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Science Center's Garden In Full Bloom With Flora And Grasshoppers


August 07, 2012

The Connecticut Science Center's rooftop garden opened in May for the 2012 season, and has quickly become the ideal place for visitors to experience native plants and "green" rooftop architecture or simply enjoy the wide views of downtown Hartford, the Connecticut River and the nearby countryside.

Children buzz around the 6,316-square-foot plot like bees on a daily basis while their guardians look on and explore the ample array of flora and fauna.

"People really love it," says Tracy Shirer, the center's director of marketing and public relations. "This is the best this area has looked since we've opened, and there's something for everybody here. Coming up here is the best part of my day, and I learn something new every time I do."

Located on the building's sixth floor, which includes galleries devoted to "Smart Energy," "Planet Earth" and "A River of Life," the seasonally operated garden has established itself as one of the premiere attractions at the science center, which is now three years old. Staff scientist Thomas McKenna recently added more than 350 plants to the garden and says that all of them have been successful.

"The only problem we've had is an exciting one," says McKenna. "We've found hundreds of grasshoppers and they're eating holes in some of the plants. Grasshoppers can jump pretty high but not this high. We think they were brought up with some of the plants, and, normally, the birds would eat the grasshoppers, but Hartford's peregrine falcon is eating all the birds or driving them into hiding, so it's been a cool and interesting challenge."

The transformation of a rooftop space into a bustling and picturesque garden was imagined as an extension of the center's indoor galleries. The garden features a unique set of growing conditions that allow different types of plants to all grow in one garden. Six different "zones," including a shade garden, an alpine garden, a children's garden and a section that uses xeriscaping, gardening in ways that reduce the need for additional water from irrigation, make up the plot. Blueberry bushes, strawberry plants, canna lilies, prickly pear cactus, various herbs and milkweeds are just some of the foliage.

"The method we've tried to use with this 'outdoor gallery' is the power of observation," says McKenna. "We've kept an eye on and asked staff and visitors what they think is working, what else they'd like to see. We had visitors mention they'd love to have benches to sit on up here, something as simple as that, and now we have benches made out of recycled milk jugs."

The rooftop garden had an important impact on the center being an LEED-Gold certified building one built using "green" or environmentally conscious methods and materials, and the garden adds to its qualification. The garden also was recently certified as a monarch butterfly waystation. McKenna says his favorite part of the job is simply speaking with visitors and gardeners about this "neat eco-system perched on top of an urban building." From using "turtl-izer," the waste water of the center's common snapping turtle, to help the plants not doing well, to having visitors tag bees fertilizing the flora and incorporating more signs with tips on what plants visitors should smell and touch, McKenna and the other staff scientists are doing their best to invite more interactive exploration and participation.

"This garden means something different for everybody," says McKenna. "We want people to be surprised and inspired by what they see. I envision us creating more and more hands-on exhibits."

"People look to us to be the leader," adds Shirer. "We're always brainstorming, and we hope to keep expanding and changing our programs according to what scientists, educators and visitors want to see. We're listening."

The Connecticut Science Center operates seven days a week. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with admissions allowed until 4 p.m. General admission, and combo tickets including movie, respectively: adults $19 and $24; seniors $16.50 and $21.50; youth (ages 4 through 17) $14 and $19. Children 3 and under are free. The science center is offering free admission to Hartford residents in August via free passes from Hartford library branches. Information: http://www.ctsciencecenter.org or 860-724-3623.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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