Six months ago, there stood a lonely overgrown patch  in the west gardens that once was a place of joy for former resident Mary “Tilley” Bessemer.  In its heyday, more than eight years ago, Tilley could be found following the lazy wanderings of butterflies among their favorite blossoms in this lovingly tended garden designed just for them.  

When Nichole Peal first saw the garden last winter, the faded trellis was obscured by weeds and the birdbath filled with rotting leaves.  The potential that she soon saw in this butterfly garden was not far from the memory of Tilley’s former sanctuary and it emerged as the perfect project to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award.  The Gold Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve.  

“I had just finished my Harvest Award where I had learned about butterfly gardens on a visit to the Florida Native Plant Nursery in Myakka,” says Nichole, referring to another prestigious Girl Scout Senior award.  “There are so many elaborate rules for butterfly gardens like the number of plants and which ones are for the butterflies to eat and which are for laying their eggs.”

Nichole, now a senior at the Sarasota Military Academy, dedicated her spare time February through August to the planning and creation of “Tilley’s Butterfly Garden,” dedicated to the memory of Mary “Tilley” Bessemer.  Recruiting the assistance of fellow Girl Scouts and the expertise of local butterfly aficionados, Nichole sees this as an ongoing effort to maintain the garden and ensure that it remains a long-standing source of solace for Plymouth Harbor residents and guests. 

When the sun and the weather are just right, it’s easy to imagine the peace to be found in a well-appointed butterfly garden.  Sarasota abounds with these delightful gardens filled largely with native plants and the 170 species of butterflies that find their homes here at one time of the year or other (that’s nearly a quarter of 740 species found world-wide!).

“Butterflies are deep and powerful representations of life,” shared Plymouth Harbor CEO Harry Hobson. “They symbolize different things for different people:  endurance, change, hope, and life.”

It’s fascinating that face-to-face encounters with this most delicate and resilient creature, the tiny butterfly, can have such a dramatic effect on people.

The butterfly evokes an experience of calm, peace, and comfort. Research at medical centers has found that patients who visited or viewed a healing garden took less pain medication and overall had shorter stays than patients who did not. The greatest benefits are found by those living with illness, disabilities, or suffering from a loss.  The wellness aspects of a therapeutic butterfly garden are multifaceted.

Senator Bob Johnson, a former member of the Plymouth Harbor Board of Directors and the attorney managing Mary “Tilley” Bessemer’s estate, understands the affection with which she cared for this garden in the years before her passing in 2006. 

“Tilley loved her butterflies,” said Senator Johnson who met Tilley when she married his long-time neighbor. Widowed in later life, she had reunited with her high school sweetheart and found love anew.  They moved into a new home at Plymouth Harbor where they enjoyed many years together.  “Tilley was unassuming and down to earth. Even as her vision worsened, she could see those butterflies,” he added.  “She would be very proud, and probably astonished, by this garden dedication.”

A celebration and dedication of the newly refreshed butterfly garden  on Tuesday, September 10 at 11:00  recognizes and appreciates Mary “Tilley” Bessemer and Nichole Peal for their past and present contributions.

“Our very special butterfly garden will serve as a symbol of peace and serenity for all who visit,” added Harry, “and a life-affirming tribute to Tilley, whose zest for life continues to grace us.”   

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun and find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches today, tomorrow and beyond.

~Irish Blessing