November 29, 2007

Imagine an outdoor learning environment that gives Kentucky children hands-on opportunities to learn and have fun at the same time; a place that helps children understand the environment and develop a love and respect for the Earth; a climate that inspires parents and teachers to learn about the importance of plants and their impact on the world and a setting that motivates children to try fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods to improve their attitudes and behaviors. 

The University of Kentucky – Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Arboretum, the official State Botanical Garden of Kentucky, will implement all these things with its Kentucky Children’s Garden project. A campaign to raise funds for the garden will run through January 2009.

“Today’s children have less direct contact with nature, poorer nutrition and they spend a lot more time in front of a television or a computer screen,” said Marcia Farris, director of The Arboretum. “We know that gardening is a source of physical activity and it can give children and their parents a reason to be outdoors and be active.”

Designed by nationally renowned and award-winning landscape architect Herb Schaal with EDAW design company of Ft. Collins, Colo., the Kentucky Children’s Garden will be a 1.85-acre outdoor learning environment where children ages 2 through 10 can discover plants and the environment. The location will also reserve an area for children to plant and maintain. 

“This is truly a unique project that will benefit the community, the region and ultimately the entire state,” said Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry. “This Children’s Garden is going to be a remarkable return on investment for those who contribute to its success.”

“The university’s partnership with urban county government in supporting The Arboretum has been an extremely productive collaboration since its inception, and this project is another example of working together to serve the needs of youth and adults alike,” said Scott Smith, dean of UK’s College of Agriculture.

The garden will not be a garden in the traditional sense, but rather an integrated combination of various ‘child-scaled’ theme gardens and garden-like elements for experiential play. There will be a small amphitheater for presentations, interactive educational exhibits, interconnecting paths and comfortable benches.

“It will engage all the senses, emphasizing interactive features and learning through creative play,” said Becky Saha, president of the Friends of The Arboretum. “The garden is designed to represent regional themes and environmental relationships of Kentucky, and will be a place that equally engages parents as well.”

The project will incorporate design elements that have proven successful at existing children’s gardens around the United States, and will inspire learning by children, parents and teachers about gardening and its relationship to everyday living. 

“Gifts of all amounts, large or small, are welcome from anyone, be they individuals, future parents, garden clubs, school groups or anyone interested in inspiring learning and a love of plants and nature,” said campaign co-chair David Stevens, who has already made a generous donation to the project. “Unlike a museum where you have to continually change exhibits during the year, the garden will always be changing depending on the season.”

Hidden in the woods of the Kentucky Children’s Garden will be a dry sinkhole and a sinkhole spring, emanating from a dripping limestone overhang. This spot will also be a good observation point for ferns, orchids, mosses and other plants that grow in the shade. Farris said it may also be a good spot to discover fossils in the rock. Small buckets will be stashed here, allowing visitors to make waterfalls from the ledges. 

The Transportation Garden will include a raised bed with an outdoor model railroad and a gathering circle where children can learn how man travels with plant products, and how plants naturally travel by water, air and land. A compass rose will be the centerpiece of the paving in the gathering circle and it can be used to teach direction and the sun’s location during the solstices and equinox.

A playhouse-size log cabin will become the Pioneer Homestead. A small vegetable plot, a stone wall under construction and a fire circle will surround the cabin. Children will learn about the plants pioneers cultivated, the stones pioneers used for building and they will gain an appreciation for the pioneers' history. Around the fire, visitors may participate in stories and music from pioneer days, make crafts and taste stew from an old iron cook pot.

A path leads uphill to the garden’s highest point, Bluegrass Overlook. The overlook will be a place where families and groups may gather to overlook the garden. Rock slabs will provide informal seating and a rock overhang.

“The garden is going to have so many things to see; quite possibly too much to see and learn in one visit,” said Dorotha Oatts, campaign co-chair. “This will create a feeling of anticipation and motivate our visitors to return to The Arboretum.”

All gifts are tax deductible and will be acknowledged in the Friends of The Arboretum Newsletter and Annual Report. Gifts of $500 or more will be recognized in the Book of Appreciation in the Dorotha Smith Oatts Visitor Center. Additionally, contributions of $5,000 or more will be recognized in an artistic manner in the Kentucky Children’s Garden. Donations may also count toward becoming a UK Fellow. The campaign will run through January 2009, allowing gifts to be made over a three-year tax period. 

For more information, or to make a donation, contact Marcia Farris at The Arboretum, 859-257-6955 or via e-mail to or call Amy VanMeter at 859-257-7211 or via e-mail to


Marcia Farris, 859-257-6955, Aimee Nielson, 859-257-7707