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Creating a sensory garden series – sight

Creating a sensory garden series – sight

Creating a sensory garden is so much more than just having the odd scented summer flowers around your garden; with careful consideration you can create a tranquil outdoor space that engages the senses all year round. When you think of a sensory garden, you need to think beyond just a ‘scented’ garden. Sensory gardens should evoke a range of your senses and it is as much about the colours that you put together as it is about the fragrances that you have. We will be releasing a series of sensory garden blog posts to guide you through creating your own sensory space. Today’s post is about sight and we’ve put together some tips and suggestions for designing a sensory garden that is appealing to the eyes all year round.


A well-designed garden is something that takes a lot of time and a lot of careful planning. The scope of this blog post do not stretch to designing your garden for you, but the intention is to get you to think about how you want your garden to look and how you think it will work best for your senses.

You can take various approaches when it comes to how your garden looks. Some gardeners like a theme: whether that’s through planting with a set colour scheme or planting contrasting colours all around your garden, you need to think about the overall look that you want to achieve.


If you’re wanting structure then you can go about it in several ways. Consider the shapes and silhouettes you want to create through planting and that will help you decide. You can plant trees that grow tall at the back of borders and these can add height and provide screening to make you feel like your garden is your own tranquil retreat that is cut off from the rest of the world. We would recommend bamboo for screening in a sensory garden because they hit two senses: sight with colour (particularly the phyllostachys nigra – black bamboo) and with the structure and sound with the rustling of the light and papery leaves in the wind.

You can also get structure from weeping trees. There’s a whole host of them on our website and they are perfect for achieving that year-round sensory garden because the pendulous frames of weeping trees look delightful when topped with snow. We would recommend something like Prunus Pendula Rubra for a small garden, Betula pendula ‘Youngii’ for a medium sized garden and Salix Chrysocoma for a larger garden.

Climbers are also a great choice for structure as you can add a pergola or some trellis and have the beautiful vines of the climber weave their way around the structures. Many climbers also offer fragrance and colour too, so they make the perfect choice for a sensory garden. You can view our range of climbers here.


Your outdoor space needs to appeal to your sight and colour is one great way to do that. Ideally, you want to ensure that you have colour all year round, so pick your trees and shrubs carefully to make sure that you have different coloured interest at different times of the year.

In winter, evergreen varieties are great staples and Photinia Pink Marble (Pink Marble Cassini) is an outstanding evergreen. This delightful shrub has leaves that emerge a vivid pink colour and mature to a rich green with splashes of cream; there’s nothing nicer than bright colours in a sleeping winter garden. Equally, if you want to plant a shrub, Escallonia Gold Ellen is another fantastic evergreen and the golden leaves really brighten up a bed or border over winter. You can also plant a winter-flowering tree like Prunus Autumnalis Rosea which flowers over from autumn until early spring.

For spring colour, you are truly spoilt for choice! So many varieties burst to life in spring and flowers are often abundant at that time of year. Any magnolia tree will put on a good show and we like Magnolia soulangeana as it produces delightfully large flowers for a comparatively small tree.

Summer colour can come from leaves, fruit or flowers. It could come from the deep purple leaves of the Betula Purpurea or from the glossy fruits of a cherry tree like Prunus Stella. Equally, summer flowers can really steal the show and if you need something small in size but with mighty flowers then a lovely hydrangea will do the job: the Hydrangea paniculata Little Lime is a great choice.

Autumn is a special time of year for many gardeners and the final bursts of colour from deciduous trees makes for a wonderful display. Acer trees are synonymous with and, if you have the room, planting a selection of acer trees can really make a fantastic scene in autumn. The burning red leaves of the Acer rubrum sit really well alongside the crisp yellow shades of the Acer Kelly’s Gold. If you haven’t got room for an Acer, the compact ‘Sorbus Autumn Spire’ features mustard-yellow berries and deep red leaves in autumn, so that really does add a lot of colour without taking up a lot of space.

Whatever you decide to plan for sight-appeal, remember that you want to create an outdoor space that looks great all year round. After all, going out in winter to prune your roses and plant your spring bulbs can be made a lot more enjoyable with some winter flowers surrounding you!

