In January 2020, ORAS was awarded a Burke Grant through National Audubon Society’s Plants for Birds program to create the high profile demonstration garden. Our ultimate goals are to emphasize the importance of native plants for wildlife, encourage community members to choose native plants in their home and garden, and create a gathering space to engage the community in conservation efforts. ORAS wanted to target members of the diverse Athens community not typically involved in bird conservation and native plant restoration. By placing the demonstration garden along the North Oconee River Greenway, we are able to engage audiences who use the greenway for exercising, commuting to work or school, fishing, and wildlife viewing. The garden plans consist of over 1,500 native plants, interpretive signage, a bench, and a small water feature.
Athens-Clarke County’s (ACC) Sustainability Office enthusiastically partnered with ORAS on this project. The location of the garden at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Parkway and North Avenue fits nicely into ACC’s plans to restore habitat along the North Oconee River corridor. The garden restores approximately 15,000 square feet of wildlife habitat in an area historically fallow and often invaded with invasive plant species. Now, this sunny patch of land will be a mosaic of native prairie and meadow perennials and grasses.
Students from the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia designed interpretive signage and helped create a list of native plant species. The sign highlights the importance and connection of native plants to birds and other pollinators, and describes the ecological importance of Piedmont prairie habitat. A QR code to access a Spanish translation is on the sign as well, so we can engage as many members of our community as possible.
ORAS purchased many of the native plants from Beech Hollow Farms in Lexington, Georgia as well as the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Volunteers, ACC staff, and members of Lilly Branch Audubon Society added over 30 species of perennials and grasses to the garden primarily as plugs and pint-sized plantings. We are looking forward to seeing the results of our efforts over the next few years as the garden grows, matures, and shows off all its flowering glory.
Next time you are in Athens, grab your binoculars and go for a walk along the North Oconee River Greenway. In ORAS’ new Plants for Birds demonstration garden, you may now be able to spot Indigo Buntings, Field Sparrows, or Eastern Kingbirds, and be inspired to add native plants to your own landscape.
Demonstration Garden Interpretive Signage: