Family Gardens

Early in her career, Terra's Cindy Tyler keenly recognized the importance of reconnecting children, and their caregivers, to their green world.  "It is my firm belief that children will only protect what they love, and only love what they know." Decades later, she has planned or designed more than 25 interactive landscapes for families to reconnect with the nature in twelve states across the country. 

 The newest addition to Terra’s family garden portfolio is the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio, which opened its gates in May 2018. PlayLaugh&Learn captures the process, from inception to opening day, so that others who wish to bring a family destination to their own community may benefit from our story.  Enjoy the following introduction to PlayLaugh&Learn, and let us know if you would like to have access to the full documentary.  We are happy to share!


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“Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is passionate about connecting people with nature.  The selection of Cindy Tyler with Terra Design Studios after a national search was a pivotal moment in the development and design process for the garden. Cindy Tyler and her talented team worked in partnership with the Conservatory staff, board and stakeholders for over a year to bring the vision for the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children's Garden to life.  The 2018 opening of this immersive nature-based experience that celebrates the changing landscape of Ohio will be viewed as a transformational moment in the Conservatory's history.  The Children's Garden has been the recipient of many awards;  this along with the tremendous growth in attendance and membership was realized through Cindy's outstanding professional guidance and abundant creativity. ” - Bruce Harkey, President and CEO - Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (FPC) captures a succinct ten acres of indoor and outdoor gardens and public art displays within an 80-acre beloved urban park in Columbus, Ohio. It is a leading cultural destination for the region. The Gardens’ decision to build a family garden was borne by a strong desire to offer unmatched hands-on opportunities for children and their caregivers to reconnect with their native Ohio landscapes.

Terra Design Studios, along with our team – DesignGroup, Korda Engineering, Hydro Dramatics, and WC3 – designed a two-acre garden that perfectly aligns with FPC’s core values. The project kicked off with multiple workshops with local elementary students and their families, FPC’s staff and Board members, and donor groups to learn how the Columbus community envisioned their family garden. “Celebrating the Ever-changing Magic of the Ohio Landscape” emerged as the garden’s tagline, and we created thirteen distinct garden galleries to support this theme.

Unique aspects of the Children’s Garden include a dramatic sandstone bluff, interactive creek and created woodland, called My Ohio Woods, which emulates the beloved landscapes of the Hocking Hills region of Ohio. Earth art is woven throughout the Garden, anchored by a Nature Art Studio for led programming to transform STEM initiatives to STEAM. And ten local artists added their own creative touch of beauty and magic, evidenced by the Sunshine Celebration Arch, Whisper Bench, and much more!

The Children’s Garden opened in May 2018 and is receiving national and international attention.  Recent accolades include: 

Ten Most Beautiful Places in the World – USA Today

Best Children’s Garden – Ohio Magazine

Excellence in Project Design – Ohio Landscape Association

EXPY Award – Experience Columbus. 

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“To rebrand our Garden as a family destination, the team had to include Cindy Tyler and Terra Design Studios. Cindy brings unparalleled understanding of children behavior, family education opportunities and how a garden should be creatively designed with those in mind. Her “marketing hook” for the Garden was a rambling fun, interactive stream that mimicked the Texas Hill Country natural waterways. From the big design features to the smallest details, her years of family garden design proved invaluable. Now complete, the Garden continues to delight, educate, and bring families together in a natural outdoor setting. All success indicators from membership and program growth, attendance, positive visitor surveys, and those smiling faces reflect a successfully designed and built Garden. This could not have happened without the amazing talents of Cindy and Terra Design Studios. “ - Bob Brackman, Executive Director, San Antonio Botanical Garden, retired

This highly anticipated Family Adventure Garden creates an exciting new environment that features interactive elements to encourage children’s curiosity in the natural world. Terra worked with the Natural Learning Initiative and Ten Eyck Landscape Architects to design for both education and fun. Elements within the Garden encourage children to observe, understand and experiment with patterns and cycles in nature, cultivating the curiosity and connection with the natural world that studies show make children healthier, happier, and smarter.

Activities are both directed and self-directed, allowing children to not only learn through planned activities, but to use their imaginations for play. The Garden also encourages children to use all five senses and discover while playing. A variety of nature play opportunities are located in each of the twelve themed gardens, from rock hopping to fort building to roleplaying as an armadillo! Additionally, docents are trained as play coaches to encourage interaction between children and their caregivers.

