, place and find. Bees are attracted to bright coloured flowers, so planting them in your garden among your vegetables not only will ensure more productive harvests but it will encourage other insects also.
When you plan your planting consider the layers you can develop with large, taller plants at the back and smaller ones at the front. For example a backdrop of tall bushy lemongrass looks appealing and creates a contrast to the soft grey blue tones of sage and the bright green of a spreading thyme plant acting as a ground cover or border edge.
Allowing children to touch, squeeze and smell the leaves and fruit of plants encourages them to imagine the taste. They are more likely to try new foods, and to eat more vegetables than children who do not have a vegetable garden. The sense of smell allows children to “work-up” to the point of taste. This is a good stepping point in the instance of trying something new.
Various types of mint are great to plant in pots. You can find numerous varieties, such as chocolate, plain mint, spearmint and lemon. Pick a leaf of each and see if the children can describe what they are smelling and the differences between them.
The rustle of plants as you walk past them, birds, a water feature or pond, a path made of small stones, or gravel – each contribute unique sounds to the garden. Try a blind fold activity, or simply lay on the grass and shut your eyes, listen to the sounds around the garden. What can you hear? If there are noises you don’t hear but would like to, how can you incorporate or add them to your space?
Many studies have shown that gardeners eat more fruit and vegetables than non gardeners. This in turn has flow on health benefits2. One of the many wonderful things about growing your own vegetable garden is that you get to choose exactly what you will grow. Why not try an heirloom variety of purple carrots, yellow tomatoes or rainbow coloured beetroot? Can the children taste the difference in varieties when they compare them? Line them up and give it a try.
The difference cooking can make to taste (and sight) can also be explored. It is fun to see how some plants change when raw and cooked. Some vegetables change colour when cooked, such as purple beans that revert to green when cooked.
The point of harvest and the opportunity to taste what you have grown is an exciting one for children. It is highly anticipated if they have been involved in the process to this point, caring for the plants, watching and waiting.
Who can resist running their hands through the leaves of a soft sage plant? The leaves are almost furry, they are soft and silver, the smell strong and lasting. The leaves of garden plants provide a great opportunity for children to explore textures.
Think about the following: curly kale leaves, spiky rosemary, soft basil and fluffy fennel or dill fronds, skinny smooth chives, tiny soft oregano leaves. If you don’t have much space herbs in pots can be used to explore each of the senses. Digging in the dirt, helping to plant, adding compost or mulch and watering are important activities to engage the sense of touch also. Making an active contribution and providing care to plants is a wonderful way to involve children in growing vegetables.
I hope that you have a wonderful holiday period with the kids in the garden if you are also about to begin school holidays.
If you want to read more on how to get your vegetable garden started you will find an index of topics on my Grow Fresh page. If you prefer to be guided through the process, order a Kitchen Garden Box ® and be guided through a year of planting, growing and harvesting from your garden.
1. The Benefits of gardening and food growing for health and wellbeing, G Davies, M Devereaux, M Lennartsson, U Schmutz, S Williams, Growing Health, April 2014, London.
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