Celebrating five years of imagination and exploration at the Downing Children's Garden

Written by Amy Westbrook Pracht

It started as a simple mission to create a children's garden that provides an educational, imaginative and interactive environment where families can enjoy, explore, discover and appreciate the natural world. Five years later, mission accomplished. Today, the Downing Children's Garden at Botanica is a magical place for kids and kids at heart. It's a place where magical fairies come to life, children enjoy the towering Monster Tree Head and tree-house and parents brave a swinging rope bridge. It's also a place where families can be together playing in the monster woods or watching the colors change on the rainbow overhead.

Where the children's garden began and how it started is also the things dreams are made of.

Once an idea comprised in the hearts and minds of Botanica board members, founders and staff and rudimentarily put together on a cardboard model and paper figures, it caught the attention of Wichita benefactors Barry and Paula Downing.

Meetings with EDAW, a design firm out of Colorado with experience in children's gardens, spurred the garden into fruition and coupled with the City of Wichita on board as the first partner in securing the infrastructure such as creating utilities and paving roads, the Downings gifted Botanica with an initial $1.5 million matching grant. From there, the magic began.

Botanica raised a total of $3 million for the project and Simpson Construction provided the construction along with a bevy of local artisans to create one of the premier children's garden in the country. What nobody anticipated was how this project would soon catapult the entire garden into a much-loved destination for all families to enjoy throughout the entire year.

"Botanica is a vital part of the community, it's a destination location for families to come and make memories with their family members. Not only did this children's garden grow our attendance, but it grew everything else," said Marty Miller, Botanica executive director. "It also put Botanica on the map. Other gardens from around the country come and see our garden. We have one of the premier children's gardens in the country"

Before the children's garden was built, attendance hovered around 40,000 to 60,000 annually. Last year alone, Botanica enjoyed 220,000 visitors to the botanical paradise. "Our expectations for the Children's Garden were exceeded with the record attendance Botanica has had since it was opened to the public. What we also love is Botanica's partnerships with so many local charities in letting children come to the gardens for free to experience the children's garden and the activities connected with it partnerships with Boys and Girls Club, Rainbows, TOPs, Communities in Schools and Big Brothers/ Big Sisters," said Barry and Paula Downing.

Jamee Ross, Botanica director of development, added that Wichita not only supports the garden with their steadfast attendance over the years, but they have also supported it financially. Since the Downing's initial investment for the children's garden, many area donors have come forward to provide continued support to provide new additions to the venue. The Downings are adding a new fairy house world that is being installed this summer in the top of the Granny Jean's tree. "We also just had a private donor come forward and donate $100,000 for the naming rights to the Party Barn that is located on the farm," said Ross.

Today, as the children's garden is celebrating five years of families flocking to the garden to explore the giant caterpillar, play under the rainbow that catches light at different times of the day and frolic in the Salamander Spring and Stream, Botanica and the Downings knew they wanted to celebrate this anniversary milestone with a community party. On Saturday, June 25, Botanica will host a community day from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. where guests will enjoy free admission to Botanica.

"We have invited the Sedgwick County Zoo, Tanganyika, Wichita Center for the Arts and many others to come and bring their activities to Botanica," said Ross. "It's a true community event and we couldn't think of a better way to celebrate the Downing Children's Garden's Fifth Anniversary than with a garden full of families enjoying all the wonderful things that make Wichita great."

Miller agrees, he couldn't think of a better way to celebrate a milestone like this.

"This is the direction that Botanica is going"said Miller. "It's not just a little garden, it is a garden for the entire community."

Event information

Community Day at Botanica
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Free admission from 10 a.m. -2 p.m.

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