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Butterfly garden planned for Cunningham Park

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With mounds of snow still piled high, members of the Friends of Cunningham Park are looking forward to spring, when they plan to create a butterfly garden and install two bat houses in Cunningham Park.

The butterfly garden will be landscaped with six to 10 different kinds of plants and shrubs that are recommended for attracting butterflies, said Marc Haken, the president of the Friends of Cunningham Park, an organization that advocates for the park. It will be enclosed by a 20-by-20 picket fence and will include one or two benches and signs that describe the plants and butterflies.

“I have traveled around and I see things in different places, and I thought, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have a butterfly garden in Cunningham Park?’” said Diane Cohen, the treasurer for the Friends of Cunningham Park, who came up with the idea for the garden.

“This will just be an open air garden with plants that hopefully will attract some pretty butterflies and be a place where people can relax and contemplate,” she said.

Cohen, who is also the district manager for Community Board 8, said her dream would be to see a whole nature center in the park, but that was a long way off.

For now, the Friends of Cunningham Park has secured $5,000 from Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) and $2,000 from Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) for the butterfly garden, which will most likely be located south of the playground on 193rd Street near Union Turnpike and north of the ballfields.

According to Frank Colella, the principal park supervisor for Cunningham Park, the species of plants that attract butterflies include butterfly weed, aster, Jupiter’s beard, summersweet, Joe Pye weed, bee balm, rhododendron, marigold, black-eyed Susan and sage.

“They’re mostly perennials and some shrubs,” Colella said. “You plant species that attract butterflies, and that’s all there is to it.”

Planting will most likely be done by a private landscaper who has agreed to volunteer his services free of charge, Haken said. If things go according to plan, planting will begin in March or April and the garden will be ready by May or June.

Locations are still being scouted for two bat houses, which will be installed on top of 10- to 12-foot pipes in the back woods, away from trails.

“It’ll be fabulous because it will give the bats a place to nest, and bats eat many, many mosquitoes,” Cohen said. “And we know we have bats in Cunningham Park.”

The bat houses will be installed by Joseph Butera, a naturalist and electrician from Bellerose who proposed the idea to the Friends of Cunningham Park.

Bats eat five or six times their body weight in mosquitoes every night, Haken said.

If the bat houses and butterfly garden are successful, the Friends of Cunningham Park hopes to gather funds in the future to create a song bird grove.

“We are continually trying to improve the park and make it a key park,” Haken said.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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