The challenges kept coming for the Kentucky Children's Garden, right up until the ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday, when a light drizzle became a steady rain.
But the weather didn't faze the intended audience. Parents huddled under umbrellas while their gleefully sodden children charged into the 1.85-acre garden — really, a series of child-sized theme gardens relating to Kentucky's different geological regions, connected by sidewalks and waterways.
The Children's Garden, built at The Arboretum on Alumni Drive, remains a work in progress, said Marcia Farris, Arboretum director.
"This last week was nothing but a miracle, believe me," Farris said. "If you had seen this place last Friday, you would have said, 'It won't be ready to open.' But then the volunteers started coming in. Almost everything you see behind you" — she waved one hand — "was put in last week."
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Thousands of people have donated their time, sweat, expertise and money since the Children's Garden first was designed in 2004, Farris said. The nonprofit group Friends of the Arboretum raised $1.2 million and hopes to raise $100,000 more for some finishing touches, including a "stewardship circle" to teach children about soil erosion and a log cabin to represent Kentucky's pioneer history.
The garden replaces a 25-square-foot plot used by children elsewhere in the Arboretum, which was inadequate, Farris said.
The 100-acre Arboretum is operated by the University of Kentucky and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. Although the Arboretum is free to visitors, the Children's Garden will charge $3 for ages 2 and up — children under 2 will be free — or $10 for a family. Household memberships will be available for $50 a year.
Deep inside the garden on Saturday, Connor McCurdy, 5, explored a small, stone-lined cave with two other children, examining ants and spider webs. His mother, Ashley, patiently waited outside in the rain.
"This is really fascinating him," Ashley McCurdy said. "We've been talking at home about hibernating animals. He said he might find a bear in the cave."
Other features include a small lake with a stone footpath through it; a rock-lined stream and cascades; a Native American encampment, with a child-sized wigwam woven out of cattails and blue-stemmed grass; and vegetable, herb and flower gardens.
The garden's nature center might look familiar to people who attended last year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, because that's where it debuted. Designed by Jon Carloftis, the cottage is built of old materials found around the Bluegrass, such as bricks from Lexington streets and tobacco stakes from local farms.
The garden will be staffed whenever it's open, with programs that include storytelling, hikes and nature lessons, Farris said.
"It's going to be wonderful," said Emily Brittingham, whose 3-year-old son, Beckett, played at the gardening shed. Nearby was a "pizza garden," with tomatoes, peppers, onions, basil and oregano.
"It's a great, safe environment for the kids to explore and learn about nature — and it's more for them to do than going back to the playground again," Brittingham said.