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Thanks to three sisters, Oregon Ridge butterfly garden takes wing

Stone paths fashioned into the wings of a butterfly hint of the garden's future. For right now, though, the butterfly garden near Oregon Ridge Nature Center is mostly tiny plants and dirt.

But to the three Possidente girls — Maggie, 11, Ava, 10, and Lucia, 6 — who have worked for more than a year to make it a reality, the garden is beautiful.

"I think it turned out good," Maggie said. "I think the sedum turned out to be very pretty."

Her sister, Ava, is reserving judgment since the plants are still so small, but she's looking forward to seeing it bloom, which should happen in the summer. "I think the violets and the sedum might be pretty," Ava said.

Maggie shows off the eyes of the butterfly path, palm-sized dishes of gravel and water. This clever addition, she explains, provides a source of water for the butterflies.

They chose the colorful plants that will attract butterflies, designed the butterfly shape of the garden and helped with the planting. Now they're waiting to see it grow.

There are lots of violets around the edges, along with herbs like dill, fennel and parsley that black swallowtails like to lay eggs on. They also chose a plant most people wouldn't think of — but the white turtlehead plant is the only place the state insect, the Baltimore checkerspot, will lay its eggs.

Most of the plants are low to the ground but they have chosen a few trees, too. Pawpaws, a native tree, will be the last to be planted and are expected to be delivered soon.

"We were hoping to plant a butterfly garden, and the timing just really worked out well," said Pam Ward, a naturalist at Oregon Ridge.

The project started after the girls' mother, Kristi Possidente, attended a conference in Washington, D.C., last July, to learn more about monarch butterflies and how to help them. Just being present enabled her to apply for a grant from the University of Minnesota Monarch Lab.

When she got home, she applied for the grant and received $1,000. The girls then got to work planning a 25-by-30-foot butterfly garden for the park.

The Monarch Lab, based in St. Paul, Minn., offers a variety of programs for students and children's groups about the monarch butterfly, according to its website. The dark red and black butterfly is considered "near threatened" by the World Wildlife Fund, which reported the lowest population ever migrating to Mexico in the winter of 2013.

The grant required that they plant on a school or community site and Oregon Ridge Park was perfect. The girls have been volunteering there on Wednesdays for the past two years, Ava said. They've worked on trail maintenance, fed the birds and participated in special events, she said.

Planting a butterfly garden was a natural for the girls. They've studied butterflies. They raised and tagged monarchs at home, and in the fall of 2012, they took part in a monarch release program at Oregon Ridge. (Another monarch release is planned for the fall, according to Ward.)

They chose a spot for their garden near the children's garden and adjacent to the Native American and Heirloom gardens.

"We decided more people would see it here," said Possidente, who home-schools her daughters at their Reisterstown home.

"All three of us plotted out the garden," Maggie said. She pointed out the sedum and blueberries they planted, and said she's working on signs for all the plants — so visitors will know their common and scientific names.

"I did basically all the things Maggie did," added Ava. She explained how she went through books about native plants with her sisters, along with Nancy Berger, a naturalist at Oregon Ridge who worked with them throughout the process.

The girls had a bit of help from others. Members of Boy Scout Troop 742, of Timonium, laid the stone paths and girls from Friends School dug the black rubber edging between the garden beds.

All of the plants are native, according to Ward. Most of them — sedum, violets, blueberries, butterfly weed, and white turtlehead — are plants favored by native butterflies, including monarchs, queen butterflies, fritillaries and swallowtails. These plants not only provide nectar for butterflies but offer safe havens and food supplies for the eggs and caterpillars that hatch, she said.

The area is already butterfly friendly. Milkweed fills a nearby meadow and the woods are filled with the black cherries and tulip poplars butterflies prefer.

Pesticides here are forbidden, Ward noted. "Pesticides will kill the butterflies just like they'll kill the pests," she said.

Once everything is in place, mulched and firmly established, the garden should be a nonstop riot of color — from both flowers and butterflies.

"We picked plants in different colors and so they are always in bloom," Possidente said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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