GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) — Melinda Dorn was thrilled to see the delicate mosaics of color hiding among the branches of her milkweed plants over the weekend — the monarch butterflies were passing through on their way south, and had laid their eggs in her garden.
“I’m always learning,” Dorn said. “I know they start their migration and make their way south to Mexico. A lot of the caterpillars we’re seeing right now won’t be adults. They won’t be ready to reproduce until 2021.”
Dorn, a farmer and florist who owns Simon Says Grow, was sharing pictures on Facebook over the weekend of her garden’s newest tenants. She went out with a ruler to get size comparisons, with some of the caterpillars surpassing a full inch, while others were barely half a centimetre long.
“I’ve always loved flowers, and I’ve always loved growing things,” she said. “The more I got into it, the more I learned how much I loved planting flowers and the design aspect of it.”
In her garden, she avoids pesticides and herbicides by cultivating plants that attract insects that clear out pests. For instance, milkweed is the host plant for the monarch caterpillar — the female butterflies will lay their eggs there, the caterpillars will hatch and eat the leaves, then make their chrysalis there. The plant also attracts aphids, which can prove to be a hindrance, eating away at the plant before the caterpillars can.
“You’re always going to have the bad bugs, but if you control the bad bugs with good bugs, you won’t have a problem,” Dorn said.
She will bring in ladybugs, which eat aphids, or praying mantises to help deal with pests. To avoid weeds, she’ll lay cardboard or newspaper atop her garden’s dirt before topping it with wood chips, all of which will help block weed growth while decomposing to provide organic nutrients for the soil.
For those wanting to start their own gardens to attract butterflies, she advised to start small. A manageable patch of yard, converted into a garden, can provide a space to learn how to cultivate marigolds, zinnias or cosmos, plants she said are relatively easy to grow from seeds. For more advice, she urged people to look for Lakelands Master Gardener classes or plant sales, as master gardeners are eager to help teach others.
Greenwood’s horticultural crew takes volunteers as well, though horticulturalist and volunteer coordinator Ann Barklow said the novel coronavirus pandemic put a damper on usual volunteer efforts. Where once they could work with 10-20 volunteers a week, COVID-19 restrictions limited that to about five.
“That was a huge impact,” Barklow said. “That was like taking out 10 employees. We’ve been blessed to have about the same size groups of people coming out since then.”
Barklow said when a member of the city’s horticultural crew had a brush with COVID-19 earlier this year, the whole department was shut down for a week. She had to come out of semi-retirement to help fill in with a crew of volunteers.
“I couldn’t have done it without the volunteers,” she said. “We just made a makeshift crew and maintained the topiaries and the gardens.”
As a Bee City USA partner, Greenwood has maintained a focus on cultivating green spaces that promote and attract pollinators of all kinds. Barklow said she’s definitely seen the monarch butterflies, which will be in the area through about the end of September as they migrate, along with the cloudless sulphur butterflies that are on their way to Florida.
“We try to have in the gardens some red flowers, because, for some reason, they love those,” she said. “This is a good time for your lobelia cardinalis that’s blooming now, and some of your salvias.”
For those inspired to do gardening of their own, she said fall is a great time to plant perennials and get ready for next spring. She said Greenwood also has a Bee City USA page online with resources on plants to attract pollinators and information on how to cultivate local plants.
Some of the other work Greenwood was doing as a bee city affiliate has been put on hold because of COVID-19. The resources are in place to do virtual education programs in local schools about how to reduce mosquito populations without harming pollinators, but Barklow said she’s waiting to work out the logistics on these lessons.
Other long-term projects include an idea garden at the veterans center, which will provide examples for visitors of things they can do in their own gardens. Barklow also said she’s gearing up to work with a local artist on a book intended to show other cities how they can plant the styles of pollinator-friendly gardens Greenwood has.
“We have so many things that we’re ready to do, and we’re just waiting to do it,” she said.
But as summer cools into fall, there’s no need to wait to enjoy the beauty of Greenwood’s many gardens, and the life buzzing within the buds.