South Carolina Botanical Garden for Children
|updated August 20, 2011|
Children's Garden Design Project
To address the need for educational, interactive natural environments for children, a Clemson University Department of Horticulture introductory landscape design class collaborated with South Carolina Botanical Gardens (SCBG) staff and coordinators of Sprouting Wings to design an exploratory Children’s Garden within the SCBG. Sponsored by the SCBG, Sprouting Wings is an after-school gardening and nature program for children from local Title One elementary schools in grades three through five. Following a service learning pedagogy, 14 landscape design students worked with clients consisting of the SCBG staff and Sprouting Wings coordinators to solve real-world design problems. The class worked to develop a master plan for the Children’s Garden, and then divided thirteen theme garden areas into individual design projects. Students applied a landscape design methodology to conduct background research and site analysis to inform design decisions. In an effort to promote environmental education focusing on the role of water in the environment, one design (Figure 1) was created with an extensive plant list (Table 1) for a Wonders of Water Garden in the SCBG Children’s Garden. The exploratory children’s garden currently under construction will ultimately result in an aesthetically pleasing yet functional series of gardens. The project has provided college students with valuable realworld experience partnering with members of the community to develop designs for a garden that will offer children positive, interesting opportunities to interact with nature and learn about the environment in a dynamic hands-on manner.
Methodology for this project included site selection, research, site analysis, conceptual planning, preliminary design and final project presentation. Students began the design process by researching topics related to children’s gardens and environmental education. Research boards on topics including ethnobotany, sensory gardening, and water gardens were presented to the “clients,” the SCBG staff, and Sprouting Wings coordinators. Research for the Wonders of Water garden was conducted on topics such as water quality issues, restoration and remediation techniques, and case studies. Pond construction, roles of native aquatic plant species, and riparian wildlife habitats were major focus areas.
Research and site analysis information was documented on a series of seven 24!! × 36!! posters that were presented to the clients and used by students to inform design decisions. The site for the water garden was chosen in an area with a gentle, natural slope so that a series of ponds connected with waterfalls could be created with minimal grading. Existing vegetation on the site was very scarce. The addition of a variety of plants suited for the site would not only enhance the aesthetic quality of the garden, but provide food and habitat for wildlife.
Based on information collected in the research and site analysis phase, the class selected sites for thirteen theme gardens within the Children’s Garden master plan. The theme gardens or outdoor rooms would be carefully designed to safely stimulate children and adults alike and to encourage them to explore nature. The goal of these outdoor laboratories is to facilitate environmental stewardship by demonstrating the integrated yet diverse components of an ecosystem and numerous facets of horticulture.
Each student chose one of the theme garden areas to develop designs. The design process continued with conceptual and preliminary designs. In these stages, students composed many rough sketches of various areas within each theme garden, and then chose one idea to design in detail. After presenting these ideas to the clients for feedback and advice, the students completed final designs with extensive plant lists, details, and notes.
Project Justification: Children’S Experience With Nature
Motivation to create a children’s garden was based on a need for children to have more direct interaction with nature. Opportunities to develop a child’s bond with the natural environment have become increasingly difficult due to the isolation from nature fomented by urban sprawl. The need to create natural spaces for children was first recognized as cities expanded and rapidly consumed surrounding natural landscapes and resources during the Industrial Revolution in Europe (Dannenmaier, 1998). This need is still prevalent today, with more children now lacking daily contact with natural environments than ever before (Nabhan & Trimble, 1994). Urban sprawl’s consumption of more than one million acres of land annually in the United States isolates the population from natural environments (www.upstateforever.org). Consequently, studies have found that as sprawl increases, physical activity diminishes and obesity increases (Dahlgren, 2003). Direct interaction with a dynamic, diverse natural environment plays a vital role in child development, benefiting physical, mental, moral, social, and emotional wellbeing. Studies have linked interaction with dynamic environments (i.e., nature’s constantly changing and growing state) to increased intelligence and understanding with enhanced neural connection quantities and complexity(Dannenmaier, 1998; Tai et al., 2006). Research has also shown that people form their values concerning nature during childhood, demonstrating the importance of positive interactions with the natural world early in life.Anaffinity for nature formed in childhood years often shapes life-long values, behavioral patterns, and environmental stewardship (Tai et al., 2006). Sebba (1991) suggests that the natural landscapes of childhood become the inner landscapes of adulthood. Sebba (1991) showed that 96.5 percent of surveyed participants indicated that the outdoors was the most significant environment of their childhood. Children consider natural environments their favorite places even though children spend less than 15 percent of their time in nature (Nixon, 1997). Researchers have theorized that there is a biological connection between humans and the natural environment, leading conservationist E.O. Wilson and others to suggest that “since we evolved in natural environments, technology cannot replace but only atrophy the development of our links to nature. If this is the case, children reared apart from nature are necessarily limited” (Rivkin, 1995, p. 6).
