Metamorphosis of a School Butterfly Garden
Back in 2004, someone at Dee-Mack Primary and Junior High School, a small school district in Central Illinois, stumbled across information about a grant, Greening Schools, offered by the Environmental Protection Agency. The grant offered $2,500 for the purpose of creating a natural habitat with native Illinois plants on school grounds. The information made its way into the hands of Michele Jacobs, an elementary teacher at the time, and the first stage of the project was begun!
The first challenge was to gather the documentation to demonstrate where the butterfly garden would be located and how it would benefit the school in order to apply for the grant. The selected location is highly visible, directly between the building and the parking lot, and right along the sidewalk that nearly every student walks down every day. At the time, it was a bare, flat expanse of grass, with patches that deteriorated into tempting puddles of mud every time it rained. The area is bordered by sidewalk on three sides, with a chain-link fence along the parking lot on the fourth side.
|Our school was awarded a grant of $2,500, and then the real "get your hands dirty" work began! With the help of Kathy Friend, a local Master Gardener and active member of the Mackinaw Garden Club, the teachers and administrators compiled a list of native plants, per the requirements of the grant, which were either host plants for the caterpillars, or nectar-providing plants for the mature butterflies. Much of the money for the grant went toward purchasing the plants, which are listed at the end of the article.|
Before a single plant was purchased, the area had to be prepared for planting. Some local landscaping businesses donated the dirt, compost, and mulch, and delivered it by the truckload. Once the piles were dumped, the students got to work, beginning with the junior high students distributing the dirt throughout the area and creating berms to add some dimension and interest to an otherwise unexceptional flat, square block.
The butterfly garden quickly became a community project, as the scope of the garden expanded far beyond what the grant alone could provide. Three benches were donated by the PTO, First Security Bank, and the Mackinaw Garden Club. Nearby garden centers offered discounts and donated additional plants. Local recycling, construction, and landscaping companies provided young trees, newspaper, mulch, rocks, dirt, and skid loader services for a day.
Once the heavy digging was done, the younger students got involved. Working in teams, the junior high students dug holes, and the kindergarten through third graders inserted the selected plants, under the guidance of their teachers. Though the list of plants seems long, the garden looked a bit bare and forlorn with all the tiny plants spaced out across it. As we all know, perennials take a while to establish, and it is important to keep in mind their final size when determining how far apart to space them!
Gradually, the plants achieved maturity, and filled in the empty spaces. Many dropped their seeds happily over the winters, and any that escaped the scavenging birds sprouted to add to the fullness of the garden. In the three years since the garden was started, many parents, teachers, and community members have added more plants, carefully dug from their own yards, to increase the beauty and color of the area. As the garden has changed and grown, it has strayed a bit from its original designation as solely for native Illinois plants, but it has become a place of beauty and inspiration for young and old alike.
|Now, when the first graders learn about living versus non-living things in science, their teacher takes them right outside their own school door to explore the reality of it. The kindergarteners can find food sources for the Painted Lady butterflies they've raised in the classroom, right in our own butterfly garden, and can observe which flowers attract the newly released butterflies. The second graders who find a stray toad on the playground at recess immediately think to carry him around the building (with teacher permission, of course!) and set him free in the butterfly garden, where he can find shade and plenty of prey to keep him well-fed. As the children learn the life cycle of plants, the wonder of seeds, and the basics of caring for living things, they have only to consider the plants they planted themselves not so very long ago.|
As parents arrive to pick up their children at the end of the day, they can pause andwonder at the number of butterflies gathered on the buddleia adjacent to the parking lot. Parents and grandparents who linger to allow their children to play on the playground can rest on a bench, surrounded by flowers and trees, with their young charges in plain sight. As the plants mature, the students can revisit them, and note how much they've both grown since those little hands first patted the soil around the fledgling plants.
As an educator at Dee-Mack Primary and Jr. High School, I plan to make good use of the butterfly gardens. This past fall, I took an on-line class about native Illinois butterflies through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and garnered a wealth of lesson plans and information. You will find your own local DNR and Extension Services to be fantastic sources of information about the butterflies in your own locality!
You can find the name of any of the plants pictured above by hovering your mouse over the photograph for a few seconds. They are all examples of the varieties planted in our butterfly garden. I would like to thank the many photographers who have taken the time to submit their pictures to Plant Files. Dave's Garden is a much richer, lovelier place because of it! Pictures of individual flowers above can all be found in Plant Files, and appear courtesy of these Dave's Garden members:
- Marna Towne (Mrs_Ed), for the Blue Swallowtail butterfly above on the phlox
- Wallaby1, for the Comma butterfly on Sedum 'Frosty Morn'
- Ninepatch, for Coreopsis 'Early Sunrise'
- Knifophia, for Verbascum 'Cherry Helen'
- Ann Chapman (Galanthophile), for Salvia 'May Night'
- Jill Nicolaus (Critterologist), for Black Swallowtail on Buddleja
- Daylily SLP, for Echinacea 'Bright Star'
- E. S. Winston (esw), for Penstemon "Prairie Dusk'
- Victor Carrano (victorgardener), for Phlox 'David'
- Daryl Carlyle (daryl) for Caryopteris 'Longwood Blue'