Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fernwood Nature Center Summer Break!

A few things I like about Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve:

1. There are plenty of options of things to do, such as visit the library, programs, the nature center, special exhibits, sculptures and artwork, the cafe, the store area, etc.
2. There is a wide variety of types of land--gardens, pond, water features including the river, arboretum, prairie, woods, etc.
3. Fernwood has many "extras" available, such as scavenger hunts, volunteer opportunities, backpacks to check out, geocaching, etc. They have a full calendar schedule.
4. Their membership gives reciprocity to both nature centers and botanical gardens in their respective systems.
5. Fernwood blends "nature" with gardens well. It is a very pretty place with many natural spaces in the nature preserve.
We've visited a few times. Here are highlights:
Stick building with Patrick Dougherty
A Winter Visit to Fernwood

On to our summer break adventure: 

I wanted to go do something with the kids and started heading toward Curious Kids Museum as the weather looked dubious. However, the kids convinced me that Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve would be a better option as it was a little closer. Thankfully, the weather held out--it was beautiful! Entering Fernwood, we saw a long snake crossing the road. Of course, we had to stop, roll down the windows and investigate! There are also numerous sculptures along the drive and within the property. These add to the value of the trip, as we talk about lines, color, use of movement, shape, etc.

I opted to buy a membership as we entered. I chose Fernwood Botanical Gardens and Nature Preserve as it offer reciprocity to both botanical gardens and nature centers. We really enjoy Kalamazoo Nature Center (enjoyed that membership, too!) and Wellfield Botanic Gardens, so this would allow us to get into all of these. There are other places we would like to explore, like Taltree Arboreteum, Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Garden, and others, so this will be $65 well spent. The preferred level allows us to have up to six people (including the card holder) enter. Children 5 and younger are free. Entrance rates can be found here

I love that my children show me things they find and notice. There is such excitement in their voices as they share, "MOM! Look what I found!". My son found this tiny, fuzzy flower on the path near these vines. We went back to investigate and saw where they originated, noting the textures, how they grew, nearby leaves, etc. They even found "rollie pollies" on the nearby wooden post--even more exciting!

They know a botanical garden and nature preserve deserve a little extra caution. At one point, I cut a small corner across the grass and was duly chastised. Thankfully, there was nearby scat that I could use an excuse to investigate. Note to self: follow my own rules of staying on the path! The preserve is home to many animals, such as white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.

One of top things to do on our visit was to check out Take Five, the twig sculpture by Patrick Dougherty. The kids knew I had helped with it and were excited to see it. We read the nearby information, noting how it was started, put together, and named. My 5-year-old thought the map was important to include in the picture. I'm glad he was using it and building on map skills. There is a recycle bin for maps as you leave if you no longer need it. I think I will have the children chart a path for our next adventure there with the map. I'll also use it to look up some of the geocaches on the property as it's a little hard to figure out where all of them are and stay on the path.

I asked each of the children to share their favorite spot in the sculpture. My niece loved looking up through the "oculus" (open ceiling). I'm sure the sky was beautiful! I also showed the children some of the areas I helped work on and shared experiences of how we created this. We talked about movement and lines. The twig sculpture looks so different from various viewpoints.


My oldest found a lonely four leaf clover--he was excited to share! Of course he left it there for others to share. Just looking at this tiny plant, I see so many opportunities to talk with the kids--symmetry, balance, color, hues, the letter x, mathematics, etc. My youngest found a stray stick on the ground and so I helped him tuck it in the sculpture. It was hard to not tidy things up as I'd spent several days there tucking things in, covering up twig ends with mud, gathering willows, and weaving the sticks in the sculpture. 


My niece saw a nearby peony and asked if that's what it is. She has some in her yard and could make that connection to plants she saw in other places. They do look nice!

How whimsical! I love the sprouting parts here and there on the sculpture as well! 

The kids loved playing tag and hide and go seek in and around the five rooms. It was a magical experience!

