Posted by: Mickey Goodman | November 1, 2009

Tiptoeing Through the Orchids – Atlanta Botanical Garden

Mia's favorite - a black orchidAtlanta, GA

My five-year-old granddaughter, Mia, stands on tippy-toes to peer at the miniscule electric blue frog with black spots. The frog stands stone still, peering from the foliage of a glass tank outside the Fuqua Orchid Center at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. “Is he real, Grammy?” she asks, her eyes wide.

At this age, she hovers between the factual and the fanciful worlds and can’t always tell the difference. But it’s easy to understand her question. The Blue Poison Frog from Suriname, South America is no larger than a quarter and would appear right at home among my collection of ceramic miniatures. Only when he hops from leaf to leaf is Mia convinced that I am telling the truth. Her three-year-old sister, Jael, is unconcerned. She has already moved on to explore the contents of another tank.

One of several species of crayon-colored poisonous frogs, “Mr. Blue” (as Mia names him) and his relatives provide the poison used on the deadly dart tips of native tribesmen. Today, the deceptively innocuous-looking creature is hopefully procreating his species as part of the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s (ABG) conservation program.

Ah, orchids

Mia and Jael chat excitedly as we enter the Fuqua Orchid Center. The girls can hardly contain themselves as they dash from one spectacular orchid to another bestowing a name on each plant. The species are startlingly diverse, ranging in size from smaller than a dime to larger than my hand. Walt Disney-esque blooms with bright pink lips and lime green petals with burgundy polka dots mingle with tiny brilliant orange blossoms resembling wee hummingbirds. Deep purple-throated blossoms with stark white petals provide a contrast for feather-edged pale pink orchids with deep pink lips. Vanilla Orchids even have a practical side. The elongated brown pods that drip from the vines produce vanilla flavoring (think Breyer’s vanilla bean ice cream).

Reflecting ponds double the impact of the spectacular array of orchids that drip from tree branches, sprout from the ground and emerge from rocks. They bring new understanding to the obsessions of the characters in Susan Orlean’s book, “The Orchid Thief.”

Jael dubs the most beautiful of all — the Slipper Orchid –Cinderella. “It looks just like Cinderella’s beautiful dress, the one the Fairy Godmother gave her,” she explains. We totally agree. The hues on each magnificent bloom begin at the green and white striped “crown” and continue to the burgundy-dotted lime green petals with pink tips and then to the pink, green, yellow and burgundy “slipper, ” or pouch-like mouth.

Following the path set by our small charges who flit from plant to plant like butterflies seeking pollen, we peek into the conservation greenhouse, a resting place for dormant plants and the site of orchid propagation. Then, we move on to admire some of the many endangered carnivorous plants for which the Garden is renowned. Try explaining to two pre-schoolers that plants eat bugs and you get total incredulity. “Mosquitoes too?” asks Mia hopefully.

Journey into the rain forest

We transition seamlessly from the Orchid Hall into the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory where species of tropical plants range in size from the miniscule ferns to the gargantuan palms that kiss the 80-foot high peak of the tropical rotunda. Birds flit overhead and we spy an occasional frog or lizard. The girls squeal excitedly. “Grammy, Mommy, look! There’s Mr. Blue’s cousin,” Mia calls out. “Can I pick it up?” The tiny frog has other ideas and disappears into the dense undergrowth.

Our next stop was the Desert House, which has a markedly dryer environment than the humid tropical section. The girls take one look at the prickly succulents, some with needles three inches long, and shudder. For once, we don’t have to caution them to stay in the center of the path and out of the plant beds. They glue themselves to our legs.

Standing still

The statuary at the ABG is one of the things that make it unique and I’m thrilled that my wee grans love them too. People sized frogs sitting on benches in various poses entice kids to sit down beside them and Mia sidles up to one reading a book. Jael scrambles to the opposite side and carries on a one-sided conversation with Freddie Frog. She also falls in love with a statue of a young girl the artists named “Isobel” who tiptoes across the rocks in the wildflower meadow. She is so realistic she seems to beckon the girls to join her on a botanical adventure.

