Volunteer spotlight: Dougherty uses pandemic time to create butterfly garden

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Editor's note: For the next several weeks, The Destin Log and Daily News will be highlighting in their print editions some of the people in our community who voluntarily offer themselves for service around town.

Most folks go to the library to read or check out a book, but not Velda Dougherty. Her time at the library is spent volunteering outdoors, tending to the plants that make up the new butterfly garden at the Destin Library.

"During this COVID-19 pandemic, Velda has created a beautiful butterfly garden," said Wen Livingston, Destin Library director.

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"We will be using the garden for children's programs one day," Livingston added.

You won't find Destin Library volunteer Velda Dougherty among the stacks of books inside the library. Instead, Dougherty spends her time tending to the plants in the library's butterfly garden.

But in the meantime, Velda, with some assistance from her husband Gregg, has placed about 200 plants that make up the garden.

"He was the digger and I put the plants in. He helped a lot," Velda said, noting he didn't like her working out there by herself when the library was closed.

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Plus it helped to have a little manpower to get through some of the roots, she added.

Velda said Livingston had asked her last fall, if the Destin Garden Club, of which she is a member, could do something with the area that is now the butterfly garden.

The Destin Garden Club already maintained the flower beds at the library.

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"At that time I said, I don't know how we can," Velda said, noting that would be a large project for the club to take on with limited manpower. Plus she wasn't sure that area had irrigation.

Destin Library volunteer Velda Dougherty describes some of the many butterfly friendly plants she helps maintain the Destin library's butterfly garden. Many butterfly species, like Monarchs, require a very specific host plant on which to lay their eggs. In the case of Monarchs, it's a variety of milkweed plant species.

"It takes all of our workforce to maintain those six flower beds," she said.

Just yesterday, "We (club members) probably pulled eight huge bags of weeds out of the flower beds ... so it's a big job," Dougherty said.

But once the coronavirus pandemic hit, Doughtery decided to take the project on herself.

"I thought what else have I got to do ... stuck in the house and so I thought I'm just going to make it a personal project," she said.

With help from her husband, they got a lot of donations from different people around the community, including the garden club. Plus, she got clippings from plants.

Rose milkweed is a larval host for Monarch butterflies, and is one of the many species of butterfly friendly plants growing in the Destin Library's butterfly garden.

"It's just been a great project," she said.

"People are leaving plants, so I never know what's going to be back there when I go back week to week," Dougherty said. 

Dougherty received several plants from Dara Dobson from Native Pines in DeFuniak Springs. 

"Most of the plants are native to the area. Plus I did a lot of research and reading books through the library and discovered what plants I needed to attract the butterflies that I wanted back there," she said.

Destin Library's butterfly garden sits on the eastern side of the building and offers a variety of butterfly friendly plants as well as a benches to relex and enjoy the greenery.

Milkweed, passion vine and wild cherry tree are among some of the plants in the garden to attract the butterflies.

Not only has Dougherty pulled the garden together, but with the help of some of the library workers, they created QR tags and signs for each of the plants in the garden.

Destin Library's butterfly garden sits on the eastern side of the building and offers a variety of butterfly friendly plants as well as a benches to relex and enjoy the greenery.

"It's a very educational garden," she said, noting the QR tags for the plants are inked to the libraries web page where there is information about the individual plants.

Plus there are hand-painted butterfly pavers throughout the garden and placed next to the plant that attracts that particular butterfly.

"I might go over and work at 7 in the morning and it's shocking ... even though it's closed, there are a lot of people that stroll those garden beds, just for an escape. It's a good thing to have those flower beds there for the community," she said.

Dougherty, a snowbird who eventually made Destin her home, has been in the garden club for the past 10 years and has been helping with the flower beds for about nine. 

Before moving to Destin she was a potter. Now she does a little oil painting.

"I have a lot of different hobbies ... and I volunteer with the Okaloosa County Master Gardeners.

"That keeps me busy ... but I like staying busy," Dougherty said.