In 2018, the Howard County Master Gardeners Association held a public meeting to gauge interest in installing a butterfly garden at the south branch of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library.
Director of Marketing Lisa Fipps said most meetings draw around 25 people, but not this session.
She said it was standing-room-only when around 125 people from at least five counties packed into the library to learn about the project, which aimed to create a natural habitat to attract monarch butterflies, and other pollinators, whose numbers are declining across the globe.
“We knew we were onto something,” Fipps said. “It was amazing to see how much people care about native plants and pollinators – and butterflies, especially.”
That idea planted two years ago became a reality earlier this month when the library officially opened the KHCPL Community Butterfly Garden, located at the south branch at the south end of the property.
Today, the site is packed with more than 30 native plants such as black-eyed Susans, golden alexander, Shasta daisies, rattlesnake master and Joe-pye weed, which are all expertly arranged to create a kind of living fireworks display of color.
To get to the garden, a wooden bridge crosses over a small drainage ditch that leads into a gazebo, where three large signs talk about the importance of pollinators and native plants, and what people can do to save them.
From there, a paved trail winds through the garden back to a meditation area. Along the way, bees and butterflies dance and buzz on just about every plant.
Howard County Master Gardener Marian Cable said seeing the butterflies and bees enjoying the new habitat is what the garden is all about. That’s especially true for monarch butterflies, which are in the process of being added to the nation’s endangered species list.
“People need to realize that they’re not seeing as many bugs on their car windshields, because all the pollinators and bugs are disappearing,” she said. “And if we don’t have pollinators, we don’t have food. They can survive without us, but we can’t survive without them.”
To that end, everything in the garden aims at giving butterflies and other pollinators everything they need to survive and thrive.
A large rock that serves at the centerpiece of the area isn’t just nice to look at. Cable said when the rock heats up in the midday sun, it’s the perfect spot for butterflies to perch for a much-need heat source to keep warm.
The statues surrounding the rock add a pleasant aesthetic touch, but they also offer shade to the bugs and bees that want to stay cool.
“About everything out here has some kind of purpose for pollinators, but they also look nice for people to enjoy,” Cable said. “And every plant pretty much attracts some kind of pollinator.”
It was Cable who first pitched the idea of installing a butterfly garden at the library. She said someone reached out to her to ask if Kokomo had one, and when she realized it didn’t, she figured the master gardeners ought to build one.
Cable called up Fipps at the library to see if they’d have any interest in providing a site for the garden. The response was immediate.
“We said, ‘Of course you can,’” Fipps said. “But then we thought, ‘Oh, well how do we do it?’ We kind of said yes before we even knew what we were doing, but we loved the idea of using it as an educational tool.”
Soon, the library had secured a $10,000 grant from Duke Energy, and another $2,000 from Friends of the Library. The county’s master gardeners also pitched in $500.
With funding in place, a host of volunteers and master gardeners from all over the region showed up to turn what was a patch of flat yard into a perfectly manicured garden packed with native plants to attract butterflies and bees. The site also lay right beside a community garden growing fruits and vegetables.
Fipps said the garden now has three main purposes. First, it exists as a pollinator sanctuary to support the local ecosystem. Second, the library wants to use the area to teach kids and the community about protecting pollinators, especially monarch butterflies.
“They really are magical creatures, so when people learn that they may no longer exist, it makes people stop and think, ‘Whoa, what do I need to do to make sure that doesn’t happen?’” she said.
But another major reason for the project was to simply create a beautiful, natural space for people to enjoy. And that’s something they’re already doing, Fipps said.
“It’s amazing to see how much people love it,” she said. “It’s a great place to take photos or just relax. People go out there and read. We want people to just enjoy it.”
And the project isn’t done yet. Cable said they have plans to install a rain garden with even more native plants in the drainage ditch near the bridge. There are also plans to add more plants and expand the mediation area, and create brochures people can take with them to learn about the garden as they walk through it.
Cable said, in the end, she hopes the community takes pride and ownership of the garden, because it’s an asset that everyone can enjoy while helping sustain the pollinators that play such a vital role in the local ecosystem.
“We’re doing it for the butterflies and the pollinators, but we’re also doing it for the community,” she said. “This is here to enjoy and to learn.”