'A garden for flutterers and flowers'

A photo of Cryer Park in Omaha (Photo by Rachel Anderson)

By Benjamin Bohall, Nebraska Forest Service Staff

When Angie Ratekin first moved to the Skylark Cryer neighborhood in Omaha, she had no idea she was putting down roots among kindred souls. That is, until she attended her first neighborhood association meeting.

“I went to the meeting and right away they told me, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about creating a garden in the park.’ I immediately thought, ‘I’m going to love this neighborhood.’”

But it wasn’t going to be just any old garden.

 “It had to be a pollinator garden. That was important,” said Ratekin.

The residents of Skylark Cryer had a vision in mind — create a hub for pollinators amongst the backdrop of a bustling city. A veritable hotspot for butterflies and other local wildlife.

Fellow Skylark Cryer resident Jane English was tapped to be project manager for the new garden in the nearby Cryer Park the group coined “The Butterfly Bistro”.

“A garden for flutterers and flowers,” described English. “Our goal was to be able to sustain wildlife while also offering a chance to educate.”

The garden would not come without its challenges though — particularly when it came to deciding on a menu to suit the bistro, and the costs associated with such a large undertaking.

“We had zero money, so I started to search for grant funding… It wasn’t long before I stumbled across the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum’s website. There was information on their grants and garden design plans. That’s also how we met our star garden planner, Rachel Anderson,” said English.

Over the last 30 years, the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum (NSA) has assisted more than 1,500 projects in over 250 communities, with an emphasis on native plants. NSA’s Greener Towns grant provides up to $20,000 for landscape projects offering to better the quality of life in Nebraska. Those projects have ranged from tree plantings to community gardens like the Butterfly Bistro.

Rachel Anderson is the Community Landscape Specialist for the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum and the Nebraska Forest Service.

“I just loved what they wanted to do and how they set out to accomplish it. After they were awarded the grant, we got busy on the design project’s layout,” said Anderson.

Anderson advised the garden to be made up of native plants: adapted to regional soil, climate, and weather extremes. Native plants would also be the best sources of food and shelter for butterflies, other pollinators, and wildlife. 

“Having the Arboretum gave us the confidence,” said Ratekin. “We knew her choice of plants and visual concepts, combined with our own would make it all happen, along with our partnerships,”

Those partnerships would ultimately include the NSA, Nebraska Forest Service, Omaha Parks Department, Flourish Communication Design, and Moore's Landscaping and Nursery.

All that was left to do was the work. Fast-forward nearly two years later, and what began as a “small idea with big potential” has blossomed into three pollinator gardens within Cryer Park. Hundreds of community volunteer hours and thousands of plants have created a sanctuary for pollinators and a way to showcase Nebraska’s native wildflowers’ beauty and versatility. Perhaps English and Ratekin’s biggest point of pride comes from finding an assortment of butterflies, birds, and bees visiting the garden on any given spring or summer day.

“Any park, any yard, any ditch…people can do this,” said English. “It’s not hard, it just takes the right plan and it takes plants that are meant to be here. Rachel taught us that.”


*NSA will be accepting Greener Town applications through July 31st, 2019. More information at planetnebraska.org