Conservation: Creating a wildlife-friendly garden

Here at Mail Order Trees we are constantly amazed by the wonders of wildlife, and we do whatever we can to create the perfect environment for encouraging a whole host of creatures, bugs and birds to make a home on our tree lines and at our nursery. We have around 50,000 planted and container grown trees surrounding our nursery and we therefore see a vast array of wildlife nestled amongst our trees and shrubs. We often carry a camera when we’re out collecting trees just in case we see anything special and we have found lots of wonderful examples of just how amazing nature really is. Here are just a few of our favourites:

Every spring we see birds making nests in and around our nursery, but this female blackbird picked a very unusual position to make her nest. Despite her brown colour, this bird is actually a blackbird, and it is only the adult males that have the black colouring. The young birds and the females have brown feathers and a distinctive orange-yellow beak.  This mother created her nest in a stack of black crates in one of our poly tunnels, and when we spotted her unusual nesting position we worked around the stack of crates to avoid disturbing her. Soon after her nest was complete she laid her eggs and sat patiently on top of the eggs to incubate the birds. We regularly checked in on the mother and noticed her absence in late spring; we peered into the box and found two small fledglings in the nest. We did not photograph them at this time as they were very small and we didn’t want to distress their mother in case she was nearby, so we left it a couple of weeks before returning with our camera. When we came back the fledglings were much bigger and we managed to get a few pictures of them before they flew away from the nest. One of the best things you can do to encourage birds to make a home in your garden is to plant large trees for them to make their homes in, although, as you can see from our little blackbird, they don’t always choose the most conventional places to build a nest!

We found this large moth on one of our Malus Cardinal trees and immediately got the camera out. At first it was wary of us and revoked its wings to camouflage in with the leaves and the bark of the tree, but after a few minutes of us staying very still it spread its wings and flew from leaf to leaf. It landed on the floor right next to us so we managed to get the outstanding shot of it with its full wingspan on display. We got back to the office to research the moth and found out that it was the UK native ‘Privet Hawk Moth’. This moth is the largest UK native moth and it has a wingspan of around 12cm. You can spot this type of moth by its highly unusual pink and black stripes on its body and you will only ever see it in June and July. Sadly, many people regard moths as pests, but this is not always the case. Only a small percentage of moths are in fact pests, and people need to do more to encourage these creatures into their gardens as their numbers are in decline. You can plant trees like the Crataegus Paul’s Scarlet (or any other Hawthorn variety) to encourage moths into your garden, or if you need something a little smaller then they love honeysuckle (like the lonicera henryi). Planting either of these suggestions will invite moths into your garden and they will also create a natural habitat for a much larger range of wildlife too.

Another one of our great pictures is of this bee pollinating the Cercis siliquastrum (Judas Tree). Of course, seeing a bee pollinating a flower is not a particularly rare sight, but we thought that this picture really captured the beauty of the humble bumble bee. When we got back to the office we tried to identify the bee, and much to our amazement the markings indicated that it was a Pratorum Queen Bee. We were under the impression that queen bees did not leave the nest, but when we researched this we found out that the queen has to undertake a mass pollination in early spring before she makes her nest. The queen then stores the pollen alongside a wax which she secretes from her body; she lays her first brood of eggs, and after this point she does not leave the nest. We were very lucky to capture this queen, and without her frantic spring pollination her colony would not have had any chance of survival. We rely on bees for pollinating our flowers and without them many varieties of flowers would die out and our fruit and vegetable yields would diminish.

There are many ways of encouraging these delightful little creatures into your garden, and planting lavender (lavandula hidcote), escallonia (Donard Seedling is a great variety), or a crab apple tree (malus) if you have a little more room, will make your garden a bee-friendly zone. You can even purchase a bee hotel to create a home for solitary bees, and you will get to enjoy seeing them dart in and out of a little habitat that you have created just for them.

Finally, the last of our pictures is of a very popular bush that is a new addition to our website. Our first home-grown batch of buddlejas (buddleias) are now for sale on the website and these are extremely popular with butterflies. These bushes are so synonymous with the decoratively winged creatures that their common name is in fact the ‘butterfly bush’. The butterfly in the picture is a nymphalidae ‘Peacock’ male butterfly and you can identify this variety by its highly striking ‘eyes’ that are on the upper handwings. Butterflies are a national favourite for gardeners and their vast array of patterns, shapes and sizes makes them seem very special indeed. If you have young children visiting your garden then try planting buddlejas or other fragranced flowers and setting up a butterfly watch – you can even have a look online to see what you’ve found and you can share your findings with others on the butterfly conservation website. Children love recording the prettily patterned visitors and it’s a great way of introducing young children to the concept of variety in nature.