And for as many years, I've always wondered why the garden closest to my own home - JC Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State in Raleigh - never had anything similar. I've walked through the arboretum a number of times. It's a gorgeous place with a wide variety of plants and flowers. There are sunny spots and shady spaces and great places for kids to explore. It always seemed like it was an obvious place to include some special programs for kids.
Well, I finally got my wish. The arboretum is launching new family programs with a special free event this month. Wake Up! It's Spring! is from 10 a.m. to noon March 26. It's designed for kids ages 5 to 9 and their parents or caregivers. Participants will explore the arboretum as it wakes up from winter, finding fuzzy buds, buzzing bees and more. Registration is required. So click here for more information.
Ted Bilderback, the arboretum's director, said that for years the nationally acclaimed garden has focused on developing new plants for the green industry.
"We have, for a long time, been playing that role," he told me. "But we're a public garden. And we're available for the public to come too ... We realized we probably needed to do more."
Bilderback said there were a couple of things that spurred the creation of these family programs. Not enough young people are getting interested in horticulture. Kids, he says, seem to be much more aware of animals than they are of plants. And there are a lot of homeschoolers in the area who are always looking for new, educational places for field trips.
"When we started putting that all together, we realized that we have an awful lot to offer," he said.
Arboretum staff have been training 16 volunteers who will lead the educational programs. The March 26 event will kick off the new programs and Bilderback assures me that there will be more to come.
"It will be an ongoing program," he said. "Ultimately, if we can make it a success to where it generates some income, we would like to get to a point where we might even be developing a science unit for first or third graders [for homeschoolers]. We'd like to see it get to that."
Of course, the arboretum is open during daylight hours seven days a week. That's generally between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. around this time of year. Entry is free. It's at 4415 Beryl Rd. in west Raleigh near the State Fairgrounds.