Tree Houses Project | Hot Springs Arkansas | The Portico Group


The Tree Houses Project, designed by The Portico Group, represents a plan to provide children and their families with unique experiences at the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden within Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, AR. The conceptual organizational approach for new encounter stations will encourage kids to “Look, Find and Discover that the Woods are Alive!”


The Evans Children’s Adventure Garden is located in a forest setting where children, their families and caregivers can explore some of the best-known attributes of the Ouachita Mountain region: lakeshores, wetlands, boulders, a cave, sweeping hillsides and towering trees. The forest floor is open and encouraging of self-exploration, with both paved and earthen paths. An existing elevated walkway, 20 feet off the ground, circles the one and one-half acres that is the heart of Children’s Garden. This forest setting provides countless opportunities to observe nature ‘up-close’ and to learn about animals, plants, rocks, water and natural systems in process.


“The Woods are Alive!” refers to the Ouachita Mountain forests. The message encompasses the living flora of trees and forest plants, the fauna that live in the forest and the people who benefit from its clean air, water and soil. The message also encompasses a process; boulders and humus breaking down into soil, seeds germinating, and the idea that living plants also die and contribute their nutrients to the lives of others. Younger children will focus on forest elements; older children and caregivers focus on forest processes. As generations of kids grow up with the children’s garden, their play-based activities will evolve from simple play to the science that underpins the natural forest.


The healthy forest depends on conditions within all its strata. Therefore the Tree Houses encounter stations have a corresponding structure: below ground to above ground and at levels in between. There is a range of size and function for the stations.

The Core Stations provide semi enclosed gathering, exploring and discovering areas and appeal to a range of ages and learning styles. These Core Tree House Experiences are accessed from Bridge Trail and will focus on the following topics and stories from the ground up:

  • The Seed: pollinators, flowers, soils, underground fungi, worms, moles, beetles, roots
  • Tree Trunk Trail: hardwood, ecology, insects, birds, tree bark
  • The Nest: birds, adaptations, flight, insects, bees
  • The Cocoon: insects including caterpillars, moths, butterflies and spiders






The Other Stations support “Look Find and Discover!” and include:

  • Up and Down Trail with Leaf Litter Terrace: nutrients, decomposition, photosynthesis, insects
  • Saddle Spur with Fossil Fissure and Root maze
  • Ridge Top Trail with the Dragon Fly Cove and King Fisher Pier: insects, water birds, flight, bat boxes, fishing, microphones



Tree Houses Project for the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden, Garvan Woodland Gardens

Location: Hot Springs, Arkansas
Design Firm: The Portico Group
Year: Pre-Design Completed 2013

Children will climb, crawl or run freely in and out of the encounter stations in search of signs of life, and will engage full body exploration along with other kids, to find additional clues and spark further connections. Older children and caregivers will find their own routes through the encounter stations while keeping an eye on younger companions. They may take on the role of teacher and help others make surprising discoveries. All ages will return for future visits, so that families will contain generations of people who played and learned at the children’s garden.


About Damian Holmes 5562 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at

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