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Date of Issue: November 15, 2007

City, butterfly group cooperate to mend garden

Uneven bricks in the patio at the Anna Maria Island Butterfly Garden became a concern at Holmes Beach City Hall and for the caretakers of the garden, the members of the local North American Butterfly Association chapter.

Holmes Beach city officials are working with the group that cares for the Anna Maria Island Butterfly Park on city hall grounds to repair and improve the garden.

The alternative, said garden spokesperson Nancy Ambrose, would be to move the garden to a sunnier location.

She added that members of the North American Butterfly Association’s Manasota Chapter don’t want to go that route, so about two weeks ago they began working with the mayor, public works staff and parks and beautification committee members to keep the garden at its city hall home.

“We want it on public property,” Ambrose said.

The butterfly garden was designated in 1999 to be at the south end of Holmes Beach City Hall and to the north of the Island Branch Library. The garden work began in January 2000 and the garden officially opened later that year when the first order of personalized bricks arrived.

A variety of plants to attract butterflies have matured in the space and so have other elements of the garden - some desirable to butterflies and park visitors and some not. Over the years, the bricked areas have expanded with memorial bricks, benches have been installed and a water fountain added. Also during that time, the roots of two ficus trees - in place before the garden - have gone wild.

The butterfly group doesn’t want the trees, which have damaged the brick patio and put too much shade on the garden. A recent trimming of the trees also likely damaged the patio, particularly some personalized bricks placed in the garden, Ambrose said.

The damage prompted the butterfly group to hold off on improvements to the garden. Ambrose said the group has about $13,000 in a bank account, some of the money intended for new plants and some designated for a gazebo to host classes and enhance the park.

“When we started the garden, we thought we were going to be able to take those trees out,” Ambrose said. “We’re becoming a garden of mostly shade.”

City hall has been reluctant to remove the trees for two reasons - they provide shade for people sitting on the benches and an Islandwide feud has been ongoing over the removal of other trees, specifically Australian pines.

But on Nov. 7, members of the Holmes Beach Parks and Beautification Committee, an advisory board to the mayor, agreed with the gardeners - the ficus trees should be removed.

“The trees have to go,” said committee member Melissa Snyder. “I believe they are on the state’s invasive list. They totally need to be taken out.”

Committee member Pam Leckie said improving the garden would be “money down the drain” unless the trees can be removed.

City Commissioner David Zaccagnino, who serves as the commission’s liaison to the beautification committee, said he would raise the issue with commissioners.

“If I brought this subject up, maybe the commission can give direction,” Zaccagnino said. “The problem is the trees need to go. This would be the best situation to keep (the garden) there.”

The commissioner asked Ambrose if she could seek estimates on the cost to remove the trees.

The mayor, too, has offered the city’s help in the garden, which was closed last week until bricks could be relocated and repairs made.

“We can relocate the bricks, that’s not going to be a problem, and we can probably expand the garden,” Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said.

The mayor added that volunteers to help the butterfly group are needed.

Snyder, last week, said the Manatee County Extension Service had agreed to help with the project, sending out people seeking master gardener certificates. Volunteer work is a program requirement.

“We will come out,” said Snyder, who is enrolled in the program.

Assistance may also come from Island veterans, Ambrose said. She recently received a $1,000 donation from Islander Raymond “Mac” McDannold, who on Nov. 9, during The Islander’s Veterans Day program, encouraged others to help.

McDannold made his request at the veterans’ event in the parking lot of Holmes Beach City Hall due to the garden closure.