Feature Article - November 2005
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Destination: Landscape

Nurturing visitor interest through creative park design

By Kelli Anderson

Native landscapes offer color that's more organic—they're more interesting and give a sense of place. Landscapes tell you where you are. That's what draws people in. In New Orleans you don't want to see petunias but oaks. In the Midwest you want to see prairie grasses.

Peggy Pelkonen,     
Morton Arboretum     

Into the woods

Explorers at heart, creative landscapes can bring out the Magellan in all of us, and what better to capitalize on that than the creation of specialty gardens—mazes, children's gardens and idea gardens, to name a few.

Park districts, like the one overseeing Mill Creek Metro Park in Canfield, Ohio, create seasonal corn mazes as part of their fall activities, which draw in the district's school children and local families. Celebrating a farming heritage, these park districts pull out all the stops with hayrides, bonfires and mazes, which, although very simple in their design, are enough to entice the youngest explorers and still challenge the older ones.

Children's gardens, too, demonstrate the powerful draw of interactive elements: winding bamboo-fashioned tunnels shrouded with thick vines; giant bugs and fanciful fairies formed out of mossy topiaries; and irresistible water tables, streams and gurgling fountains. Children's gardens are the embodiment of all things interactive with their emphasis on exploring, touching, smelling and listening.

And topiary fairies aren't just for the young but also the young at heart. Idea gardens can attract the would-be-gardener as well as the garden veteran. Idea gardens can be fun and impressive showcases of everything from container gardening and herb and vegetable gardening to rose gardens. Demonstrations of techniques and workshops make these displays not just beautiful to look at but practical as well. In a time when gardening enthusiasts are on the rise, these attractions have gone from green-thumbed-fringe to mainstream.

Many established facilities are seeing the benefits of incorporating landscaping elements that invite exploration. Last year's tree house display at Morton Arboretum is

just one example of a shift in landscape ideas from passive to interactive.

"We are moving more in that direction," Pelkonen says. "We are becoming very interactive and have seen that projects like the tree houses helped get people out of the main areas and into the woods."