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by Joe Lugara


New Yorkers are lucky during winter to have as many cars, buses and pedestrians as they do to consume snowstorms in quick time. But they're also fortunate to have open spaces like Central Park and The New York Botanical Garden, where the after-effects of a snowfall are allowed to linger for a while. Nothing makes for a greater appreciation of spring than a gradual, natural thaw. Up in the Bronx, as the last traces of winter are trickling slowly down the rock outcroppings and hills at The New York Botanical Garden, its Everett Children's Adventure Garden, like the rest of the 250-acre facility, is starting to see more visitors. Now in its fourth season, the 12-acre garden is a one-of-a-kind indoor/outdoor exploration area containing educational galleries, a greenhouse, mazes, and a wetland trail, among other features, that bring nature's beauty and the science behind it all to young visitors. Despite a tough winter in which every inch of the melted white stuff has been replaced with three inches of fresh snow, the Everett remained open and lively, especially within the walls of the William and Lynda Steere Discovery Center. The Steere actually houses two different learning centers: The Texaco Kids Lab and the Bendheim Kids Herbarium, along with the Bendheim Teacher Center. The herbarium (where collections of dried plants are classified and mounted for botanical study) conducts its business, for the most part, alphabetically. Every two weeks, beginning the first week of January, "explainers" in the herbarium's "Budding Botanists" program (students from nearby Fordham University) lead kids ages 2-5 through nature's alphabet: "A" for ants, asters, asparagus and apples; "B" for butterflies and birches; and so forth. Kids can scoop dirt and plant their own daffodils, or scrutinize leaves (laminated onto slides) through microscopes, or play a "Name That Plant" computer game, or press leaves as if they were actually botanists in the field. Identification and reinforcement are the name of the game here; everything that's produced, whether it's a live planting, a cut-and-paste daisy, or a shaving cream/Elmer's glue-concocted cloud, is labeled, with the help of the explainers, for identification. Directly off the herbarium is the Bendheim Global Greenhouse, which houses exhibits illustrating the various ways people around the world make use of plant life. (Its current exhibition, starting April 1, is "Put Your Plants On", an exhibit on plants and clothes). Across the hall from the herbarium is the Texaco Kids Lab, where plant experiments take center stage. If your child has never handled a mortar and pestle to grind up cacao seeds or other forms of plant life, this is a good opportunity for them to flex their wrists; they'll also reinforce what they learn by keeping their own Nature Field Notebook. The exhibits in the Texaco change about every month; its most recent was "A World of Chocolate". Through June 27, the theme will be "Spring Into Spring", focusing on the lifecycle of the butterfly and other springy subjects. Both the lab and "Budding Botanists" are drop-in programs, running during all seasons; no pre-registration is required. One of nature's creatures sure to be spotted in the Everett as spring advances is the human. As the Everett comes into bloom, its Meadow Maze, Boulder Maze and Beth's Maze — a classic find-your-way-through-the-hedges maze — along with other outdoor exhibits too numerous to mention here, are sure to be more and more densely inhabited by that soft-soled, curious creature.

Info: Where: The Everett Children's Adventure Garden at The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx River Parkway and Fordham Road Hours: 1pm-6pm, weekdays from April-June. Weekends and Monday holidays, 10am-6pm. Admission: Adults $6; children ages 2-12, $2.50; seniors and students $4. FREE all day to everyone on Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10am-noon. For more information: (718) 817-8700; www.nybg.org


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