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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

We came for Shaun, we stayed for the Garden

I had water,  snacks and my 'Shaun Spotter' app primed and ready to go. Everything my son and I needed for a few hours of Shaun in the City hunting. Friends were seeking out Shauns in Bristol's City Centre while we did the Downs Trail - there would be some healthy competition on Facebook.
Our first stop was the University of Bristol Botanic Garden as I knew that Shaun had been eagerly awaited by the Garden staff and I wanted to see how things were going. We met Shaun in the Jungle near the welcome hut. Morgan (my son) dutifully posed with Shaun so I could take a couple of pictures, but then he asked (closer to begging really) if we could go into the garden and have a look in the pond. Inspired by finding a newt in there a couple of years ago, he can't resist looking in every time we go.

Morgan posing with Shaun of the Jungle at the Botanic Garden
Morgan has been coming with me to the Botanic Garden for several years now as I gain inspiration from the staff and surroundings for new blog posts. He's familiar with it and we now have a bit of a routine, with the large pond always being the number one stop. There were two species of dragonfly and little blue damselflies taking their strategic positions around the pond. The water was crystal clear allowing us to see to the bottom clear across the pond.

On our way over to the raised pond near the Mediterranean Collection, we stopped to watch the action surrounding the bee hives (Morgan choosing to stay a very respectable distance away). The second pond brought our dragonfly species count up to three and Morgan spotted a discarded exoskeleton of a dragonfly nymph floating on the surface. This prompted a discussion about metamorphosis. As our eyes tuned into the life of the pond, we spotted water boatmen - Corixa punctata (some of the biggest I've seen), larvae that I couldn't identify and whirligig beetles (Gyrinus substriatus). We watched as honey bee after honey bee came to rest on the water lilies to drink.
Who knows how long we stared into the pond. It was one of those wonderful moments of absorption - I wasn't worried about the time or what to cook for dinner or a pressing deadline I had at work. I was just there.

Shaun's popularity

Shaun of the Jungle has brought a lot of visitors to the Botanic Garden. 'We had 1,000 people on Saturday,' said Nick Wray, the Garden's Curator. 'There were 350 people on Sunday in the pouring rain.'

In fact, Shaun has proved so popular, the Botanic Garden has hired two temporary staff to direct visitors and deal with the increased traffic flow - there are only so many spaces in the car park after all.

However, unlike my pond-gazing son and I, many of these visitors stay for an average of three to five minutes - just enough time to get out of the car and snap a photo of Shaun. Nic is one of the temporary staff directing the Shaun seekers and he told me that for most visitors, finding Shaun of the Jungle is their first trip to the Botanic Garden. Though he said there have been quite a few people returning to specifically tour this new found treasure.

The artist who painted this Shaun sculpture, MartynaZoltaszek, took 30 days to paint the toucans, jaguar and other jungle life. She exhibited her work at the Botanic Garden on the 28th of July, which was certainly an additional bonus for Shaun seekers that day.

Time to move on...or not

'Time to move on,' I said. 'Can we check out the glasshouses first please mummy?' was the response I received. Our Shaun seeking time was dwindling, but who can resist the glasshouses? I told Morgan we could go, but that we wouldn't be able to see any of the other Shauns. He chose the glasshouses.

In the glasshouses the lotus plants were in full glory. We were treated to some orchids in bloom and there was yet another pond to stare into.
The pond looking vibrant in the glasshouses

Alas, our Shaun count for the day was a grand total of one. But, given the choice, Morgan wanted to stay in the garden. I suppose for the same reasons he'll walk for miles in the countryside or through a woodland, but I have to drag him along city streets to run errands; the stimuli we receive from natural versus urban environments affect us differently. Nature restores me and why would it be any different for my seven year old?

His summer to that point had been a sequence of play dates and holiday camps filled with social stimulation and activities. This is important. But so is sitting and watching larvae in a pond and bees foraging. I could have easily rushed Morgan along so we could accomplish the task we had set out to do - but for what? Helen mentioned Nature Deficit Disorder among children in her recent blog following Monty Don's lectures. That day Morgan chose nature, no doubt to fill a deficit he was feeling that day. All I had to do was let him have the choice.     

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