Cheryl Ward seems to have gotten Joni Mitchell’s lyrics turned around. Instead of paving paradise to put up a parking lot, she has unpaved a parking lot to put up a paradise.
A paradise for butterflies, birds and other small critters, her garden has been declared a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
In 2015, Ward purchased the former BB&T parking lot on Rawley Street across the street from the bank, the back of which adjoins the property of Ward’s home on North Main Street.The property is just shy of an acre and Ward immediately began the process of converting it into a wildlife habitat focusing on native plants.
Birds, butterflies and assorted other creatures have been regular visitors to Cheryl Ward’s garden habitat for a while now but on June 10, the big iron gates will be thrown open to human visitors during “Mount Airy Blooms,” a garden tour jointly organized by three of Mount Airy’s garden clubs, Garden Gate, Modern Gardeners and Mountain View.
“I’m a biologist and I love nature photography,” says Ward. “I wanted to bring critters to me instead of going to them. I wanted to attract all the birds and bees and all that good stuff. It’s also something to keep me busy now that I’m retired.”
She called in a contractor who does some lawns in the neighborhood. He brought in a monster saw and cut around the perimeter of the pavement, then lifted up chunks with a skid-steer loader. Ward estimates that more than 20 dump truck loads of asphalt were hauled away to be recycled.
The pavement was retained at one end of the garden and Ward put in a garage. She planted trees around the perimeter and put in two garden beds in the center which are focused on attracting birds and butterflies.
While a lot of gardeners are all too happy to pull up milkweed, Ward planted it because “Milkweed is the only place Monarch butterflies can lay their eggs.” Ward’s garden has earned a spot on The Butterfly Highway, a network of sites where habitat is available for the endangered Monarch butterflies to make their multi-generational trip to and from Mexico every year.
Since 1990 almost a billion Monarch butterflies have vanished, mostly due to homeowners spraying herbicides on milkweed plants, according to reports in The Washington Post.
Ward is doing just the opposite. She has planted milkweed especially for the Monarchs and has been delighted to find Monarch caterpillars on the plants and watched one of them hatch. She says, “It helps the local ecology. And to me, it’s exciting and entertaining.”
After purchasing the property in May 2015 and removing the asphalt, Ward got some Norway spruce planted around the perimeter in September. Winterberry holly also went in that fall. The berries feed birds through the winter. In 2016, maples, redbuds and dogwoods went in. Ward planted some wildflower seeds from American Meadows and it has been an ongoing adventure to see what happens. Cosmos was first last year, along with some other annuals. This year the perennials are beginning to make their presence known. Early in May, coreopsis was making a strong showing.
Along with the birds and butterflies that have been making themselves at home in Ward’s garden, frogs have found her pond and she has seen a number of furry creatures, groundhogs, bunnies, raccoons and possums. Ward doesn’t need to see the animals to know they’re there. “Something has been munching on the indigo. Some hungry critter,” she says with a smile.
Searching out native plants for her garden has taken Ward to some interesting places. One nursery was so far off the beaten path that the pavement ended before Ward reached her destination. She has used Carolina Native Nursery in Burnsville, Gardens in the Wood of Grassy Creek in Crumpler, Sunlight Gardens in Andersonville, TN, and Wood Thrush Nursery in Floyd, VA.
Ward is planning to establish a rain garden in the lower corner of her garden where rainwater from the rest of the garden naturally collects. Native swamp plants like irises and cardinal flower will reside there. She plans over time to reduce the amount of grass with other native plantings. “It’s a work in progress,” she says.
“Mount Airy Blooms” is June 10 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are on sale at Webb Interiors, 1191 W. Lebanon St., Mount Airy and at the Mount Airy Visitors Center, 200 N. Main St., Mount Airy and online at Eventbrite.com.
Though some gardens are at historic homes, the tour is not a home tour. The gardens will be open but the houses will not be. Ward’s Rawley Street garden adjoins the far north end of the central business district around the corner from two Main Street gardens also on the tour. All are only a short walk down Main Street to public restrooms at the Main Street comfort station. Restrooms will also be available at Cross Creek Country Club.
Proceeds raised from “Mount Airy Blooms” will go to support garden club projects in the area, including the Joan and Howard Woltz Hospice Home Rose Garden, restoration of the gardens at the Historic Moore House, maintenance and upkeep of the Main Street mini-garden fountain, lobby arrangements at Northern Hospital and special programming for the Jones School exceptional children’s class.
A Box Luncheon will be available under the Pavilion at Cross Creek Country Club, 1129 Greenhill Road, for $12. It must be prepaid by June 5. Payment may be made at the Mount Airy Visitors Center, 200 N. Main St., Mount Airy. A vegetarian meal is available. Please request when ordering.
Sponsors of “Mount Airy Blooms” include Group 3 Real Estate, Mr. and Mrs. Gary Kniskern and Dr. and Mrs. Stephen Yokeley.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.