Families from across Athens spent their afternoon in the UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia on Saturday, March 23 attending the grand opening of the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden.

Upon their arrival, children were given Garden Earth Explorers’ Passport books, an interactive guide to the new garden full of educational games, a map and important dates and information about each new exhibit.

The new attraction is set to draw more than 50,000 visitors per year, according to the UGA Public Service and Outreach website. The UGA State Botanical Garden expected an estimated 4,000 people to attend the “festival-style” grand opening, Berkeley Boone, the children's program manager for the State Botanical Garden, said.

The Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden is a 2.5-acre interactive outdoor classroom that includes a tree house, a canopy walk in the trees, creature habitats, hands-on garden plots, an underground zone, edible landscapes and a pond. Additionally, the new garden features mastodon fossils from 40 million years ago, granite mined from Elbert County and a pitcher plant bog with a replica of Ellison’s Cave, a cave located in North Georgia, according to an email from UGA media relations.

An interactive learning environment

Katie Greenwood, her husband and their 5-year-old daughter traveled from Comer, Georgia, to attend the grand opening.

Greenwood said her daughter’s favorite part of the new garden was the misting mushroom, but said her personal favorite part was walking through the skeleton of the chestnut tree, an interactive art exhibit.

“It’s hard for us to imagine what the forests in this area looked like,” Greenwood said. “It’s one thing to read about trees 14 feet in diameter, but it’s another thing to experience it.”

Greenwood said she and her family “absolutely” plan to come to the children’s garden more often regularly? More often? because of how interactive each aspect is for both parents and kids.

In addition to the new garden, festivities included trolleys that bussed families from their cars to the gardens and live performers singing songs such as “This Land Is Your Land” to dancing kids.

Dedicating the garden

Alice H. Richards was a charter member of the State Botanical Garden advisory board and heavily involved with the gardens from the early 1980s until her death in 2007. The newest garden was dedicated to Richards during a ceremony on March 18.

The dedication was attended by UGA President Jere W. Morehead, Vice President for Public Service and Outreach Jennifer L. Frum, State Botanical Garden Director Jenny Cruse-Sanders, family members of Alice H. Richards, State Botanical Garden advisory board members and Friends of the Garden, according to an email from UGA media relations.

The first $1 million donated for the garden was given to UGA by the Richards family. The remaining balance, about $4 million, was raised through private donations, including money from all 80 members of the State Botanical Garden advisory board and every garden employee, according to the UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia website.

Thinking outside

UGA State Botanical Garden employees and volunteers sported powdered-blue T-shirts with the statement “Think Outside! No Box Required!” printed on the back.

Julie Davie, from Buckhead in Morgan County, doesn’t regularly volunteer for the garden but said she wanted to be involved in this event.

“It’s so clever, there’s so much for the children to learn and do,” Davie said.

Davie said her favorite aspect of the children’s garden was the interactive vegetable garden. Kids are provided with seedlings, shovels, watering cans and water, so they can experience the entire process.

Davie worked from noon-4 p.m. at the entrance of the interactive chestnut tree display.

A decorative steel arch, created by artist Andrew Crawford, welcomes families into the new garden.

According to the UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia website, the design of the garden incorporates native Georgia plants and habitat gardens to create a “sense of place” in Georgia while continuing to highlight natural processes such as pollination, soil composition, water, plants, insects and animals.

Jeesuk Noh and her daughter Eunice, age 8, live in Oconee County and said they plan to visit the botanical garden more often with the addition of the children’s garden.

Eunice said her favorite part of the day was digging a penny out of the interactive dinosaur dig.

The grand opening event took place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but cars continued to arrive after 4 p.m.

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