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Buzz! The Nature Play Garden takes wing

Heavy as velvet, a bumblebee bounces over yellow coneflower petals. Next door a golden honeybee dives headfirst into a red salvia blossom to sip. And across the pathway, a hummingbird zips and chitters.

The Nature Play Garden at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium might not be ready for human guests yet, but it’s buzzing – literally – with plenty of other keen visitors.

Visitors with wings, that is.

“We’ve been adding plants constantly since spring,” says Bryon Jones, Zoo horticulturalist. “They’re maturing nicely and already attracting a ton of pollinators. And there’s much more to come.”

Little Explorers Nature Play Garden.
Little Explorers Nature Play Garden.

Designed for Nature

Which is good news for pollinators and people alike. The Nature Play Garden, presented by TAPCO Credit Union and recently created near the lower café plaza, was designed to be a fun, creative intersection between kids and nature. Sculpted into softly mounding berms and pathways that curve invitingly into play circles, the garden is shaped organically, all rounded edges. Big rocks invite sitting, secluded corners offer quiet play spots and mulched pathways encourage wandering discovery (while allowing grown-ups to survey the entire space for safety).

Down one end is a semi-circular flat “stage”, sheltered by a wooden awning complete with twisty branch supports; when the garden opens it will set the scene for imagination as keepers offer close encounters with small animals and insects. Outside of presentation times, it will hold props and costumes for spontaneous nature play.

Up the other end are three metal planters, the beginning of a sensory garden that will eventually inspire kids and their grownups to share their own home yard with pollinators.

Also coming over the next few months: nature play elements like stumps for hopping and logs for climbing and sitting to encourage curiosity, exploration and discovery.

A Sensory Feast

Right now, the garden teems with visual delights, from the bright gold of sunflowers to the dusky blue of lavender and sage, with dottings of pink, violet, scarlet and vermillion. Torch lilies tower over delicate asters. But it’s also designed to stimulate other senses. Fuzzy yarrow and spiky aloe rub shoulders with stiff grasses and soft leaves. Seedpods rattle, bees hum. Scents drift along pathways, from smoky sage to sweet mint. And you can almost taste the sun-warmed lavender.

Little Explorers Nature Play Garden.

Until the Nature Play Garden is fully built out in 2022, curious human guests must stay on the café plaza side of the rustic wooden fence. But those with wings can roam freely – butterflies, birds, bees and countless other insects, all delighting in this nature garden built for them as well.

“We designed this garden deliberately to encourage everyone to play in and with nature,” says Wendy Spaulding, conservation education curator. “We’re very grateful for the support of TAPCO Credit Union to help us do this. With kids, adults, plants and pollinators all co-existing in the same space, we can connect deeply to nature and realize how essential it is for our well-being. And have fun, too!”

Read more about the Nature Play Garden here.