A community butterfly garden has bloomed in every way, as a partnership between the Clinton Garden Club and Sampson Community College has cultivated a beautiful destination where more than 800 local elementary school students were able to get a real-life experience of the nature they’ve learned about in class.
Wrapping up the visits this week were 240 Butler Avenue students — 120 on Wednesday and another 120 on Thursday. In all, the Garden Club hosted more than 800 students from Clinton City Schools, Sampson County Schools and private learning institutions, including Mintz Academy.
Faith Alley, president of the Clinton Garden Club, said she couldn’t be more thrilled with the booming garden, and its multiplying numbers of tiny visitors.
“Last year, it was just city schools,” said Alley. “We ramped it up this year.”
It was ramped up not only in the number of students, but in the number of tours and the expansion of Garden Club members who guided students through the garden. There were new colorful planters placed around the garden courtesy of SCC horticulture students, as well as a game area — complete with music — that taught the children about the life of butterflies. This year, the classes also stayed a while longer, lunching at the garden as part of the trip.
“It’s just great, and it’s a beautiful day for it,” said Alley. “This is our second year and it will continue on.”
The butterfly garden has been a constant partnership between the Clinton Garden Club and the SCC Horticulture Department for several years now. Two years ago, the Clinton Garden Club donated money to Horticulture Department head Nancy Olson to begin implementing a butterfly attraction within the existing garden site at the back of the campus, the first of three installments to purchase plants and shrubs and needed implements to see the project bloom.
“This wouldn’t be possible without Nancy Olson,” Alley said.
Olson said she shares the kids’ love for the tours.
“The kids just love this,” said Olson. “It’s so super. They see a lot of this stuff in school, but just to see it out in the world is a great experience. They have a tendency to really look the next time they are out in a garden.”
The goal was to build a local refuge for the colorful, fluttering creatures, while similarly attracting a gathering place for young and old alike to enjoy the natural exhibit. Building on that goal, there were 200 students hosted last year, the first year the excursions were offered by the Garden Club.
Alley and Billie DeVane, chairwoman of the butterfly garden project, touted the tours as a sign the project was proving successful. At this point, Garden Club members said, the success of the project undertaken by the club and SCC is beyond question.
Last year’s student figure grew four times over this year, as field trips took place during April and the first part of May. The garden became a stop for many second-graders across the county, one they won’t soon forget.
Alley said she hopes it is an experience that leaves an indelible impact with the child, who will then share it with others.
“We’re encouraging that they come on their own with their parents, then they can show their family what they’ve learned,” Alley said. “It’s just a beautiful place to visit. It’s such a jewel in the midst of the community that they might not know about.”
The benefits are felt all around, as the Garden Club is allowed a positive community outreach, the SCC Horticulture Department gets to host hundreds of students on the college campus and spread the word about the expansive garden, and the students get to see the whole thing firsthand.
“It goes along with the life cycles taught as part of the second-grade curriculum,” Alley said of the butterfly garden trip. “If they’ve had the curriculum, it reinforces it. If they haven’t had it, it prepares them for it.”
Being able to educate children and give them an interactive and fun learning experience was always a main goal for the project, Garden Club members said. The butterfly garden can provide a means for quick and economic field trips and also fits well into what local second graders are learning.
While it has been there for years, operated by SCC and widely unknown to the general public, it was when the Garden Club joined forces with the Olson and the community college, that the garden as a destination for a public outing and student field trips began to come into view.
That has not only come to fruition, it is flourishing.
Butler second-grade teacher Hazelyn Williams said her class was excited, evident by their reactions to everything the garden and tour had to offer.
“It’s really great. They like it a lot,” Williams said. “I really appreciate how it’s so organized and how they’ve put it all together. (The students) are studying life cycles and they have butterflies in class right now.”
At the beginning of their tour, students were given pictures of monarch butterflies to wear around their neck. Clinton Garden Club guides, some wearing wings and antennae, then led them through the garden, around the various plants in bloom, explaining what they were and how they fit into the environment. Students pointed out fish in the koi pond, drank the nectar from large honeysuckle bushes and scoured for caterpillars among the plants.
Olson, wearing wings on her back and a winged-butterfly hat to match, greeted students after they finished playing educational butterfly games in the greenhouse. She thanked them for visiting and invited them back, asking they bring their parents, relatives and friends with them.
As a gift, she said, they could take home their own dianthus plant. As Olson gave them directions about planting it to make sure they gave it plenty of sunlight, about a dozen sets of eyes were locked on which plant they wanted.
“Pick whichever plant you want,” she said, as hands immediately went into a row of dianthus plants placed on the table in front of them.
Butler second-grade teacher Lesa Gunnells helped her students mark their plants. Her first trip to the butterfly garden, Gunnells said it was a great experience to share with her wide-eyed students.
“It’s wonderful,” Gunnells said. “They’re learning about this right now, so it’s just great. They know more than I thought.”
Olson said the student tours have also acted to shed light on the still-little-known garden at the rear of the college campus. The public is invited to take it in, an especially worthwhile excursion this time of year, she said, with sunlight bouncing off a spectrum of colorful flowers
“It’s just gorgeous,” said Olson, “and it’s only going to get better as everything starts blooming.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.