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Club restores pollinator garden at Academy Springs Park

Garden clubs and other environmental groups are taking steps to stop the decline in butterfly populations. The Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Trail grew out of Georgia’s Former First Lady’s and the Former First Lady of the United States’ interest in bringing awareness to conserving butterflies, their habitats and a love of nature.

Started in 2013 by Annette Wise with the Georgia Department of Education, the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Trail began in Plains. Throughout the last three years, 11 public butterfly gardens opened in Plains and more have been opened throughout the state.

For more information about the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Garden, visit

To learn more about planting gardens to attract native butterflies, visit the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s site at

For help in planting butterfly or other pollinator — honeybees and hummingbirds, included — contact Waller at

Volunteers aren’t always wanted. At least, they aren’t always welcomed in a garden.

The butterfly garden in Academy Springs Park, which had gone to seed, was planted about 20 years ago by the Georgia Hummers group and the second graduating class of the University of Georgia’s Extension Master Gardener program. For the last five years, the garden was largely ignored.

Eventually, volunteers like red oak trees, began to invade the 2,500 square-foot garden. Weeds took root. And the plants that attracted butterflies, hummingbirds and bees, grew and grew and grew.

Christy Lassiter of The Satsuki Garden Club appeared before the Covington City Council in February to request permission from the council to clean up and restore the garden. Money to pay for the restoration will come from the club’s “Tour of Homes” fundraiser, held last December.

“We, as a club, are very interested in helping to add to and enhance our city’s beautiful landscape,” Lassiter said at the city council meeting. “Our club will finance, install and maintain the Butterfly Garden.

“We believe this effort will enhance our community, allow us to implement a conservation project encouraged by the Garden Club of Georgia of which we belong, and hopefully in the future to contribute to the city’s efforts to implement a local Butterfly Trail as a potential future project.”

The 2,500-square-foot garden is located at the corner of Legion Drive and Academy Springs Circle in Covington
“Right now it’s not in its finest state,” said Connie Waller, treasurer and president-elect, who serves on the Civic Improvement Committee. “Our garden club had a fundraiser in December and raised about $12,500 on our tours of homes. Then the club voted to use that money to implement a pollinator garden.”

Beverly Copeland, chair of the committee, said, “What we’re planning on doing is creating a larger area specifically for a butterfly garden. We want to be put on the list the chamber has of butterfly gardens.

“The butterfly and honey bee population has declined recently in the last several years. “They think it has to do with several things — one is the insecticide they use; the second is the decline of the host plants.

“One of our goals is to make people aware of host plants and pollinator plants so they can plant them during the spring and fall planting season,” she said. “We hope to educate children – and hopefully inspire them to plant a few plants and have hosts plants at their home or schools.”

Attracting pollinators

Though it is called a butterfly garden, the garden at Academy Springs is a pollinator garden. Pollinators include butterflies, hummingbirds, bats, moths and honeybees.

Common butterflies found in the Southeast include Monarch and the almost identical Viceroy, Tiger and Black swallowtails, the Eastern comma and the Gulf Fritillary.

“Butterflies in particular, hummingbirds as well, need nectar plants,” Waller said. “Anything with a flat head, like a zinnia, is more attractive to a butterfly because they can land on it and have immediate access [to nectar]. Hummingbirds like trumpet-shaped flowers because they can stick their little beaks in the trumpet.”

Butterflies feed from the nectar of plants such as rebecia, zinnias, Mexican sunflower, coneflowers, butterfly bush and lantana.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the tubular flowers of the columbine, Hall and coral honeysuckle, trumpet vine and wegelia. They are attracted by reds, which is why so many people dye the water in their hummingbird feeders that color.
Gulf fritillary lays its eggs on the passion vine. Tiger swallowtails use a tulip popular. The black prefer herbs, such as parsley, fennel, dill and rue.

Hummingbirds prefer deep throated plants such as columbine, Hall and trumpet, also known as coral, honeysuckle, trumpet vine and wegelia.

She said the club wants to have the gardens planted so that it will be in full bloom this summer. “We’ll plant a combination of seeds and plants; we’ll try to use as much as possible to use perennials, so we won’t have to replant every year.

