John Lawrus, general manager of the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, wants a discovery zone for kids to learn about nature.
As children spend more time indoors playing video games and exploring the Internet, they are becoming less interested in the outdoors, he said in a recent interview. “Kids know about technology, but they’re not aware of nature and things like the importance of plants,” he said.
Mr. Lawrus envisions a Children’s Garden for ages five and up, in which science and play will combine in a way that educates, entertains and arouses curiosity.
“We hope to provide an area where children can interact on their own with components that stimulate them – not just seeing, but touching and smelling, too. I’d love to have a climbing tower that replicates a birds’ nest,” he said. “And we’d want to demonstrate the eco-system – water and sunlight working together and how the wind is important.”
Schools could be invited to come and plants seeds, then return in two months to see the growth achieved. The garden would also demonstrate the importance of insects, birds and butterflies so that children aren’t tempted to kill every bug they see, Mr. Lawrus noted.
“Once they begin to appreciate nature, they understand the importance of keeping what we have,” he said.
He has already taken his ideas to the recently appointed Tourism Attractions Board, whose responsibilities include managing the 35-acre site.
Board Chairman Carla Reid described the park as “a place of peaceful beauty and rich with our natural heritage … one of our national treasures that families have been enjoying since its creation.”
Mrs. Reid pointed out that the original master plan for the park did provide for a children’s garden specifically designed to allow young residents and visitors a place to get up close to nature and learn through hands-on experiences.
“The Tourism Attractions Board is happy to support the continued enrichment of the visitor experience at the park and the general manager has already begun work on the concept design,” she said.
That design places the children’s garden on one acre between the Visitors Centre and the Heritage Gardens – close to facilities to which youngsters and their parents may want quick access.
“It will be accessible to all, but scaled to children-size,” Mr. Lawrus said.
While he has specific features in mind, he would also like to hold a contest for kids to say what they would like to see in the garden.
“I want to let the kids take ownership of the garden; that’s the key to the ongoing success of it,” he said.
Some of the first features he would like to see become a reality are a tree house, eco-system demonstration, outdoor classroom and a maze. “If this is a $400,000 project, I would plan eight $50,000 components,” he said, explaining that he hopes to attract financial support from both the public and private sectors.
Mr. Lawrus pointed out that the xerophytic garden, which highlights cactus and drought-tolerant plants, took a year-and-a-half to create. It cost $70,000, almost all of which came from one anonymous donor. The orchid garden boardwalk took about a year to plan and build. A grant from a U.S. trust, plus money from the Orchid Society and individual donors and solicitations to local banks covered the costs of constructing the 600-foot raised boardwalk, while volunteers identified host trees and later installed the orchids.
In a similar way, Mr. Lawrus believes the new proposed project can become a reality if the schools and the community become involved.
“The children’s garden is more complex, but with support, I think it’s achievable,” he said.