Bethesda Butterfly Garden offers something new daily

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The show changes daily at Bethesda Butterfly Garden, a butterfly oasis tucked away on the north side of Bethesda Care Home in Goessel.

New buds break forth with vibrant colors, a fountain’s water dances with the whimsy of the wind and then splashes onto the rocks below, and butterflies and birds swoop in ballet-like movements.

“I’m amazed how frequently it changes,” said Gayle Wiens, one of the volunteers from Town and Country Garden Club.

The garden started with a seed of an idea planted by Wiens and grew from there.

Concerned about people in the home who had spent all their lives outside and were now confined to the inside of the building, Wiens campaigned for the project.

“This is the beginning of our fifth growing season,” Wiens said.

“We really started it to reconnect the residents with the change of seasons and the natural world, and to add beauty and change to their environment.”

It also serves to draw in people from outside the care-home environment.

“It makes the residents feel a part of the community because the community comes in and there’s more interaction,” she said.

Nancy Stucky, garden coordinator, said the garden is not just for the residents-it’s a two-way street.

“It’s open to the public to come and enjoy as well,” Stucky said.

And Wiens said club members looked upon the project as an interesting challenge.

A plaque at the front of the extensive garden welcomes visitors and lists contributors and volunteers, such as the garden club, Graber’s Nursery, Goessel Goal Getters 4-H Club, Goessel Mennonite Church, several Alexanderwohl Church groups and Goessel Christian Women’s Association.

Two wide cement paths break off from the entrance, arc around a white gazebo and converge at the rock-sculptured fountain. One single path leads from there and meanders under a trellis and back to a garden spot resplendent with hostas bursting from the recent rains.

Wiens initially contacted the horticulture-therapy program at Kansas State University for guidance. With the help of graduate students, a landscape plan for the Bethesda campus was drawn up.

“I think it was unanimous-everybody wanted to do a butterfly garden first,” Wiens said.

“The first year we planted like crazy. We started with a lot of free starts from garden-club members’ gardens.”

Wiens said after all the work the first year, she worried they wouldn’t see any butterflies in the following summer.

“But fortunately, they came. All the resources were right, and I saw more kinds of butterflies than I’d ever seen.”

The butterflies enjoying the garden at different times during the summer and fall include monarchs, black swallowtails, zebra swallowtails, red admirals, viceroys, hairstreaks, regal fritillaries, bronze coppers and orange sulfurs.

To attract this variety and provide for their entire life cycle and habitat, club members and volunteers planted certain butterfly favorites.

The blue fortune hyssop plant is one stand-out.

“They’ll just sit on there, these little butterflies, just hundreds in the fall,” Wiens said.

Dill is planted to entice the black swallowtail to lay its eggs on the delicate plant.

The striped caterpillars of the black swallowtail are resplendent in greens, golds and blacks, and their bright colors make it easier for the residents to observe them.

Butterfly bushes also attract the butterflies to settle and drink the nectar they provide.

“I like that because some of the residents don’t have very good vision, and it’s hard for them to follow a flitting butterfly,” Wiens said.

And even weeds contribute to the garden’s allure.

“They particularly like milkweed plants, which are not the prettiest of plants to grow, but they will really sit on it,” she said.

The flowers are planted in large clumps because clusters are easier for butterflies to locate than single plants.

Butterflies also need a water source, but they are afraid of deep water, Wiens said.

“They really need puddles. Actually, the water that blows out of the fountain onto the rocks and sits in little puddles is more to their liking.”

Males, in particular, like to take advantage of the salt that collects around the edge of the puddles.

Butterflies are also attracted to the garden for the shelter in the trees and bushes, the rocks to bask in the sun and the shady areas when the summer reaches the upper-limit heat index.

But people are not neglected in the landscaping scenario at the garden. Three seating areas provide Bethesda residents and visitors ample space to sit and enjoy the activity around them.

Wiens said a crew of volunteers is needed to maintain the garden.

“Nancy Stucky puts in the most hours of anyone at this point, and Pat Schmidt and I would probably come in second,” she said.

Other garden-club members sign up to maintain particular areas, and the 4-H club is helpful with mulching activities.

Garden members are surprised how well the plants thrive in the garden compared to their personal gardens, Wiens said.

Her secret for the rich and full plants appears to be three-fold: “Heavy mulch-I use five or six inches of mulch. The drip irrigation system, for the most part, is under that. And we have a lot of full sun.”

Because pesticides are dangerous to butterflies, Wiens said they try to keep them to a minimum.

“We hardly use any chemicals in the garden at all. With the pests, sometimes we pick them off or put up with a little more damage. Or we use a small amount of controlled pesticide and the least toxic option we have.”

Although butterflies don’t need signs to tell them which delectable plant to perch on, Stucky said she put them around the garden for people who spot a particularly beautiful species and want to try to grow them at home.

All this splendor requires financial support, which Wiens said has been handled by such fund-raisers as garden tours in the past.

The club didn’t hold a fund-raiser last year, and decided to do something different this year. So they organized a spaghetti dinner and program last weekend.

“I think this fund-raiser will carry us for a couple of years,” Wiens said.

That’s good news for the star attraction-the butterflies.

“I have read that they’re dwindling, so it’s nice to provide support,” Wiens said. “We’re making a small contribution. “This area is part of a monarch migration to Mexico. I’d hate to have a world without butterflies-that would be a sad thing.”

And the personal rewards for volunteers like Wiens and Stucky?

“I enjoy seeing the end product,” Stucky said. “After all the work, the rewards are so great to see the beauty of the garden.”

Wiens said she also gets personal satisfaction out of seeing visitors enjoying themselves.

“And I certainly like seeing the beauty myself, just to drink in all the colors.”

The garden is open for visitors day and night, with ground lanterns lighting the paths and a light on the fountain in the evening hours. That’s when Wiens runs water hoses.

And if a visitor is lucky, Wiens just might scare up a sleepy butterfly or two.

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