KENNESAW — Butterfly season is upon us.

Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw opened its butterfly enclosure Thursday. The enclosure, now in its fifth year, displays several varieties of native butterfly and the plants and flowers that the butterflies and their respective caterpillar stages feed on.

Lisa Bartlett, garden and education manager at Smith-Gilbert Gardens, said after the 2020 season’s lower turnout because of the pandemic, it was great to see families coming back and children learning again.

Bartlett walked excitedly around the enclosure checking for butterfly eggs laid on the underside of leaves and saying that she’d just finished spritzing the plants with sugar water — there wasn’t enough nectar to go around with all the butterflies that had just been released in the netted greenhouse, she explained.

Children squealed as butterflies fluttered by or landed on their arms and chests.

“I love teaching kids about nature,” Bartlett said, adding that many people come to the gardens and conquer their fear of bugs. “What I love to see is people that are typically afraid of bugs, at the end of the day forget that a butterfly is a bug. And they come in here and go, ‘Oh my God, butterflies!’ It’s like being in an ‘Avatar’ film. They’re like little fairies or flying flowers.”

During COVID-19, there weren’t just fewer patrons, there were also supply chain issues — many butterfly gardens that supplied Smith-Gilbert with its variety of species closed or downsized, Bartlett said.

That means patrons this year may notice less variety, she said. But there’s still plenty to see.

“We have our state butterfly, which is super important, and that’s the big Tiger Swallowtail,” Bartlett pointed to a large yellow butterfly, with broad wings striped in black and edged in orange and blue markings. “It’s already laying eggs everywhere.”

The butterflies, she said, will only lay eggs on the plants that the caterpillars to be born will eat. And, Bartlett added, caterpillars will soon begin hatching and creating their chrysalises, from which new butterflies will emerge.

As they wandered through the tulip poplar, black cherry and butterfly bushes, east Cobb resident Stephanie Wilson and her family scanned the plants for different kinds of butterflies.

Wilson said she and her family are members of the gardens, but Thursday was their first time in the butterfly enclosure. Wilson homeschools her young children and is always on the lookout for educational opportunities, she said, so the butterfly exhibit seemed like the perfect activity.

“We’ve enjoyed this, because it’s more intimate, and just more for kids to do, it seems like,” Wilson said, as her 2-, 4- and 7-year-olds walked around in whimsy. “We’ve loved it here, and ... the crafts for the kids that they do have been awesome.”

“Gentle, Anna, gentle,” she said, as her 2-year-old daughter reached for a butterfly resting on a flower.

Smyrna resident McKenzie Russell carried 2-year-old Ryan Rose McCormick around another portion of the enclosure in search of one of the fluttering insects. One briefly landed on a flower held by Ryan Rose. Russell said she’d never been to the gardens before and loved it.

“It’s super awesome, and we love the butterfly garden — big attraction,” she said.

“It went on my hand,” added Ryan Rose of one of the smaller bugs.

Smith-Gilbert Gardens, at 2382 Pine Mountain Road, is open year-round. Its current hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The butterfly enclosure is open through Aug. 1.

The gardens are also home to interactive sculptures, art, a bonsai enclosure and other rotating exhibits and events throughout the year. For tickets and special events, visit smith-gilbert-gardens.square.site.

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