June 9, 2003

Garden Club sows its seeds

By Eric Rangus

It doesn’t look like much now—just a small, roughly 300-square-foot, roped-off plot of dirt behind the Math & Science Center populated by a few ankle- and knee-high plants and recently bloomed flowers—but give it a little time and Emory’s first butterfly garden will be teeming with the attractive winged creatures.

The butterfly garden is the first creation of the Emory Garden Club, a campus grassroots organization (pardon the pun) that aims to promote and sustain the University’s environment. Begun almost three years ago over a restaurant conversation among friends with a common interest in gardening, the club has steadily evolved into an increasingly active organization in Emory’s prominent environmental community.

For more than a year, the friends, including Annie Carey of Emory College, Hope Payne from environmental studies and Barbara Brandt of the Informa-tion Technology Division, would meet for their monthly luncheon and discuss their gardens. Slowly, others joined them. Now the club boasts a listserv of almost 50 people.

“Some have absolutely wonderful gardens; some don’t have a garden at all, “ said Carey, facilities coordinator for the college. “It’s an interesting group. We have a hodgepodge of people.”

After their casual beginning, last winter the club got serious. They wanted to make a definitive contribution to the community, despite the fact that the club received no money from the University and relied solely on the spirit—and wallets—of its members. “We wanted to do something at Emory to show our love of plants and of nature and the environment, and to try and protect it as much as we can,” said Payne, office manager for environmental studies.

The club decided to create a butterfly garden. Payne, Carey and fellow club member John Wegner of environmental studies met with Jimmy Powell and James Johnson of Facilities Management, and they decided the garden could be developed in the forested area behind the Math & Science Center.

The garden was planted the first week of May. Its plants and flowers were chosen specifically to appeal to butterflies. Butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, and they like to eat flowers such as hollyhock, lantana, purple cornflower, black-eyed susans and butterfly bushes as well as herbs like parsley—which also has been planted. Next to the garden is a small plot of wildflowers that has yet to bloom.

The garden’s floral inhabitants came from a variety of sources. Some were donated by club members, others from the environmental studies department and still others came free of charge from area businesses.

Not only is the garden an aesthetic attraction, but it serves an academic purpose as well. The research of Sonia Altizer, assistant professor of environmental studies, compares monarch butterflies from across North America and can play a role in the garden’s progression.

“Every fall, monarchs migrate through Georgia on their way back to Mexico, and as they migrate, they stop along the way at gardens such as this one,” Altizer said. “This garden will be used to study what we call the ‘stopover ecology’ of monarch migration in this geographic area.”

The plan is to have students monitor the garden, capture, then release the monarchs and other butterflies that visit it. Later this summer, monarch butterflies bred in Altizer’s laboratory on the fifth floor of the Math & Science Center and a Emerson Hall greenhouse on the Michael St. deck will be released into the garden, becoming its first residents.

Placing the site behind the Math & Science Center was no accident. Butterflies need a wooded, shaded place to thrive, Payne said. The proximity of Altizer’s laboratory played a role as well. Because of this spring’s heavy rains, the plants have grown slowly, but with summer’s onset they soon should be thriving. With a bench just a couple steps away from the garden, it promises to be a perfect place to relax.

“Once the garden gets established and is a place for them to eat, the butterflies should stick around,” Payne said. Only in winter would the garden not be populated with butterflies.

The butterfly garden doesn’t complete the club’s work. In fact, it is just getting started. Its next goal is to renovate the Spring House, located in the forest behind the Houston Mill House. The stone structure once was used to keep perishable foods cool before the house had refrigerators. Now the Spring House and surrounding area has become overgrown, and the club intends to work on restoring it. The project was suggested by the Ad Hoc Committee on Environmental Stewardship, which shares some members with the garden club. Payne said that work could begin in the fall.

Other plans for the future include planting native wildflowers on campus, organizing plant exchanges and planting more campus butterfly gardens. Another future plan, Carey said, is one day acquiring an actual budget.

“There is only so far that donations will go,” she said.

The garden club is open to all members of the Emory community. For more information, contact Payne at 404-727-4216.