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Blooming with Books festival unites literacy and nature at Duke Gardens

<p>Vibrant blooms transform the Duke gardens into a world of color.</p>

Vibrant blooms transform the Duke gardens into a world of color.

A flood of parents wearing sun visors and their sprightly children trickled into a large grassy opening in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens last Saturday morning for the debut of the Blooming with Books festival, an event created by a collection of community organizations to promote literacy and the outdoors.

A multitude of community partners, including Toxic Free, Durham Literacy Center and Durham County Library, were in attendance at the event and set up tables for those interested in learning more about the organizations. Several tables also featured interactive literacy or nature-related activities for the kids, including painting with dirt, planting seeds and choosing free books to take home. Every 30 minutes, children gathered in a shaded corner and listened as a book was read aloud by volunteers from the Durham County Library. 

“It’s very interactive, and I love the fresh air for my kids,” Durham resident Anne Scaramuzzo said. 

Her kids, ages 3 and 5, were seated at a nearby table where they made a nature “zine” — a small self-made booklet of text and images — using nature-themed scrapbook materials. Beyond activities for children, there were also stations for journaling, resources for parents and nature walks at the festival.

“For this event, [we were] really hoping to reach a broad audience of Durham community members, university students, people of all ages,” said Kavanah Anderson, education program coordinator at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

The idea for the event arose when Durham’s Partnership for Children (DPFC) approached the Duke Gardens’ staff about possible collaboration ideas. They had wanted to recruit different organizations for a large group event that would be an engaging experience for the community. 

“The partnership happened organically, [along] with showcasing that this area is a really good place for families to come,” said Brittany Gregory, program coordinator at DPFC.

Anderson mirrored Gregory’s sentiment that literacy and nature go hand-in-hand. DPFC hosts many annual events to promote literacy, and the organization particularly wanted to host one at Duke Gardens. DPFC hoped to connect community members to the beautiful outdoors while showcasing the wonderful resources Durham had to offer.

“It’s the first time we’ve done this event, and it’s the first time we’ve done this kind of event in this location,” Anderson said. “It’s always hard to know what to expect and we’re considering it a bit of an experiment, or a pilot, that will lead to future similar events.”

But it’s clear that Blooming with Books was a huge success. Some parents strolled from one resource table to the next while others set up picnic blankets on a nearby grassy hill. Kids ambled to and from different activities, clutching germinating kale seeds or a new picture book in their hands. The usually quiet garden was bustling with movement.

The next large-scale community event at Duke Gardens will be the annual Harvest Festival, which will take place Oct. 20 in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden.

“Our goal for all of the events we do is to help people connect to the garden in obvious and surprising ways,” Anderson said. 

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