Celebrate the breathtaking world of nature with a journey into dark caves brimming with dinosaur fossils, climb through a larger-than-life overturned chestnut tree, and soar above the tree canopy in a magical treehouse in the woods.

The Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden, set to open in early 2019 at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at UGA, will be a groundbreaking destination for children to learn more about the wonders of Georgia’s natural resources while planting, climbing, crawling and skipping through a two-and-a-half-acre accessible environment.

“The children’s garden is an exploration, a journey, not something you just walk through,” said Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden. “Everything is designed with attention to detail and an educational component.”

Director Jennifer Cruse-Sanders talks about the fossils in the new children’s garden.

Named for Alice H. Richards, a charter member of the State Botanical Garden’s Board of Advisors, the children’s garden will officially open on March 23, 2019. The new attraction is expected to draw more than 50,000 visitors a year.

The garden is an interactive outdoor classroom for hands-on education. Unlike any other in the southeast, it is an experience crafted in layers, for children to explore under, around and through.

Teams of designers, local artists, environmental construction firms, and even the Nassal Company—a theme park construction firm responsible for Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the Georgia Aquarium, among others—have ensured that every stone, leaf and flower is placed with intention. From climbing walls, to the fossils of a mastodon—the ancient ancestor of the mammoth—to musical instruments resembling mushrooms and a tree house in the canopy, the children’s garden teleports children into a whimsical world where nature inspires and delights.

The giant treehouse overlooks the woods around the garden.

In addition to introducing children to nature, the children’s garden will be used to enhance and expand upon existing programs, including classes, summer camps, field trips and more.

“The Dig and Grow Gallery will be used for summer camps such as Bee Smart Eat Smart,” says Cora Keber, director of education at the garden. “Kids will get the chance to plant different things, as well as harvest fruits and vegetables that they can cook into healthy foods. It’s all about discovering how what we eat is linked to our health.”

Keber and Cruse-Sanders point out where the water will flow over the granite features.

The Georgia Discovery Plaza showcases the state’s ecology, industries and history. By pressing a button, children can watch water erupt and trickle through a granite map of the state from the piedmont area to the coast. The granite highlights an important habitat and industry in Georgia, and was locally sourced from Elbert County.

Gardens filled with vegetables and sunflowers—the children’s garden signature plant—are atop an underground explorer area. Children can look through windows to study soil science and plant roots. When seasons change, the windows will be replaced with interchangeable panels designed by Lamar Dodd School of Art students.

Sunflowers are the signature plant for the children’s garden.

The journey through the garden takes children through a fallen, giant chestnut tree. Children can run their hands along the bones of the old chestnut tree (the once plentiful, economic-driver that was wiped out by the rapid and devastating chestnut blight infection) before climbing up into a tree house overlooking the State Botanical Garden’s tree canopy.

“Everything is connected. Every feature of the garden intersects and connects, allowing everyone to leave with a unique experience and feeling that much closer to nature,” Cruse-Sanders said.

Colorful flowers by the gazebo, pitcher plants by the Monet Bridge, and a variety of insect sculptures will help educate children to Georgia’s native plants and endangered pollinators.

The family of Alice H. Richards, who died in May 2007, donated the initial $1 million toward the $5 million children’s garden.

“She would be beaming with pride at this,” said Jim Richards, Alice H. Richards’ son. “She would be following the development with tremendous interest.”

Writer: Leah Moss, leahmoss@uga.edu, 706-583-0962

Contact: Cora Keber, ckeber@uga.edu, 706-542-6158