ATCHELSEA GARDENS, BUTTERFLIES ARE
HARBINGERS OF THINGS TO COME
The butterfly pavilion slated for this Mother’s Day weekend at the former River Run Nurseries in Norwich is only a promising preview of what will be a permanent attraction once the first phase of the Chelsea Gardens project is completed.
Visitors to the 3rd Annual Chelsea Gardens Foundation Butterfly Pavilion will have a chance to interact with Monarchs and Painted Ladies during the event, which boasts 1,000 butterflies shipped in from Florida.
“Everyone loves it, especially kids,” said Bob Reed, past president and board member of the Chelsea Garden Foundation. “It’s a good educational event.”
The Mother’s Day event begins Thursday, May 6, and run through Sunday, May 9. Doors open at 10 a.m. each day, and tickets will be sold until 4:30 p.m., with doors closing at 5 p.m.
Nursery school and preschool groups will be scheduled on Thursday and Friday, and the public is welcome all four days.
A guest speaker is also on the schedule for this year’s event. Nancy DuBrule-Clemente, owner of NatureWorks, a retail garden center in Northford, will be the keynote guest.
The Butterfly Pavilion is currently the Foundation’s main fundraiser, bringing more than $10,000 annually for the 90-acre, world-class botanical gardens project in Mohegan Park, still in the design phase. With the master plan complete, the site plan for phase one is now underway, with an anticipated ground-breaking still more than a year away, according to Hugh Schnip, president of the Foundation.
“It’s a big undertaking,” Schnip said. “The idea for this came about 18 years ago, and it’s been ongoing fundraising, planning and site research ever since.”
Reed agreed. “A project on this scale takes a generation to build,” he said.
And with such a long planning process come changes. Schnip said since its inception, the goals for the project have evolved.
“The idea for a self-sustaining garden space that will be a major tourist attraction is the same, but we’ve refined it and added dimensions like the Butterfly Pavilion and a more involved educational component,” he said. “Our focus has always centered around tourism, economic development, recreation, conservation and education.”
The Pavilion, included in phase one plans, will be a year-round revenue source for the project. In addition, the first phase will include greenhouses, a cafe and maintenance buildings. As part of the educational component, a collaboration is planned with the English Gardening School for a classroom and hands-on teaching area to demonstrate garden design and maintenance.
Plans are to convert the initial modular buildings into more permanent facilities during the later stages of the project.
The advantages of a permanent housing area for the butterflies would be the option to bring in tropical species from around the world, Schnip said. The butterflies brought in now for the yearly event are all North American species and are released into the wild at the end of the weekend.
When fully operational, the Pavilion is expected to bring in between 170,000 to 200,000 visitors annually.
Themed gardens and conservatories are also planned for the 90 acres, along with an extensive amount of open space and natural wetland areas that will encourage more educational opportunities.
Schnip, an accredited Connecticut nurseryman, said his past experience with large-scale landscapes is especially helpful in this stage of the project. “It’s a good time for me to be involved as we’re getting ready to move into a shovel-ready position,” he said.
“No one wants to start turning dirt more than we do,” Reed said. “It’s going to be a wonderful place.”