Same Space – New Look

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by: Kevin Cassel, New Hanover County Center & Arboretum Grounds Supervisor

NHC Arboretum Children's Garden playhouse

Our Children’s Cottage will soon be nearly thirty years old! Built by our beloved volunteer carpenters, this area for our guests has stood the test of time. To learn more about this garden, I sat down with Ken Campbell, Head Carpenter and our living book of all things Arboretum history, to discuss the origins of our Children’s Garden. In late 1993, the carpenters were handed a sketch on a piece of paper; rather a rudimentary rectangle scribbled to represent 8 feet by 10 feet. That was all they had to work with and went to the drawing board to hash out the details. That drawing board included a television and a VHS copy of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. A fairy tale indeed, the Children’s Cottage drew inspiration from the woodland garden cottage that Sleepy, Grumpy, and all the rest called home! Cedar shakes are reminiscent of a thatched roof; arched windows and doorways give that cottage feel; and window planter boxes tie it all together. The only portion of the house built in place was the floor – the four walls and roof support were fabricated in the carpenter’s shop to precision and assembled where the house sits to this day. What a testament to their skills in planning, engineering, and carpentry!

Fast forward all these years – the garden was looking worn out, tired, and lacking life. The elements and use of the space had taken their toll. The roof was rotting, the balcony was losing pieces, the fifth set of window boxes were falling apart, and the only thing holding the fence together was the paint and maybe some termite frass. It was time for a new look – a reimagined space. These wheels were in motion before I began my tenure here on the grounds and all I knew was that we wanted a space for children to connect with nature, a place to develop motor skills and explore their senses. With volunteer and staff efforts and financial support from the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Association and Friends of the Arboretum, the renovation is complete!

The space is intended for children aged 2 through 6 where they can utilize eight natural wood stepping logs to focus on major motor skills; a natural wood bench for parents to sit which doubles as a balance beam; three thunder drums to explore their musical creativity; a chalkboard to express their imagination using those fine motor skills; and a larger than life, fiberglass Eastern box turtle shell they can crawl through and all over. In planning the space, I wanted to keep the original intent of the garden intact, and I wanted the colors to be bright and ones that children were familiar with or would have been the first ones they learned, so we went with Peek-A-Boo Blue, Steelhead Redd, Monarch Wing Yellow, and Field Time Green that represent the summer sky, setting sun, fields of flowers, and luscious plants, respectively.

We surrounded the cottage with a fresh palette of plants including raspberry, yellow, and burgundy coneflowers; sterile butterfly bush and firecracker plants; balloon flowers and blanket flowers; heuchera and huecheralla; mini pearl daylilies; lavender and catmint; salvia and black-eyed susan; star jasmine and upright hollies; and a new variety of re-blooming azalea from NC State University’s very own Dr. Tom Ranney.

So, please come visit and enjoy the newly renovated Children’s Garden here at N.C. Cooperative Extension’s New Hanover County Center & Arboretum. Step onto the balcony for a picturesque photo opportunity – peruse the Little Free Library for a good read – explore, learn, and enjoy everything we have to offer! We look forward to seeing you!

Before… NHC Arboretum Children's Garden Playhouse


NHC Arboretum Children's Garden Playhouse. NHC Arboretum Children's Garden Playhouse