In the Fall of 1999, the Great Falls Garden Club voted to undertake a major service project: designing and installing a perennial bird and butterfly garden at the new Great Falls Library, which was then under construction. The community had waited 20 years for a permanent library and the Club felt this new garden would make a positive contribution to our community and benefit wildlife as well.
To raise funds for the plants and mulch, we held a giant yard sale, with items donated from Club members and friends. We raised almost $1,000 at that sale, which we thought would be sufficient to get the job done. Then Club members set about designing the garden and making plant lists. When the contractor finished work on the building, he covered the future garden area with mulch, which looked wonderful. Much to our dismay however, looks were deceiving. A test hole was dug and filled with water to determine drainage conditions in what we assumed would be Virginia’s famous red clay. To our horror, we discovered that the entire site was composed of severely compacted construction fill and the test water stayed in the hole for hours. Clearly plants would not survive unless the area was significantly improved. We hired a backhoe to dig down two feet to remove chunks of asphalt, concrete blocks, logs, wire and rocks buried by the builder. Then four large loads of well-composted horse manure and five tons of sharp sand were spread by shovel and wheelbarrow. It took six passes with a heavy-duty rototiller to remove additional rocks and other debris, but the end result was an ideal garden environment.
The next hurdle was financial — all the unexpected expenses took a big bite out of our budget. An appeal went out to the Great Falls Citizens Association and they very graciously contributed the funds necessary to pay for the sand and backhoe. Several local nurseries donated plants, bulbs and shrubs, which meant our remaining funds were sufficient for us to finish the project. On the day of the actual planting, many members showed up to put the plants and shrubs into wonderfully-improved soil. There was 100% participation by the Club’s 30 members in one phase or another in the overall project (fundraising, planning and installation). In addition, Library patrons and community residents have donated nest boxes, bird feeders and a bird bath. The end result is a fabulous garden that beautifies the Library grounds and welcomes visitors approaching from both Georgetown Pike and the Library parking lot. It also provides food and shelter for birds and other wildlife and, in 2007, it was certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. In addition, the Club’s efforts were rewarded with an Exxon Civic Development Award in 2001.
Not content to rest on their laurels, Club members soon had another opportunity to enhance the Library grounds. The Great Falls Athletic Association erected a chain link fence to protect library windows from balls straying from the lacrosse field behind the building and the Club determined that the fence should be screened with trees and shrubs. The Athletic Association agreed to provide the plant material selected by Club members, and the Garden Club agreed to provide the labor and ongoing maintenance of the area. An English hedgerow of native trees and shrubs, all berry-producing to attract birds, was soon installed.
But the design and installation of the gardens and hedgerow was just the beginning. Every year since, members of the Garden Club have donated their time and expertise to maintain the gardens. Each week, from April through October, two members work in the garden, weeding, dead-heading, pruning, mulching and handling other garden maintenance chores to keep it healthy and flourishing.
The Club has a wish list posted at the library for community members who would like to donate items for the gardens or contribute plants or trees.