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Garden takes flight

The garden sits like a pretty little oasis in front of Robin Diepen-Hindley's portable classroom at Citrus Springs Elementary School. It attracts the eyes of walking passers-by, but, more importantly, it attracts the eyes of flying passers-by.

Butterflies have come to the little garden, which provides them with plants that support all the stages of a butterfly's life. Those include milkweed, salvia, petunias and pentas, to name a few.

The fifth-grade students who designed the garden, put it in and maintain it benefit from the butterflies by learning about eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises, and adults.

Diepen-Hindley has been teaching math and science Florida Sunshine State Standards with this on-going lesson. The students had to use tools of measurement to determine the plot's perimeter and area and to space the plants.

Life processes, including photosynthesis; the butterfly life cycle; and producers and consumers are science concepts included in the lesson.

The students are also learning leadership and responsibility by maintaining the garden. They water and weed it. They inspect it for wildlife.

"Our class has worked very hard on it," said Matthew Walker, 10, "and we've had all four stages of the butterfly. We have people go out and water it and we go out and weed it and work very hard on it."

"I learned a lot about the butterfly," said Eric Pugh, 11. "The chrysalis changes color once in a while. When a butterfly is wet, it's a darker color, and when it's dry, it's a lighter color. And I learned how to keep a garden. You have to water it, and it's a pretty fun experience to have."

"I learned that a butterfly takes about two weeks to make a chrysalis and then hatch," said Jessica Ingold, 11. "And after it hatches, it has to flex its wings. And we got to see that, and not many people get to see that, and then it flew away."

"We saw the butterfly come out of the chrysalis and fly away," said Brendi Martin, 10. "First, the butterfly had to dry its wings."

Some of the caterpillars were so distinctive, the students named them. Diepen-Hindley compared a really large one to the size of her thumb. It was big, fat and orange. "They eat themselves sick," she said. "We named it Cheeto."

The garden contains herbs, which Diepen-Hindley said support the caterpillar stage. "They lay the eggs right on the plants that the caterpillars are going to eat," she said. The scarlet milkweed draws butterflies into the garden; and lantana, petunias, salvia and penta provide nectar.

The portable classroom is skirted by lattice. Diepen-Hindley said it worked beautifully as support for the chrysalises, with one notable exception. "(We) lost one chrysalis in a big rain," Matthew said.

The butterfly garden was funded through a partnership with local businesses and with donations of some plants by the students. Dapper Don's Lawn Service provided time, tools, mulch and materials for garden maintainance. The company helped prepare the ground for planting.

Most plants were provided by Hobson's Herbs and More. Owner Randy Hobson, a science teacher at Citrus Springs Middle School, also provided gardening advice.

Diepen-Hindley is entering the garden into two competitions. One is the University of Florida Elementary Florida Garden Competition. The winner will receive $500 for garden upkeep.

The other contest is the Jiminy Cricket's Environmentality Challenge. The students will each get key chains and T-shirts just for entering. The winner will get a two-day field trip to Animal Kingdom at Disney World.

It has taken a lot of effort, but after two months the children are still enthusiastic about the project. "It's really hard work, because you have to keep watering," Jessica said.

"It's hard and fun at the same time," Eric said.

"It's really fun to see to grow," Jessica said.