A love of the outdoors, plants and bugs inspired Connie May to bring a “fantasy forest” to an urban neighborhood so people could experience what she did during her childhood in Frankfort.
“I grew up in Frankfort, in an urban environment, but we had box turtles and frogs in our backyard – you just don’t see that anymore,” said May, owner of Chrysalis Natural Landscapes.
“We know a lot of the children don’t even have backyards,” she added.
That was the thought that inspired May to create a public space for kids to learn and explore the natural areas of Kentucky without their parents taking them to a park.
“We have a lot of big open places and streams, but I knew it needed to be in their back yards because not every parent can take their children out to parks for hours at a time to explore,” she says.
And when she discovered the community garden on the corner of Second and Logan streets, everything fell into place.
After four years of planning and help from city staff, she got a $10,000 grant to build an educational outdoors she will call Frankfort’s “Fantasy Forest.”
May – with help from the community – will plant several hundred trees and shrubs divided into four sections, including areas for endangered, native and flowering plants to be explored and documented by local children and families.
Local organizations will be able to volunteer to take care of the areas of the forest as community service.
“We want the community to have the connection right away,” she said.
The community garden is what got May’s wheels turning about transforming the property south of the garden into the “forest.”
“There really is diversity in the garden, and some of the trees (planted by the Frankfort Tree Board) are already established, and they create a great spot for the bugs,” she says.
“There are a trillion ways hands-on education can inspire people,” May said about the programs she’s planned.
May says she has a lot of experience with educating adults about landscaping, but teaching children will be something new.
“Grownups are so afraid of insects, but kids love bugs,” she said.
“It’s unbelievable how it changes them just watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. It’s a miracle in a jar.”
She plans to teach about honeybees – though they aren’t native – and other local pollinators that are endangered.
“It’s amazing how many times we come across children who have no interaction with raw plant life,” said John Rodgers, of Commonwealth Gardens, who will help May with the projects and education.
“It just blows them away when they taste mint – they realize it doesn’t just come from bubblegum.”
Rodgers says once children learn how the environment relates to their lives, they start to make better choices – including the foods they eat.
“They start to realize their strawberries in the winter aren’t Kentucky strawberries,” Rodgers says.
“They figure out that food is affected by the global economy and how fresh food is needed year round across the world – it’s the whole ball of wax,” May said.
They plan to start planting the trees during the first week of May – as soon as the ground can be tilled.
Eventually – with the help of donations – May plans to create “fun signage” for the different areas of the “forest” and benches around a children’s amphitheater.