By June Knop
Gardens can be wonderful places to stimulate all the senses.
When planning for children they need to be safe from water hazards and poisonous plants and those with disabilities may need wider, firmer pathways for wheelchair access.
All aspects of the garden need to be accessible and interactive, and don't forget to provide places to sit, play and enjoy – include hiding spots, tunnels to crawl through and safe trees to climb. Consider including animal ornaments or pictures, a clamshell sandpit and a playground.
SMELL: Try a narrow pathway so that people brush past fragrant species or plant in the walk way so that as people tread on the plants (e.g. thyme) they release scent. Placing the small plant between pavers will partly protect it from foot traffic. Consider having 'smelly stations', rather than a single patch.
SOUND: Consider wind chimes, running water or frog ponds, as well as having a birdbath, feeder and planting nectar producing shrubs and trees that attract different types of birds. Prepare 'noisy paths' like crunchy gravel or sea shells.
SIGHT: Why not have a messy patch, worm farm, or enclosed compost bin with lots of leaf litter to attract worms and creepy-crawlies? Children can watch the critters scurry about. Explore butterfly-attracting vegetation and remember to watch for cocoons and caterpillars.
Choose plants of varying shapes, colors and sizes, remembering that as seasons change, so do blossoms and foliage. Add some fun with animal-shaped topiary, and display plants and flowers in unusual containers such as shoes, teapots and cups etc. Lighting effects such as ultraviolet light/black light can be very effective on white flowers in shady parts of the garden and make them glow.
TOUCH: Insert different textures, from soft springy mosses to coarse lichens, and furry-covered leaves to bristly cactuses. Trunks of trees can also offer a variety of tactile experiences, from cork to paper bark, smooth to rough and bumpy, as can selected rocks – smooth river pebbles to volcanic rock.
TASTE: Plant some herbs, vegetables and fruit trees and bushes.
Finally, be sure to check out safe and dangerous plants at sites like http://ucanr.edu/sites/poisonous_safe_plants/