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Sensory Garden for the Upper Midwest

This landscape plan provides a fragrant, colorful "wrap" for any patio.

This low-maintenance garden is designed to soften the edges of an existing patio, plus provide a feast for the senses when you're sitting nearby. Each plant in the plan appeals to sight, hearing, smell or touch. Plus, you can tuck in an edible herb like basil or lemon balm in place of a few of the small grasses to add taste!

Many of the flowering plants bloom for long periods, and several offer fall and winter interest. A small tree provides shade, and shrubs offer a sense of enclosure. The grasses rustle as they're stirred by breezes. A butterfly house serves as a low-maintenance accent, but you can substitute a piece of sculpture or a solar-powered bubbler as a water feature.

The plan is easy to install. No hardscaping is involved, and the bed can be adapted to any shape patio edge. Here, the 6' x 28' bed is angled to fit around the corner of a rectangular patio, but you can curve it to frame a rounded edge or run it straight along one side. No patio? The sensory garden would also make a pleasant freestanding destination spot elsewhere in the yard.

No garden is completely maintenance-free, but this beautiful bed needs little. The plants won't need much water after the first season when they establish themselves. You'll have no deadheading to do and little to no pruning. The groundcovers will weave together to form a mat that will reduce weeds. The planting list specifies natives, which usually are disease- and insect-resistant and aren't invasive; if you substitute a non-native plant, be sure it's not invasive, and to keep your garden low-maintenance, choose those that are resistant to pests.

See next page for the plan

Plant List

A. Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
Alternative: Other small accent tree

B. Red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)
Alternative: Medium-sized shrub, three to five feet tall

C. Box huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera)
Alternative: Other small shrub, two to three feet tall

D. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Alternative: Other groundcover 6 to 12 inches tall

E. Little bluestem (Schyzachyrium scoparium)
Alternative: Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) or other small ornamental grass, one foot tall

F. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
Alternative: Other groundcover 6 to 12 inches tall

G. White Colorado columbine (Aquilegia caerulea var. ochroleuca Hook)
Alternative: Other herbaceous plant, one to two feet tall

H. Lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina)
Alternative: Other grass or fern, two to three feet tall

I. Blue sage (Salvia azurea)
Alternative: Other herbaceous plant, two to three feet tall

J. Prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa)
Alternative: Other herbaceous accent plant, one to three feet tall

K. Wild ginger (Asarum canadense)
Alternative: Other groundcover, 6 to 12 inches tall


1. Butterfly house
2. Existing patio

How to install your landscape plan
Check out other garden plans.

Landscape plan by Leah Gardner
Illustrations by Simutis Illustrations

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