Environmental Education in Airlie
Airlie Gardens is full of people eager to teach others about the remarkable nature that surrounds them.
Residents of New Hanover County know Airlie Gardens to be a place of natural beauty where life is blooming all around. What some may not realize, however, is the garden’s deep commitment to environmental education. Airlie offers visitors a wide variety of educational programs designed to foster a connection with the environment, thus protecting and preserving it for future generations. These exciting programs give the public the opportunity to experience hands-on activities and events where they can learn about plants, wildlife, soil stewardship and much more.
“We offer a wide-ranging span of educational programs, which vary from kids’ programs and field trips up through adult programs and garden tours,” says Environmental Education Program Coordinator Alyssa Taylor. “We’ve done a lot in the past year that’s changed how we function as an education program, and we’ve added more public and family programs into our garden as well.”
Some of the public programs offered consistently throughout the year include monthly bird hikes and quarterly tree walks. Fall programs include an after-hours Owl Prowl event during which visitors can look for species of owls throughout the gardens, as well as Take Part in Nature Art offered in October and April. During the winter, Airlie’s How to Start Seeds and Milk Jug Greenhouses programs teach participants how to grow their own milkweed and build a small greenhouse. Planting for Pollinators workshops in September and January share ways that people can welcome pollinators into their space at home.
One of Airlie Gardens’ most popular educational programs is the butterfly release. The releases take place in the butterfly house every Tuesday from June through the first week of September.
“We start with a short program in the afternoon discussing a butterfly’s life cycle, why they’re important for our landscapes and ecosystems, and why they’re important for us,” Taylor says. “Then we release any butterflies into the butterfly house for people to get an up-close look at the pollinators.”
Speaking of pollinators, Airlie’s Pollinator Garden is another great spot for visitors to witness a variety of pollinator species. Located behind the model Airlie House, the garden’s purposefully selected blooms attract bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and other pollinators that move pollen from flower to flower and help the plants survive and grow.
Located in the Garden Services Center, the Bug Zoo runs through the summer until mid-October and showcases multiples species of reptiles and amphibians as well as some insects.
“Our Bug Zoo is a native wildlife exhibit with things you can find in your own backyard, like lizards, toads and frogs, and we also have a resident box turtle and corn snake,” Taylor says.
Airlie Gardens also offers several programs tailored specifically for area youth. School groups are welcome to experience the wonders of the gardens and learn about plants and wildlife through a variety of field trips for preschoolers up through eighth grade. Summer is also a time when many local camps bring children to visit the gardens.
“We welcome field trips where students can come out here to learn about the life cycle of a butterfly or about plant adaptations and how plants grow, because these things are really important in instilling ideals of conservation,” Taylor says. “Helping kids understand our impact on the environment and how we can take our own backyards and improve them and make them more inhabitable for our wildlife and plants is so important. Just these small steps and starting young with our kids is really where we’re going to make those impactful, long-term changes.”
Most of Airlie Gardens’ education programs are made possible by a core group of dedicated volunteers who all share a passion for the gardens and its mission. From guided garden tours led by volunteer docents to garden ambassadors trained to share their knowledge about the ecology of the gardens with visitors, Airlie is full of people eager to teach others about the remarkable nature that surrounds them.
“Helping people find that one little thing that sparks their interest, and instilling those ideals in people so that we can all become stewards of our environment, is the goal we have here,” Taylor says.
Want to go?
300 Airlie Road, Wilmington