School Garden News – South Carolina

School’s Butterfly Garden gets an “A”

It was in the ’90s that butterfly gardens took off like a Monarch searching for her host plant, the elusive butterfly weed. Today butterfly gardens abound in the Lowcountry, and that’s as it should be — where there are butterflies there are bees, and we know how important both are to our environment.

The Environmental Club of Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School is discovering the effects of pollution, litter eradication and beautification through the establishment of a butterfly garden for use as an outdoor classroom. Through the efforts of teacher and class leader Amy Tressler, a project description of the garden was sent to the Palmetto Pride anti-litter curriculum in Columbia to establish a grant.

Behind the school there is space for a garden, and what the Environmental Club needed next was someone to put it together. That someone was Karen Geiger of Creative Gardens who had heard of the club through her son Christopher, a club member, and who donated her staff and time to design and plant a flower garden with emphasis on the native plants that butterflies love.

On a beautiful day in May, the established garden was dedicated. Principal Jill McAden introduced the Environmental Club members and POA President Suzanne Johnson, Amy Tessler and Karen Geiger. McAden spoke of Geiger’s devotion to the project: “she did not just do it, but took the time to explain to the students the nature of each plant.”

The base of the garden is a load of Broad Creek sludge that was dumped, spread on the ground and dug in. More than 20 varieties of flowering plants were set in; the final step was the spreading of a thick layer of Greenkeeper bagged mulch. In the center of the garden were small clay pots that were painted by the club members and placed on their sides to serve as houses for toads.

Butterflies, bees, birds and toads will come, for this garden is bursting with bloom. Looking at it, one can’t help but think how lucky we are to live where such a flower garden will bloom for most of the year.

It’s worth noting that many plant varieties that are grown as annuals in a less temperate zone, are perennial here. The Monarch butterfly is doing her business on butterfly weeds in February as the once annual butterfly weed in colors of yellow and orange (Asclepias curassavica) has become perennial with flowers all year, or until caterpillars chew up flower and stem. Fortunately, this prolific self-seeder regroups in a matter of weeks, providing more flowers for more butterflies. The native butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa can be found flowering now in our wooded lots. Smart gardeners leave it be; the plant is endangered locally, and is difficult to transplant.

Perennials echinacea (coneflower) and rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) are available now in colors other than purple and yellow.”Tiki Torch” echinacea is the darkest orange coneflower to date and, has massive 4- to 5-inch diameter flowers. Other perennials in the environmental garden are salvia in colors of red and blue, Society garlic, daylilies, plumbago, coreopsis, blue ruellia and native grasses. The smaller plants, lantana, petunias, portulaca and zinnias are used along the borders. The taller canna plants and shrub roses provide a colorful background and protection from the wind that butterflies need.

Driving home from the dedication, I felt inspired to add more butterfly plants to my garden. Unfortunately I’ve not enough sun to plant a garden but make do by placing plants that attract butterflies in the few sunspots that exist. I keep stones in sunny places for butterflies to perch and bask in the sun. Basking raises their body temperature so they are able to remain active. Butterflies need water too; make a mud puddle for them to drink from, and remember to plant extra parsley and dill plants for the black swallowtail, whose caterpillar can eat either or both plants to the ground and in a few hours.

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