No Children? No Problem! You Should Still See Franklin Park’s Franklinias!

Here’s one of my trend-tracking discoveries for you: Nature deficit disorder.

This unfortunate phenomenon has developed as electronic devices have lured children and adults into spending less time outdoors, making us alienated from the natural world.

To help combat nature deficit disorder, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens responded to requests for more family-related experiences and undertook its largest horticultural project ever. In May, it opened The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden. The $8 million, two-acre garden in Columbus has 16 features offering a host of clever interactive experiences, including a nature play zone and a pavilion where educational programs take place.

While the enclosed garden was designed for children up to 10 years old, I found plenty of captivating features to enjoy.

Youngsters enter and exit the garden through a willow tunnel, a small arched entryway made of branches and leaves. Their older, taller companions walk underneath a Sunshine Celebration Arch incorporating stained-glass panels designed by a local artist. Crystals are embedded in the panels, covering the ground underneath with prisms on sunny days. Walk past a cardinal topiary fashioned from crimson begonias and misting boulders producing rainbows in the sun…and continue along a gently sloping, mosaic terrace leading to an elevated canopy walk. Not too high above the ground, there’s a generous hammock lounge, a larger-than-life bird’s nest, a rope bridge, and die-cut panels that cast shadows of animals and birds on the wooden walkway.Back on the ground, admire many artistic features. There’s a caterpillar made of stones, a painted turtle that doubles as a xylophone, and an adobe playhouse with studded-glass walls. Notice one of several hand-carved gnomes and other sculptures positioned throughout the garden.

A Green Man is carved on a Hocking Hills-inspired 15-foot-tall sandstone bluff.  Water trickles down a “weep wall” to form a stream – a popular place to cool off. Solitary bees who don’t live in colonies — like the sweat bee and the carpenter bee — make a comfortable home in a rustic bee hotel. Study it carefully and learn how these bees use the hollow tubes inside to create nests. After they deposit an egg in the tube on a ball of pollen, they seal the tube with a thin layer of mud, and continue, filling each of the chambers. When the eggs hatch, the larva eat the pollen and grow. Once the larva are fully developed, they create a cocoon around themselves for protection during the winter. When spring arrives, the fully grown bees chew through the wall of their chamber and emerge into the outdoors.Pick up the shiny, reddish-brown nuts of our state tree, the Ohio Buckeye, just starting to litter the ground. Use them and other natural items to make and adorn a tiny house for the garden’s resident fairies, then walk quietly past gourds where some of them are sleeping.

Check out a book from a pair of Little Free Libraries in the Reading Garden. Sit on the ends of a gnome-decorated stone Whisper Bench and whisper into the corners. Or take a break in the Word Garden.

At the Nature Art Studio, make Earth Art with a variety of natural materials, then leave it for others to enjoy. Come back later to see how your work has changed.  Then walk across a wetlands-crossing boardwalk and check out some carniverous plants.Remember the budding Franklinia tree I saw at Bartram’s Garden, the rare specimen, now extinct in the wild, that William Bartram saved by bringing its seed from Georgia and cultivating it at his Philadelphia home? Well, it’s in full bloom here, with its camellia-like, fragrant white flowers and egg-yolk-yellow center in all its late summertime glory. It’s worth a return trip to see how the trees’ glossy dark green leaves will turn autumnal shades of orange, red and purple. Harvest Blooms, on view through November 11, has brought thousands of colorful mums, ornamental kale and pumpkins to the conservatory.  Spiders fashioned from pumpkins placed in metal holders…and a pumpkin house have arrived in the children’s garden. How neat!Admission to the children’s garden is covered in the conservatory’s regular admission price. Don’t miss one fabulous indoor attraction.

“Field,” an interactive installation inside the conservatory, illustrates a dynamic ecosystem that is transformed by movement. Walk in front of the 46-foot-long projection illuminating the dark room with flowing particles of color and watch butterflies alight on changing seasonal displays of blooming flowers, waving grasses and abstract cattails. This spectacular attraction is on view through November 11.Recalling its 2017 display of topiary sculptures of endangered animals, the conservatory has created more animal topiaries to lurk about the grounds through October 28. Don’t miss the 75 flamingos in the formal gardens on the Grand Mallway.

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