The N.C. Botanical Garden stretches across 1,000 acres in Chapel Hill, showcasing forested areas, display gardens and paved trails.
A new and growing piece of this popular destination, part of UNC-Chapel Hill, is the Children's Wonder Garden. Less than a year old, the garden sits next to the garden's education building.
"It provides a safe place for play where kids can get their hands dirty," said Elisha Taylor, the garden's coordinator of children and family education. Chapel Hill botanical garden includes Children's Wonder Garden
The gardens had a small space for children before its move across the street with the construction and opening of the new education center, which is home to programs and classes for kids to adults. The new space allowed for an even larger outdoor play area for children.
Gardens staff worked with the Natural Learning Initiative at N.C. State to design the garden. And they began hammering away at the plan, which is very much a work in progress.
The wonder garden includes a place for kids to dig in the dirt, jumping stumps, a giant bird nest to climb in, a cedar xylophone, a natural balance beam and big "tree cookies" for kids to build with.
There's a spot for kids to build homes for fairies and gnomes and even a mailbox for kids to leave messages. (If you include your address, your child will get a note back from a fairy or gnome).
A bird blind allows for families to watch birds flitting between tree and bird feeders. Taylor said she's spotted about a dozen different birds.
Children in some of the gardens' programs have helped to plant flowers and vegetables, helping to make the garden a new experience with each visit as vegetables grow and flowers bloom.
"It's been so wonderful to see it take off," she said.
Future plans include a nursery garden for babies and toddlers; a wetland area; a pollinator garden; and more.
My two-year-old loved it. She enjoyed digging in the dirt, climbing in and out of the birds nest and running in an open, green area, which she dubbed the "somersault space." She spent a lot of time chasing birds with the hopes that she could pet them too. (As you can imagine, that never worked out for her).
Learn more about the wonder garden in my video interview with Taylor.
Check the botanical gardens' website for more information about all of its programs and classes for kids and families. The botanical garden will have a Mother's Day Walk on Sunday, though registration is required and it may be full. Click here for details.
Other programs include a Nature Tales storytime on Thursday mornings from May to August, along with a family hike and a photography workshop for kids in June. All require pre-registration.
Find the gardens at 100 Old Mason Farm Rd., Chapel Hill.