As a fresh blanket of snow whitewashed the grounds surrounding the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens on Monday, dozens of children inside were getting their hands dirty, as only children can.
They potted seeds, ground wheatberries to make dough, strung toasted oat cereal onto pipe cleaners to use as birdfeeders and created artwork by dipping “stamps” of apple wedges, potatoes and stalks of broccoli into paint.
That’s the point of the Weg- mans Family Garden, which celebrated its grand opening inside an 800-square-foot greenhouse adjacent to the outdoor children’s garden. The indoor, hands-on learning garden grew out of a $45,000 grant from the Rochester supermarket chain that was supplemented by another $1,000 donated by employees.
Saturday mornings, the garden will host nutrition- and food-themed programs for kids ages 4 to 10.
“You get to the root of where their food comes from,” said Theresa Jackson, consumer affairs manager for Wegmans’ Buffalo Division. “Our hope is that will translate into making healthy choices in their daily life.”
Though the diminutive scale of the activity stations was designed with children in mind, the folks at the botanical gardens hope it will become a popular family attraction.
“We wanted it to be for all people – all families,” said Lynn Wieser, director of education.
The transformation of the space occurred over a period of several months last year.
“It was a growing house, filled with benches where we would be growing all sorts of plants for various shows,” said David J. Swarts, president and chief executive officer of the botanical gardens. “We cleaned it all out.”
The electrical system and flooring were redone. Custom covers were fabricated for the heating units to make them child-friendly.
A test run in late December revealed that more manpower would be helpful, Wieser said
“We were surprised at how many families would just come in here and make it their day,” said Wieser.
Features also include a sandbox, a coloring station, a small fountain surrounded by water-loving plants, planting beds for herbs and vegetables, and an old-fashioned water pump where kids can fill a bucket to water plants. Plus, there’s a sink for the young gardeners to wash their hands.
“We are so fortunate to have so many volunteers that can help out,” Swarts said.
Over at a potting bench, Megan Tresco of Williamsville coached her 3½-year-old son, A.J., as he placed potting soil and seeds into a tiny terra cotta pot, then added a splash from a watering can.
“This is wonderful. Now it will get us here more often,” said Tresco, who was chaperoning a group that included not only her children but some from her neighborhood.
Nearby, 3-year-old Megan Cirbus, of Lackawanna, held a purple plastic pail beneath the spigot of the water pump as another youngster worked the handle.
“We’re used to going to the outside children’s garden,” said Megan’s mother, Cindy Cirbus. “It’s nice to have something to come to in the wintertime.”
The Wegmans Family Garden will be open year-round, providing an indoor alternative to the outdoor children’s garden, which is open from late May until October. For more information on Saturday programs and admission fees, visit www.buffalogardens.com.