“A walk through a garden should be an adventure,” said Jeff Karsner, Head Gardener of the Botanical Center at , as he gave me a tour of the enchanting Helen and Peter Bing’s Children’s Garden. And indeed, it seemed like adventure waited around every corner. Designed to highlight each of the four elements—fire, earth, water and air—the Children’s Garden is an invitation to explore and discover for visitors of all ages, but especially for kids aged two to seven.
Right at the entrance to the garden is a little blue door set in a flowering hedge—reminiscent of a story like The Secret Garden or Alice in Wonderland. Walk through the door (or, if you’re more than a few feet tall, go around the hedge!) and encounter all sorts of wonders, from the Fog Grotto and a spouting “volcano” to mesmerizing fountains and an amazing diversity of plants and flowers.
A few of my favorite Children’s Garden attractions are in the Earth section, where succulents and other plants line a curving walkway that brings to mind the fluid body of a desert snake. Here visitors can create interesting shapes with magnetic sand, or make stones sing through a set of pebble chimes (a maze of metal posts that ring out different notes when you drop rocks and sand through them).
Karsner’s extensive background in children’s television and puppeteering (he’s been on the board of the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry for 10 years), coupled with his love for gardening, stand him in good stead as he continually works to make the Children’s Garden a place where nature and magic meet. “The whole thing is an ongoing and ever-changing composition,” he said.
And kids really go for it. I spoke with Grace Ma, a member and mother from Alhambra who had come that day with her family. Her two children, Elizabeth (age 3) and Ethan (age 1½) were having a ball running back and forth inside the Prism Tunnel and playing with the pebble chimes as I asked Ma what she liked about the Children’s Garden. She watched Elizabeth and Ethan take another trip through the tunnel and said, “I just think it’s fascinating, how there’s the mist, the water. And they seem to enjoy it,” said Ma. “They can get dirty and I like that.”
Karsner loves to see kids engaged with the garden, though he emphasizes that it is not meant to be a playground. “It’s not just a children’s garden,” he said. “It’ a children’s garden at a botanical garden.” He explained how every aspect of the garden’s layout and design works together to tell a story—a story you won’t find printed up on any signs or placards, but which is “written” right into the landscape.
“When you slow down, you’re going to see it, smell it, it’s going to fly past you,” said Karsner.
No matter how old you are, a journey through the Children’s Garden can be a captivating excursion. Take your time strolling through this winsome space and see what kinds of stories you uncover.
Entrance to the Children’s Garden is included with general admission to The Huntington. Please make sure to follow Visitor’s Guidelines within the Children’s Garden area (posted at the garden’s entrance). The Children’s Garden also welcomes the help of volunteers, including high school students. For information, contact Mollie Merchant Swaner at email@example.com or (626) 405-3429.