Children’s Garden


Since 1914, children have been growing flowers, vegetables, and herbs and learning firsthand about the natural world in Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Children’s Garden. With a focus on greening the urban environment through education, sustainable practices, and stewardship, BBG encourages young people to be participants, not just spectators, in community horticulture and conservation. Here, children aged 2 to 17 can plant their own crops and flowers and harvest them under the guidance of garden instructors. Younger children, called KinderGardeners, combine planting, tending, and harvesting with craftmaking and creative play. For older children, lessons in science and urban ecology accompany the gardening, and teenagers who successfully complete the program can go on to become Junior Instructors. Over a thousand youngsters now garden in the Children's Garden every year.

Winter 2015

Registration for winter classes begins Monday, December 1 at 9 a.m.

Harvest in the winter? Yes, you can at BBG! Come to our winter gardening sessions to pick vegetables growing under row covers; spend time exploring plants and animals outdoors; and sample other climates of the world in our greenhouses. Cooking, arts and crafts, nature study, and other age-appropriate activities round out the Children’s Garden winter experience. Be sure to wear cold-weather gear—our gardeners spend time exploring and working outdoors nearly every week!

How to Register

Select from the sections linked below to see class descriptions and fees. Be sure to note age requirements and other qualifications.

Registrations are processed on a first-come, first-served basis in the order that payment is received; note that Children's Garden classes fill quickly.

Scholarships

A limited number of need-based scholarships are available for Children's Garden participants, distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, please contact
Registration at 718-623-7220 or registration@bbg.org.

Trees and Saplings

Trees & Saplings

For 2- and 3-Year-Olds with a Caregiver

Learn about the wonders of winter gardening with your child during this active, hands-on program. Our youngest gardeners work with their adult partner to go on scavenger hunts, harvest in the Garden, sing songs, taste new foods, and create nature crafts.

Consistent attendance of one adult per child is required. Pricing includes one adult and one child. No infants or older siblings, please.

View Trees & Saplings FAQ

See Upcoming Classes

Seeds

Seeds

For students in pre-k or kindergarten (4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds)

Seeds settle in for winter fun with the cozy Children’s Garden House as their home base. Garden time, cooking, exploring the wonderful outdoors, crafting, and hunting in our greenhouses are some of the fun activities that Seeds can look forward to this winter.

This is a drop-off program.

See Upcoming Classes

City Farmers

City Farmers

For students in 1st through 8th grades

City Farmers gear up for winter adventures each week at BBG. Digging out radishes, starting seeds in the greenhouses, and other indoor and outdoor garden tasks need to be accomplished through the season. Crafting, cooking, scavenger hunts, and other hands-on activities round out the City Farmers program each week.

See Upcoming Classes

In 1913 a strong-minded, high-principled young schoolteacher named Ellen Eddy Shaw arrived at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. What she was about to do seems, even today, nothing short of extraordinary.

"When I came to Brooklyn, I hoped that all the children might have gardens," she explained in a radio broadcast in 1938. One of the first things she did was to ask teachers in two very poor sections of the city to distribute seeds to their students.

One morning, she received a card with the message, "Come and see my garden—Patsy," mailed from Myrtle Avenue, then one of Brooklyn's poorest neighborhoods. That hot August day she set out to see Patsy's garden.

Here, in Miss Shaw's own words, is what ensued when she arrived at the Myrtle Avenue address:

"Sitting on the doorstep was a little redheaded, freckle-faced boy, who sprang up and said, 'Have you come to see my garden?'

"'You are Patsy,' I said. He then took me through a long, dark hall down into the cellar and up into the city backyard. The windows of the tenement houses looked down upon it; the ground was hard-baked. I saw no garden. Turning to Patsy, I said, 'Where is your garden?'

"'Over there,' he said, pointing to one corner of the yard, in which, as we approached, we found one bean plant growing.

"A red head poked out from a fourth-story window and a voice said, 'Ain't it fine?' (That was Patsy's mother.) 'And he had a bane on it.'

"'Oh,' I said, 'did he have a bean?' Just imagine that bit of a dwarf bean with one string bean probably about the size of your finger, his own crop.

