Sixteen years ago, when Joan Marie Condon founded The Children’s Garden, she worried that development was limiting green space for children—and that technology was taking over the focus in their lives, rather than a connection to nature. Today those concerns are as relevant as ever, but the garden, set on 2 ½ acres of greenery in north Sarasota, is bringing children outdoors.
“My mother [Condon] felt that kids needed a garden of their own,” says garden director Robin Fulk. “So she drew a plan of what it should look like, and my brothers hand-built everything,” including whimsical sculptures of dragons and octopuses. “There’s no swing set. Kids have to imagine, make believe, dress up in costumes.”
They do that throughout the year and in summer camps aimed at kids 5-10 (although there are repeat customers as old as 12), with topics ranging from “Garden Chefs” to “Wizards, Dragons & Magical Things,” “Nature Crafting” and “Wilderness Camp.” Special events, like a Woodland Fairy Festival or a Dragon Egg Hunt, also spark kids to use their imaginations and play in the dirt, learning lessons along the way about taking care of the planet.
Fulk is the only full-time employee, but she has part-time help with the campers and visitors. Programs and maintenance are funded by admissions and small grants, and Fulk shares $10 from each camper’s fee with Make-A-Wish Foundation, also hosting occasional fund raisers for other nonprofits. “It’s important to give to the community; it always blesses you back,” she says.