The Tucson Botanical Gardens is raising money to move and expand its children’s garden, with hopes of completing it by late next spring.

The new children’s garden will be three times the size of the current space, which is less than 2,800 square feet.

“Right now the children’s garden is very small and has little hands-on activities,” said Michelle Conklin, the gardens’ executive director.

The existing children’s garden was designed when few children visited the gardens, on North Alvernon Way.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of increase in children visitation,” Conklin said. “Our current garden just cannot sustain the number of kids that are coming to visit the gardens.”

The Tucson Botanical Gardens includes 17 different gardens spread out over more than five acres, said M. Katherine Hougland, its manager of development and communications.

“Each garden is residentially sized, and we also have a variety of education programs including classes, kids’ camps and community events,” she said.

The purpose of the gardens is to educate the public about gardening as well as living sustainably in the desert, Conklin said.

The new children’s garden will incorporate environmental education.

“Everything will have a purpose and a lesson to teach kids about plants, science and art,” she said.

The new children’s garden will have a splash pad, frog pond, snake tunnel, sandbox and raised vegetable gardens, among other features. It will have lots of wall space for educational exhibits and learning opportunities that will be changed depending on the season, Hougland said.

Supporters and managers at the gardens had been thinking about a new space for the children’s garden for a long time, but it wasn’t until one of its members, Mark Sammons, had a birthday and asked that gifts be monetary donations to the gardens that the expansion gained traction.

Conklin said she received a phone call from a woman named Heather Lenkin, a landscape architect and designer, who wanted to design something for the garden in dthe Sammons’ honor.

There is no official proposed opening date because the gardens is still in a design phase. It has raised at least $110,000 toward the new children’s garden, but the estimated cost is $500,000 to $700,000.

“Children’s exhibits are expensive. You need staff, interpreters and equipment that will hold up a lot of children, so we have to make sure that it will be built to last,” Conklin said.

Organizers want to move quickly so once they have funds and designs in place the project can move forward.

“I hope that the children will learn to love nature and learn to love growing plants,” Conklin said. “I hope the garden will get them out from behind the television sets so they can learn to connect again with nature.”

In the meantime, two days ago the gardens opened its annual Butterfly Magic exhibit, which runs through the end of April. And the Alien Invasion: Of the Plant Kind exhibit will begin in November; it’s designed to teach children about invasive plant species in Arizona.

Reham Alawadhi is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at or 573-4117.