"Then she continued, saying, 'And I bought a quart to go with it. I cooked them, and he ate his own bane.' 'Oh,' I said, 'but how did he know his own bean?'

"'I tied a string through it,' she said.

"Imagine that family sitting around the table on a hot summer day, fishing around in a dish of beans to find one little bean with a string through it. So typical of a mother to take the small endeavor of a little son and change it into something glorious."

Ellen Eddy Shaw went on to establish the Children's Garden at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Today in this garden, named "Miss Shaw's Garden" after its founder, young hands scratch the ground, just as Patsy did many years ago, and discover, just as he did, the mystery of life that springs from the soil.

When Miss Shaw created the Children's Garden program in 1914, our nation was in the throes of a profound transition from a rural to an industrial society. She perceived the program as "a living opportunity for a child to learn lessons of nurture and observe how nature looks out for herself."

Just three years after the fledging botanic garden opened its gates, the 1914 Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, which detailed annually the affairs of the institution noted: "On May second was started the outdoor work for children at the Garden. One hundred and eighty applied for gardens and 150 received them, leaving a waiting list of 30 names...The individual garden beds, 5 x 7 feet in size, are planted to vegetables, including beans, kohlrabi, onion seed, onion sets, carrots, beets, radishes, and lettuce. Flower beds were planted by the children about the boundaries of these sections. Then there are some larger sections planted to grains, peanuts, melons, corn, and other things unsuited to planting in small areas."

The once-revolutionary idea that a scientific institution could provide hands-on education for children has become an integral—and much imitated—part of Brooklyn Botanic Garden's mission. Nearly a century after the establishment of the Children's Garden, its goals and ideals, as they were conceived in the early years of the 20th century, are once again being embraced by educators and environmentalists alike.

Budding Philanthropists

Generosity was a cornerstone of the educational philosophy of Miss Shaw's Children's Garden. Under her guidance, the Boys and Girls Club, the Saturday-morning extracurricular component of the program, became a generous, if modest, foundation, dispensing gifts to a multitude of causes.

Modest gifts were dispensed yearly to an assortment of institutions chosen by the boys and girls. The groups most often selected offered care to animals and indigent children.

For several years after World War I, the club provided support for a young boy in France whose father had been killed in the war. A 1918 BBG Record notes that $36.50 was given for the support of the French boy—a sizeable sum for the times. One former member of the Children's Garden, identified in the 1926 Record as "Private Maurice Campbell, the only member of this club who went to war," brought back a German officer's helmet. That helmet served as a receptacle for the collection of pennies for the French war "orphan."

The French boy's letters of thanks to his benefactors—Brooklyn Botanic Garden's young gardeners—as well as his mother's letter, are preserved to this day in the Garden's archives.

The Ellen Eddy Shaw Years

One of Ellen Eddy Shaw's major strokes of genius was what she later came to call "our pattern." Each child, however young, was to plan, plant, tend, and harvest his or her own vegetables in a garden plot with a partner. In addition, each child was expected to help with common areas—the flower borders and beds of melon, corn, and other large-area crops. In the early decades, teenagers were also expected to work elsewhere in the Garden. Those who were especially eager and qualified were encouraged to do serious research as well.

In 1920, Miss Shaw faced a mini-crisis: an expanding number of eager young gardeners but no new staff. In a report dated that year, she wrote that 320 children were selected to garden for six months—boys and girls who "must have lessons and must be cared for. How was this to work out? Our trained help was too few in number."

Far from stumping her, this problem inspired her to be more creative. There were among the children, she noted, some 30 boys and girls who had been at the garden for three to five years. She put these children to work counseling the younger ones—giving rise to another BBG tradition, one that endures to this day. "So each one was presented with a given amount of children, according to his talents, and each was responsible for these young children," Miss Shaw continued in her report, "not only in garden work, but in garden behavior, because one of the most valuable lessons taught in the garden is that of the right attitude toward our Children's Garden and the Botanic Garden as an institution and toward life in general...It was amazing to see the amount of real, good work done by these boys and girls approximately 15 years of age. They taught the children with great pains, and perhaps with more labor than a grown person would have given to the individual, and the children responded with perhaps greater delight to these youthful teachers than they would have to the trained teachers."

