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.

Sneak Peek: The Secret Garden

champagne glass butterfly feederTomorrow, our library is kicking off the programming year with a Secret Garden event at Morven Museum & Garden. Today, we have a sneak peek at one of the hands-on projects, a champagne glass butterfly feeder!

This project is based on the one designed by Leslie Garisto Pfaff for FamilyFun magazine. Leslie mounted her feeder on a 4-foot garden stake using a bit of vinyl tubing. We simplified ours down to a “tabletop” version.

You’ll need:

  • 1 plastic champagne glass
  • 1 plastic pot scrubber
  • Craft foam
  • Scissors for construction
  • 1 batch of homemade butterfly nectar (recipe below)

Cut leaf and flower shapes from craft foam. Cut slits in the centers, then slide the foam shapes up the stem of a plastic champagne glass. Pop a plastic pot scrubber in the top, and you’re done:

side view of champagne glass butterfly feederTo make the homemade butterfly nectar, mix 9 teaspoons of water with 1 teaspoon of white sugar. Pop it in the microwave for about 45 seconds. Pour the nectar on top of the pot scrubber…your butterfly buffet is ready!

If you’d like to send kids home with a print out of this recipe, you’ll find that template here.

Beautiful Butterfly Surprise

beautiful butterfliesJust a quick, clever little flip…and your giant leaf reveals a gorgeous butterfly mobile!

We read Wild Baby by Cori Doerrfeld (Harper, 2019). Mama is slowly waking, but wild baby orangutan is ready for an adventure – with or without her! As mama tries to keep up, wild baby doesn’t quite realize the trouble he’s causing…or the danger he’s in! When mama finally does catch up, baby gets a big scolding. But then he reveals a beautiful present for her, resulting a heartfelt hug.

You’ll need:

At the end of the book, it’s revealed that wild baby has been collecting butterflies to give as a present to Mama. She opens a big leaf and they fly into the sky. We definitely wanted to capture that surprise with our project!

Begin by cutting a leaf from green poster board. Then fold it in half, lengthwise. Note: the leaf has to be fairly large to hold and shelter all the butterflies. Our finished leaf was 16″ long, and 11″ wide.

big green leafNext, knot 4 pieces of clear elastic beading cord around a wooden dowel. The strings need to be fairly long (15″ or so) to allow the butterflies to dangle well below the edges of the leaf. Once all the strings are attached, hot glue the dowel along the spine of the leaf.

leaf with attached dowel Now your leaf needs a finger loop. Fold the leaf in half, then use a box cutter to make a small hole in its middle. Thread an 8″ piece of twisteez wire or pipe cleaner through the slit, then circle the wire to make the loop (you can also use markers to draw veins on the outside of the leaf like we did!).

finger loop on leafNow for the butterflies! Color and cut the butterflies from the template. The way I positioned the butterflies on the template allows you to fold them double sided. But you can also go single sided if you like! Arrange the butterflies on the elastic beading cord, then secure with tape.

attached butterfliesTo operate the mobile, tuck the butterflies into the leaf. Slide your finger in the loop, and, keeping the butterflies tucked, hold the leaf upwards. Find the person you’d like to surprise, then quickly flip the leaf upside down, releasing the surprise butterflies!


You can also simply hang the mobile from the finger loop, and enjoy the butterflies dancing in the breeze.