Spring blooms with butterfly talk at McLaughlin Garden in South Paris this weekend

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PARIS — Spring has finally sprung here in Western Maine and the McLaughlin Garden and Homestead will celebrate the advent of the gardening season with its annual Wildflower Festival. It will feature an illustrated lecture by Dr. Ron Butler about his work with the Maine Butterfly Survey on Friday afternoon.

Pulmonaria, better known as lungwort, is one of the many wildflowers that will be on display this weekend as part of McLaughlin Garden and Homestead's annual Wildflower Festival.
Pulmonaria, better known as lungwort, is one of the many wildflowers that will be on display this weekend as part of McLaughlin Garden and Homestead’s annual Wildflower Festival.

The Wildflower Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the garden, 97 Main St., Paris. Tours of the garden will be conducted at 1:30 p.m. Friday and at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Butler is an ecology professor from the University of Maine at Farmington and helped spearhead the state’s butterfly survey, which began in 2007. His talk titled “The Maine Butterfly Survey – What Have We Learned?” will start at 3 p.m. Friday, and coincides with National Public Garden Day. Butler will discuss the findings of the project and the important role pollinators — including butterflies — play in the local ecosystem.

Butler said by email that the state’s pollinators are “critically important” to maintaining a healthy, thriving ecosystem, which include butterflies, moths, flies, beetles and bees.

“One estimate suggests that pollinators contribute about $40 billion (a year) to our national economy. I think most people are unaware that approximately 90 percent of flowering plants are pollinated by animals,” Butler wrote. “There are about 200,000 species that are pollinators and about 99 percent of these are insects.”

McLaughlin Garden Executive Director Donna Anderson sat on the porch of the former homestead Monday morning and said that there’s a number of pollinators, including butterflies, that populate the garden.

“We will see what’s going to be out and about,” she said about possibly seeing butterflies during the festival.

There’s five major butterfly families in Maine, with 68 of the 120 species in the state found in Oxford Hills, Butler said.

Attendees at Butler’s lecture will receive “butterfly bombs,” which are made up of milkweed people can plant in their gardens to help nurture and attract butterflies, Anderson said.

“I think it’s important to talk about environmental issues and things that (people) can do even if it’s a modest thing like a butterfly bomb,” she said. “(They should) not just assume it’s something that someone else does.”

There’s been a long history of citizen science initiatives in Maine, which began in 1986 with the Maine Amphibian and Reptile Atlasing Project, which was followed by the Maine Damselfly and Dragonfly Survey in 2000, Butler said. He’s since moved on to the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas, and is currently documenting the state’s top pollinators.

“The Maine Bumble Bee Atlas project originated from a growing concern for over the global decline in native pollinators,” Butler explained.

There is one beehive on site at the garden, back in the northeast corner behind the compost area.

“We are going to be spending this year making it a healthier hive,” Anderson said, noting this includes enhancing the garden around it. “Bees are pretty territorial. We don’t want people to get too close.”

The wildflower lane at McLaughlin Garden and Homestead in Paris will be part of the grounds tour during the annual Wildflower Festival held Friday through Sunday.
The wildflower lane at McLaughlin Garden and Homestead in Paris will be part of the grounds tour during the annual Wildflower Festival held Friday through Sunday.

As for the wildflowers, there are plenty on the grounds, including the old farming lane that garden founder Bernard McLaughlin transformed into a wildflower lane.

“You can overlook them because they’re more subtle,” Anderson said, adding that people have to look and step more carefully when searching for wildflowers, which she equated to a scavenger hunt.

McLaughlin Garden Horticulturist Kristin Perry will be on hand to talk about the garden’s wildflowers throughout the weekend.

On an impromptu tour of the garden late Monday morning, Perry pointed out a number of the wild plants growing along the trail, which leads up the hill and to an open field beyond, which once served as a pasture. They included the curly, fuzzy-looking green ostrich fern, better known as fiddleheads, which people in this area collect and eat. Then there’s the blood root with simple, white flowers that peppered the path and sport an orangish, blood-like root below the surface. Then there’s the green, leafy trillium, which has yet to flower and is spread by ants carrying the seeds up the hill, Perry said. And don’t forget about the pulmonaria, also known as lungwort, with its delicate pink and purple flowers and speckled leaves.

There will also be plants for sale this weekend for those who want to bring home a little piece of Bernard McLaughlin’s garden.

For more information about the Wildflower Festival or other programs at McLaughlin Garden, visit www.mclaughlingarden.org/home.html, call 743-8820 or email mclgarden@megalink.net.

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