Pretty, touchy, noisy and smelly

As well as growing plants which are tasty, you can also appeal to youngsters’ other senses in the garden. Here are some suggestions for plants and other features which will bring sights, sounds, smells and touch to your garden:


Flowers of all kinds are the most ‘obvious’ candidates for adding a child-friendly visual feast to your garden. Here are some suggestions of flowers which are easy and fun for children to grow:

  • Sunflowers – The archetypal child’s plant! The seeds are easy to handle, they can be planted in the ground or in pots, they grow reliably (just don’t forget to water them), the flowers are pretty, birds love them, budding young artists can see if they can equal Van Gogh by painting their own version of his ‘Sunflowers’ paintings and you can even add a competitive edge by seeing who can grow the tallest. Grow them in a sunny spot and tie them into tall bamboo canes (using a cane topper to soften the tip of the cane) to support the stems.
  • Allium giganteum – Tall lollipop style flowers with large heads.
  • Fried egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii) – As suggested by the common name, these fast growing flowers are white with bright ‘yolk’ yellow centres.
  • Nasturtiums – There are many brightly coloured cultivars available, such as ‘Jewel Of Africa’.
  • Ladybird poppy (Papaver commutatum) – As the name suggests, these bright red poppies have black ladybird-like markings.

Many will also make great pressed flowers, which the children can then use in other art projects, such as making bookmarks, cards or pictures.

But it’s not just flowers which can add visual interest to your garden:

  • Gunnera manicata – A moisture-loving plant with huge leaves which are big enough to fit children underneath them!
  • Fatsia japonica – Wonderfully large, tropical-style leaves on a plant that’s actually very hardy.
  • Tree ferns (Dicksonia species) – Try planting one when the child is 2 years old which is about the same height as them and have a race to see which gets tallest quickest! Put a sturdy tree stake in the ground next to the fern so the child can mark their height and the height of the fern on each birthday.
  • Gourds can be grown from seed and come in some very interesting shapes and sizes. Try out the ‘Snake’, ‘Russian doll’ and ‘Swan’ shaped ones!

Why not take the visual aspect of your garden a bit further by creating shapes or words from flowers? Use sand to mark out the shape you want to create, be that a smiley face, the child’s name, or similar, then sow flower seeds along the sand. As the seeds grow the child’s masterpiece will be revealed! Try the same idea in your lawn; plant early spring flowering bulbs (such as crocuses or snowdrops) in the required formation in the autumn, then wait for spring for them to appear. You can leave them in place and, over the subsequent years, they will reappear, gradually naturalising and blurring the outline of the original shape.


“Don’t touch” is a familiar command to most children, and an important warning when it comes to some sharp or irritant garden plants. How nice would it be to have plants where the opposite is true – touching them can be actively encouraged?! Here are some examples of touchy-feely plants for young fingers to enjoy:

  • Pennisetum villosum or P.alopecuroides – Great fluffy tufts appear throughout summer.
  • Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) – The leaves are gorgeously furry, really living up to the plant’s common name.
  • Helianthus ‘Teddy Bear’ – The pompom like heads of this sunflower are just calling out for a squeeze!
  • Salix caprea (pussy willow) – Great big, fluffy catkins are produced in spring, like hairy caterpillars.
  • Salvia argentea – Soft, woolly leaves.
  • Bottle brush (Callistemon species and cultivars) – Brightly coloured flower heads give this plant its common name.
  • Mimosa pudica – The ’sensitive’ plant has leaves which fold up and droop when touched.


There are many different ways you can create noise in the garden. You can use plants which are naturally ‘soundfull’ or orchestrate your garden with noise-inspired designs. Below are some ideas for how to do each.

Plants for sound:

  • Pampas grass (Cortaderia sellonana) – It doesn’t take much of a breeze for the tall leaves of this grass to rattle together. But the musical foliage is razor sharp, so tuck it away from play areas.
  • Bamboos – The rustling sound of these grasses can be very soothing to the ear. Bamboos are available in a wide range of sizes and colours, but ensure that you restrict their spread when planting (eg by planting in buried pots) or they will spread like wild fire!
  • Bergenia cultivars – The large leaves of this plant squeak wonderfully when rubbed together.

Design for sound:

  • Thick sticks of different types of wood will all have different densities and, therefore, a different sound when hit. Hang a selection from cords and provide a wooden ‘beater’ to create an outdoor xylophone.
  • Any water features which involve movement of the water, be that a gentle bubbling, a spraying fountain or a rhythmic waterfall, can be a source of soothing or exhilarating sound in the garden. Just ensure that it is safe for children to be around (see our health and safety information).


Bringing fragrance into your garden doesn’t necessarily mean growing lavender! Not that there’s anything wrong with lavender, it’s a beautiful scent which can have a calming influence on children, but there are so many other interesting smells to consider:

  • Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) – Dark brown/red flowers look attractive but it’s the smell that makes this cultivar so special; it really does smell of chocolate!! This can’t be grown from seed, but is commonly available as a plant from garden centres or by mail order.
  • Cercidiphyllum japonicum (katsura tree) – As the leaves turn colour in the autumn they acquire the smell of burnt toffee when crushed.
  • Melianthus major – The blue coloured leaves smell of peanut butter.
  • Cytisus battandieri (pineapple broom) – The yellow flowers are deliciously pineapple scented.
  • Helichrysum angustifolium (curry plant) which is also called Helichyrsum italicum – The leaves have a strong smell of curry.
  • Azara microphylla – Evergreen shrub with banana fragranced flowers in winter and early spring.
  • Most herbs are easy to grow, have wonderful fragrance and have the added benefit of being useful in the kitchen! Try sage, rosemary, thyme, mint or chives.

Fragranced plants are always useful for planting around seating areas or in pots/raised beds which make them closer to ‘nose-level’ for children.