Its opening won't be for another eight months but already the face of Botanica is changing. Look through the trees of Wichita's premier garden spot and you can see a 20-foot-tall tree face staring back. It is one of the signature pieces in the new Children's Garden at Botanica, expected to open next summer.
"Right now, we have a very nice beautiful garden but when it comes to children, it's 'stay-on-the path-don't touch.' With the children's garden, we will encourage them to explore and become familiar with nature," said Botanica director Marty Miller. "We'll encourage them to stick their hands in water and participate in educational programs that follow plants through from planting, cultivation and harvesting."
At the grandfather tree, children will be able to go underneath its branches, crawl up a stairway inside the tree and explore the root design and what the rings of a tree look like.
"It will be like walking into a huge redwood," Miller said.
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A 10-foot sunflower petal with a bubbling fountain will encourage children to put their hands in water to feel the bud; tiny, whimsical fairy houses will grace the trunks of giant trees.
Construction for the $3 million Downing Children's Garden at Botanica, the Wichita Gardens is right on schedule, said Doug Kupper, director of Wichita's park and recreation department.
"Everything is proceeding as planned," Kupper said.
The garden is being built on an acre just west of Botanica across Sim Park Drive and will include a farm where children can do their own planting, a "monster woods" of tree creatures and a musical maze and plaza featuring Kansas history.
It will be the first garden constructed in a 20-acre plot that Botanica has allocated for future growth and that will eventually include other gardens such as sister cities gardens and a conservatory.
Barry and Paula Downing provided $1.5 million for the children's garden; Wichita approved $1.56 million in water, sewer and road work.
A road that runs near the Sim Park Municipal Golf Course has been temporarily closed — but an alternate road has been built west of the old road and is expected to open by the end of October, Miller said.
Construction on the children's garden began in May and is expected to be completed by June, Kupper said, with work continuing throughout the winter.
"The Sim Park road extension — where Sim goes all around the park — is almost completed," Kupper said. "And almost all the figurines have been constructed."