Some sat in wheelchairs. Others stood with walkers. Some had canes.
But this crowd of senior citizens cheered like school children when the flock of 50-plus butterflies flew freely into a new garden at Connerton Assisted Care.
The butterfly release was timed to celebrate the grand opening of a new garden at the assisted care center, located at 21021 Betel Palm Lane in Land O’ Lakes. The event was mostly a joyous occasion, marked by the flight of the butterflies and residents enjoying slices from a big decorated cake.
But the event had a sense of solemnity, too, as Jen Chianella of Gulfside Regional Hospice read names of former Connerton residents who have passed away during a moment of remembrance.
Gulfside and Connerton joined together to provide the garden for residents.
“We felt it was a nice way to honor those that have passed at Connerton Court,” Chianella said. “The garden came about as a way to honor those who have passed and a nice way to have a reflection area.”
Karen Birbeck, life enrichment director at Connerton, said the Monarch butterflies were donated by Gulfside and were grown from caterpillar state at the assisted care center.
“We literally started from scratch and raised them here,” Birbeck said.
Dolores Allende, 83, helped feed the caterpillars. Initially, they weren’t much to look at, she said. “They looked like worms.”
Watching them transform into butterflies was magical, however.
“It was exciting. After they opened their wings, they flapped,” said Allende, who lived in the Orlando area before moving to Connerton.
The garden has butterfly host and nectar plants, said Birbeck, who did most of the planting. She did get some help from Felix Blais, a 95-year-old who lives at Connerton.
Blais said he enjoyed helping.
“It was nothing,” he said. “I was a hard worker all of my life. It was a pleasure to work again.”
Besides the passion vine, the garden has Allamanda, and other flowering plants and herbs.
The herbs are in waist-high planters, chosen because they allow people in wheelchairs to wheel right up to them and get a close view of nature.
“I have rosemary and peppermint, spearmint, chives. I have oregano and sage,” Birbeck said.
She wants residents to have the chance to smell the fragrance of the plants, and she hopes the kitchen staff will be able to use some of the herbs in future meals at the center.
Birbeck said her dad Al Birbeck, a Zephyrhills retiree, helped by building the trellis for the passion vine and built bird feeders, too.
Chianella thinks having the garden will provide balm for residents who want a place to grieve losses, to reflect and meditate.
“Because our residents, they don’t have the opportunity to always go to the cemetery,” Birbeck said. “A lot of people really need a spot to grieve, where it’s pretty and it’s therapeutic.”