To encourage serious work and commitment, Miss Shaw invented an elaborate system of incentives—ribbons, buttons, badges, pins, and cups. This inspired plan was established in 1918 with funding from the philanthropist Alfred T. White. Bronze medals were awarded annually to boys and girls who completed a program of satisfactory service in the Children's Garden, including "extra work," which could entail anything from helping to maintain the Children's Garden to packaging seeds for distribution at schools. Silver medals, much more highly prized, distinguished those who had done some outstanding piece of scholarship or original research.

To extend the Garden's influence to children throughout Brooklyn, a similar system was initiated with the public and private schools. Schools groups were invited to display at the garden the fruits of their labor. Dozens of prizes were given each September to schools and individual students in such categories as the best flower display and the best and the biggest specimens of many vegetables. In addition, Miss Shaw personally brought the gardening message to city schools by lecturing many times per year before auditorium assemblies; former staff members fondly recall the sight of her clapping on one of her trademark hats before rushing off to this school or that.

Dr. Gordon Kaye, whose experience with BBG's Children's Garden began in 1941 at the age of six, remembered Miss Shaw as a stern but loving disciplinarian. At the end of an intense lecture on his less than satisfactory behavior, Miss Shaw promptly handed young Gordon a volume on wildflowers to peruse. It was a volume that, he claimed, "is still in my bookcase today." It was her way, he believes, of demonstrating that behind her reprimanding words was a great deal of affection.

In spite of her exacting standards ("two beans every six inches, eyes down"; "with edges straight and firm, three inches higher than the paths"), Miss Shaw was fondly remembered by all. Her staff benefited from her sense of humor, judging from the telegram sent to her when she sailed for Europe on April Fool's Day, 1931, her 57th birthday:

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MAKE YOUR JOY COMPLETE THE DEPARTMENT HEREBY RESIGNS CHEERFULLY UNANIMOUSLY AND UNOFFICIALLY..."

Surely Miss Shaw enjoyed a good laugh.

The Frances M. Miner Years

Ellen Eddy Shaw had the foresight to hire in 1930 another selfless, dedicated young woman, equally eager to preserve the BBG Children's Garden program. The two worked together until 1945, when Miss Shaw passed the mantle to her younger colleague, Frances M. Miner, who nurtured the program until her own retirement in 1973.

Miss Miner, always clear about why she came to work at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, wrote in a BBG annual report in the early 1970s, "In my first course in botany in my freshman year at college, Dr. William Ganong was the lecturer. There I first heard about the Children's Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and I have a note in my notebook that that was something that I would like to do...Seven years later I was in Brooklyn, hating the city, never guessing that I might spend my professional lifetime there. However, I have survived."

Excelled would be more precise. She was by all accounts incredibly well organized and kept detailed records. Even the Garden's bookkeeper singled her out, lamenting that the rest of the staff, trained mostly in botany or horticulture, was often "not business minded, which made things a little difficult sometimes." But the bookkeeper said that she never questioned any reports Miss Miner did, "for I could always count on their accuracy."

Miss Miner was perceived as "everybody's dream boss." Many on her staff commented that she never asked anyone to do anything she wouldn't do and, in fact, hadn't done herself. She taught by example, without a lot of department meetings, stressing a simple way of communicating. She was notorious for "her subway notes," jotted down during train rides to and from her home on 116th Street in upper Manhattan; invariably, she arrived at BBG the next day with small sheets of paper, messages written in her large, firm hand, addressed to "DW," "AB," "LB," "ES," "UB" (or whoever was on staff at the time) and signed "FMM."

While Miss Shaw was described as "a little reserved," Miss Miner was remembered by Gordon Kaye as being "on her hands and knees in the garden." Sim Gluckson, a former child gardener who became a Brooklyn Botanic Garden trustee, recalled, "Miss Miner was always ready to help with any of our problems and give words of encouragement." She did indeed always go that extra mile. Ira Schieren, a medical researcher with Columbia University, began gardening at age eight and a decade later became a junior instructor. At the time, Miss Miner, aware of Ira's interest in biology, gave her young instructor time off from his tasks with the children to work with BBG's plant pathologist once a week.

