Florida Botanical Gardens Adds Interactive Space to Educate Children - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Florida Botanical Gardens Adds Interactive Space to Educate Children

Photo: Jessie Wingar

The Florida Botanical Gardens has been striving to be an oasis in the midst of urban concrete infrastructure. Constructed 20 years ago, the focus has been on education for adults, but their latest phase of construction has crafted a space dedicated to children.

“This is what has been missing,” says John Thomas, president of the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation. “There are currently lots of things for children to look at but nothing they can touch!”

Photo: Jessie Wingar

Thomas says they engaged a team of consultants and explored what opportunities there might be. They identified a half-acre site and realized there was another one-and-a-half acres unused.

The Gardens are located in a 100-acre park owned and operated by Pinellas County. While it is the smallest county in Flordia, it is one of the most densely populated ones in the U.S., with over one million inhabitants. The 2+ acre site is located along McKay Creek and features a viewing deck to spot alligators with their offspring.

The Majeed Discovery Garden is a $3 million project that allows visitors to focus on the care and nurture of plants and animals as they interact in creative spaces designed to stimulate all five senses. From fundraising to completion, the project started in 2018 and was completed in 2023.

There are a number of interactive features in the children’s garden, including a bamboo bridge, imagination blocks, a sensory curtain, an outdoor classroom with raised beds, a water pump and various-sized trunks for climbing.

Another feature is Pollinator Landing, which is a multipurpose structure that has a stage and storage lockers with dress-up clothes and puppets. There is also a musical forest that has life-sized instruments.

Photo: Jessie Wingar

“The children’s garden is a space for them to experience plants and nature in different ways,” says Curtis McMahon, a landscape architect with Coyle and Caron Landscape Architecture. “I came across Percussion Play when looking for instruments for our Music Forest. We chose 3 cajons – outdoor drums – and the colossus chimes, which are inspired by the sounds that plants make! These are set out in a piano key. We incorporated bamboo planting near the garden to mirror the chimes – with wind rushing through the plants, creating sound.”   

The major challenge with the project was the schedule. The time required to advance the fabrication to installation took much longer than projected in the target schedule. However, quality was not sacrificed to get the work done quicker.

“Our community is very excited for the new space!” Thomas says. “We have had many field trip requests and have six confirmed already. We are also hosting our first birthday party the day after the Grand Opening. Many organizations have toured and are excited to bring their students/participants to the garden. We have also heard a lot of excitement from parents in the community about this free garden!”

With a vegetable garden, wetlands walkway and butterfly garden there is plenty for all to experience, and now there is a dedicated space for children to have a multi-sensory garden, providing the opportunity to promote nature to children in a playful and interactive way.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.