By Barbra Williams Cosentino, R.N., C.S.W.

Running free!Summer in the Gardens


As Kermit the Frog could tell you, "It's not easy being green." But in New York City's four Botanical Gardens, green is the color of the day, a stunning tribute to the multi-hued palette of Mother Nature. Filled with lush verdant shrubbery, splashed with crimson, magenta and saffron, they are an oasis of calm and serenity in a city filled with concrete and noise. City youngsters can dig, plant and compost, and learn first- hand that lettuce and corn don't grow in plastic bags at the greengrocer down the block. Summertime activities at the four Botanical Gardens include structured, ongoing groups and classes, as well as a variety of natural science and environmental workshops. Call each for specific dates, times and costs.

Queens Botanical Garden Perhaps best known for its photogenic wedding garden, the Queens Botanical Garden (43-50 Main Street, Flushing; 718-886-3800), whose mission is "to be the botanical garden noted for the presentation of plants as unique expressions of cultural traditions", serves over 320,000 visitors every year. Their Children's Garden, open since the early 1950s, provides a place for budding gardeners age 4-14 to plant, maintain and harvest their own vegetables, herbs and flowers; design butterfly, rock and herb gardens; study insects; and participate in workshops and craft activities led by Children's Garden coordinator Marie Comiskey. Their summer session, beginning July 7, offers ongoing small groups which meet twice weekly, 9:30am-noon. Other summer activities include For the Birds! (Saturday, June 20); Caterpillar to Butterfly (Saturday, June 27); and a special Founders Day Celebration on June 7, which will have children's activities, music, and a cake-cutting ceremony to commemorate the Garden's 50 years of service to the Queens community.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden More than 20,000 Brooklyn youngsters have gardened in their borough's historic Children's Garden since its opening in 1914. Thousands more have enjoyed the many other features of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, including the Discovery Garden with its Nature Trail and Bamboo Forest (specially geared for 3- to 6-year-olds); the Amazing Plants! Exhibit; and the brightly-colored Plant Discovery Carts chock-full of games, puzzles, art supplies, live plants and natural objects. Located at 1000 Washington Avenue, (718- 622-4433), the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a number of summer programs for children and families. Their Kindergardeners program for five- and six-year-olds lets the littlest nature lovers dig, plant, gather herbs and flowers and "watch for creepy-crawly critters." City Farmers, for ages 7-12, gives kids the special experience of growing from seed food and flowers for the family table, while also enjoying crafts activities, storytelling and science programs. Summer Science Adventures, for ages 8-10, explores theme-related topics such as city wildlife and natural crafts of Native American Indians, while also incorporating art and other hands-on activities. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden also has a number of weekday and Sunday afternoon drop-in discovery activities for children, parents and caregivers, including sessions devoted to exploring the birds, fish, turtles and insects found throughout the gardens. Special events include a Tropical Festival on August 8-9 and a Harvest Fair on Saturday, September 12.

The New York Botanical Garden Located at 200th Street and Kazimiroff Boulevard in the Bronx (718-817-8700), the New York Botanical Garden has made headlines recently with its opening last month of the Everett Children's Adventure Garden, an eight-acre indoor/outdoor interactive museum devoted to hands-on exploration of plants, science and the natural world. Gregory Long, president, says, "In a city where nature may not be obvious to a child's eyes, the Everett Children's Garden puts the marvels of our environment at children's fingertips Ñ and under their fingernails." Highlights include The Discovery Plaza, inhabited by huge ladybug, caterpillar and frog topiaries; and the William and Lynda Steere Plant Discovery Center with a variety of innovative, hands-on participatory exhibits. Four outdoor landscapes, including the Vincent Astor Foundation Sun, Dirt and Water Gallery, are full of playful activity centers where youngsters can use hand puppets to pollinate giant flowers, or look through a giant bee's head for "A Bee's Eye View". At the Con Edison Pond Gallery, kids can pretend to be aquatic animals that live in and around a pond foraging for food, and can assemble a huge bird's nest. On their way out of the gallery, they can reach into the Plant Touch Tank and examine plants that keep bobbing to the surface in spite of many tiny fingers trying to push them under the water. Children can register for summer programs such as Garden Sprouts (ages 3-5) and Garden Crafters (ages 5- 16), in which they are given the opportunity to tend their own garden plots filled with flowers and vegetables. Family Garden Adventures offer a chance to harvest summer gardens, explore life in the pond and meadow, and view the diversity of plants grown in international gardens. Bird walks, butterfly tours, and guided Garden and Forest Tours are offered on a regular basis, as are child-friendly audiotours of the "A World of Plants" exhibit at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

Staten Island Botanical Garden The Staten Island Botanical Garden, on the grounds of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Livingston, hosts Ice Cream Sunday, June 7 from 1-4pm. The festival, with a 1950s theme, features crafts, workshops, tours, food and performances. Admission is $5 for children, $3 for adults. The Botanical Garden is constructing the United States' first and only "Chinese Scholar's Garden". Visitors are invited to view the work in progress, which includes a model of the garden, projected to open in 1999. Special tours and meetings with visiting artisans from China will be held July 12 and August 15, from 1-4pm. For Father's Day, Suzhou Sunday: Dim Sum and Daddy, learn how to write your name in calligraphy and watch a cooking demonstration. Suzhou Sunday: Landscapes & Lo Mein, July 19, is a painting and cooking demonstration and hands-on workshop. Suzhou Sunday: Wok & Roll to Chinese Music, August 16, offers Chinese music and a cooking demonstration. These workshops, held from 1-4pm, cost $3 per child; reservations are recommended. This summer, a three-part series with a professional equestrian teaches children the fundamentals of owning and caring for a horse or pony. Sessions are $15 each; reservations are required. Call (718) 273-8200, ext. 25 to make a reservation.