Ever modest, Miss Miner credited Ellen Eddy Shaw with the extraordinary success of children's gardening in Brooklyn. Upon her retirement, in response to questions about her philosophy of education, Miss Miner wrote in a BBG annual report, "I've been so privileged to work with the unique facilities of the Brooklyn Garden that I am never certain which thoughts and theories are truly my own." About her philosophy, she continued, "There are plants and there are people, and there are many ways they can be brought together. The scientist studies plants in the laboratory, the environmentalist thinks of plants in the wild. For the average citizen in the city and for children everywhere, firsthand experiences with reliable cultivated plants are usually the best starting point. I believe that students, especially beginners in this adventure, should be participants rather than spectators."

And participants they were—and still are. All labor—apart from laying out the fields and measuring, all which had to be completed before Planting Day—was done by the children. Daphne Welch Drury, who joined the Children's Garden staff in 1959, remaining until 1976 when she herself managed the department, recalled the times that tomato stakes needed painting. Miss Miner put cans of green paint and brushes in the hands of the children. It was messy and everybody went home green, but "she knew if children painted the stakes, they would take better care of them."

In addition to tending their own plots, the children pruned bordering roses, Euonymus, and Pyracantha—all under the watchful eyes of instructors. In a 1964 article about the Children's Garden for the British Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, Miss Miner wrote, "Woven unobtrusively but firmly into this training is training of another sort—learning to get along with people, to respect the rights and property of others, to assume responsibility for jobs that must be done, and to give one's self through services to the Botanic Garden."

Like her predecessor, Miss Miner was a popular writer and lecturer. She, too, enjoyed the often-humorous foibles of young gardeners. In a BBG handbook published in the summer of 1950, she recounted, "One young gardener was quite disturbed when his tomatoes failed to produce fruit. The plants were healthy but lacked tomatoes until the day an instructor saw Johnny picking off the blossoms...Why? Because he wanted tomatoes on his plants and 'not these old yellow flowers.' Johnny learned the hard way that a blossom is necessary to fruit production and that fruits lead to seed, which in turn lead to new plants and more flowers. Johnny took home more than tomatoes." In 1959, Miss Miner wrote a 95-page book for children, titled The Adventure of Growing Plants, bringing the message of the Children's Garden to youngsters and their parents far beyond the gates of Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

She was also a pioneer environmentalist. Lucy Tolmach, director of horticulture at Filoli Gardens in California and who was a summer instructor in the Children's Garden in the early 1970s, recalled that the new college graduates "would fuss when she stubbornly refused to let them use herbicides and pesticides in the garden."

In recognition of her achievements, Smith College, Miss Miner's alma mater, presented her with its prestigious Smith College Medal in 1964. Her staff immediately rose to the occasion, rallying around a woman they held in high esteem by composing the following poem:

F is for Frances, the famous
R for the rank she has gained
A's admiration—don't blame us
N for the notice attained.
C is her conquering knowledge
E for excitement and fun
S for discerning Smith College
M for the medal she won
I is her interest and insight
N for the nothing she fears
E is for eminent Frances
R is our rahs and our cheers.

The Children's Garden Today

The philosophy of Miss Shaw endures in the Children's Garden today. Children continue to garden in pairs on plots of land that they nurture themselves—that they essentially "own" for their time in the program. Now as then, they learn about botany, plant families, and seed germination, how to identify weeds and insects, press flowers, and create herbarium specimens. Now as then, older children play vital roles in teaching younger ones. And the seasonal rituals so important in the continuum of tradition—the Planting Day Parade that starts the season and the harvest celebration that completes it—take place just as they did at the inception of the program.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Children's Garden, the first ever established in a botanic garden and the oldest continuously operating in the world, is still one of the largest such programs in the nation. Over a thousand youngsters now garden in the Children's Garden every year.

