Friday, September 10, 2010

Recess Bells and Butterfly Wings- Supporting Natural Habitats at School

There’s a new splash of color outside of my children’s school. Where once only a plain patch of green grass grew, now bright fronds of goldenrod and purple spikes of Blazingstar sway in the breeze. Look closely, and you’ll even spot a flash of orange as a Monarch flits between the flowers. Both insect and human visitors are enjoying the new butterfly garden.

Plans for the garden began last spring, when a PTA committee contacted the Conservation Foundation, a local not-for-profit environmental protection organization, and asked for help converting an area of the school grounds into a natural habitat. The Conservation Foundation designed the garden, suggesting the best types of native plants to include to attract butterflies. They also helped us selected the best spot for the garden- a sunny area where students often gathered.

Before digging in, the area had to be cleared of grass. Time to call in the eager grade-school troops! Armed with piles of old newspaper, shovels, and mulch, the students went to work. They spread newspaper 6-7 layers thick over the grassy area designated for the garden. Atop the newspaper, they piled mulch 3-4 inches of mulch. The smothered grass died, leaving plenty of space for a new garden.

After a few weeks, the troops were summoned again, this time to plant. A local organic gardeners club donated native plants, including milkweed, liatris, and black-eyed Susans. On planting day, students had a wonderful time digging holes, planting, sprinkling compost, and even adding a few wriggling guests to the garden to help aerate the soil. When the school year ended, families signed up for weekly summer shifts to water and weed the young plants. All of the hard work paid off. By September, students were welcomed back to school by a garden bursting with cheerful blooms.

As time passes not only will the garden grow more colorful, but it will be easy to maintain. Native plants can withstand drought, so they don’t need extra watering. The garden will also do the important work of helping butterflies. Many types of butterflies are disappearing because of loss of habitat. This natural habitat garden will supply food and shelter butterflies need to survive and reproduce. Our school hopes to expand its garden as time goes on, not only to nurture butterflies, but also kids who care about and help protect nature.

To learn more about how to start your own butterfly garden or other natural wildlife habitat visit:
Illinois residents can get started by contacting the Conservation Foundation:

1 comment:

  1. I'm amazed at how nicely the garden looks and how well it survived the summer. Still trying to convince Laima to add a stone path. Maybe a water source?