A GARDEN IN peak season is a riot of sensory input — a symphony of sound, smells and sights that’s easy to take for granted if we are fully abled.

Tucked into the northeast corner of the Woodland Park Rose Garden, the Seattle Sensory Garden is a place where people of all ages and abilities can experience nature in every sense and season.

Cobalt blue columns and an overhead trellis casting patterns of sun and shade mark the entrance to a lush landscape that invites exploration and engagement.


Initiated in 2015, the project received a Department of Neighborhoods Matching Funds grant with support of local Lions Club members. Through an Opportunity Fund grant from Seattle Parks and Recreation, Sandy Fischer of Fischer Bouma Partnership and Richard Hartlage of Land Morphology collaborated to design and build the first phase of the Sensory Garden, which was completed in 2018.

Today, paved pathways wending through the fully enclosed 1.3 acre site provide a safe, accessible environment filled with enriching opportunities. Echoing the blue at the entrance, a series of organic wavy retaining walls throughout the garden provides wayfinding guidance while also elevating plantings to allow people of different heights, including those in wheelchairs, to easily reach out and touch or smell the plants. Sculptural handrails along pathways support people with balance issues and outline a Braille story trail that describes the gardens for the visually impaired.


Interpretive signage throughout the Seattle Sensory Garden provides prompts to intentionally engage with the landscape through individual senses. Visitors are encouraged to slow down, pay attention and identify details in the garden, like colorful petals and the variety of leaf shapes. “Take in the path underfoot, the sky overhead. Let your eyes wander until you find something captivating,” a particularly poetic sign exhorts.

Aromatic lilies, lavender and bee balm fill the air with sweet scent in summer, while witch hazel, daphne and other flowering shrubs provide fragrance in quieter seasons. Touch is expressed in textural grasses, rugged tree trunks and the sensation of moving from the warmth of the sunny meadow planting into the relative cool of the adjacent still-to-be developed woodland loop of the garden.

In a secluded nook along the northern perimeter of the garden, backed by towering conifers, you’ll find the Cathedral of Melodies, a soundscape activated by breezes filled with chimes and a wind sculpture. A sonorous gong and percussive wooden columns tempt kids to create their own sound mix. Occasionally, the garden is silent.

In contrast to stands of mature trees and planting beds filled with woody shrubs, bulbs, grasses and seasonal perennials, a fabricated climbing mound covered in cushiony bright-blue artificial turf is popular with clambering kids who delight at the view into the neighboring rose garden from the summit. A nearby sign describes how the mound activates proprioception, a biological “sixth sense” that helps us move our bodies through a space.

Along with built-in benches, a communal table with stools near the entrance to the garden encourages visitors to sit and linger. The Table of Understanding, a metal surface inscribed with animals gathered around a watering hole, is allegorical — the Seattle Sensory Garden is a place for everyone to come together.

Friends of the Seattle Sensory Garden (including a couple of Lions Club members who have been involved from the beginning) and Zoo Horticulture staff continue as stewards of the garden today. For more information, and to find out how you can support the next phase of the garden’s development, visit the Seattle Sensory Garden page on Facebook (@seattlesensorygarden), or reach out at seattleparksfoundation.org/project/seattle-sensory-garden.