Sensory garden - a social space in the heart of Eden Project

The sensory garden is a social garden space in the heart of Eden site. Supported by Banrock Station Wines, it was planned to be a sensous space, appealing to all the senses, and giving visitors of all ages the chance to take time out. Sensory Trust and Eden Project worked together to make the space appealing and accessible to the widest range of people.

Focus group session sharing ideas about the garden

In the early stages we organised creative community engagement sessions involving young and older people with different disabilities. The goals were,

  • to get detailed information on different individual responses to garden spaces to find out how people would like to use and enjoy the garden
  • to understand what creates barriers to enjoying these garden spaces for people
  • and to explore people's sensory responses to the fabric of a garden: the plants, landscape materials and the creative arts.

It was important to achieve this through a relaxed but structured approach. The sessions were a combination of site review (looking at the site where the garden was to be located), structured discussion (including specific questions) and hands-on exploration of the sensory potential of different plants and landscape materials.

An essential part of the focus group session was the involvement of Eden Project team members who were responsible for the design and maintenance of The Garden.

The results brought a valuable mix of creative and practical ideas to feed the design. Visually impaired individuals stressed the value of things they could explore by touch, smell and sound but also said it was easy to go overboard and fill places with too many scents, or to assume that all visually impaired visitors like wind chimes. (You won't find any wind chimes in the this garden!) Older people emphasised the importance of seating and enjoyment of seasonal highlights. Wheelchair users talked about how much time they spend looking up at things and this led to the design of a ramped platform in the garden where wheelchair users could go to have a chance to look down on the world for a nice change.

Photo strip shows people engaged in exploring different plants and materials through their different senses

Eden provided plants, construction materials and art examples displayed on 'market stalls'. The guests were asked in their groups to explore the stalls and discuss them with the stall holders (Eden Project team members). This gave an opportunity to hear first-hand reactions and discuss the value of these experiences.

An important last activity was to run some post-design evaluation and we invited people to return to the garden in the spring to enjoy it and share their feedback. Keeping people involved in the project as it develops is important to avoid one of the major criticisms of public consultation, that often the people involved have no idea if their opinions are valued and become quickly disillusioned if not kept up to date with progress.


Our work with the Eden Project

Sensory garden design factsheets - free guidance

Sensory engagement - links to case studies and information

Outdoor access design factsheets - free guidance

What is inclusive design?

Accessible information design - why it matters and who it benefits

Can we help?

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