Children's garden blooms at Georgeson Botanical Garden
By Doreen Fitzgerald, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences
Children visiting UAF's Georgeson Botanical Garden will soon have a secret garden, child-sized log cabin, fountain for splashing and a tree house to explore, thanks to the generosity of Fairbanks dentist Walter Babula.
Decades ago Babula, an only child, was put to work in his parents' garden in Pennsylvania. He found he liked it, and continued to garden as an adult. When he moved to Fairbanks to establish a practice in orthodontics, he built a garden at home and completed requirements to become a master gardener through UAF's Cooperative Extension Service. Babula and his wife, Marita, also created and help maintain a garden at the Denali Center long-term care facility in Fairbanks.
Last year the Babulas had another great garden idea - a children's garden at GBG, which they would fund. They met with GBG Director Pat Holloway and experiment farm staff members to discuss the possibility. "Because their enthusiasm for the project was great," Babula said, "we quickly worked out theme, timing and cost." As an orthodontist, Babula has treated Fairbanks children for 30 years. "We decided that we'd like to do something special for the kids and positive for the community," he said.
Babula hopes the children's garden will become a delightful mix of whimsy and learning opportunities, as shown in the map and legend. Construction began this spring and will continue over the next three growing seasons. UAF staff and volunteers will complete some of the projects, while others will be finished by contractors. The design of the stream, tree house and composting toilet facility was developed as a senior project by UAF engineering students.
A true multi-purpose facility
Inspiration for painters, test ground for manufactured lumber, source of natural dyes for local spinners and weavers, outdoor setting for weddings„all are ways people use and enjoy the botanical garden. The GBG, which grew through the dedication of university staff and a cadre of volunteers, hosts about 30,000 visitors a year. Working with university staff, another 300 people annually volunteer to plant, weed and otherwise maintain the garden, which is part of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station's Fairbanks Experiment Farm.
As part of ongoing projects, staff and volunteers at GBG also maintain plant specimens, conduct trials of vegetable and flower varieties, demonstrate growing techniques and conduct research on characteristics of native plants. Holloway was instrumental in creating the botanical garden in 1991 and oversees its development. In addition to serving as director of GBG, she is an associate professor of horticulture with the Department of Plant, Animal and Soil Science in the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.
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GBG photos by Doreen Fitzgerald