Across the U.S., there’s a growing realization that pockets of public land that would otherwise house fertilizer- and water-dependent sod can be put to better use through the use of native plants.
Pollinator gardens—landscapes designed to attract the bees, butterflies and birds that are necessary to plant life and food production—are becoming a popular project at schools, nonprofits and other public landscapes.
In 2015, the small South Carolina city of Hanahan, just outside of Charleston, transformed a lot beside the town’s new library into the Hanahan Butterfly and Pollinator Garden.
The effort was the product of thoughtful planning and collaboration among volunteers from the Keep Hanahan Beautiful initiative, the Berkeley Hills Garden Club and area Master Gardeners and other experts.
Kathy Stone, a Master Gardener and member of the Berkeley Hills Garden Club, explains the steps that helped Hanahan’s garden go from an unused patch of land to a landscape brimming with life that serves as an educational tool for homeowners and families in Hanahan.
Identify a location, set the ground rules
Libraries are a crossroads of public life, and when Hanahan opened its brand new library, located at a prominent city intersection, in 2014, members of the Berkeley Hills Garden Club pitched the idea of a pollinator garden on the property to the library director.
“She went to her board, and they eventually went to [Berkeley] County and they allocated an entire side of the property to establish the butterfly garden,” Stone said.
The volunteers worked with facilities staff at the county to draw up an agreement that made clear who was responsible for what. The volunteers have dominion over the beds and pathways they installed, and are responsible for keeping them refreshed, while county workers maintain the common grounds on the library campus.
“Any time we add to the garden, we have to ask for approval,” Stone said.
As a Master Gardener, Stone knew that before any plants went in the ground, a lot of work needed to go in to improving the soil. The library site had been under construction, its topsoil scraped off, and the land needed some TLC before it would be hospitable to plantings.
“I said, ‘What we want to do is create a design and build the beds up first,’” Stone said.
She and her husband helped design the garden beds and a meandering path that wraps around a pine tree on the property.
In January 2015, volunteers gathered to prepare the beds, using the “lasagna” method of layering organic materials that would break down and improve the soil over time.
The garden, now under the auspices of the newly created Keep Hanahan Beautiful chapter, received donations of plants from local master gardeners and Cypress Gardens, a nearby couty park, which donated many plants and its staff’s expertise to the Hanahan Butterfly and Pollinator Garden.
Cypress Gardens, which maintains a Plants Map profile, has been closed to the public since suffering significant flood damage in October 2015. The garden staff are actively at work rebuilding, with hopes to re-open by the spring of 2018.
In April 2015, the first plants went in the ground, including a lot of milkweed, the plant on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs.
“We had our first monarch butterfly laying eggs in April,” Stone said. “It zeroed right in on that milkweed. It’s been going ever since.”
Stone said the group focused primarily on native plants in the garden, although there are some pollinator-friendly non-natives that are well-suited to the South Carolina climate.
The garden is both a Certified Monarch Waystation and a Carolina Yard, a designation offered by the Clemson Cooperative Extension for landscapes that use watershed-friendly, low-maintenance growing methods.
Tell people about it
The Hanahan Butterfly and Pollinator Garden is intended as an educational resource, to help residents learn about pollinator-friendly plants that they can put in their own landscapes that don’t require lots of watering, fertilizer or pesticides.
To help tell the story of the plants in the garden, another volunteer on the project suggested Plants Map’s interactive signs and tags.
Laura Courtney is a Master Gardener and active volunteer at both the Hanahan Pollinator Garden and at Cypress Gardens. Her own yard, documented on Plants Map, is a pollinator habitat, certified both as a backyard wildlife habitat and a Carolina Yard.
Courtney and fellow volunteer Maureen Adkins took inventory of the plants, identified them as natives or non-natives, nectar versus host plants and installed Plants Map signs in the garden this past summer.
Stone said she likes how the signs allow the garden to serve as an informative tool, even when no gardeners are around to share their knowledge.
“To me it’s such a huge enhancement,” she said. “It’s one thing to know the names of the plants, but unless you know, ‘Is it sun or is it shade? Is that something I want in my garden?’ that kind of deeper knowledge is really helpful for people.”
Watch it grow
Stone has watched as life has bloomed in the garden, from monarchs to black swallowtails, honeybees to ladybugs.
“You have to kind of look and it’s amazing what’s there,” she said.
But that’s not the only growth that has happened.
Keep Hanahan Beautiful, Berkeley County and other interested groups have over time helped enhance the garden.
A grant made possible through Keep Hanahan Beautiful allowed for the purchase of a 250-gallon cistern that captures rainwater from the library roof that is used to irrigate the garden. The local extension service installed a rain garden around the cistern to catch runoff, and used the installation as a teaching opportunity.
And the garden itself has become an enhancement to the library grounds.
“When people bring their kids up to the library, it’s right next to the entrance, you can’t miss it,” Stone said.
Volunteers communicate with each other on what needs to be done to maintain the garden, and even seek public input on what plants they’d like to see included.
“It’s really nice to see the variety of people who come together,” Stone said. “It’s very rewarding.”
To learn more, follow the Hanahan Butterfly and Pollinator Garden on Plants Map.