'Garden with Wings' under way at Botanic Gardens

 Garden enthusiast Serina Allison Hearm is on a mission to create a butterfly garden in the Botanic Gardens, Port of Spain,  with the Butterfly Garden Project. - ROGER JACOB
Garden enthusiast Serina Allison Hearm is on a mission to create a butterfly garden in the Botanic Gardens, Port of Spain, with the Butterfly Garden Project. - ROGER JACOB

Did you know that TT is home to 760 different species of butterflies?

In fact, the Emperor Valley Zoo was so named because of its close proximity to the Royal Botanic Gardens, which the emperor butterfly was known to frequent. Times have long changed and the beautiful blue wings of the emperor butterfly are almost never seen in the area it once inhabited.

But co-ordinator Serina Allison Hearn, with Friends of the Botanic Gardens and a group of volunteers, is on a mission to create a butterfly garden at the botanic gardens, next to President's House, Port of Spain. The group has 12 volunteers so far, and members of the public are invited to join.

Kemba Maximin, left, and Rica Marie Saunders, volunteers of the butterfly project, rake up mulch at the Botanical Gardens site, Port of Spain. - ROGER JACOB

The Royal Botanic Gardens were established in 1818 on an abandoned sugar estate. The Ministry of Agriculture has given permission to use approximately 6,000 square feet of the gardens. The Garden with Wings is in the northwest of the gardens.

Hearn is a writer and poet who has been fascinated with butterflies for as long as she can remember. She attributed her love for nature to her grandmother's small sustainable backyard garden in Belmont.

"I think of the earth as my mother and I've always hated the poisoning of it."

Hearn has done her own research on plants, moths, butterflies and caterpillars. She said it's a continuous effort that is becoming easier with the use of technology like smart phone apps.

The aim of the volunteers, a sub-group of the Friends of the Botanical Gardens, is to use host plants typically deemed as bush and weeds such as wild pasiflora, green shrimp plant and milkweed to create a sustainable garden that will feed caterpillars and butterflies.

The poster announces the Garden With Wings – the butterfly garden –is coming soon to the Botanical Gardens, Port of Spain. - ROGER JACOB

Hearn and Friends of the Botanic Gardens broke ground on the project in November. They have already laid the foundation for the plant beds and volunteers aerate the biomass daily to give it oxygen so it will break down easily. This covers cardboard which was used to smother the lawn below. Hearn said none of the beneficial microbes in the earth were disturbed by this process.

The Garden With Wings will not use any chemical fertiliser or herbicides. Instead natural compost will be used to give the plants their required nutrients.

The garden beds are designed to replicate the Fibonacci spiral. This is a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the two that precede it. The spiral was chosen as it often found in nature. for instance can be found in the spiral patterns of flower petals.

The group will begin planting native plants and larval host plants in the garden in early February.

Serina Allison Hearm, co-ordinator of the Garden with Wings butterfly project. - ROGER JACOB

Hearn praised the contribution of Gary Narinesingh, an arborist who donates tree trimmings to the garden project,
Jason Jaggernaught, who helped lay out the grid and helped her mark out the Fibonacci flowerbeds, and the Horticultural Services Division, which has been recycling organic trimmings from its lawnmowing of the botanic gardens and the Queen's Park Savannah opposite.

Hearn encouraged members of the public to contact the group via the Friends of the Botanic Gardens TT Facebook messages. She said something as simple as relaying a message about a caterpillar being sighted will go a long way.

"My dream is that in 100 years, the Royal Botanic Gardens will still be in existence. I dream that it is thriving and filled with butterflies, humming birds and even bats as it once was."

She recalled her schooldays at Bishop Anstey High School, where she read passages by Charles Kingsley from his 1871 book At Last: A Christmas in the West Indies. She said the way Kingsley described the birds and butterflies in the garden made her swoon and she considered him lucky to have lived in a time when the gardens had marvellous and vibrant creatures.

Hearn has created over ten butterfly gardens in the US, and said this one will be a great contribution to ecotourism.

Asked when the garden will be completed, she said, "There is no definitive date of completion, we're doing it little by little. The garden will be fluid in motion. It will continue to change as the years go on and with the help of community involvement. Once we have progressed successfully with this garden, we will start butterfly gardens in schools and other parks across the country."


"‘Garden with Wings’ under way at Botanic Gardens"

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