Tucked along Baptist Road in Canterbury, Petals in the Pines is part nature activity center, part gardens and part trails – a whimsical escape from the busy day-to-day, and a step into a scene out of “The Shire” that lends itself to be a magical place of relaxation and education for everyone in the family.
Co-owners and husband-wife team Jim and Donna Miller opened their Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom to the public in 2010 after Donna saw an opportunity to invite others to enjoy the nature play areas that she created for her kids as they grew up. “When our kids were little, I built nature-based spaces for them to play in around our property, like gourd teepees and sunflower houses, and other kids would come over to join them and never want to leave,” says Miller. “I was thinking about starting a business, but I needed a proper stamp of approval. Once I discovered the Arbor Day Nature Explore Program, I was able to learn about how to create an outdoor classroom for kids and started building out our unique blend of the native landscape with cultivated gardens that you can visit today.”
Their two-fold mission has remained the same for over 20 years: first, to enable children of all ages, from infants and toddlers to teens, to experience nature in a safe and nurturing environment, and second, to encourage and educate adults in their personal exploration of the natural world that surrounds them.
“We love being able to create and share experiences, treasures and activities for everyone in the family to enjoy, ourselves included,” notes Miller. “One word that I hear all of the time is how ‘magical’ this place is because it is so intimate and comfortable. We are a diverse business, but everything we do comes back to focusing on nature, education and relaxation.”
From pick-your-own flowers to demonstration gardens to two miles of trails to workshops, there is something for everyone in the family to enjoy. “People start by checking in at the Farm Stand Porch, where you can find an array of bouquets and other products from local vendors, and from there they venture off to one of our two labyrinths, or the Tale Trails for kids,” says Miller. “Every year, we bring stories to life as kids walk the Trail and read, or have read to them, pages from nature books. On “Spread Your Wings” Days, we also open up our Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom for discovery time and unstructured play. Kids love the exploration and freedom in it, and parents even love being able to turn their phones off and immerse themselves in that time too.”
By connecting kids with nature, this type of unstructured play and activity helps increase concentration, develop creativity and problem-solving, and relieve stress. Parents enjoy playing alongside their kids while also tapping into the Millers’ decades of knowledge and experience, to learn about their extensive collections of native and cultivated plants.
“Our hands-on pollinator workshops are perfect for homeowners, gardeners and landowners who want to learn about what pollinators are, why they are declining, and how people can help,” says Miller. “Attendees receive a packet with plant and resource lists, educational materials and pollinator seeds to get them started. I also love meeting visitors at our farm stand to answer questions about how we increased our own biodiversity on-site, and how people can do the same at home.”
The Millers hope that those who visit Petals in the Pines will leave feeling more at peace than when they arrived, and more empowered to support local pollinators like monarchs and bees in their own backyards. And perhaps they will depart with new memories and traditions all their own.
“We want to capture our local community that’s looking for a spontaneous fun day away, as well as groups that are coming from farther away for a workshop or birthday party,” says Miller. “Inviting others to sit with and learn from Mother Nature is the purpose behind our work, and we hope that people will find our place to be a home away from home as much as it is for us.”
10th Annual NH Monarch Festival
September 10, 2022
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission: Kids are free; $5 donation is suggested for adults.
Costumes and carpooling are encouraged.
While most come to Petals in the Pines for the opportunity to be immersed in nature, many are drawn to their annual NH Monarch festival. This year marks 10 years of the festival, which aims to provide hands-on tools and expert advice on how families can sustain and improve habitat for migrating monarchs and other vital pollinators, all while giving kids fun ways to celebrate and learn about the butterfly.
“I got into monarchs when my son was in the second grade and his teacher asked him to look for monarchs on milkweed,” says Miller. “I have been on monarch watch ever since. We did an open house the first year of the festival and there were no monarchs or caterpillars. It was an eye-opener for attendees to understand the desperation of the monarch’s plight, and every year we focus on increasing the public’s awareness of their situation and how to help them. We have also expanded our mission to assist all pollinators, including bees – why not help them all?”
This year’s NH Monarch Festival includes games and activities for kids, a butterfly relay race, Pollinator Meadow walks, free milkweed seed packets, monarch photo booth, “Ask a Master Gardener” educational booth and much more. There will also be a variety of vendors selling educational materials and nature-based products.
In case you can’t make it this year, educational materials from the Festival will still be on display for weeks after. “Just because the festival ends doesn’t mean our education efforts end,” says Miller. “Our everyday mantra is you can do something in your backyard by what you plant. You can add milkweed and butterfly weed, encourage native plants and reduce or eliminate pesticides. Any little help goes a long way.”
For more information on this year’s festival, visit petalsinthepines.com/monarch-festival.