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Milkweed-munching butterflies: Saint Dominic garden wins wildlife habitat designation

Rick Wagner • Aug 21, 2019 at 7:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Monarch butterflies are welcome at Saint Dominic Catholic School, where milkweed meals await them.

The school has a recently certified habitat that helps support wildlife such as butterflies, including monarchs that students at the school raise from the caterpillar stage with the help of the garden’s native milkweed, which the butterflies love.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Tennessee Wildlife Federation have certified the school’s Wildlife Habitat Garden, an outgrowth of the school’s garden program behind the school. The certification is through the national group’s Garden for Wildlife program.

A NWF news release said that such gardens support birds, butterflies, bees, frogs and other wildlife. “Every Certified Wildlife Habitat garden provides natural sources of food, water, cover and places to raise young and is maintained in a sustainable way that incorporates native plants, conserves water and doesn’t rely on pesticides,” the release said.

HOW DID THIS START?

“I enjoy experiencing wildlife and wanted to do my part to help,” said Saint Dominic fourth grade teacher Amanda Carr, who helped spearhead the program and has classroom windows lined with plants. “Redesigning our school campus to make it more beneficial to wildlife not only gives our students great wildlife watching opportunities. It also helps us to be greener — reducing lawn to mow, cutting down on watering and saving time in the long run to enjoy time outside.”

Carr said the students received donated monarch butterfly caterpillars. The next donated caterpillars are scheduled to arrive in September and will migrate for the winter before Christmas break.

The garden is an ongoing project at the school, but the habitat garden efforts began in earnest in the 2016-17 school year. 

“This type of monarch butterfly must have milkweed,” Carr said.

The garden behind the school has milkweed that is native to the region and that will live year-round. Out front is some tropical milkweed that the butterflies also like, but it dies in the winter and must be replanted each spring.

WHAT DO STUDENTS SAY?

“I love planting the bulbs. It's really fun, and I like to dig,” third-grader Mason Fain said, while Rhys Bradshaw-Bellamy said, “My favorite part of the habitat is caring for the plants and gardening. I love wildlife.”

Among fourth-graders, Bobby Bray said, “I really liked starting seeds in our classroom greenhouse. I learned a lot. I think I could do it again at home. We got to take home our plants. They died, though. The watermelons died when we moved houses.”

Layla May noted, “It was really fun to play outside. I love working outside and watching the butterflies grow in our classroom. Watching the butterflies is fun because you can watch them go from a small caterpillar to a small worm.”

In the fifth grade, Riley Condon said, “Planting bulbs was cool. I like to peel them, but it’s also fun to watch them grow. It makes the garden pretty. We also planted food in the raised beds. But we don’t get mad if the animals eat our fruits and vegetables like some people would. We plant for the wildlife.” 

Emma Linkous said, “The coolest thing is the Seed Lending Library. People who don’t have seeds can come get some, so they can grow food for people and wildlife. It’s been fun to watch the monarch and sleepy owl butterflies form their chrysalises and then get released into the air.”

NOT MUCH OR FANCY SPACE NEEDED 

“It’s just an old concrete pad out there but we’re trying to make it wildlife-friendly,” Carr said. “It’s good for all pollinators.”

In addition to the wildlife garden, the garden area includes sunflowers; a touch and small garden including basil, chocolate mint, spearmint, curry and lamb’s ear; and vegetable areas, tomatoes and watermelon, although most are out of season now. Just inside the school is a Seed Lending Library or Seed Catalog that uses an old oak Dewey Decimal System cabinet to hold free seeds donated by seed companies that students can take home. They are asked to bring back seeds from their crops.

Celebrating more than 45 years, the Garden for Wildlife movement has recognized more than 227,000 Certified Wildlife Habitat gardens across the United States, encompassing more than 2.5 million acres that support wildlife locally. Backyards, urban gardens, school grounds, businesses, places of worship, campuses, parks, farms, zoos and community landscapes can all be recognized as wildlife habitats through the program. Carr said she and her husband, Seth, have their yard in Mount Carmel certified.

The designation includes no grant and is by application. However, the school’s greenhouse was funded in part by a $500 grant from the Daughters of the American Revolution and a local member’s additional donation.

Carr said her husband, who works at the Saint Dominic church campus on John B. Dennis bypass, and Father Michael Cummins are working on a wildlife habitat at the church. The Carrs and the Rev. Cummins are Bays Mountain Park volunteers.

For more information, go online to https://www.nwf.org/garden or call 1 (800) 822-9919. 

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