In the spirit of the tradition established by Ellen Eddy Shaw and Frances M. Miner, the program was expanded some years ago to include even younger children—those from three to six years old. Called KinderGardeners, they combine planting, tending, and harvesting with craftmaking and creative play.

School groups continue to come to the garden. Seventh graders from a nearby junior high school learn math as they lay out gardening plots, which are tended by students from neighboring St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf.

Just as there is an enduring tradition fusing years and decades, there is a seasonal continuum in the garden. Each season, children nurture and harvest some of what they plant as well as something planted the season before. Tomatoes and peppers, planted in spring, produce for the summer gardeners. Summer's seeding of cool-season greens is harvested in autumn. The garlic that fall gardeners plant is harvested by a new crop of youngsters in the spring.

And there is still a feeling of "a family of kids coming together to take care of the garden," in the words of Ted Maclin, former manager of the Children's Garden. "It's all about empowering kids—and about their developing a love of plants and a love of the natural world."

Jenine Osbon

Jenine Osbon

 

Jenine Osbon, the coordinator of the Children’s Garden, began her career as a history teacher in a Brooklyn high school but soon realized her true passion lay in connecting youth to the natural world. After working as an environmental educator at Grow NYC and Prospect Park Audubon Center, she happily landed at BBG as a senior instructor for Project Green Reach. Now that she is the coordinator of the Children’s Garden, Jenine gets to work outdoors with kids from the age of 2 all the way up to the 18-year-olds in the Garden Apprentice Program all year long.  There is nothing she enjoys more than growing, baking, and eating chocolate-chip zucchini bread in the summertime with all the many participants in the Children’s Garden.


Children's Garden 1928
Children's Garden 1928. 3 boys cultivating, Mrs. Bartlet in charge. ©1928 Louis Buhle. All rights reserved. For reproduction permission, contact library@bbg.org. To see more historic images of BBG, visit bbg.org/discover/historicimages/
Dave Daly
Children's Garden Coordinator Dave Daly with ladybugs that will be released in the Children's Garden.
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    • The Children's Garden in August. Photo by Antonio M. Rosario.The Children's Garden in August. Photo by Antonio M. Rosario.
    • The Children's Garden.The Children's Garden.
    • Photo by Dave AllenPhoto by Dave Allen
    • Photo by Dave AllenPhoto by Dave Allen
    • The Children's Garden. Photo by Rebecca Bullene.The Children's Garden. Photo by Rebecca Bullene.
    • The Children's Garden. Photo by Rebecca Bullene.The Children's Garden. Photo by Rebecca Bullene.
    • The Children's GardenThe Children's Garden
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      • The center of a gorgeous sun flower (Helianthus annuus) in the Children's Garden. Photo by Rebecca Bullene.The center of a gorgeous sun flower (Helianthus annuus) in the Children's Garden. Photo by Rebecca Bullene.
      • Colorful nasturtiums are blooming in the Children's Garden. Photo by Rebecca Bullene.Colorful nasturtiums are blooming in the Children's Garden. Photo by Rebecca Bullene.
      • Photo by Dave AllenPhoto by Dave Allen
      • Photo by Dave AllenPhoto by Dave Allen
      • Photo by Dave AllenPhoto by Dave Allen
      • Photo by Dave AllenPhoto by Dave Allen
      • Photo by Dave AllenPhoto by Dave Allen
      • Raspberries ripen in the Children's Garden.Raspberries ripen in the Children's Garden.
      • Tomatillo in the Children's Garden.Tomatillo in the Children's Garden.
      • Broccoli grows in the Children's Garden.Broccoli grows in the Children's Garden.
      • Swiss chard in the Children's Garden. Photo by Alexandra Muller.Swiss chard in the Children's Garden. Photo by Alexandra Muller.
      • Squash in the Children's Garden. Photo by Alexandra Muller.Squash in the Children's Garden. Photo by Alexandra Muller.
      • Broccoli in the Children's Garden. Photo by Alexandra Muller.Broccoli in the Children's Garden. Photo by Alexandra Muller.
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