Briar Patch Statuary

Flower sculptures photographed by Jeff Zablow at Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch Habitat, GA

Folks love the Butterflies and Blooms Briar Patch Habitat, Eatonton, Georgia. This middle Georgia (east of Atlanta) butterfly oasis is now in its 5th year. Dreamed up by Virginia, brought to fruition by a handful of friends and neighbors, Bartow, Sylbie, Doug, Susan, Stacy, Roger . . . the town of Eatonton was gently tweaked all along the way. Five years of planting just about 12,568 annuals, perennials, bushes and trees, almost all of them hostplants for this butterfly or that, and those 5 years of watering, weeding, moving, trimming and thinning came to what result?

The very best butterfly habitat from Maine to at least Perry, Florida, and from Delaware to the Mississippi River. A showcase for the butterflies of the South. Any given morning, on my drives down from Pittsburgh, I have seen no less than 20 different species of butterflies! On that list I include Zebra heliconian, Monarch, Zebra swallowtail, both Ladies, squadrons of giants (giant swallowtails), shockingly iridescent Pipevines (Pipevine swallowtails), well the list goes on and on. Virginia has seen goatweed leafwing butterflies there, and I’m anxious to see one too.

These inviting steel sculptures stands at a spot just after you enter the Habitat. The work of a local artist, Truth Be Told, I stop each time I arrive there, to marvel at how well they epitomize the excitement, zeal and beauty of the Briar Patch Habitat. My mother A”H read me Briar Rabbit stories when I was maybe 4 years old. She read them over and over again, as I would appeal to her to do. Happy irony, no?

The town of Eatonton decided some months ago to sell this site, smack dab in town, to a buyer. An Agreement was reached to move the Habitat to a new site in town, a larger site, and water will be piped there by the town. Virginia and her team are daily planning and working to replant, add new plants and somehow coax, cajole and tease those 3,645 butterflies to make the move too, in 2018.

Let me know when you’re going, Won’t you?

Jeff

Recipe For A Butterfly Oasis

Long-Tailed Skipper Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow in the Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, GA

Have you ever visited a Butterfly Oasis? No, no not an enclosed space. Try instead a real, dynamic, thriving habitat, with wild butterflies flying in all the time? In 2015, I read Facebook posts, sharing snippets of news, about the creation of a butterfly habitat in Eatonton, Georgia. Seeing Southern butterflies was high on my list. I contacted the Founder (she is, no matter how she disclaims that) of this Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch. I received a hearty, Come on Down, and see for yourself!

In April 2015 I drove down to Eatonton, about 1.3 hours east of Atlanta. Putnam county was beautiful, lush green. Lake Oconee had already attracted national developers, and many hundreds of fine homes have been added not to far away from the briar patch habitat. The whole area is eye-pleasing. Folks there are friendly and pleasant. I visited 3 more times in 2015, and every visit was the same, positive, upbeat.

Virginia C. Linch is that Founder, unflappable, hard-working and a magnet for the project, attracting people in the community to weed, plow, bulldoze, construct, plant and donate botany.

The Recipe for the Creation of a Butterfly Oasis in a municipality like Eatonton (the county seat of Putnam county) became clear:

  • Have a Vision – Virginia’s was that of a site full with native wildflowers and hostplants, good to the eye and very attractive to butterflies
  • Tirelessly campaign to achieve broad community approval and awareness – Insure success by involving local people who enjoy doing and helping and sustaining
  • Set the Example – Virginia leaves her job each day and heads straight to the habitat. She weeds, often for hours. She cajoles, straightens and tweeks the thousands of plants, and that induces others to do the same
  • Share the Wish Lists that will end-up improving the habitat
  • Nudge the site, add a water source, as Virginia’s cadre did, to get moisture to the habitat during bone-dry stretches in July and other months. Truck in top-soil, mulch and more.
  • Involve children – Virginia beams with delight when children visit, and get involved. They will  bring their adults, and they will put the habitat on the map, so to speak
  • Urge all to bring what they see and learn to their own home gardens, i.e., plant hostplants for caterpillars and flowering plants for adult butterflies.
  • Let’s finish this bullet-list with Virginia’s perhaps most important attribute: She does not give up! She confronts challenges, and finds ways to overcome them, by one way or another.

This Long-tailed Skipper butterfly is blissfully sipping nectar from a very fresh Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) bloom. I could not have seen it in my own Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is a southern U.S. butterfly. There was that one morning in August where I saw 29 different species of butterflies in the habitat. Ok, ready? WowButterflies that came from miles away, just to enjoy the sweet nectars offered there. Many, many deposit their eggs while there, and the magnificent cycle continues.

I am not sure how many other U.S. cities and towns have such a habitat. My guess? Not enough. I have shared my observations with you, for, truth be told, I remain very . . . impressed. This is for sure an American model that should be emulated.

Jeff

Gulf Feasting on Tithonia at the Briar Patch

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on Lantana Flowers photographed by Jeff Zablow in the Briar Patch Habitat in Eatonton, GA

With snow, freezing rain and zero degree temps just weeks ahead, this reminisce at the Butterflies & Blooms in the Briar Patch bucks up my excitement for the coming year. The potential for an exciting 2016 is very real. The desire to capture ever more satisfying images of southern butterflies, challenges. That’s among the many motivations that will send me back down those southern highways, G-d willing, to this butterfly oasis, in Eatonton, Georgia.

The first Gulf Fritillary butterfly I ever saw was . . . here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was in the Outdoor Gardens of our Phipps Conservatory, and I could not believe my eyes. That one was hundreds of miles north of its usual range. Later, I would see them intermittently, in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, both in Maryland. Finally they were much more numerous in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, at the South Carolina – Georgia border.

This one here is working a Mexican Sunflower bloom (Tithonia). Most flowers pump nectar for a short time, and then butterflies pass it up. Tithonia is the exception. Butterflies visit and work these flowerheads for hours, I think because the blooms continue to produce the sugary food staple.

The Briar Patch is a butterfly dreamland, shared in several recent posts here. 29 different species in a single morning, is well, Wow!

Jeff