By Doug Walker Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society
With a mission to educate the public about birds, other wildlife, and habitat, and to provide opportunities for our community to appreciate the natural world, the Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society focuses on birds and wildlife in the central Savannah River area, around Augusta, Georgia, and Aiken, South Carolina.
Native Wildlife Garden for East Aiken School for the Arts
In 2016, the Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society provided funding for a STEAM program (that’s STEM with an additional “A” for Arts) offered through the Ruth Patrick Science Center at the University of South Carolina Aiken. The beneficiary was the East Aiken School for the Arts, a local Title IX magnet school where 95 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches. The curriculum consisted primarily of field trips with the hope of introducing the students to nature and the outdoors. When the project was complete, the chapter felt that kids still needed a place where they could get outside so they could continue to learn about and appreciate nature. By installing a native plant garden at the school, they were able to create a place where students could spend time in nature and continue their learning.
The school provided an unused weedy courtyard and gave us free rein to transform it. With assistance and funding from the Aiken Master Gardeners Club, the chapter set to preparing the soil, eliminating weeds, and ensuring the garden would be very low maintenance. The school principal personally donated plastic sheeting for solarization, a means of natural weed killing, as well as some pavers, and the Silver Bluff Audubon Center in Jackson, SC, gave us carte blanche in gathering native plants and shrubs from their sanctuary for transplanting in the garden. In addition, a local Boy Scout Troop provided labor, digging trenches for a drip irrigation system and spreading pine bark mulch to keep the weeds down. Local businesses provided substantial discounts on supplies and provided a venue for fundraising to complete the project.
Fast forward to 2022, and the garden is now thriving, complete with a pollinator garden, sections of native grasses and ferns, and numerous bird-friendly shrubs planted around the edges. There are two water features, a bluebird house, bird feeders, a tree frog tube, various rock and wood piles, and a mason bee house. The only non-native vegetation are two crepe myrtles, which were planted years ago as memorial trees. Regular visitors include green and squirrel tree frogs, southern toads, an occasional anole and many species of voracious birds.
The Chapter started this project in support of Audubon’s Bird Friendly Communities initiative, and it has indeed turned out to be a bi-state community effort. When we were working in the garden one afternoon, a special education teacher approached and expressed her appreciation. She said her students love to visit the space, and one little girl has fallen in love with the beautyberry and just sits there and gazes at it. Maybe we have a future botanist in training!
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