The Not-So-Secret Garden

the not so secret garden

You had a sneak peek here…today we’ll be sharing the sunshine-filled details of our Secret Garden event, which took place on the gorgeous grounds of Morven Museum & Garden!

Morven Museum & Garden is a historical landmark located in Princeton, New Jersey. It is the former Governor’s Mansion and, for more than 250 years, has been the home of five New Jersey governors and Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Morven’s house, outbuildings, grounds, and new Stockton Education Center are absolutely beautiful. So when they offered their gardens for a collaboration, we jumped at the chance.

Redbud-and-Tulip-poplar-(rt)-Morven_photo by Richard Speedy

Image courtesy of Morven Museum & Garden. Photo by Richard Speedy

Katie and I have been wanting to do a Secret Garden event for ages, and we especially wanted to focus on the novel’s themes of discovery, exploration, playfulness, and interaction with the the natural world. And Morven’s gardens are so beautiful…

exploring the gardenIn the Secret Garden, the 3 children build a private world within their walled garden, and we wanted to replicate that feeling. We found these terrific 39.5″ x 39.5″ x 43.5″ canvas play tents on Amazon (a bit pricey at $65 a pop, but they will be used for other events, so win!):

play tentsThe tents were a HUGE hit, and were in constant use all day long. They were light enough for kids to move around, so there were a number of interesting configurations throughout the day (my favorite being a long tent tunnel). Not far from the tents were wood slice stepping stones, which Princeton University’s Grounds & Maintenance was kind enough to donate…

stepping slicesWe pulled aside 2 of the larger wood slices to make tic tac toe boards. Use a permanent marker or paint to draw the board, and 2 different color rocks for the pieces.

wood slice tic tac toeIn addition to tic tac toe, we had a natural wood ring toss for the younger kids, and this cool Finnish game called Mölkky for older kids…

molkkyYou will find a full description of Mölkky here. But basically, it’s a game that involves some semi-skilled tossing and a little basic math. It’s super chill, super fun, and perfect for families. It also won Green Toy of the Year Award in 2015! A set costs $50 on Amazon, but again, we now have it for future events.

Meanwhile, on the slate patio near Morven’s garden fountain, there was natural paint brush painting:

natural paintbrushesThe brushes are 10″ sticks (thanks again Princeton Grounds & Maintenance!) with various flowers and foliage attached to the ends with rubber bands. Kids dipped the brushes into bowls of water and experimented with the different patterns the brushes created on the slate patio.

If you do this activity at your event, however, have big buckets of water handy, not just bowls. We quickly learned that kids like to carry and move the bowls with them, which inevitably tip over. I had to do a lot of monitoring and refiling to keep the project going.

We also had a very, very popular bubble wand station! We bought three, 15 piece bubble sets with giant wands on Amazon for $8. Plus two, 64oz bottles of solution for $9. We should have bought more solution folks, because we ran out halfway through the event! We recommend one 64oz bottle of solution per hour, minimum.

floating bubble We ran 5 hands-on craft tables at the event as well: nature print bookmarks, paperclip robins, bean mosaics, racing caterpillars, and butterfly feeders.


1: NATURE PRINT PAPER

Nature print paper (sometimes also called sun print paper) is a staple of science classes everywhere. We bought our 5″ x 7″ sheets on Amazon (a pack of 40 sheets cost $11), but to stretch the budget, we cut each sheet into 1.5″ x 7″ strips that would later serve as  bookmarks. All you need are some garden clippings, tubs of water, and paper plates for carrying your creation while it fully dries. Helming the table was Hope, our teen tester, who also volunteers at Morven!

hope and the nature print tableThis photo was taken right before the event officially started. Hope was pretty much mobbed the rest of the day. TOTAL TROOPER.


2: PAPERCLIP ROBINS

paperclip robbinsA robin plays an integral part of introducing Mary to the secret garden, so we borrowed this craft from Family Fun magazine. All you need are a pair of paperclips, heavy weight paper, scissors, tape, and a hole punch. Voilà! Personal robin!


3: BEAN MOSAICS

For a longer, more focused event project, we offered bean mosaics similar to the one pictured above. We provided kids with 3″x3″ squares of poster board. Baby wipes are a good idea for cleaning up hands and work areas, and paper plates are also good for carrying around your creation as it’s drying.


