Florida Botanical Gardens Aims to Introduce Children to Nature in a Fun and Interactive Way Through Music and Play

The Florida Botanical Gardens is a green oasis situated in Largo, Florida, amidst a highly populated area. It boasts an extensive collection of exotic and tropical plants, including fruit-bearing trees, large palms, and native flora and fauna. Despite being the smallest county in terms of population, it is one of the most densely populated cities in the US, with over 1 million inhabitants. The 100-acre park is managed by the Pinellas County Parks and Conservation Resources Department, and it is supported by the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation.

The Gardens were established more than 20 years ago with the objective of inspiring and educating visitors while also providing a safe haven for local wildlife, which includes alligators. McKay Creek runs alongside the gardens, and the large pond has a viewing deck where visitors can spot alligators with their offspring. There are several attractions within the Gardens, including a tropical fruit garden, wetlands walkway, and butterfly garden, offering plenty of experiences for all visitors. Recently, a dedicated space for children has been created, featuring a multi-sensory garden that includes outdoor musical instruments designed to promote nature to children in a playful and interactive manner.

Organizers of the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation created the Majeed Discovery Garden after realizing that children had no space to play and touch. John Thomas, Board President of the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation, says, "There was plenty of opportunity for children to look and see the gardens but no activities for them to touch and explore."

The organizers aimed to develop a $3 million project that would focus on providing education to children. After receiving a generous contribution from The Majeed Family Donation, they worked with conservation organizers and consultants to identify potential opportunities for the garden. Finally, they identified a large site and received a grant from the state of Florida and The Berolzheimer Foundation to begin the work.

John Thomas, the co-founder of Beals and Thomas, has always been passionate about connecting children with nature. He stated, "Our aim was to create a master plan for the future needs of the park. However, we soon realized that the park has been primarily focused on providing education to adults and not children. Therefore, we decided to bring about a change and create an interactive space for children, including a music section."

The garden already had some percussion instruments, but with the new project, there was an opportunity to create a Music Forest that would truly be inspired by nature. This theme of being inspired by nature can be observed in the 'Pollinator Landing,' which has a stage for children to play and act on.

Curtis McMahon, a landscape architect from Coyle and Caron Landscape Architecture, was involved in the Music Forest project and discovered Percussion Play while researching instruments for the project. They selected a Cajon Drum Circle and the Colossus Chimes, which were inspired by the sounds of plants. These instruments were arranged in a piano key layout, and bamboo plants were incorporated near the garden to mirror the chimes. When the wind passes through the plants, it creates a beautiful sound.

Keith Hartsfield, the Construction Manager, had a great time working on the Majeed Discovery Garden. Keith says, "Normally, I build buildings, and there are some really neat children's playgrounds and activity areas around, but this is all custom-built. Along with the music garden and the honeycomb climbers, it's a unique space".'

After a successful grand opening, the garden is now enjoyed by people of all ages. The Children's Garden Facilitator regularly utilizes the space to host school field trips, and individuals can even have their birthday parties in the area.

Jessie Wingar, Children's Garden Educator from Florida Botanical Gardens, says, "Music is all around us and especially in nature. Children love music, and it encourages exploration. Also, due to the size of the chimes, these are instruments that community members may not see all the time. It also provides an opportunity to add another art element to the garden!"

Nestled within the hustle and bustle of the city, the Florida Botanical Gardens stands out as a serene and tranquil haven. It's a lush oasis, bursting with greenery, vibrant flowers, and the sweet melody of music. The harmonious notes of music now add an extra layer of enchantment to this already captivating sanctuary.