Over the past decades, landscape architects have risen to the challenge of creating distinct “children’s gardens” within the boundaries of larger, established public parks and botanical gardens. In our increasingly urban and techno-centric world, we know green space reduces stress and addresses what psychologists called a “nature deficit.” A children’s garden does even more to enhance visitor experience for curious young minds open to new discoveries.
A child-centered garden introduces a new generation to the natural world through play. Knowledge acquired using all five senses can have a profound impact on a child’s creative, social, and intellectual development. Art projects using natural materials spark the imagination. Scavenger hunts, labyrinths, interactive water features, or a simple game of hopscotch using autumn leaves all inspire an attachment to nature. As an alternative to adult-regulated team sports and playgrounds with no plants, children’s gardens balance high-energy adventures in tree houses with quiet nooks and pockets for just “being” with friends in a world of plants.
The first children’s garden in the U.S. opened in 1911 at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Inspired by the nature-study movement of the early 20th century, advocates from the industrial eastern U.S. looked to public gardens as an essential asset to maintaining livable cities. A recent study of 163 U.S. public gardens found that 55% had a children’s garden and an additional 22% were making plans in that direction.
DENVER BOTANIC GARDEN
In the western U.S., one children’s garden we love is built on a green-roof over a parking garage in downtown Denver, Colorado! Once a tiny footpath in front of the Denver Botanic Garden, this “magical, three-acre oasis” showcases the varied topography and complex ecosystems of the Colorado region in family-friendly fashion. Named for a philanthropist/donor Janet Mordecai, Denver’s Mordecai Children’s Garden is a great example of a city’s ability to attract development funds for ambitious projects which yield a broad benefit to the community.
Watch this great YouTube video and tell us what you think:
INTERNATIONAL PEACE GARDEN
The International Peace Garden celebrates the longstanding peaceful cooperation between two nations and receives funds from legislatures of both North Dakota and the Canadian Province of Manitoba. This magnificent 2,400- acre project has exciting plans for an upgraded Children’s Play Area. Plans include “climbing nets in the turtle area; bridges, dams and lodges in the beaver zone; and a wolf-themed gathering circle with a granite boulder fire ring. An advisory group from local indigenous communities is developing interpretive content throughout the play area to engage children with traditional stories and teachings including lessons about flora, fauna, and indigenous culture of the Turtle Mountains. Structures feature sustainable construction materials and minimal maintenance.” We’re inspired by the IPG story and think you will be too:
ORANGE COUNTY GREAT PARK
New research in the social science of childhood recommends participant-involvement in the design of public spaces. If you (or youngsters in your household) can image a Children’s Play area in the future botanical garden of the Orange County Great Park—one that reimagines California during the epoch of the giant ground sloth and the grizzly bear; or incorporates lessons about nature from indigenous people still in residence today; or challenges your imagination with lots of fun tools for free play—then . . .
Please join us in urging the City of Irvine Council and Mayor to commit space to a world-class botanical garden at the OC Great Park.
Mayor of Irvine/OC Great Park Board Chair
Farrah N. Khan
Vice Mayor of Irvine/OC Great Park Board Member
Council Member/OC Great Park Board Member