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The children at YWCA Central Alabama have a new wonderland of plants to touch and smell, a sensory table to explore, a roots viewing box to watch, and even more teaching moments that “secretly” instruct.

Employees of Bhate Environmental Associates, Inc. recently spent the day landscaping the YW’s Joan Hicks Intergenerational Playground. They pressure washed the area, painted and planted flowers, herbs and vegetables.

“The whole outdoor area needed some TLC,” says Stefanie Maloney who headed enhancement efforts on behalf of the environmental consulting firm. “Members of our Bhate family turned out on a bright Saturday morning, and we pulled weeds, mulched all the beds and filled flower boxes. We also assembled raised beds and planted edibles like tomatoes, peppers, basil and thyme.”

Bhate’s Martin Peacock designed and assembled the sensory table that features three levels of play experience including plastic containers to fill with water, sand — or both. Bhate employees sanded and painted playful metal work figures in yellows, greens and purples and applied bright colors to an existing sculpture. The added root viewing box allowed children to plant seeds and to subsequently watch their development through a plexiglass window.

Best of all, lush plantings against the metal link fences were installed to grow and provide privacy from the outside world. “It’s a screen to the street so the children can feel this is their very own world,” Maloney added.

The project was not only appreciated by the children, it has provided them with learning experiences that they would not have gotten any other way, according to Rikki Ross, director of the YWCA’s child development center. “The sensory table has allowed them to have fun and be messy, to learn math concepts related to measurement and capacity and to understand science concepts. Watching the life cycle of plants is better than any video or pictures we could have provided for them.”

Bhate was joined in the effort by gifts of plants from Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery, Leaf and Petal, Oak Street Garden Shop, Collier’s Nursery and Hanna’s Garden Shop.

“For us it was a nice team building experience,” says Maloney. “But when we went back later and saw children playing in the space, we realized the true success of our team effort.”

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