MASON CITY, Iowa — For flowers, insects and nature-alike, this time of the summer is the best time of the year. Newman Catholic has a little piece of history and nature that some might consider the campus’s hidden gem.
A prairie flower garden that supports pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and other insects, sits on the east side of the school’s campus next to the playground and is open for community members to visit.
“I think people know that it’s there, but it’s kind of off to the east side of the sports complex,” retired Newman Catholic teacher Patty Ohl told the Mason City Globe Gazette. “It’s in a really good area. It’s accessible to water and it’s a nice flat area. We try to maintain it the best we can; it’s not a one-man show, that’s for sure.”
Ohl used to teach art and English for 27 years at Newman Catholic, but she’s taken a special interest in gardening. She has helped take care of the pollinator garden for the past couple years. She says there has been a garden there for many years, but it was overgrown and not as beautiful as it is now.
“It just needed some tender loving care, so to speak,” Ohl said.
In 2016, the Lime Creek Nature Center started a program called Monarch Mania. The program was designed to plant wildflowers and habitat for pollinators, while promoting the good that pollinators do. With the population of pollinators dwindling, it was time for the center to take action.
“We wanted to call it Monarch Mania because everyone is aware of the monarch butterfly,” Conservation Education Manager Todd Von Ehwegen said. “It’s a beautiful insect. While we wanted to help all pollinators, we knew people could really relate to and connect with the monarchs.”
Two summers ago, Von Ehwegen reached out the Newman Catholic school district and Ohl about the Monarch Mania program, hoping that the district would have a spot of land available for this initiative.
“Our program would fund all of the plants and all of the expenses of putting in the garden,” Von Ehwegen said. “There was basically very little costs to the school other than time and someone to watch the garden and take care of it. That’s how we reached out to Newman.”
Eager to help out and brighten the campus, Ohl helped Von Ehwegen plant 343 plants and 24 different species in 2018. Some of the plants include sunflowers, milkweeds and black-eyed Susans.
Ohl and Von Ehwegen both say now is the perfect time for the community to visit the garden.
“It’s absolutely beautiful right now. There’s all kinds of flowers blooming there,” Von Ehwegen said. “There’s a ton of milkweeds in there. You’re going to have a really good chance of seeing monarch caterpillars in there, monarch butterflies and lots of other pollinators utilizing it.”
Von Ehwegen hopes this garden will inspire people in the community to plant their own miniature pollinator garden. According to Von Ehwegen, the Lime Creek Nature Center has created a website that gives information on pollinators and how you can create a pollinator habitat in your own backyard.
“It’s a good example of what you can do right in your own backyard. It wouldn’t have to be as big as this one is, it could be smaller,” Von Ehwegen said. “But even a small garden can make a big difference. There will be a lot of pollinators that will find that and come and use it.”
While Von Ehwegen’s goal is to continue creating more habitats, Ohl is hoping to see more student involvement with Newman Catholic’s garden. She hopes to reach out to the new science teachers and create a catalog of plants and insects to teach students.
The square area that the garden takes up is a pretty big undertaking for one person to maintain, so Ohl is eager to have people reach out to her for help.
“It would be nice hopefully when things settle down, that I can get more kids involved,” Ohl said. “That’s been the hardest thing. Kids are so busy. It would be nice to point out to them this is a weed and this is a flower and this is a perennial we don’t pull out.”