Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
May, 2012
Regional Report

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In Bartram's Garden's new Green Room, educator Abby Miller guides a Philadelphia family in drawing the native Geranium maculatam.

Connecting with Natural Science at Bartram's Garden

"Would you like to make a card?" asked Abby Miller. She gestured to an array of freshly picked flowers and pressed leaves in the Bartram's Garden new Green Room. Bottlebrush buckeye, painted buckeye, Carolina allspice, American cranberry viburnum, sweetbay magnolia, wood poppy, native honeysuckle.

Several beige cards decorated with green rubbings and drawings lay on Abby's table as examples. I was tempted. Other visitors drew her attention with questions about plants. On weekends, Abby, an artist and art teacher, is an educator at Bartram's Garden.

"We're finding that adults like to do the same things as the youngsters," said Kim Massare, public programs manager, with a smile. She filled me in on the latest.

Located in west Philadelphia, Bartram's Garden, the eighteenth century homestead of historic plant collector John Bartram, is evolving. The airy, bright Green Room was a stable during Bartram's time. This March it opened as an inviting, dynamic space for hands-on, guided activities and self-guided resources to engage visitors. The recent transformation was funded by a Pew grant and a private donor. "We're finding that partnerships are key to our work and the future of Bartram's Garden," Kim said.

"There's a real trend now for museums to open up dialogue both ways to make things interesting for visitors," Kim explained. Bartram's has long had a strong student education program. The staff is building on that to reach more adults and children. Also new is a community farm and orchard, a renovated welcome center and garden shop, and food trucks at events.

"A lot of first-time visitors stumble into the Green Room," said Abby. "We have watercolors, pencils and paper, field guides, owl pellets. Children dissect the pellets and identify bones inside with a bone chart."

She walked to the Cabinet of Curiosities, opened it, and brought me first a glass jar of colorful eggs labeled according to bird, then a delicate translucent snakeskin. She and Kim joked about the turkey poop everyone had wondered about till a young visitor correctly identified it.

There's a billboard with maps of Bartram's travels and photos, a binder containing information on flowers organized by season of bloom, a vase with a bouquet of "what's in bloom."

"The Bartrams were sought out to talk about plants," Kim noted. "We're trying to get back in touch with that. We have all kinds of experiences with maps and guided tours." Abby chimed in, "This is in the good spirit of the Bartrams because they were so curious about the natural world."

That curiosity inspires the staff and enriches the programs. "We want to reawaken that sense of wonder about the natural world," Kim added. "This is a story that's changing. We want the space to be responsive to that. It's important to have educators here who explain the many layers -- botany, plant collecting, science, history, culture, horticulture, medicinal plants. This isn't just a place where history happened. We're continuing to draw inspiration from that history to develop programs."

On a recent Sunday afternoon Zinat Yusufzai and David Schneck brought their children Mira and Kai to the Green Room. Mia and David sat creating a card at Abby's table. Zinat and Kai examined the red wiggler worm compost. "David and I used to come here often," said Zinat. "We're interested in the open house. It's a beautiful day. Bartram's looks great. We like the expansion. It seems better for kids. They love the trails, the ponds, the trees with pink flowers, white flowers. The Green Room activities are fun too!"

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