Public gardens, parks, landscape restorations, and environmental education activities geared toward children’s needs often undertake the responsibility of providing accessible nature-based interactive experiences for children when opportunities to experience natural environments are limited. The most desired and least provided element in a child’s play world is water. Creating clean, safe, and accessible opportunities for children to experience the integral role of water in natural environments provides fun, exciting methods of discovering the dynamic qualities of water and how all plant and animal life depends on it (Tai et al., 2006).
Need For Water Quality Education
Based on current water quality issues, children’s desire for water play, and the need for environmental education, one student designed a Wonders of Water Garden that can be used as a model at other institutions, schoolyard gardens, and parks. Aquatic ecosystems areas carry an especially important responsibility in the environment because they not only host a diverse assortment of plant and animal life, but they act as buffers, filtering out toxic pollutants from stormwater runoff and minimizing the effects of flooding. Riparian buffers and healthy wetland ecosystems have the ability to filter out pollutants such as heavy metals, excessive nutrient levels, and sediment as water travels through a watershed. Unfortunately, all too often, poor development practices jeopardize the existence of riparian and wetland habitats, resulting in detrimental effects on rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, and associated aquatic life. Increased impervious surfaces, inadequate erosion control, lack of tree protection, and excessive application of fertilizers and pesticides all affect water quality throughout our watersheds. The delicate balance of an aquatic ecosystem is disrupted when the riparian buffer is destroyed or altered, and when pollutants enter aquatic systems through excessive runoff and erosion. Nationwide estimates indicate that 70 to 90 percent of riparian areas have lost their original vegetative cover (Roth, 2004).
In recent sampling, over half of South Carolina’s river mileage and one-sixth of its lake acreage were found to be impaired for at least one designated use (Roth, 2004). Nationwide, there are an estimated 450,000 contaminated commercial and industrial sites that will leach into surface bodies of water or directly into ground water. Although groundwater quality is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the ever-increasing population and resulting landscape conversion place a severe strain on nature’s ability to filter stormwater runoff and recharge groundwater. According to the EPA’s National Water Quality Inventory, the number of reported ground water contamination cases in South Carolina rose from 60 cases in 1980 to 3,350 cases in 1998. Leaking underground storage tanks are the most common source of contamination, affecting 2,650 sites (US EPA, 1998). Other major sources include spills, landfills, hazardous waste sites, and land application of waste.
Environmental education is vital to protecting and restoring natural water sources. Positive experiences integrating education and the environment may help instill values and stewardship in the public, who need to take action to protect and restore the quality and quantity of the nation’s water bodies. Involving communities on a local scale to protect and restore local streams and lakes will create a strong sense of pride and ownership in aquatic ecosystems and bring current water quality issues close to home.
The Wonders Of Water Garden Design
Designed to celebrate the beauty of water and showcase the integral relationships among water, plants, wildlife, and humans, the Wonders of Water Garden design consists of a naturalistic, informal series of interconnected ponds and waterfall streams serving as the backbone to the design. The garden mimics the structure and function and beauty of natural stream and pool patterns. The introduction of water into the landscape creates a diverse, ever-changing ecosystem. Many native plants make up the garden in order to create a sustainable low maintenance landscape and create a sense of place, reflecting on the local region’s geography and environment. Combinations of properly chosen native and non-native plants were selected that are resistant to pests and diseases, suited to the area’s environment, provide habitat and food for wildlife, and create interest in the garden. The plants chosen are adapted to the moist environment and will demonstrate various aquatic and wetland species found in natural systems.
