Students at Maplewood Elementary School in Ocala, FL participated in an exciting experience last fall which is still reaping benefits today. Students with special needs arrived at a school courtyard where they found raised planting beds waiting to be filled with an array of colorful flowers, scented plants, and caterpillar food-sources. What made this garden unique is that it was designed with special students in mind, so the beds came in different heights, and were placed over a paved surface that wheels can easily roll on, allowing access to kids who need assistive devices like wheelchairs and walkers. A slew of faculty and volunteers were on hand, ready to assist students with the project.
The specially constructed planters allow students with wheelchairs and walkers, who couldn't normally access a garden, to roll right up and dig their hands in the dirt, planting everything butterflies need to complete a life cycle. The height of each bed can be adjusted to match the reach of each child, so everyone gets in on the fun! Maplewood's new planting beds are growing next to the school's vegetable garden, which inspired the idea for the butterfly garden, so pollinators attracted by the flowers can then be put to work pollinating crops as well.
Dr. Churi Burns, a physical therapist at the school, realized that as fun and interesting as the vegetable garden is, not all her students could access it, and due to a variety of medical needs, some students with special dietary requirements wouldn't make the same connection with growing their own food that other children do. She developed a plan to bring gardening of a different sort to the school- a wheelchair-accessible butterfly garden for students to plant and nurture. Through her hard work, Dr. Burns got a grant to fund the project, guidance from the Marion County Master Gardeners, and additional support from community participants such as Mid-Florida Prosthetics & Orthotics.
On November 11, teachers, volunteers, parents, and kids came together, got dirty, and planted this special oasis for caterpillars and butterflies to thrive. Since then, students have watched for the appearance of eggs, followed the growth of tiny caterpillars, and kept their eyes peeled for chrysalises. This spring, although the school is closed and the students are home, some faculty have seen the emergence of a new generation of butterflies and shared the excitement on Facebook and Twitter!