The goal of the garden is to encourage individuals to get involved by including host and nectar plats in their gardens, said Waller. “They can have an impact on the [pollinators’] populations.”

The plants will be purchased from nurseries that sell host plants, such as those sold at the botanical garden and greenhouse at Georgia State’s Perimeter College on Panthersville Road.

“When we plant our plants, we have to make certain that they aren’t treated with that so we’re not killing the things we’re feeding,” Copeland said.

Restoring threatened populations

In the 1960s and 1970s, bluebird populations had been so decimated, groups began to raise awareness of the problem and encourage people to put up bluebird houses along fields and in backyards. Within the last decade, all bluebird species had been removed from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List, a list that tracks the threatened populations of plants, insects, reptiles and animals. See for more information.

“The black swallowtail’s main habitat is parsley,” Waller said, adding she and husband, David, usually bought their butterfly plants through dealers who don’t carry plants treated by insecticides. Parsley is so common, she said, they bought it from a place like a grocery store.

“Last year, we found the [black swallowtail’s] caterpillar turned black,” she said.

“The plight of the honey bee is pretty dire,” Waller said. Colony Collapse Disease (CCD), caused by unknown factors, has wiped out hives across the country and had a devastating impact on agriculture. Between 2007 and 2013, more than 10 million beehives were lost, often to CCD, nearly twice the normal rate of loss.

Speculation about causes includes pesticides, genetically modified crops and fungicides.

Like the honey bee, Monarch butterfly populations are decreasing. Monitors have reported that nearly 90 percent of the Monarch butterfly population has been decimated.

The main reason, Waller said, butterfly species lay their eggs on very specific plants.

Butterflies are so extremely habitat or host plant specific, Waller said, that loss of the plants where they lay their eggs or where they feed can weaken populations.

Monarch’s lay their eggs on milkweed, which most people view as a common weed and take steps to eradicate it. Other things affecting the fate of the Monarchs are habit loss in the United States and loss of habitat and cold weather in Mexico, where Monarchs winter.

“Once the milkweed has been diminished, so has the population of the Monarchs,” said Waller.

She said garden clubs and other environmental groups are hoping that by replanting milkweed in urban and suburban gardens, the Monarch’s decline will be stopped.

“The reason we need butterflies is the same reason we need bees: they pollinate for us,” she said. They feed on host plants and then go an pollinate. Without pollinating fruit, production declines.

“Plus they bring so much beauty to the world,” she said.

Work begins

In early March, club members Waller, her husband, David, and Jean Austin met with the city’s arborists Kevin Sorrow and Darrin Smith to discuss what should be removed from the beds. Nearby, stacks of branches and twigs from butterfly bush and lantana stand, culled by club volunteer Rebecca Robinson.

“We’ll help the Satsuki Garden Club anyway we can, from pruning to tree removal to planting,” said Sorrow.

A short time later, Austin and Waller talk with Rusty Andrews of Peach State Construction, the installation of concrete paths that will wend through the gardens. At this point, Austin said, “We won’t know if [they] will be handicapped accessible until we know how wide the path will be.”

The park’s handicapped accessible path, however, runs on the north edge of the garden. Among the plants in the garden that can be saved are lantana, witch hazel and butterfly bush. Copeland said new plants will be purchased from trusted suppliers.

Copeland said the weeds will be killed off by laying black plastic on the beds, using the heat of the sun to kill unwanted plants. Plants will be purchased from nurseries that sell host plants, such as those sold at the botanical garden and greenhouse at Georgia Perimeter College, now Georgia State University, on Panthersville Road.

“We want to educate the population about the butterflies, the chrysalis and the decline of the Monarch,” she said. “We’re going to have educational signage throughout the butterfly garden. We’ll mark the different plants and tell which ones are host plants and which are pollinators.

“The theme school is nearby and they could walk over for a fieldtrip,” she said. “There are day cares near, too. Children could come over and learn from our signage, then could easily go home and plant those seeds.”

Waller said if anyone wanted help with creating butterfly and pollinator gardens they can contact her at