Jul 1st, 2015

New in the Kid’s Garden…

mitra and kevin

Mitra Bryant and Kevin Ratliff, Children’s Garden Educators

We’d like to welcome Mitra Bryant and Kevin Ratliff, new educators in the Children’s Garden. Since our Children’s Garden staff sometimes develop a bit of celebrity-status with you guys, I wanted to introduce you to them. Please stop and say “Hi” to them next time you are splashing in WaterPlay or hula hooping in front of the Carriage House.  Take it away Mitra & Kevin….

Mitra Bryant, Children's Garden Educator and the CWD Kids Treehouse

Mitra Bryant

Mitra Bryant, Children’s Garden Educator

During the school year, I teach  garden programs for student groups who travel to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens for field trips. The school programs provide hands-on learning opportunities and also reinforce Virginia’s Standard of Learning objectives. This summer, I am teaching a series of 45 minute-long  guided programs for daycare groups.  I am also teaching week-long Green Adventure Camps including: Mr. McGregor’s Garden, Bug Brigade, and Grow and Create.

What is your favorite part of the garden?

I love the “tree trail” leading to the homemade rustic log amphitheater because I heard that Grace Arents liked to walk in that general area. I like to take children there because I know Grace Arents cared a lot about the well-being of children, especially children living in challenging circumstances. I feel like she would be so happy to know that so many different children are enjoying the legacy she left. When I am on the tree trail with a class, I like to imagine that she is right there walking along with us. I am really fascinated by Grace Arents.
If you’d like to visit this area look for the “Welcome to the Tree Trail” sign just before you get to the Garden Keeper’s Cottage.

Where did you work before you came to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden?

Most recently, I taught programs for Art 180. One Art 180 program I led was at St. Andrew’s School, which Grace Arents started for children whose families did not have a lot of money. That is where I started to learn a lot about Grace Arents. I also taught preschool at St. Thomas Day School, and middle school in Henrico County. I currently have a photography business on the side.

Tell us something about you that your co-workers might not know.

I am a photographer. I love documenting shapes and textures found in nature, but portrait photography is my favorite type of photography. I am so intrigued by the idea that photography stops time for a moment – or forever – depending on how one might look at it.

What do you do in your free time?

I garden a lot. I really enjoy growing perennials. I design and redesign my perennial gardens often. I feel like it is something you have to love to do – because it is a lot of work – and plants often don’t do what I think they are going to do. Gardening gives me a huge appreciation for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. It is amazing that the gardens here are so beautiful all the time. I also like going on adventures with my family – day trips and interesting vacations. Truth be told though, I don’t have tons of free time with three kids.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in upstate New York and still have family there, but I grew up in Manassas, Va. When I was a kid, it was a sleepy town. There were still a lot of farms around there. In fact, I lived on a farm there until I was in 5th grade when we moved to a more suburban area in Manassas. I don’t recognize Manassas anymore. The farmhouse, near Bull Run, that I lived in as a kid was on the site of a current VRE commuter rail station. The land, where I used to see cows, corn, and barn with a big silo, is literally a huge parking lot now for people who want to take the train to DC.

What part of Richmond do you live in?

I am proud to say that I live in Ginter Park. The community there is quite very eclectic. I really love the way the neighborhood has grown, changed and thrived from the time Lewis Ginter conceived of the idea of developing Ginter Park. I am so enamored by the idea that the community visions of Lewis Ginter and Grace Arents are still in place. I go the Lewis Ginter Recreation Center almost every day in the summer. Grace Arents started it . In many ways, this center really needs an update – but that does not stop the community from going there all the time. That is crazy to me – sort of magical.

If you could have one super power, what would it be?

I would like to time travel – just to observe – not to change anything.

 

Kevin Ratliff, in mulberry tree

Kevin Ratliff, Children’s Garden Educator, in one of his favorite spots at Lewis Ginter — the 100-year-old mulberry tree.

Kevin Ratliff, Children’s Garden Educator

As an Educator in the Children’s Garden, I teach and assist in running our programs for preschool and elementary school aged visitors, including Young Buds, Discovery Programs and Green Adventure Summer Camp.  Being a member of the teaching team, I hope to inspire a love and interest in nature through our many plant and wildlife-based programs.

What is your favorite part of the garden?

My favorite part of the garden would have to be the Asian Valley. I love the balance of stillness and movement, water and earth, shade and sun, plant and animal life. There is both vibrancy with the seasonal changes in plants and flowers and constancy in the evergreens and conifers that frame the water’s edge and garden paths. Since working in the Children’s Garden, I have loved seeing the excitement on the children’s faces when they first see the pond in the upper Asian Valley, along with the fish, turtles and other wildlife that live there.

Where did you work before you came to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden?

I have worked in a number of places throughout my life. Most recently, the Great Big Greenhouse, a nursery and garden center here in Richmond.  There I received a crash course in plant identification and horticulture that has been a great aid to my teaching in the Children’s Garden. My primary field of work over the last seven years has been in wilderness therapy and adventure education. At Four Circles Recovery Center and Blackwater Outdoor Experiences, I filled the role of wilderness guide, mentor and therapist. Working for Boulder Valley School District’s after school care program and Avid 4 Adventure’s summer camp, I gained experience caring for, supervising and instructing young children. Over the course of my varied work life, my care and compassion for that which is “young” in all of us has continued to grow.

Tell us something about you that your co-workers might not know.

I used to study monkeys!! After graduating from college with an anthropology degree, I worked as a field assistant in Costa Rica chasing and collecting data on white-faced capuchins. While there, I observed and got to know over 80 different monkeys….loved watching all the individual personalities and monkey drama within the group. However, this little tidbit may not be that surprising considering the way I skip, play, and “monkey around” with the kids in the Children’s Garden.

What do you do in your free time?

Quite possibly my favorite pass-time is whitewater kayaking. I first began kayaking 8 years ago and quickly fell in love. I have always gravitated towards water and cannot think of anything more enlivening than feeling its energy and power beneath me as I carve across a wave or plunge into a rapid. With the onset of summer, I have been taking every chance I can to jump on the James River and go boating. I am an avid reader, enjoying fictional series like Harry Potter as well as heavier, textbook reads on neuroscience and brain development. Mindfulness practices, like meditation and contemplative movement, are a big part of my life. I also enjoy simply catching a movie or having dinner with a good friend.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Bassett, Virginia. It’s a small town in the southwestern part of the state. My childhood home was on a half-acre lot where we had woods, open fields, and a hill to play on. My sister and I would often ride the Red-Ryder wagon or our Big Wheels down the hill. I also remember being tasked with washing the tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash from our garden….a chore I dutifully complained about though still had to complete. We moved to the city during my teen years, yet I luckily found a nearby park in which I could romp and rove.

What part of Richmond do you live in?

I live in the Southside of Richmond near Forest Hill Park. Even in living there just under a year, I have become quite attached to the place. Seeing numerous kids and families sledding in the park after a big snow brought a smile to my face. I frequently enjoy walking down to the local café Crossroads, grabbing a smoothie or milkshake, and reading my book while sitting outside. The South of the James Farmers Market is quite an event each Saturday. And, I am just a short drive to the river or across the bridge to downtown Richmond.

Jonah Holland is PR & Marketing Coordinator at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, specializing in social media. She's been known to go for a walk, and come back completely inspired to write a blog post on her newest found adventure.

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