Creating an edible sensory garden for our students

World Autism Awareness week aims to raise awareness about autism and make a difference to the lives of people living with autism across the UK. In this post we share an exciting new project we're working on to develop an edible sensory garden for learners at our specialist autism centre in Harrogate.

Artists illustration of The Starting Point sensory garden

Our new garden will provide a safe and relaxing sensory space for students as part of Henshaws Starting Point, a specialist centre for young people with autism.

All the plants in the garden will be edible including a range of herbs and vegetables so the garden is safe for students who have pica. This is a condition that can be associated with some individuals who have autistic spectrum condition which causes them to seek out and eat items with strong flavours which could lead to harm.

For our students with pica, an underdeveloped sense of taste means that they crave strong flavours, especially those with a perfume. We work to satisfy this need through providing food such as rose creams, parma violets and lemon. Students learn how to clean as part of their independence programme, so we also provide natural cleaners such as vinegar and bicarbonate of soda to ensure they can work in a controlled and safe environment.

Student pushing a trolley of lavender and rosemary plants for our edible sensory garden


By creating an edible garden, we are making sure the whole area is a safe place for our students to learn and explore. Students have helped to shop for the plants, which include scented lavender, rosemary and fruit trees.


The garden has been designed using guidelines from the National Autistic Society to ensure it meets the needs of students who may be diagnosed with autism, or have similar characteristics along with wider additional needs. Specialist features will include a safe surface play area with a swing for students who are sensory seekers and enjoy the motion of rocking backwards and forwards, covered seating areas to create sheltered safe spaces and level paths and ramps for accessibility. The garden will also be fitted with artificial turf and lights so students can enjoy the maximum use of it throughout the year.Artists impression of The Starting Point sensory garden

A team of volunteers from Cargill help create new edible sensory gardenWe’re very grateful to have the support of ten lovely volunteers from global food and agriculture company Cargill to work on this project. The volunteers, who are mostly based at Cargill’s Thirsk office, have put in hours of hard graft to help the garden to take shape. They put up new perimeter fencing, erected a wooden gazebo and also filled some of the garden’s raised beds with compost.

We’ve also had support from local businesses including Johnsons of Whixley nurseries who are donating an apple tree and a range of edible plants for the garden and Yorwaste with their generous donation of 10 tonnes of compost.

We hope the garden will be ready for our students to access by the summer term. If you’d like more information about our specialist college for young people with disabilities or to book a visit, please visit our college pages.

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