The Coastal Star

Secret Gardens: Small space is big on butterflies

Christine Johnson (left) shows a visiting family the Children’s Museum butterfly garden,

including a 2-foot-wide kinetic sculpture metal butterfly.

Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley

    The next time you are near the Schoolhouse Children’s Museum & Learning Center in Boynton Beach, take a few minutes to explore its butterfly garden.
    Set on a pie-shaped piece of land at the southeast corner of the building, this garden is filled not only with color and fragrance, but also butterflies. Lots of butterflies.
    “When we took out pencil and paper to design this garden, we knew we wanted it to be both pretty and functional,” says Christine Johnson, a member of the Boynton Beach Garden Club who helped create the museum’s garden.
    Today she is working with five other club members to ready the garden for an art festival that should draw a good number of people to the area. “We want our butterfly garden to look its best,” she says.
    It was the city that got the garden club involved. When Johnson first came to the site in 2013, there were only a few round paving stones, an irrigation system and five small trees. “Otherwise it was just dirt,” she says.
    Today the garden is a perfect example of what you can grow and achieve in a small space. And like any well-designed butterfly garden, this plot includes the specific plant species necessary to support each variety of butterfly throughout its life cycle.
    These include plants that the butterflies need to lay their eggs as well as leaves for their caterpillars to eat. And then, after those caterpillars form pupae (chrysalises) and turn into graceful butterflies, the garden provides the appropriate nectar plants to nourish them.
    Today you can walk through the museum garden on a paver path past the sweet almond tree. Its fragrant white blooms attract dozens of Atala butterflies to sip their nectar.
    These black insects with metallic blue polka dots and a splash of orange on their wings are considered rare. But here you’ll find plenty of them.
    Nearby the milkweed plants silently signal to the orange and black monarch butterflies that they will find sustenance here.
    And a fennel plant sends up its feathery fronds in the hopes of attracting black swallowtail butterflies. The club members plan to plant parsley that, like fennel, will attract these black butterflies with blue, orange and yellow markings on their wings.
    “Isn’t nature marvelous?” asks Johnson.
    There’s plenty here for butterflies to snack on, including the yellow flowers that look like pats of butter on the popcorn cassia. Ask how this plant got its name and Johnson will tell you to rub your hands along its leaves. Take a whiff and you’ll smell the toasted aroma of, yes, popcorn.
    There’s always something new being planted. In fact, today Johnson was on her way to the garden when she found 10 red and pink pentas that a neighbor had set at the curb as refuse. She gathered them up, brought them along and the club members have planted them bordering the well-mulched path.
    “We don’t have a big budget for our garden, so this was a wonderful find,” says Johnson, who also regularly checks the nursery sale racks at big box stores.
    Other plants are donated by club members who raise them from seeds. The women enjoy working together to make this garden welcoming to children and nature.
    “When visitors come by, they often compliment us on the garden, and that makes the work so much more pleasurable,” says Johnson.
    
Master Gardener Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley can be reached at debhartz@att.net.

An adult Atala is about the size of your fingertip.


Gardening Tip
    If you want to attract Atala butterflies to your garden, plant native coontie, which is the host plant for their colorful caterpillars. But not just one coontie; you have to plant a bunch of them. That’s because the Atala won’t lay eggs if there’s not enough coontie around to feed their caterpillars as they develop into butterflies.

— Christine Johnson

If You Go

    The Butterfly Garden is at the Schoolhouse Children’s Museum & Learning Center, 129 E. Ocean Ave., Boynton Beach; 742-6780; www.schoolhousemuseum.org
    The garden, brought to you by the Boynton Beach Garden Club, is on the southeast corner of the museum building to the right of the front stairs.
    For more information about the Boynton Beach Garden Club, call Second Vice President for Membership Christine Johnson at 736-2909. The club meets at 1 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the Boynton Beach Women’s Club, 1010 S. Federal Highway. The public is welcome.

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