Work by Carmen Turner

25 April 2002

Metamorphosis: Life Imitating Life


The loss of a loved one is a tragic event, especially when that person had yet to reach his or her full potential in life. Part of the grieving process involves finding a way to keep the person's memory alive, to reflect on life, the meaning of life, and the choices we make in order for our lives to be as fulfilling as possible. The students of D.W. Daniel High School have chosen to perpetuate the lives of its peers who have passed on by commissioning the transformation of one of the school's courtyards into a butterfly garden. The theme of metamorphosis collaborates with the concepts of mortality and immortality. The butterfly's ever-changing form signifies life anew, yet also emphasizes the changes to which even we humans must subject ourselves to become mature adults. Just as butterflies themselves change, so will this garden from season to season, offering something new to the passing student or teacher, perhaps reminding us of how beautiful life is, in all its forms.

The Site

The site is physically and emotionally close to Daniel's heart. The courtyard, by its location in the interior of campus displays the closeness and importance of remembering those who have died. It is surrounded by classrooms on all four sides and is currently used as a shortcut to other rooms during the class change period. Despite this ideal location, there is very little there to hold anyone's attention. The following planting plan, with the addition of a fountain, seating area and a trellis by the student body will supply the space with the interest needed to entice who-ever passes by to slow down and enjoy the area. The overall plan will also encourage use of the space for outdoor class sessions.

Site Features

It's all about butterflies. This is after all a butterfly garden, so whatever plants are chosen should cater to the butterfly. Like humans, butterflies need food, shelter, and a safe place to grow to adulthood. Butterflies depend on plants for all of these. They require sunny spots, being cold-blooded insects, but a little shade doesn't hurt. For this purpose birch trees were chosen to gradually replace the red maples currently at the site. Birch does a better job at supplying both sun and light shade, and its movement with even the slightest of wind is relaxing to the senses. Birch is also the preferred food for some species of caterpillars native to the area. Butterflies also need protection form heavy winds and rain, which can badly damage their delicate wings. Shrubs and trees that litter the ground with large leaves provide protection for the butterfly during dangerous weather. The most widely known need for butterflies is nectar. Nothing attracts a butterfly more than a large helping of its favorite juice. Some favorites include butterfly bush, milkweed, snapdragon and daisy. However, the most overlooked staple for butterflies is food for caterpillars. We are so used to looking upon caterpillars with disgust for devouring our prize plants that we forget that without them, there'd be no butterflies. Some species seem to gravitate toward herbs and vegetables like fennel and cabbage, while some prefer trees like birch and redbud. This plan takes care to include plant species that are attractive to caterpillar appetites. Nectar isn't the only way butterflies get their daily supply of vitamins and minerals. In a phenomenon called puddling, butterflies suck minerals and moisture up from damp soil. They also get needed nutrients from tree sap, rotting fruit, even carrion!
The plants chosen for the site represent many colors and seasonal interests to appease passing humans. The floras that will inhabit the site are suited for sunny to partially shady conditions. The soil will be a bit on the dry side, especially during the summer months when the number of available personnel on campus to irrigate the area will shrink dramatically. Since school is not in session during the summer, using plants that bloom early to mid summer would not be a wise option.


Tapping into the large pool of student labor is key. The student body leads this initiative, so as long as there is a Daniel High School, the level of maintenance does not have to be kept to an absolute minimum. However some aspects of creating a sustainable environment must be adhered to. Plants must be suitable to the appropriate microclimate to reduce watering. There are a number of spigots in this site, and since it is such a small site, it is recommended that drip hoses (the kind where water oozes out of ting holes in the hose itself) be used in place of any overhead irrigation. With respect to location, Bermuda should be the warm season turf of choice for its traffic tolerance. Because of the courtyard's enclosed state, it is relatively protected from winter winds, therefore it is suggested that the area be over seeded with fescue for cool season color. Mowing can easily be done in short time with a push mower. The greatest amount of work would involve pruning and/or shearing, mulching and replacing annuals. With the abundance of young, able-bodied laborer, those chores could easily be someone's weekend community service project.
Sadly, whereas the garden's location is its biggest asset, it is also its largest hindrance. Maintenance equipment is limited to hand tools or very small machines. The size of plant containers to be transported into the site will also have to be limited. Tree container sizes probably shouldn't exceed 10 gallons for ease of hauling through the school hallways.
One may ask about attracting other forms of wildlife in this landscape. Again, considering the location, wildlife is basically limited (insects excluded) to what can fly in. And, unfortunately, birds and butterflies aren't very compatible animals. A few birds may come in to nest in the shrubbery, but birds are also very much attracted to caterpillars for food, and the caterpillar populations are the very things to be maintained in this situation. Overall, outside of installation and semiannual mulching, maintenance and accessibility is not much of a problem.


The implementation of a butterfly garden is a wonderful way to perpetuate the memory of loved ones. The life cycle of the butterfly symbolizes the changes we need to make in order to meet the new stages of life as they occur and reminds us that change, like death, are two of the few constants in this world and that butterflies, as well as the garden itself, are our reminders of that natural law.