The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has managed to reinvent itself from a beautiful area dedicated to the cultivation and preservation of a wide array of plants to a space that could be enjoyed and celebrated by children of all ages. Many of their different gardens have become places for children to play. In one room, a children’s train set was inserted into the shrubbery and the tracks were laid into the soil. Small lifelike figures of people stood between the leaves, tiny windmills spun in the breeze, and houses and farms decorated the spaces uninhabited by plants.
Upon entrance to the Conservatory, a staff member points out the path of the activities. First, though, goodie bags filled with candies and small games are offered. In a winding way, the participant, child or adult, floats from room to room in a sparkling wonder. Surprisingly, the only thing out of place was the wedding rehearsal happening in a large space in the southwest corner of the gardens, seeming to remind all of the adults and even some of the children that the experience that they were having in the conservatory was a once a year event and that they should enjoy it while it lasted.
On the other side of the wedding rehearsal, a game was well underway with a dozen children lining up to try and toss a ring onto a witch’s hat on the ground. Magnificent as the rehearsal was, it was clear that the event would not squelch the capacity for fun on the evening. Children’s enjoyment was to be had in every room possible at every possible second, even during a wedding rehearsal, making the evening magical for the children that were there.
Outside, across a small, beautiful bridge, and back inside again, the line for face painting stretched on and on. Peering to see the work of the artist, one could find the faces of children masquerading as unicorns, green goblins, butterflies, and fairies. Walking past the line, the room with multiple train sets was the next spectacle. Children bent around the tracks trying to peer inside of the tiny, moving trains. Some even ran alongside the train, too impatient to wait to see it a mere minute later when it came back.
The last spectacle to complete the circle was a pot your own plant station. Somehow we had gone from goodie bags to ring tosses to unicorns to trains and back to plants, the main attraction of the gardens. Perhaps the last station was a reminder that families could take home with them a reminder of what the gardens had promised these children for one night only: magic, in whatever form they could find it.