Matthaei Botanical Gardens-EntranceCall it a “staycation.” While our daughter was Up North with grandparents, my husband and I made plans to do some fun things with our three-year-old son. As plans rarely go as, well, planned, we ended up cancelling a trip and staying home.

Wanting to take our son somewhere fun yet close by, we headed to the Matthaei Botnical Gardens, operated by the University of Michigan. We parked and fed the newly installed parking meter ($1.20 per hour or $5 for all day), and headed inside to the conservatory — for which admission is now free with the paid parking.

There are all sorts of sights in the conservatory, from unusual plants not native to the Midwest (such as a banana tree, pineapple tree and bizarre sausage tree) to the succulents room with cacti larger than you’d probably ever see in Michigan.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens SeatingThen we headed outside. Our son made a beeline to the Gaffield Children’s Garden, a few-years-old installation on the grounds that has rotating exhibits and activities for kids, such as bells to ring, a slide and a sensory garden. One feature that seems to be permanent is the sandbox, which, today, was more of a dirt box with wet sand. But it didn’t stop our son, who happily dug and built sand castles with the tools and molds kept in the box.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens Childrens garden SandboxWe were hoping to get a glimpse — or tour — of the MiSo solar house near the children’s garden, but it wasn’t open. (Now we have an excuse to go back!)

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