By Cindy Hadish/For the Corridor Business Journal
CEDAR RAPIDS – A team effort with diverse players is blossoming at Noelridge Park.
The 100-acre park, at Council Street and Collins Road in northeast Cedar Rapids, has long been known for its lush garden beds, but volunteers this year are taking the landscape a step further.
A butterfly garden, with flowers and amenities to attract the delicate insects, will be entered in the All-America Selections display garden landscape design contest, and in the process, Noelridge is extending its reach as a community gathering spot.
“We are absolutely delighted to be doing this project and especially proud of the cooperation that is happening among so many amazing people and organizations,” said Cindy Garlock, a member of Friends of Noelridge. Among its roles, the volunteer group works with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to propagate 60,000 flowers that are annually planted in public spaces in Cedar Rapids.
Ms. Garlock said Noelridge Park’s display gardens have long used All-America Selections — new seed varieties judged to be high performers — but this is the first year to enter the contest, with Linn County Master Gardener Becki Lynch recruited to create the design.
Winners, to be announced in October, are awarded an “AAS Landscape Design Award” certificate and will be featured in press releases and on the All-America Selections website, but already the project is winning by creating new partnerships.
Ms. Garlock cited a long list of organizations and entities that have joined in the effort led by Friends of Noelridge, including the city of Cedar Rapids, Indian Creek Nature Center, Wickiup Hill Natural Area, Goodwill of the Heartland Day Habilitation, Linn County Master Gardeners,MCG BioComposites, which provided some of the signs, and the Blue Zones Project.
The latter component, in which Cedar Rapids is trying to help residents achieve healthier lives, involves the Blue Zones principle of “placemaking,” those sites in a community where people naturally gather.
“We are trying to promote Noelridge as one of those places by increasing the number of events and attractions that might bring them to the park,” Ms. Garlock said.
To that end, master gardeners will host a series of events, beginning Wednesday, July 9, with a free informational session at the butterfly garden, vegetable garden, which also uses All-America Selections, and the Master Gardeners herb garden.
The event, set for 5:30 to 6:45 p.m., is open to the public and precedes the Municipal Band concert at 7:30 p.m. Subsequent events will be held on Aug. 21, from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. in conjunction with Jazz Under the Stars, and during the Fall Flower Show from 10-11:30 a.m. and 1-2:30 p.m. Sept. 7.
Community Program Manager Stephanie Neff said because of the importance of social connectedness in well-being improvement, the Blue Zones Project supports the events at Noelridge and has been assisting with promotion through social media.
“Noelridge is a great place for people to attend events, enjoy the outdoors, volunteer and move naturally,” she said, citing the park as an example of a “great public space: places where people want to be, celebrations are held, social and economic exchanges take place, friends run into each other and cultures mix.”
Ms. Neff lauded the project’s collaboration, noting that such civic involvement is among the reasons Cedar Rapids was chosen as an All-America City this year.
That involvement began earlier this spring, when willow weavers Lindsay Lee and Lee Zieke, of Willowglen Nursery in Decorah, helped volunteers weave willow structures that became the focal points of the garden. Local willow weaver, Mary Kopecky of Cedar Rapids, led the gathering of the willow from the Indian Creek Nature Center and Wickiup Hill Natural Area.
Ms. Kopecky also instructed volunteers on how to weave containers and towers that are part of the garden.
“One of the requirements of the competition is that we must use containers, so using natural materials such as the willows seemed an excellent idea,” Ms. Garlock said.
Planting the garden was also a cooperative venture. Clients of Goodwill Dayhab volunteer at the Noelridge Greenhouse and were excited to help in the planting, she said.
Between the butterfly and vegetable gardens, volunteers planted 1,500 flower and vegetable seedlings using 60 different varieties, in late spring. Petunias, violas, zinnias and other flowers that attract butterflies were planted as host and nectar plants.
Ms. Lynch said native plants are interspersed with the new varieties that sport names such as “South Pacific Scarlet” cannas; “Double Zahara Cherry” zinnias and “Twinny Peach” snapdragons.
The large willow “flute” structures weaved for the garden also serve a purpose as a shelter for the butterflies to escape from strong winds, she said.
Ms. Lynch, who received the Five Seasons Citizenship award for her community service earlier this summer, explained the uses for the flowers and willow pieces to about 10 volunteers from Goodwill who assisted several Friends of Noelridge volunteers with planting.
Christie Anderson, Goodwill Dayhab trainer, said the group enjoyed being able to help in the project.
“They love coming out here,” she said. “This is one of their favorite places to volunteer.”
See more photos from the spring planting, below, and for a printed copy of this article, order the July 7, 2014, edition of the Corridor Business Journal at this link.