The Brookings Center itself isn’t new to the garden, having been through several iterations over the past 20 years (perhaps you remember the intimidating, life-size “sand people” dramatizing deforestation?). Thankfully, this latest renovation to the 4,300-square-foot space is incredibly more engaging, interactive and approachable for all ages. Stroll through Habitat Hall to learn about the many types of lands found in Missouri and biodiversity in St. Louis. Get ideas for your own backyard from a display of bird houses created by the Shaw Nature Reserve’s Habitat Helpers program, learn how to attract monarchs and other pollinators to your garden, and spot tons of busy ants hard at work inside a display. Pull up a stool in the Maker Space where garden educators are always available to help with a hands-on, nature-based project, such as decorating a clay pot for a “toad abode” or making nature masks or journals.
Wander over to the Root Zone to explore life underground. Plop on the surprisingly soft pile of stones (well, pillows) and peek inside one of the many wall cavities to find creatures burrowed inside, such as play snakes and plush spiders. A nearby Living Soil exhibit features worms, Missouri tarantulas, spiders and other crawlies on permanent display. (In case you are wondering, those colorful poison dart frogs that used to be live have found a new home in the permanent collections of the Saint Louis Zoo.)
A nook dubbed the Family Tree Area gives the feel of a forest hideaway and features an array of books, colored brick blocks and soft toys for pretend play and learning. Kids can get comfy on floor seats resembling tree sections while their caretakers relax on green leaf-shaped chairs. Yet another corner includes fun animal costumes for dress up and role play using televised green screen technology.
Step through the vestibule outside of the Brookings Exploration Center to find the new 1,100-square-foot PlantLab, a classroom greenhouse designed for experiential learning. Here visitors can explore plant propagation from seed, learn about the plants that provide our food, glimpse the work of garden botanists around the globe, get the dirt on soil, examine moss under a microscope and more. The PlantLab will often be utilized for the garden’s many youth and adult education classes (visit www.mobot.org/classes to enroll), but will be open to the public from 1 to 3 p.m. daily for you to explore.
In between the PlantLab and Brookings is a large vestibule area designed with visitor comfort in mind. Here you’ll find expanded barrier-free restrooms (meaning no heavy doors to struggle through with your double stroller or wheelchair), with child changing tables in both the women’s and men’s areas. There’s also a large family restroom and the much-needed Calming Corner, a cozy, closed room for families needing quiet time or for mothers to nurse.
The Missouri Botanical Garden is located in South City at 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, MO, 63110. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission to the Missouri Botanical Garden is $4 for St. Louis City and County residents and $8 for visitors from outside the area. All children ages 12 and under are free. There is no extra cost to visit the Brookings Exploration Center, although there is an additional child’s admission if you want to visit the nearby Doris I. Schnuck Children’s Garden. Special admission rates are charged during some signature events, so be sure to check the Garden’s event calendar at www.mobot.org/events before you go, or call 800-642-8842.
Karen Hill is a Florissant native who spent over a decade in communications at the Missouri Botanical Garden. She's currently a SAHM to three young children (yes, that includes twins) and resides with her family in Kirkwood.
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