Many paths and built structures are included in the design to allow children to observe biota associated with aquatic environments and riparian zones. Observation points allow visitors to examine and touch aquatic plant and animal life while interpretive signage will guide interaction and teach visitors about aquatic ecosystems. Adjacent to the upper pond is a “Fiddlehead Courtyard” hidden underneath the branches of a large weeping willow (Salix babylonica). The spiral shaped courtyard includes a semicircular child-sized bench facing the upper pond. This area allows children a place to crawl into and “hide” while observing the garden. Visitors can explore plants and associated wildlife in the bog garden via a pathway of stepping stones or a wooden serpentine bridge, positioned only a few inches above the water surface. Plants were selected in this bog garden to mimic those occurring in nature to allow visitors to learn about species native to this area that thrive in waterlogged soils and seasonally moist areas (Swindells, 2002).
A second bog garden located adjacent to the upper pond has an emphasis on carnivorous plants and includes a variety of fascinating insect-eating plants such as pitcher-plant (Sarracenia alata), sundew (Drosera capensis), and Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). From the path, children can reach out and touch trigger hairs of Venus flytraps to see how the traps close to catch and digest insects (Figure 2). These plants are so popular with children in the Atlanta Botanical Garden that garden staff are prepared to replace them regularly (Tai et al., 2006). A deck cantilevered over the lower pond is large enough to use as an outdoor laboratory, where children can examine water samples under microscopes to find a variety of microorganisms living in the pond. A seating area located at the back of the deck, under the shade of river birches (Betula nigra), is an informal meeting place for a small group, or simply a place from which to observe the entire garden. From the edge of the deck, visitors can peer into the pond and observe wildlife such as fish, turtles, insects, or birds pausing to take a drink, along with the diverse aquatic plant life adapted to various water levels.
Adjacent to the deck, an area of large flat stones gently slopes into the shallow lower pond, allowing children to safely walk along the pond’s edge to touch and interact with the water, plant, and animal life. A sweeping fern glade containing large ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and smaller American maidenhair ferns (Adiantum pedatum) leads into another seating area under the shade of an arbor. Florida anise (Illicium floridanum) and Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) serve as a backdrop to this outdoor room, demonstrating native woody plants welladapted to moist soils. The various outdoor rooms and interactive experiences throughout the Wonders of Water Garden provide children the opportunity to experience nature and observe how plants, animals, and humans all depend on and enjoy the presence of water in the landscape.
Results And Future Plans
Design development for a children’s water garden was the result of a service learning collaboration between college students and a local botanical garden. Students were actively involved in every aspect of the design process, developing critical thinking and problemsolving skills, while contributing to the local community. The Children’s Garden will provide opportunities not only for participants in the Sprouting Wings program, but for all local elementary and middle-school students to step out of the classroom and learn about the environment and natural resources in an active, hands-on manner. Designing and installing small constructed wetlands or water gardens in schoolyards also allows students to explore and experience a connection with the natural world at a young age and encourages them to take steps throughout their lives to protect and enhance the environment (Damon, 2001).
Construction of the Wonders of Water Garden will provide many educational opportunities throughout the life of the garden. Sprouting Wings participants and community members will be involved in the construction and planting process. Involvement in creating the garden, from design to installation and maintenance to educational programming, offers participants first hand experiences with nature. Future goals include having participants understand the natural cycle of water and its vital role in the environment, value the quality of water in the environment and strive to protect it. Creating a sustainable water garden for public display and interaction educates both young and old about how water creates and fuels life on earth. Seminars and nature walks in the water garden can teach topics such as aquatic plant and animal identification, aquatic ecology, and bioremediation characteristics of certain plants. Children can observe life processes, and take water samples to analyze contents—both beneficial and deleterious—as they begin to understand the importance of sustainability and the need for water conservation. Most importantly, the water garden should help cultivate a sense of respect for the natural environment. An inspiring visit to theWonders ofWater garden should leave visitors amazed with the lively dynamic nature of a water garden and, we hope, a realization of how precious and diverse natural aquatic environments are.
With gratitude for funding support by the United States Department of Agriculture and for permission from the McGraw-Hill Companies to reproduce material published in Designing Outdoor Environments for Children: Landscaping, Schoolyards, Gardens, and Playgrounds by Lolly Tai, Mary Taylor Haque, Gina K. McLellan, and Erin Jordan Knight, published in 2006 by McGraw-Hill. This material is based upon work supported by the cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 2002-38411-12122. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of
|Do you know a colleague who would be interested in this ? Click on the button (top left)|
|What are your thoughts? Send us your comments using the postform below:|