Continuing our journey, my son found a fuzzy plant! They also found a little canopy over an arbor. The vines looked like they could reach out and grab us! Imagine the garden coming more to life! There are many neat additions to the gardens like this that make it a delightful place to visit.

Speaking of magical, this tree beckoned the children to explore! It had droopy branches almost hitting the ground and all curled. You'll know it when you see it. Fascinating!

Our next stop was the Railway Garden. While we've visited several times, we've never been while the outside trains were operating, so it was a treat to have them working. 

The design of the garden and tracks fits so well into this natural, playful space. There are sculptures throughout the trail as well. You can find a scavenger hunt to find these popular places from the area in sculpture form. It would be fun on a repeat visit!

The kids enjoyed racing around, trying to find the trains and learning about the different cars. There is a Nature Adventure Garden behind the Railway Garden for children to explore! There are stumps to climb, sand to dig in, a tunnel to explore, two birds' nests for imaginative play, a spiral, and sticks to build like Take Five. 

I love the attention to details in this garden, with the rock edging, and plants. There is a plaque out that explains the brown bushes nearby.

They were excited to find a worm in the wet sand; however, they don't look so sure here. I like the start of this tunnel. There were sticks nearby to use for building as well.

There is a Japanese Garden nearby. It makes me miss our time living there with the beautiful gardens and public spaces. I liked that there were positive reminders, such as walking carefully on the paths, looking (but not picking) the plants, using quiet voices, and exploring with our senses. 

We needed a bathroom and water break, so stopped in the nearby nature center. It's always fun to observe live animals! The joy on my youngest's face when he discovered the crayfish was remarkable. They often change the activities at the tables and in some of the exhibits to keep the space fresh.

There is a wildlife viewing wind. There were plenty of squirrels! We saw tufted titmouse, a red-bellied woodpecker, a white breasted nuthatch, mourning doves, and more. In the winter, we have seen a flock of wild turkeys out the window, too. There is an extra basket of activities for children. I like this simple way of storing them and having them available. 

The kids did a habitat hunt and matched tails to various animals. They even made crazy combinations for fun!

One display talked of animals that are extinct (like the passenger pigeon), extirpated (like the bear), and those that were reintroduced (like the river otter). The kids really enjoyed watching the bearded dragon. It's only there during the summer months, so was a special treat to see.


Here you can see specimens of mammals in the area. It's neat to see so many in one place!

They have the smaller mammal below this exhibit, along with many skulls on display. 

There is a display with bird specimens and birds' nests. It's neat to see them close up!

We checked out one of the backpacks when we entered. We decided to explore it more while in the air conditioning. The backpacks are free to use while on the grounds. Check at the visitors' desk when you enter. You need to leave your driver license until you return it. They have a garden and a bird backpack for check out. My kids thought they needed a twig sculpture back pack as well. :-) The garden backpack included botanical rubbing plates, scratch paper, and crayons. I was surprised they all really enjoyed this. It had caterpillar and insect guides, bug observation jar, magnifying glasses, several related books, sheets with laminated information, scavenger hunts, stickers for the kids, and handouts to take home. It was fun to explore!

We met another family waiting for the day camp program. They suggested we go check out the fish and turtles in "The Pond", so off we went! There is a very unique geocache nearby where you have to put water in a tube to get the cache to float up. We weren't able to find it, but loved the concept. I sacrificed my water bottle's cleanliness for it as we needed to fill it up several times from the pond.

There are a few wooden bridges and small falls, too. The bridges are a little slick when wet. 

We found the spring and waterwheel! There is a geocache here where you take the temperature of the water, snap a picture, and upload it. We'll have to try it next time. Before leaving, we checked out the tropical garden inside the main visitor center. My oldest asked, "Is this a tropical paradise?" :-)

Leaving, I saw the map on the wall. There is so much more to see! We'll need to make many repeat visits and visit a new section each time.