The Magic of Children’s Gardens


Are gardens magical places? Certainly gardens can be whimsical and imaginative, especially when they are designed with children in mind.

Children's Garden at Brookside Gardens

Children’s Garden at Brookside Gardens. Whimsical even in the winter

My visit to Brookside Gardens (a Weekly Museum Visit in 2010) included a stop at the Children’s Garden, described on the website with such words as fun, enchantment, special, passion, creativity, and inspire. The garden had a tea party theme: furniture was child-sized and evocative of nature. A treehouse could be reached by climbing a small ladder. At the time, the Children’s Garden was empty and looked like it might have been closed for the winter or for the duration of Brookside Gardens’ holiday lights event, but even so, the charm came through.

Flowers blooming in the US Botanic Garden's Children's Garden

Flowers blooming in the US Botanic Garden’s Children’s Garden

At the United States Botanic Garden, a small courtyard serves as the Children’s Garden, where kids can play with garden tools and experience plants through multiple senses. The space is adorned with a small fountain and a turtle sculpture. This garden is described on the website using terms like reawaken, curiosity, hands-on, imagination, and relax.

Entrance to Children's Garden at Hershey Gardens

Entrance to Children’s Garden at Hershey Gardens

Hershey Gardens in Hershey, Pennsylvania discusses its Children’s Garden using words such as whimsical, journey, fascination, learning, delight, and activity. The garden has fountains in the shape of hearts and Hershey’s Kisses, arbors and a treehouse along pathways lined with flowers, and animal sculptures. Among the featured gardens are a butterfly garden, a fragrance garden, and a pioneer herb patch.

Wren Smith’s article in the National Association for Interpretation’s magazine Legacy understands the magic of gardens for children: after all, the title of the article is “The Green Door: Touching Nature, Touching Magic.” The article recounts an event at Kentucky’s Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in which Smith led a fairy-house building family activity. Children, with the help of parents and adult volunteers, were tasked with creating tiny houses for imaginary fairies using real pieces of nature: sticks and fallen leaves they found on their own along with other materials (grapevine tendrils, seedpods) collected by staff that could be purchased with “tokens.” This event gave children parameters for making use of nature in a way that would not be destructive of the natural world, and allowed them to carefully consider each specimen and tap into its endless potential in a make-believe project. The result was 106 unique fairy houses.

As Smith writes: “Regardless of the season, stopping to notice plants, to experience their texture, fragrance, or form opens us to new discoveries and reveals aspects from both the real world of nature and the imaginative world of spirit.”

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October’s blog theme is Children and Museums.

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About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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