Jael’s favorite is a small boy the sculptor named “Frog Baby.” Still a cherub herself, she easily relates to the exuberant smile on his face as he clutches a frog tightly in each hand. I have to hang tightly to her dress to keep her from plunging into the pond to play with him.

And the fun goes on

Although this was their first excursion through the “grown up” part of the ABG, it was far from their first trip to the Children’s Garden and they grab our hands and pull us in that general direction. Orchids and frogs forgotten, they dash across the bridge connecting the main Garden with the playground By the time we catch up at the Sunflower Fountain, they have joined a dozen other kids and doffed their sneakers for a soggy romp. With up jets and down showers resembling (what else?) sunflowers, the interactive fountain is positively irresistible. Many staid adults – including us — also cast aside shoes to join the children for a bit of wet fun.

After more than 30 minutes, the girls are soaked and the tips of their toes resemble miniature prunes. “Come on, girls, there’s more fun ahead,” I tell them. “Remember the Tree House and curly slide?” Reluctantly, they leave, then wind their way into the mouth of a huge caterpillar in the Laugh Garden and under the brightly colored awnings at the Butterfly Pavilion. Along the way, they learn a subliminal lesson about metamorphosis.

We trail behind, allowing them freedom to explore as they dart from place to place. They linger at the Beehive Meadow with its enormous models of pollinators — bees, butterflies and birds — and then move on to the Live Garden where they both climb to the top of the wide tube-like sliding board and emerge in a heap. A dozen slides later, they’re off again, stopping at the Dinosaur Garden with its replica of a Cretaceous-era duckbill dinosaur that once roamed throughout Georgia. They digging in the sandbox and gleefully unearth dinosaur bones.

“I see the corkscrew slide, I see it,” Mia says, grabbing her little sister’s hand. They take off at a run, then detour behind the waterfall in the Environmental Garden to get a misting when a gentle breeze kicks up the spray. Giggling, they scurry ahead to the Tree House with its outstanding views of Atlanta, telescopes that really work and best of all, the slippery corkscrew slide. Beth and I find a bench in the shade and watch them scamper tirelessly up the steep steps again and again, then slide happily on their tummies, backs and bottoms.

Even though they’re not ready to leave, we round them up. No point risking a meltdown from one or both. Before we exit, I gather the girls onto my lap for a recap. “What was your favorite activity? “Playing in the fountain!” Jael squeals.

“The orchid garden, the orchid garden with Mr. Blue,” Mia says, surprising us.

New experiences. Blue skies. Soft southern breezes. Kisses from two beautiful grandchildren. What better way to end a perfect day?

Best part:  Spending time with the grans.

Tip:  The Children’s Garden is best for ages 2-6. The gardens are a joy, no matter the age, and very stroller/wheelchair friendly.

//

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Responses

  1. Mickey,

    This is such a refreshing read! Your grand-daughters are so cute and inquisitive. I love your descriptions of ABG. They remind me of Hershey Gardens, PA, where I worked for 5 years. Nothing compares to natural beauty.

  2. Thanks, Bridgit. Entering the blogasphere is daunting, but fun!

  3. Nice. Definitely makes me want to take my grandchildren there.

  4. Lovely post…hope I get there someday!

    Best,
    Irene

  5. Wonderful article Mickey. Your vivid images really stirred up a desire to see the Gardens — another one of those hometown attractions I’ve never gotten around to visiting. Thanks.

  6. I love how ABG has just the right mix of exhibits to keep me interested and young children (in my case, young boys) fascinated. Thank you for posting.

  7. What a great idea for a blog — I love the catch line “a grandmother on the go.” I’ll look forward to reading about your next adventure. What are you going to do in Mobile? That’s a fun town, I went to its Mardi Gras a few years back and loved it.

  8. I finally got a chance to visit your blog and I love it. I am particularly jealous that you snagged such a fantastic name/brand for yourself–travelgram. That’s awesome. Judy

    • Thanks, Judy. If I make it interactive (like I really know how!), will you be a contributor?


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