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Camden Children’s Garden: The Best Family Attraction You’ve Never Heard Of

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Dinosaur at the Children's GardenIn my short time as a mother, I’ve already come to embrace the adage: “This will hurt me much more than it will hurt you.” To my unfortunate surprise, I’ve found this is especially true of summer outings with kiddies, when we parents must brace ourselves against exorbitant admission prices, long lines, apathetic staff, determined (read: “rude”) crowds, and often feeble exhibits or amusements—all in the effort to get that one smiling snapshot. 

Happily, it is not at all like this at the Camden Children’s Garden. 

A quiet family retreat nestled amidst the better-known attractions that line the Camden waterfront, the Children’s Garden is four acres of imagination-tickling horticultural exhibits. Here you’ll find the houses of the Three Little Pigs, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden, and tiny bit of Alice’s Wonderland. You and the wee ones can climb up into a tree house, race through a maze in Red Oak Run, or climb, slide, and hop in the Fitness Garden. 

The Children’s Garden is a program of the Camden City Garden Club, a nonprofit organization with the mission to provide horticulture-related recreational and educational opportunities for residents of all ages of the City of Camden and the Delaware Valley. Founded in 1985, the Garden Club began by providing community gardening support, and youth employment and training opportunities for Camden residents. The Children’s Garden opened in 1999 as a four-acre “horticultural playground.” 

Although it’s been there for 10 years, I had never heard of the Camden Children’s Garden. Now, I’m so glad I did—because it is one of the best kids’ hangouts I’ve found. It’s a great place for little ones to “experience” their favorite stories and learn about the outdoor world. Meanwhile, the educational information sprinkled throughout the park is interesting enough to engage parents as well. 

One of my son’s and my favorite spots was the Dinosaur Garden, where two dinosaurs and a few dinosaur eggs, were hanging out in a small alcove of trees, bushes, and flowers. Aspiring paleontologists (or any kids that like to get their hands dirty) can get down into a small sandpit and dig for bones, which have been donated to the Garden by Chicago’s Field Museum. We also enjoyed the Philadelphia Eagles Four Seasons Butterfly House and Education Centre. I actually liked this butterfly exhibit much more than the one at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Although there weren’t as many large and exotic butterflies as at the Academy, those that do live in the Children’s Garden seemed much more active. Plus, our guide was exceedingly helpful and generous in telling us about the various butterflies; and the signage within the house explained the different types of plants that butterflies need, helping us better understand the entire ecosystem.

Secret GardenI was particularly intrigued by the hand-painted information signs found near plants throughout the Garden: “Rosemary can be used to clean your face” next to a rosemary bush, for instance. “Apples are a member of the Rose family,” beside a stout apple tree, with some low-hanging apples for picking (at least we picked one!). The signs are cute and colorful and have just enough information that you’ll remember later. I found myself seeking them out throughout the garden—something I can definitely imagine inquisitive youngsters doing as well. I also liked how some of the gardens included suggestions for how children might make small versions or adaptations at home. Near the Secret Garden there was a suggestion to build a fence or wall around your backyard garden, and near Red Oak Alley there was an explanation of composting and some easy suggestions for getting started at home.

Of course, my one-year-old son’s absolute favorite attractions were the rides—the Arrow River Train and the Carousel—which we had entirely to ourselves. And that brings me to one of the nicest things about the Camden Children’s Garden: it’s pretty quiet. No throngs of over-stimulated kids being chased by frazzled parents. In fact, it’s a great place for preschoolers, because their eyes will widen at all the larger-than-life exhibits, and you will breathe easy knowing they aren’t getting run down or pushed aside by bigger kids. When my son and I visited, there were only a handful of other families wandering the grounds. Considering the Children’s Garden takes up four acres along the Camden waterfront, this meant that practically every little themed area was our own private playground—not something you often experience on a children’s outing.

The staff confirmed that most weekday afternoons are quiet, while weekday mornings can be busy with camps and field trips. They said that weekends, although somewhat busier, are also a good time to visit, especially when the Garden is hosting one of its bi-monthly festivals. These festivals generally focus on a horticultural highlight of the season, with crafts, planting activities, games, and special food concessions. The next festival, planned for August 8th and 9th, is the Peach Party Family Festival. Additional upcoming festivals spotlight chocolate and vanilla (yum!), harvest and scarecrows, faeries and wizards, mums and pumpkins, trains, and more.

With admission prices at $6 for adults and $5 for children, the Camden Children’s Garden costs far less than most other family attractions. Add to that the peaceful playful environment, interesting educational opportunities, and unique special events and the Camden Children’s Garden is a must-visit for parents and kiddos looking for something new to do this summer.

The Camden Children’s Garden is located at 3 Riverside Drive in Camden, just next door to Adventure Aquarium. The Garden is open Wednesday through Friday from 10am to 4pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm. For more information, visit the Children’s Garden website, www.camdenchildrensgarden.org