Big Bugs for a beautiful planet at Garden in the Woods

Debra Strick

When summer arrives on June 21, what will our children be up to?

Unfortunately, the image of carefree kids romping through wildflower meadows and cool forests is not the picture of America today. With the reduction of open land and the lure of instant screen entertainment, today's kids now spend an average of 91 percent of their time indoors.

Kids have a special opportunity to rediscover their own natural habitat in their own backyards, inspired by a trip to the New England Wild Flower Society's Garden in the Woods in Framingham. It's the return of the Big Bugs exhibit, featuring 13 giant bug sculptures by New York artist David Rogers, July 12 through Oct. 31.

We can look forward to a new community of budding "bugologists" when our kids immerse themselves in 45 acres of live bugs and the plants that host them. They'll see enormous wooden insects some 25 feet long and participate in outdoor activities designed to enthrall even the most recalcitrant couch potato.

How can parents help the process? Bonnie Drexler, leader of the Wild Flower Society's family programs and recipient of the National Environmental Educator of the Year Award, says, "First get comfortable yourself! Relax, and if the idea of close encounters with live bugs makes you tense, then go ahead and use your bug spray. Leave your anxieties behind. Let your kids guide you. Go at their pace, and acknowledge their discoveries, no matter how small. Kids who are comfortable with nature can enjoy the natural world the rest of their lives. If you don't know the names of what you see, that is no problem. Just ask, 'What would you like to call it?' They may discover their own insects someday!"

The Big Bugs exhibit celebrates a different bug each weekend. July 19 and 20 belongs to ladybugs. "Ladybugs are everybody's friend," says Drexler. "They have a great color and size and inspire so many wonderful stories and beliefs. Some count the age of a ladybug by counting its spots too bad it's not true."

But it's fun to find out. What is true is that ladybugs play a very important role in controlling pests in the garden. At Big Bugs Ant Weekend, Aug. 9 and 10, kids may see ants herding aphids using them as a source of honeydew sap. They can stop at the Bugmobile to make their own antennae, or create ant art at the Build-A-Bug Interactive Park.

Many have heard that honeybees are in trouble from Colony Collapse Disorder, but there is also good news. With fewer honeybees originally imported from Europe native bees have new opportunities. Children can look for evidence at special native bee houses at the Big Bugs exhibit.

Bee stories can help clear up some of the confusion kids have about bees: Some think the flowers make the honey and bees visit flowers to collect it. Drexler explains, "Here at the garden they see bees collecting the pollen on their hairy back legs and learn how the pollen is a food source for them, while helping the flowers make their seeds. Flowers have target lines and landing patterns that show pollinators exactly where the nectar is in the flower just like runway lights at an airport."

On July 12 welcome the Big Bugs and "Meet the Beetles" with live music by the New England-based Beatles Tribute Band HELP!

Prepare for your visit to Garden in the Woods by visiting Share your photos at our online Big Bugs art community art gallery at

Debra Strick is marketing and public relations director and curator of visual collections at NEWFS. E-mail native plant questions to or visit