New Children's Garden at Botanica

Due to the recent opening of the Downing Children's Garden at Wichita's Botanica Gardens, parents will now have a fun way for their children to become excited about gardening and taking care of their planet.

Since their grand opening on July 2, attendance has been up, despite the heat.

Jamee Ross, director of development, is excited to finally see children enjoying the long-awaited opening of the Children's Garden.

"The whole point of this garden is to get kids here to have fun but teach them a little bit so they learn to love it," Ross said. "Once they love something and have a passion for it, they'll want to protect it."

The development of the Downing Children's Garden has been a seven-year process that has brought many years of dreams to reality. Starting in 2005, The Children's Garden Exploratory/Advisory Committee was formed with Evelyn Neier as chairperson.

The next few years were an exciting time for Botanica employees as they were able to watch the garden form and become what it is today: a fun, educational park meant for children of all ages.

"The main age group was supposed to be three to eight but we"re finding that toddlers enjoy it as much as preteens," she said.

Parents will find that the garden is enjoyable for them as well.

"You can interact as much as you want as a parent or there's relaxing benches throughout," she said.

Without the help of gracious donors, the garden wouldn't have become a reality. Paula and Barry Downing donated $1.5 million and gave Botanica one year to match their donation; Botanica raised $2.7 million.

"The overall project was approximately $5 million," Ross said.

Other donors included John and Jim Garvey, who supported Grandaddy's Musical Maze, and Jean Garvey whose portion created Granny Jean's Tree and Treehouse.

"Generations of the Garvey family have supported this area," she said. Ross was especially astounded by the amount of local talent and creativity that contributed to the building of the garden.

"There's such great local talent here in Wichita," she said.

The art found in the garden ranges from a large mosaic sunflower to tree trunks sculpted into "Wood Spirits" to add to the whimsical feel of the Monster Woods. The Enchanted Glen shows children both the excitement of reading, as well as the outdoors in a display of the beloved children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

Future plans for the Children's Garden include the education center and the Chinese garden. The education building is already being sponsored by Boeing Company but Botanica still needs $1.7 million to begin building.

"The goal is to try and have the education building fully sponsored in six months to a year," Ross said. "We're hoping it'll take a year or a year and a half for it to be built."

The Downing Children's Garden will amaze parents and children alike with its bright colors and passionate details.

"There are many great children"s gardens. But ours, with its local artists work and creativity, could be nationally recognized," Ross said.

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