No other family destination in the San Antonio region offers this kind of interactive environment with a strong educational underpinning. Water, wildlife and hands-on activities are nestled amongst showcase gardens where people of all ages and physical abilities are welcome to explore the amazing journey of a Texas raindrop, learn how plants and animals support each other, and forge a personal connection with nature by divin’ right in!



With the goal of enriching their city campus and expanding outdoor educational opportunities, Winchester Thurston School called upon Terra Design Studios to rehabilitate their Lower School’s courtyard spaces. Terra worked closely with school architects, MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni, and school staff to develop design options which maximize educational and play opportunities within a limited space and maintenance budget, while meeting current accessibility and national playground safety standards.

The Lower School serves children from Kindergarten to 3rd grade. Play and motor skill development zones were created to encourage open-ended play that embedded traditional play equipment among themed pocket gardens, including bird and butterfly gardens, edible garden, a music garden, vine tunnels and bug boxes. Nutrition and life sciences were also important topics to the teachers, resulting in a hands-on gardening zone where children can grow their own food. Thermometers, rain gauges and rain barrels encourage discussions on the weather, and the playhouse’s green roof supplements the story of pollination told in the butterfly garden.

Using the pocket gardens to serve non-traditional curricula such as art, math, social studies, and reading was also an essential goal. Plantings will be change annually in the storybook garden to feature a special tale, and color, texture, and forms throughout all the pocket gardens will inspire young artists through all seasons.



“The development of the Mordecai Children’s Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens was a complicated and enriching experience. We could not have done it without a company like Terra Design Studios. Cindy and her team were great listeners, interpreters and collaborators. Somehow, they gave us a vision of a garden that is situated between two busy streets in the heart of the city, with one-third of it a green roof above a parking structure, that today feels as though you are out in the Colorado wilderness. Amazing.” - Brian Vogt, Chief Executive Officer

Built on two and a half acres adjacent to the Denver Botanic Gardens’ main campus, the visitor experience begins on the top of the Gardens’ two-story parking deck, offering a dramatic first impression and sufficient topography to showcase the altitude-sensitive ecosystems of the Denver region. Towering geological formations, amazing trees and crystalline streams are captured in more than seven child-size garden galleries. While visiting the garden, caregivers are also invited to play, while given clues to query their young charges about what they are seeing and doing. This simultaneous interaction creates meaningful nature-based experiences that transcend the garden gates.

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In deciding to build a Children’s Garden, we solicited proposals from a number of designers. One of the smartest decisions we made was selecting Terra Design as our lead designer. Cindy Tyler became a trusted advisor and friend. Her work was flawless and her involvement with us challenged us to develop a higher set of standards and more creative programming. The end result was a world class Children’s Garden that has been widely acclaimed and directly contributed to increased memberships and attendance. -- Jim Duncan, Director, retired

A family garden destination unlike any other in the region, My Big Backyard (MBBY) offers over two pastoral acres bordered by towering southern magnolias and red oaks. MBBY immerses children into fifteen experiential learning galleries while reminding their caregivers how much fun it is to play outside. Children and their grown-ups are re-introduced to the simple pleasures of running on the lawn, splashing in a creek, and digging in the soil — “Fun the old-fashioned way!”

MBBY appeals to the kid in all of us. Exhibits inspire grandparents, parents, and teachers, to replicate the joy of outdoor play experienced at MBBY in a child’s daily life. It is through this unscripted play that children will come to know the essence of the earth and become the next generation of trustees of our green world.



When you look at the garden it is hard to believe that Cindy was able to fit so many diverse experiences into the space we had available. Our original concept was to begin telling the story of Ohio’s natural heritage along with some other local lore and history. Cindy helped us narrow this down to the best ideas and restructured the concept to create a gateway to the rest of our park.   The resulting garden is a space that is LOVED by our visitors, a space that balances the story we wanted to tell with beautiful garden spaces. -- Bernadette Whitworth, Program Manager

Prior to 2006, Wegerzyn Gardens was a sleepy part of the Five Rivers MetroParks. That all changed when the Discovery Garden opened its gates. An average of 600 people a day flock to this one-acre gem during the Garden’s season to explore miniature Ohio ecosystems, gather ideas for their own backyard gardens, and sow, nurture and harvest as a family in the Hands-on Garden.

In the Ohio Natives gallery, children and their caregivers immerse themselves in an Ohio woodland, complete with fruit-laden paw paws; a limestone cavern and interactive stream; a flourishing wetland and pond; and a vibrant prairie. The region’s first public straw bale building houses a charming family-style restroom while its green roof buzzes with pollinators overhead. The adjacent Sensory Garden welcomes all with a particular focus to serve children with physical challenges.