School Garden News – Orlando, Florida

Volunteers Transform Garden for Butterflies
Scouts and others pitch in to make the Endeavor Elementary nature site a hands-on teaching aid.
By Kenda Robertson, OrlandoSentinel.com

When the students at Endeavor Elementary School in south Orange County learn about the life cycle of a butterfly, they no longer have to sit in a classroom and see the process through pictures in a book. That’s because the 800 pupils, ages 5 to 10, are able to watch the insect transform from a chrysalis to a full butterfly in their school’s 3,000-square-foot butterfly garden, which is an Audubon-certified sanctuary.

Purple weeping lantana, blue porterweed and red pentas greet the children each day as they pass through the garden on their way to the playground. As butterflies flitter and ladybugs crawl, the youngsters are introduced to the world of nature and a host of living things.

With more than 1,000 plants and 20 different species, there is a lot to see, touch and explore. A brick walkway allows pupils with disabilities to enjoy the garden, too. The idea to create the special educational garden at the school was developed about two years ago when Marriott Golf’s Grande Pines Golf Club in Orlando decided to become an Audubon-certified golf course through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. The program, which helps golf facilities protect the environment, calls for the golf club to complete several steps. One of those steps is to create an animal habitat outreach and education program, says Chris Flynn, golf course superintendent for Grand Pines. He and his team supplied straw and mulch for the school’s garden, installed an irrigation system, helped build the garden’s walkway and continue to assist with routine maintenance of the site.

Once the appropriate steps were taken, the golf club and the school’s butterfly garden officially became Audubon-certified.”We felt a butterfly garden would be an easy and fun way to get kids involved and make them aware of the importance of protecting the environment at an early age,” Flynn says. “It’s an incredible learning experience as they help weed and care for the plants.”

Scout takes the lead
When then-14-year-old Kenny Carter Jr., an Eagle Scout and former student at Endeavor, heard about the butterfly garden proposal at the school, he volunteered to take on the garden as an Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project.Carter says he wanted to give back to the school and faculty who “taught him well and helped him progress.” He also wanted to honor the memory of his grandfather, Aubrey Carter, a 35-year teacher who had died several months earlier, and to whom the garden was dedicated on Dec. 1, 2006.

Although it took a year and 700 hours of Carter’s time for the garden to be completed, he says it also required a lot of teamwork and collaboration from many others in the community for everything to turn out so well. To start the project, Carter recruited Shari Fling, a master gardener volunteer who designed the 50-by-66-foot sanctuary. The teenager also organized a fundraiser at the school to raise money to buy plants, worked with Lukas Nursery and Garden Shop in Oviedo to get the plants at a discount and enlisted the help of his Boy Scouts of America Troop 996 to plant the garden. As she drew up plans for the area, Fling says she chose hearty, drought-tolerant, nontoxic plants that are easy to care for and that attract specific butterflies.

Some plants are Florida natives including the brightly colored beautyberry, which attracts birds. She also used simple plants, such as pentas and lantana, because children can see and identify them at their local plant nursery.

“There are two things you need to attract butterflies — a source of food and drink,” Fling says. Larval and nectar plants provide these necessities and serve as an invitation to specific butterflies. In the end, Fling chose plants to attract about a dozen species of butterflies, including fennel, which attracts the black swallowtail, and milkweed, which attracts the monarch.

“We are indoors so much with computers and games that kids miss out on a lot of outside fun,” Fling says. “I want this garden to inspire these children to see caterpillars and butterflies, and allow them to touch nature without being afraid.”

Helping kids and teachers
Kristen Vadnais, kindergarten teacher at Endeavor, says she uses the garden to teach her 5-year-olds about living and nonliving things. She likes being able to take them to the garden and show them rocks, soil, leaves, flowers, insects and, of course, butterflies. “They always let me know when they see a butterfly,” Vadnais says. “They also point out the different colors of flowers, and like to look at the bugs.

“Vadnais says the garden is valuable for teachers, because it gives them a visual to go along with the verbal lessons. “Younger children learn more through visual, hands-on experiences,” she says. “They can see how insects live, learn how seeds grow and watch them sprout.”

Barbara Richardson, editor of kidsgardening.org, a nonprofit Web site, says kids whose learning styles aren’t compatible with classroom learning usually show an advantage in the garden, developing leadership and knowledge through action.

“The wonder that children experience when they plant a seed, see it sprout and cultivate it to maturity is unique,” Richardson says. “Just watch a child pull up a carrot for the first time, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”

Carter says it took a lot of people to complete this important project, and he’s proud to have been a part of making it happen. “It was great how it came together, and everyone worked to help our community,” he says.

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One Response to School Garden News – Orlando, Florida

  1. Mark says:

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    Mark Chipkin
    Educational Project Director
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