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Master Gardeners turn lawn at Bellingham nursing home into a community butterfly haven

Kathleen Bander plants flowers as part of installing a butterfly garden by the North Cascades Health and Rehabilitation Center on Friday, May 2, 2014, in Bellingham.
Kathleen Bander plants flowers as part of installing a butterfly garden by the North Cascades Health and Rehabilitation Center on Friday, May 2, 2014, in Bellingham. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

A 90-foot-square patch of sloping lawn at a Bellingham nursing home has been turned into a garden designed to attract butterflies and to blossom into a flower-filled haven for the nursing home's occupants and staff, as well as for neighborhood residents and school groups.

It just might be the first public butterfly garden in Whatcom County, said Kathleen Bander, the Master Gardener who spearheaded the project.

"It's going to be useful for the greater community," she said.

Bander led a group of Master Gardeners who organized the effort and put in much of the labor. An open house to celebrate the project will be held July 26. In the meantime, the garden is open to the public 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

North Cascades Health and Rehabilitation Center gave the go-ahead for the project on its Cordata property and paid for the garden's "hardscape," including the fence and concrete pavers and curbs for the wheelchair-accessible paths, Bander said.

Joseph Scrivens, who took the job as executive director at North Cascades after the project was underway, said the garden offers a therapeutic place for staff and the nearly 100 residents to sit, walk and talk.

"It's a large quality-of-life piece for our people here," he said. "It provides a break."

Bander, a retired Seattle teacher and lifelong gardener, came up with the idea while visiting her mother-in-law at North Cascades. She saw the large lawn, with minimal landscaping, at the northeast corner of the nursing home and thought a garden would benefit the residents and workers.

"Greenery calms the nerves," she said.

So she talked to fellow Master Gardeners and a committee of nine of them began to research the idea in July 2012. They finished their plan the following spring and presented the idea to North Cascades' executive director, who loved the idea and granted approval.

The fence and pavers were installed last summer, and volunteers brought in topsoil and wood chips and began planting flowers and other greenery that provide food and shelter for pollinators - butterflies, birds and bees.

The pavers were professionally installed to provide maneuvering room for people in wheelchairs and to allow rainwater to seep directly into the ground. Bander's husband, Bill Mirand, installed the fence and built wooden benches and tables for paved nooks where people can visit.

The fence has vertical gaps between the boards to provide a visual link between the garden and houses across the street in the north Cordata neighborhood.

"We wanted people walking by to see it," Bander said.

The garden is open to the public and will have educational signs about the importance of pollinators and sustainable gardening.

The nine Master Gardeners donated more than 3,500 hours of work on the project, and local gardeners have donated many of the plants, with more to come. Another volunteer crafted metal butterflies and flowers that adorn the fence and grounds.

"This was a massive undertaking," Bander said.

Butterflies are out and about during the spring and summer, but the mix of plants for the garden have been chosen to provide greenery year-round.

At first, the organizers wanted to level the sloped lawn so it would be easier to install the garden, Bander said. But physical therapists at North Cascades wanted to keep the slant, so residents would get a better workout when they walk through the garden.

Bander said the Master Gardeners liked that idea, in part for aesthetic reasons.

"Flat is kind of boring," she said.

Bander's mother-in-law died last September, before the garden was in bloom but in time to see her son's fence go up.

"She totally approved," Bander said. "She thought it was great."


What: Open house at public butterfly garden.

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 26.

Where: North Cascades Health and Rehabilitation Center, 4680 Cordata Parkway.

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