Mary’s Garden Takes Flight!
After several years of operating a successful “Museum-On-The-Go” the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County found a home adjacent to the renowned Snoopy Ice Rink in Santa Rosa. The Museum’s CEO, Collette Michaud won a $1.8M State grant to design and construct Mary’s Garden, an interactive children’s garden of learning and play. Michaud developed the outdoor areas first, as she saw this as essential to the Museum’s long-term success and mission. The state grant required that the project fulfill specific goals for resource conservation and accessibility. At the same time, the Museum’s mission required that we create a plan that could help continue and expand their core mission – to inspire children’s creativity and stimulate their curiosity to discover the world through playful exploration of arts and sciences. Mary’s Garden was the result of our effort – it is a garden that tells an interactive story of Sonoma’s natural environment through the [compound] eyes of a mariposa (butterfly). Design work began with a written program to identify educational goals and we continued to develop renderings and marketing materials, which helped the Museum receive cash and in-kind donations in excess of 500K. Working closely with Michaud and the museum Board, we developed a unique play environment that includes Northern California’s first naturally filtered children’s waterplay area. The museum officially opened in March 2014. Visitorship has soared to 50,000+ last year, and over 2,000 families have become members.
CMOSC had two main educational intents: 1) to create a garden of pollinator plants and interactive exhibits that told the story of a local endangered buttery through the process of metamorphosis and 2) to create an interactive waterplay element that helps kids to understand how water is used in Sonoma County. The design was inspired by examining a transect of environments in Sonoma county—from the inland agricultural valleys to the Pacific Ocean. The heart of the garden is Sonoma’s largest watershed – the Russian River. The Museum’s Russian River begins its headwaters at a spring and meanders through the site to the marsh and beach, passing through gravel beds and riparian environments. True to life, water is pumped from the river to the mechanical water play area to demonstrate the different ways that people use water. Kids can generate hydropower and use hand pumps, Archimedes screws and dams to move water through agricultural areas. To illustrate the story of the swallowtail butterfly, we created interactive play features to educate children about the process of metamorphosis. The bright green eggs serve as both a climbing surface and hiding spot. Children can climb inside the cocoon or walk through the larger than life caterpillar constructed with an elegant steel armature and covered by netting and flowering vines. At the entrance to Mary’s Garden a large kinetic butterfly flaps its wings when kids crank the handle. Smaller solar and wind powered large-scale butterflies are scattered throughout the garden.
In this project, we were able to design, permit, and install the first naturally filtered children’s water play element in Northern California. Water is first cleansed via vegetative material and a gravel filter in a living wetland then passes through a UV filter before being recirculated. No chemicals are used, which allows children to safely play in the water and for the wetland plants to thrive. The marsh was planted with pesticide free native and adapted plants grown by a local nursery specifically for this project. The permit for the natural filtration system was personally approved by the Sonoma County Dept. of Health Services Director.
Year Built: 2013
Status: Completed and Constructed
Location: Santa Rosa, California
Scientific Art Studio / water play + exhibit design
Aquascapes / river + marsh
Walker Avenue Nursery / aquatic plants
AE Nelson Construction / contractor
More photos here
Read about the process here
About the groundbreaking here