Writer Emilie Barnes once said “Grow what you love.” As parents, we do that, don’t we? Nurture our little potted plants so they bloom with utter joy at being alive in this big, wonderful garden of a world? Then, there must be no better place to combine nurture with nature in a family-friendly way than a botanical garden, and here in Anchorage, we have one of the best. The Alaska Botanical Garden is 110 acres of upland forest magic, sized for anybody, at any time.
Located in a quiet plot of land near busy Tudor Road in east Anchorage, the Alaska Botanical Garden feels a million miles away once visitors step through the beautiful metal gate. Open year round, each season brings a different sense of quiet; from thick, green shrubberies in the summertime to the hush of fresh snow, Alaska’s four distinct seasons are a new time of discovery for kids. Even with the garden’s offices now housed on-site in a collection of beautifully-restored buildings, and with summer crowds of eager gardeners, walkers, and tourists, it always feels private enough to wander alone, or share special conversations as a family.
Fully fenced, but still admitting wildlife who manage to sneak on in like Peter Rabbit to Mr. MacGregor’s garden, ABG now features a 1/4 mile paved pathway that curves gently around the perimeter of the property’s distinctive plots. Rock gardens, herb gardens, perennial beds, and native plants all have their place, but all seem to fit within a larger scope of nature. Borders are eased to encourage an easy-on-the eyes transition between what grew here naturally, and what was planted by the host of Master Gardeners, staff, and volunteers.
Kids are encouraged to visit, any time, thanks to a robust education program and a thriving Junior Master Gardener class during the summer months. Digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and creating a place to keep them are all sustainable efforts to teach children and parents the value of growing food, and kids, in a way that encourages stewardship, and working together.
Late fall and winter, however, are my favorite times to visit the Alaska Botanical Garden especially when I’ve got some thinking to do.
I saunter rather than run, listen rather than speak, and look more closely. The garden goes to sleep every year, quietly and without the fanfare of spring’s raucous beginning. What a gift to be able to witness the peaceful progression of Alaska’s seasons in such a place.
But, visiting the Alaska Botanical Garden with your family does require a few tips:
1. Pay the admission fee. Admission fees are collected all year, even when no one is around (use the little box at the entrance). $7/adults, $5/kids 3-18, and kids under 3 are free. Remember that you are contributing to the propogation and preservation of more than 1,000 varieties of plants, the trails, and excellent programs. It’s a good thing.
2. Be aware the hours of operation. The garden is open during daylight hours all year. However, do take into account the lack of daylight in the winter. We like to visit around 2 p.m. in the wintertime, when the sun sets behind the spindly birch trees and provides us a glowing reminder of why we love Alaska so much. The ABG office is staffed Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.if you have any questions. They’re good folks, and have a wealth of knowledge about gardens, kids, and Alaska.
3. Dress for chilly temperatures. Summertime warmth aside, the garden is often cooler than the rest of town, so dress for temps lower than you might expect at your house or hotel. Winter means no facilities to warm up, so add hand warmers, solid boots, hats, and full snow gear. We often carry a thermos and have a hot drink out in the middle of a garden; it’s a delightful place to sit and rest. No trash, please!
4. Grab a map as you enter. Try the Lowenfels Family Nature Trail for a 1.1 mile trek into the wilderness. Snowshoes are great for wintertime travel, but stay on the trail, and watch for the occasional moose.
5. Take your time. Remember, you’re growing what you love.