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The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has opened its most ambitious design project in recent years, with the creation of a giant new Children’s Garden. Covering 10,000m², it’s the size of nearly 40 tennis courts, and has been designed by Kew garden designers around the elements that plants need to grow: earth, air, sun and water. Children will be able to play and explore as they wind their way through a landscape filled with over 100 mature trees,discovering hidden treasures and adventure, and developing their love of nature, plants and the outdoors along the way. A 4m high canopy walk is wrapped around a 200-year-old English Oak tree to give children a different view, and the playground is aimed primarily at children aged from two to 12.
Suzie Jewell, Children’s Garden Designer, RBG Kew said: “With the Children’s Garden we really hoped to design and create a unique space for children to play in, that would not only be fun and stimulate their imagination, but also give them a different perspective on how the plants grow and why they are so important. Part of what makes this space so special is that we had existing trees on site around which to map the paths and play areas – it became a play area among the trees – something different in London. I hope that this will lead to a deeper connection with nature and a lifelong love of plants.”
Children enter the Garden through a tunnel of scented Star jasmine plants before arriving first at the ancient English Oak tree, surrounded by an aerial walkway 4m above the ground. Here, the journey of discovering what plants need to grow begins! The first element to explore is the Earth Garden, a giant sand pit with a quirky play hut village surrounded by Bamboo plants,worm tunnel slides for muddy adventures and a totem pole with unique carvings showing the germination process of an acorn.
Next along the trail is the Air Garden, with winding paths, giant windmill flowers, colourful pollen spheres, hammocks, and trampolines to bounce around on. A miniamphitheatrenestled under shade of some of Kew’s largest Eucalyptus trees can be used for storytelling,or for parents to sit and keep an eye on their little explorers.
The Sun Garden is next; a large open space where children can let their imagination run wild beside a ring of sunflowers, cherry trees and pink candy floss grass. Intricate pergolas festooned with colourful climbing plants and apple trees trained along a tunnel of hoops will take children on a sensory adventure.
Lastly, the Water Garden, (sponsored by Thames Water) is filled with water pumps for kids to control the flow of the water into a splash pool. Waterlily shaped stepping stones will encourage children to hop along the different streams and engage them in the importance of the water cycle to plants.
For those slightly older and more adventurous kids, a giant log scramble sits among the pine trees, waiting to be climbed. The challenge is to get across to the leaning tower without touching the ground!
Sandra Botterell, Director of Marketing and Commercial at RBG Kew said: “The new Children’s Garden is a wonderful addition to the Kew landscape and will add real value to the family experience, giving young visitors the opportunity to see nature in a new way. Spaces like this are essential for children to grow and develop a relationship with plants, understand their importance, as well as to have fun.”
Work on the 10,000m² site, which is close to the existing White Peaks family café, began in October 2017, and was inspired by the desire to encourage kids to develop a lasting relationship with and love for plants and nature. The site already had 62 mature trees in place, including Eucalyptus and Turkey Oaks,and a further 40 mature trees were added to this space, including Gingko and Pines. These ‘old giants’ are part of what makes this garden unique and will capture the imagination of kids and adults alike as they explore the pathways and different elements of the Garden.
Konnie Huq, Kew Ambassador said: “We’re used to seeing trees and plants in gardens that children can’t touch, but in this garden they can get up close and personal with the plants. There’s so much to do too – places to climb, slide, and play in the water. There’s essentially a mini-version of the Treetop Walkway set around a 200-year-old oak. So it’s just a great place to be free, explore and have fun. It’s also very touchy-feely – there’s eucalyptus bark hanging down, there are grasses and bamboos – it’s a real sensory experience.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:“The natural world is one of our greatest treasures, awe-inspiring and precious – but while some young people are actively campaigning for a better world, not every child is getting to experience the joys of nature and the health and wellbeing benefits of being outdoors.
“That is why we have made 2019 the Year of Green Action, with young people at its heart. Kew’s new Children’s Garden is a brilliant way for children to connect with and build a lasting love for plants and nature.”
2018 Young London Poet Laureate winner Momtaza Mehri has written a poem about the Garden, inspired by a visit, and her lyrical words can be found under the Oak tree circle.
Kew also hosted a poetry competition with National Geographic Kids, the winning poem will be announced in May and can be found in the Sun Garden. Momtaza, who judged the competition said: “Poetry is a magical way to engage with the world around us! I was excited to read about the different experiences of each young poet who took part.”
Funding for this project has come from private donations and corporate sponsor Thames Water. Fundraising is continuing to complete the project.