Families find adventures at Morton Arboretum Children's Garden

New giant watering mister adds to family adventures at arboretum's Children's Garden

  • The one-ton granite ball that children can rotate on a base of water has been a popular attraction since the Morton Arboretum opened the Children's Garden in 2005.

    The one-ton granite ball that children can rotate on a base of water has been a popular attraction since the Morton Arboretum opened the Children's Garden in 2005. Daily Herald File Photo

  • The Wonder Pond and water features in the Children's Garden at the Morton Arboretum show children how trees are connected to water ecosystems and let them see the life cycle of frogs.

    The Wonder Pond and water features in the Children's Garden at the Morton Arboretum show children how trees are connected to water ecosystems and let them see the life cycle of frogs. Courtesy of the Morton Arboretum

  • The colorful entryway draws arboretum visitors into the Children's Garden, where they can get hands-on in learning about nature.

    The colorful entryway draws arboretum visitors into the Children's Garden, where they can get hands-on in learning about nature. Courtesy of the Morton Arboretum

  • Just inside the entrance to the Children's Garden, visitors discover the Tree Finder Grove area with information about trees and tree-related jokes.

    Just inside the entrance to the Children's Garden, visitors discover the Tree Finder Grove area with information about trees and tree-related jokes. Courtesy of the Morton Arboretum

 
 
Updated 5/27/2016 8:46 AM

The Children's Garden at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle is a special place to explore, imagine and discover the natural world. Walk through its whimsical entrance near the Visitor's Center for the fun to begin.

Among the trees and ponds in the four-acre garden, families engage in active learning while having fun. Ten themed areas, such as the Windmill Garden, Secret Stream and Curiosity Garden, encourage toddlers to play in the Bloom, Zoom and Sprout area while more adventuresome youngsters might slide down a root, scurry up a rabbit hole and hop on leaf patterns in the Every Which Way area. Seating is scattered within each area so parents and grandparents can interact with their families in a casual atmosphere.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This year, we will debut on Memorial Day weekend a new feature in the Children's Garden of a giant watering can mister device that sprays a mist," said Lesley Kolaya, manager of youth and family programs who oversees the Children's Garden. "Water is extremely popular in the summer with kids and with this giant mister we hope to show kids, in a very tangible way, that all plants need water to survive."

The watering can will be located in the Every Which Way garden.

Under the Trees offers several multilevel treehouses for climbers, while Secret Stream and Wonder Pond allow carefree youngsters to meander in shallow water along steppingstones. Everywhere you turn there is something to do. Wide, paved paths are stroller- and wheelchair-accessible even up the Evergreen Walk to the Lookout that provides an amazing view of the arboretum from its three-story vantage point.

The arboretum's Children's Garden opened to the public in September 2005. Every part was carefully arranged. The initial planning stage took five years as organizers, professional museum evaluators and child development experts traveled to children's gardens across the world to reap ideas. Their intent was to create the best garden while meeting the mission of the arboretum. The plan called for kid-scale pockets of areas designed to be manageable for a family. The intent always was to keep the space dynamic and open to the wonders of nature.

"When the Children's Garden first opened, attendance at the Morton Arboretum nearly doubled," said Kolaya. "Last year, the arboretum reached a goal of serving over 1 million visitors, and more than 357,000 of those visitors came to the Children's Garden."

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Two full-time horticulturists spend all of their time in the Children's Garden as well as a team of programmers, rangers, 90 volunteers and a whole group of people to maintain safety.

Kolaya explained the arboretum holds a permit through the county that allows people to go into that water as a wadding area of the Children's Garden. The county tests the pond water to assure that it is safe for people to explore, Kolaya said. The water is not treated with chemicals, but rather as a natural habitat that, like a beach, is safe to use.

I recently talked with Kolaya about what kids love about the Children's Garden. Here's an edited version of or conversation.

Q. What is the most popular feature in the garden?

A. Hands down it is Wonder Pond, (where children can watch toad eggs mature into tadpoles). It is a space where kids are free to explore different habitats since so much life revolves around water. Kids can see different life cycles happening, can understand how trees are necessary to a healthy ecosystem, even when it comes to water. The big beautiful willow tree next to the pond is visually stunning and the pond engages kids to use their hands and feet to explore the water and everything that is living in that pond.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Q. What kinds of hands-on activities are available for parents and children in the Backyard Discovery Garden?

A. We will set out a lot of information (from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) on the table to cover certain exciting topics or that month's theme. Toddlers can look at the pictures of all the different types of frogs and toads that live in Illinois and notice the differences; for older kids we will have more information and facts about frogs.

Q. What is the most popular tree in the garden?

A. The old beech tree in Adventure Woods is so popular that kids have made their own pathway underneath the tree, because when all the leaves are on the tree, it feels like your own little hideaway.

Q. What crop will be in the Windmill garden this year?

A. This year we will do a variety of mini pumpkins and we hope they are as striking as the big pumpkins were a few years ago.

Q. What item in the garden has passed the test of time?

A. The one-ton granite kugel ball that is suspended on water within a curved base. Kids can manipulate the ball any which way they like. It is amazing.

Q. Will the jokes or riddles change?

A. We gave all of our interpretation signs a little facelift. The jokes are leaf shape and we do change those periodically. In fact, it is on my to-do list. What kind of tree can you fit in your hand? A palm tree.

The Children's Garden stays open longer in the warmer months, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays through August. Admission is included with admission to the arboretum. All children must be accompanied by an adult.

Family Nights are offered on Thursdays from June to August with outdoor entertainment in Central Plaza. Families can bring a picnic or buy food at the event. A complete list of performers is available at mortonarb.org. On Family Nights, a discounted entry fee of $5 applies after 4:30 p.m. for nonmembers.

An interactive garden story time with an activity begins at 11 a.m. Fridays in the amphitheater.

"We are all about exposing kids to fun experiences and nature, and building on that curiosity in hopes that they become curious enough to keep exploring," said Kolaya.

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. Her column appears monthly in Neighbor.

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