As Director of Conservatories, I have two conservatories and endless opportunities to connect people, plants and place. We do this through plant collections, special exhibits, children’s programs, events, and whatever else we can imagine (and afford) to make people stop and say “Wow”. We focus on creating sensory and emotional connections to plants first and building the intellectual component second. My biggest project is developing a four-acre Children’s Wild Garden at Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. We are working with the Natural Learning Initiative at North Carolina State University to create a model/ laboratory for unstructured nature exploration for kids. Our purpose is to demonstrate natural elements that can be replicated in child-centered and neighborhood settings, while conducting research to determine how children and their adults use the spaces. We also plan to research and disseminate information regarding the impact the garden experience has on children’s mental and physical health. This project is something I’ve been thinking about, in one way or another, for about forty years. I’d been thinking about how to connect children with unstructured nature for decades but it was Jim’s five questions, starting with “If you could accomplish anything by fiat, what would it be?” that helped me visualize the Children’s Wild Garden project. The entire year had led up to that point: classes that helped me understand that urban design is a product of mutable ideas and decisions; a room full of enthusiastic students who believed in the power of their ideas in a “how to write a business plan” intersession class; Fellowship mates who were role models in entrepreneurial spirit. By the time Jim asked those questions in May, the seedbed was ready.
Every year, when we toast John and Peter, I wish I could tell them in person what a positive impact their investment has made in my life. And that I am working to share it with others.