Pinecrest Gardens Renovations Bring Inclusivity to All


Renovations are taking place in every corner of the botanical garden.

Ana Martinez, News/Design Editor

Beginning 10 years ago with the rebuilding of the historic Pinecrest Gardens entrance, the Banyan Bowl and Hammock Pavilion, the final renovations projects in Pinecrest Gardens on the Upper Gardens creates an immersive place for people of all ages and all abilities to enjoy. 

The idea for the renovations first began in 2016, when Director of Pinecrest Gardens Alana Perez wrote a letter to the manager of the gardens at the time with a vision to re-do the upper gardens. Her vision  included renovations on the bathrooms, playground and petting zoo, as well as establishing an education classroom to host classes. 

“We needed to finish the gardens; we needed to do it right,” Perez said. “More and more, education is beginning to rule the roost and so I wanted, above anything, a place for our incredible educational coordinator to program in the right way.”

Perez noted that renovations remained necessary, especially for the animals living on its premise, after Hurricane Irma years ago. 

“In 2017, we had to walk our pigs, goats, and sheep into the men’s and women’s restrooms underneath the Banyan Bowl. We put down hay and for three days they lived there; it was really hard,” Perez said. “I was devastated and that is when I decided to push. If [the project] is going to take money, I am going to find money.”

In 2018, Pinecrest Gardens applied for a specific dispensation grant specifically for Americans with Disabilities Association recreation, and the administration awarded them one year later in 2019 with a matching grant providing them a quarter of a million dollars for the project. As the Gardens continued to receive support for the project through additional private donations, planning for the specific renovations began. 

“The ideas of the petting zoo, playground, and restroom started the idea of the inspiration for the upper garden, but then it grew into something that now involves redoing the sensory garden, learning garden and inspiration center,” Village Manager Yoie Galiano said. “It grew into a bigger project, ultimately better for the community.” 

After the council had established a special bond to cover the rest of the costs in February, the renovations at the Upper Gardens officially began in mid-February. The renovations plan on revamping the playground, picnic area and restrooms. 

The renovations additionally add a larger, sturdier petting zoo to the gardens and includes a variety of animals: goats, sheep, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits and even miniature cows. As opposed to the sandy area where the animals currently reside, the renovations allow the animals to live on a large, grassy field. 

“Now, we have a permanent structure to house them, should we have a major weather incident,” Perez said. “They are living in a place that is both clean and safe.”

The Upper Gardens project moreover plans to construct an “Inspiration Center,” an indoor building offering a space for immersive classes, such as environmental art classes hosted by the artist-in-residence Xavier Cortada as well as a rehearsal space for the local repertory theatre company. Open to all, the indoor space also would serve as a place for families to cool down.

“We have a [place] that is very inviting for children on the autism spectrum,” Perez said. “Children with autism are very sensitive to temperature, so the inspiration center is going to be attached to the main entrance, right at the center of the garden. So, if there is a need to come into a climate-controlled area, it will be there for them.” 

On a mission to create an inclusive place for all individuals, the renovations plan to establish a “Learning Garden,” allowing people to observe their senses through touch, sight and sound. The garden includes an edible garden, butterfly garden, nature mosaics in the pavement, flower-shaped musical instruments and a hand pump for water, all on wheelchair-friendly pavement. The playground includes brand-new slide installations, play mounds, musical instruments and a roller slide.

“The playground is custom-made and it is going to be really beautiful because it is going to have animal shapes and things you would see in the garden, so it is really special,” Galiano said. 

The playground, petting zoo restroom and part of the sensory plan will open by summer 2021, while the rest of the renovations will be complete by March of the following year. 

 “I am looking forward most to having a space where children of all abilities can enjoy, experience, laugh and play together, because it is a completely immersive experience, regardless of the ability of the child,” Perez said. “It is not just enough to be ADA code compliant. Their experience should be as all-encompassing as any child, and in this part of the garden, that will be possible.”