Are you looking for a garden oasis in the suburban jungle to explore with your toddler or little one? Go explore Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria , one of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s most popular sites. I am ashamed to admit that I have lived in Fairfax County for nearly 30 years and never knew that Green Spring Gardens existed until just a few years ago. Since then, Green Spring Gardens has become my “go to” get away to a not-so-secret garden paradise right in the heart of the community.
As a busy working mom and Park Authority Board member, free time with my three year old is precious to me and I am constantly trying to expose my little guy to nature and beautiful things. I was born without a green thumb but I am grateful to the hundreds of volunteers and staff who have transformed Green Spring Gardens into such an amazing place.
Green Spring is the perfect destination for a family with young children to explore. First of all it’s FREE! But more importantly, the paved pathways are stroller friendly and the surroundings are peaceful and gorgeous. If you are a new mom looking for a place to stroll safely and quietly with your newborn or if you have an active toddler that needs some space to run and explore, Green Spring is a wonderful place to visit for an hour or two any day of the week.
The great thing about Green Spring is that even on the hottest days of summer it seems a bit cooler in the park. There’s lots of open space to safely run and play and there are plenty of butterflies to chase.
My toddler is enchanted by the secret pathways that wind through the trees (Mommy Tip: one “Secret” pathway is directly to the right of the stairs from the parking lot – so you can begin your exploration adventure right from the start).
Another favorite draw for my toddler is the newly refurbished gazebo which he loves to run around and play in. We practice our stretches and “Simon Says” skills in the gazebo and he just lights up as he hops and jumps down the stairs.
As a bonus, Moms and Dads who are looking for ideas to renovate even the smallest of yards can explore the demonstration gardens. These are great examples of how to use native plants to transform a townhouse size yard into your own garden oasis. Little ones will love exploring these too!
Throughout the gardens there are small bridges to cross and hidden benches to climb. A stroll down to the ponds to look for frogs and lily pads is sure to delight any child. If your children are older, many of the plants and trees are labeled so you can begin to teach them the names of the species surrounding them.
Not only is Green Spring a beautiful and peaceful place but it’s the perfect environment to develop your child’s imagination and connect nature to the stories you are reading to them. Whenever we visit we always spot one or more of what I call the four B’s: butterflies, bumble bees, birds and bunnies! Is your toddler into getting their hands a little dirty? Then steer them to the recently renovated Children’s garden. Here children can dig in the dirt and practice their planting skills.
If it’s raining OUTside then head INside to explore the Glasshouse “jungle” to look for imaginary jungle animals. Little girls may dream of fairies and connect with fairy tales in patches in pretty flowers. Spend some quiet time in the library. There is a book corner with large and small chairs set aside just for children and their accompanying adults.
The Horticulture Center has a wonderful little gift shop that includes children’s gardening themed items. Net proceeds come back to the park to be used for programs. Even a few moments admiring the art on display will start your child on a lifelong appreciation of drawing and painting. Check out the program and events calendar. Garden Sprouts programs are targeted to the preschool set.
In this busy Mom’s opinion Green Spring Gardens offers a wonderful opportunity for you to find a place to clear your mind and for your little one to explore in an unstructured way and learn to delight in the natural world around them. As a parent I think one of the best lessons to teach our little ones in the early years is that beauty is everywhere and we need to protect and nurture it.
So bring your little one to Green Spring Garden to discover what a beautiful world it can be!
Here are some of my Mommy DO’s and DON’Ts for visiting Green Spring Gardens with your toddler or little one:
- DON’T stress about parking. There’s plenty of parking with easy access to the gardens. If you have a stroller, park at either end of the parking lot (closer to the Historic House or Horticulture Center for the easiest access. No need to stress about long walks and you don’t have to haul a diaper bag along because the car is never far away.
- DO bring bug spray and sunscreen.
- DO bring a change of clothes. If your toddler has a little too much fun in the Children’s garden you’ve got a back-up plan.
- DO explore the “secret pathways” which are marked with stepping stones.
- DO explore the Children’s Garden.
- DO encourage your children to stop and smell the flowers. Remember this is a no picking and collecting park, that includes flowers, leaves, sticks, rocks and insects.
- DO take photos of the flowers. These are a great teaching tool for your kids when you get home.
- DO bring a snack (there are lots of benches and plenty of grass to lay on – bring a blanket just in case).
- DO bring nature themed books to read with your child while you have a snack in the Gardens.
- DO visit the horticulture center and the glass house!
- DON’T worry about changing diapers – the bathrooms in the horticulture center have a place for you to change your little one. There are even footstools to give your child a boost so that they can wash their hands at the sink. In a pinch, there are always quiet out of the way spots and garbage cans throughout the park if you can’t get to the restrooms for an emergency diaper change.
- DO visit the garden store. After exploring the gardens take a few items home for your child to continue to develop their green thumb and bring a piece of the adventure home.
Written by Kala Leggett Quintana, Fairfax County Park Authority Board Member, At-large