4: RACING CATERPILLARS

 

Honestly, you have to see these things in action to really appreciate them. A bit of folding, a drinking straw, and this little caterpillar really races! We had 2 table top race tracks at the event, and the competition was fierce (but there was plenty of laughter too). If you’d like some folding instructions to display on your event tabletop, you’ll find those here.

caterpillar races


5: BUTTERFLY FEEDERS

champagne-glass-butterfly-feeder_croppedThis project was previously featured in a sneak peek post (which you will find here). But there’s an extra special event connection…Morven’s Head Horticulturist, Louise Senior, was tagging butterflies that day!

butterfly tanksLouise brought out a trio of tanks and monarchs in their various forms to lecture about life cycles and butterfly science. Then she tagged and released monarchs to the skies!

monarch caterpillarpupaehatched butterflies


AND FINALLY…

We did have ONE MORE event activity that day. In the book, Mary unearths the garden key that was buried by a grieving Archibald Craven. In the spirit of her life-changing discovery, we designed a key hunt. We hot glued 6 vintage keys to craft sticks and staked them throughout the garden grounds.

hidden keyEach key was assigned a rainbow color so kids would know when they found all 6. Once they reported their success at key hunt HQ, they were rewarded with a vintage mini key of their choice (and yes, we are STILL reusing those mini keys we bought bulk for this Sherlock Holmes escape room!). We had string handy, in case kids wanted to wear their keys home as necklaces.

The hidden key activity was not only related to the book, it was a great way to simple get out and explore the gardens, high and low, near and far…

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It was a glorious day, and we would like to sincerely thank Morven Museum & Gardens for opening their home to us. Their staff and volunteers were absolutely wonderful. A very special thanks to Curator of Education and Public Programs, Debra Lampert-Rudman, for being so enthusiastic, accommodating, and full of joy.

Bring on the Butterflies

butterflies in the parkBring your net and your sense of wonderment – there are butterflies in the park! We crafted a beautiful community garden, then waited for the butterflies to arrive. Swooping, diving, floating, and fluttering, how many butterflies can you catch for your own little garden?

We read Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay (Running Press, 2015). A little girl moves from the country to the city, trading the sounds of birds and crickets for horns and trains. Her new house is right next to Butterfly Park – except that there are no trees, no flowers, and no butterflies in the park. Well, there is one butterfly, but it flies away. Undaunted, the little girl knocks on doors, recruiting neighborhood children to find butterflies to live in the park. Eventually, their search leads them to an important clue – flowers! Soon, the whole neighborhood is in Butterfly Park, planning, digging, and planting. Not only do butterflies come to live at the park, the little girl realizes that she’s found a home too.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large tissue box
  • 1 golf pencil
  • Green pipe cleaners, sparkle stems, and/or drinking straws
  • A selection of tissue paper
  • A selection of crepe paper streamers
  • A flower coloring template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • Green color masking tape
  • Green construction paper
  • Butterfly catching game (more on this later!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

This story time project had three parts: 1) Making a little garden; 2) Putting all the little gardens together to make one big butterfly park; and 3) Catching butterflies in the park to take home in your little garden. We’ll begin with the little garden!

finished butterfly gardenWe used 9.5″ x 11″ cardboard trays rescued from the recycling bin. Flip the tray over and use a golf pencil to punch holes in the top (the golf pencils worked great with 3-5 year-olds and were much less scary than using scissors to poke holes).

butterfly garden step 1If you don’t have a tray, a large tissue box works too. Cut the top off the tissue box. Then, cut the entire box down to 2.5″. Flip it over, and use a golf pencil to punch holes in the top:

butterfly garden alt baseTo plant your garden, cut a pipe cleaner, sparkle stem, and/or drinking straw in half. Attach a flower to one end, then poke the other end through a hole in the box. Secure the stem to the underside of the box with tape (or leave them loose so you can “pick” them!).

butterfly garden step 2As you can see above, we offered tissue paper and baking cups for the flowers. You can also use the flowers from the template, and the kids can color them in. We brought out green construction paper grass fringes, green paper crinkles, and craft ties as well.

finished butterfly gardenWhen the decorating was done, the kids brought their little gardens to the BIG garden. The big garden consisted of a sign and 4 corner “hedges” we festooned with flowers. Kids placed their little gardens between the hedges, forming a perimeter in full bloom.

butterfly park

The hedges are recycled cardboard boxes. The sign is made of 3 recycled scroll boxes (2 as posts, one as the cross beam) and a piece of white cardboard. This garden is Marissa’s handiwork, right down to the beautiful hand-lettering on the sign. And check out her flower arranging skills!

The flowering garden is waiting, now for the butterflies! I found mine at Oriental Trading Company. Specifically, they’re from the the “Butterfly Hanging Door Curtain.” One curtain costs $6.50, and you get about 60 butterflies per curtain. The butterflies are sturdy tagboard, look realistic, and they’re printed double sided.

sample of butterfliesFour at a time, kids stepped into Butterfly Park wielding toy nets (I found mine in the $1 section of Target). Then Marissa and Joani strewed butterflies down upon them. Well, sometimes there was a little more dropping into nets than strewing…

marissa strews butterfliesOnce kids had caught some butterflies, they gently tucked them into their gardens to take home. Did they have fun? Yes they did! Some kids even stayed 20 minutes after story time ended, just to get in on some more butterfly catching fun!

in the butterfly park