BTG celebrates 25th anniversary of Rappole Night Garden

A statue of a bat bathes in the afternoon sunlight surrounded by flowers Monday in the Francesca Rappole Memorial Night Garden outside Smith Wilkes Hall. The garden was dedicated to bat conservation on July 28, 1998, by the Bird, Tree & Garden Club. Brett Phelps/Staff Photo

Mariia Novoselia
Staff writer

Francesca Goodell Rappole served as the president of the Bird, Tree & Garden Club for many years, raising awareness about the importance of little brown bats on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution. 

A quarter of a century after BTG named one of its gardens in her honor, BTG is set to mark the anniversary with a talk and refreshments. The celebration is set for 12:30 p.m. today at the front entrance of Smith Wilkes Hall, where the garden is located. 

Betsy Burgeson, supervisor of gardens and landscapes at the Institution, will lead the talk about the night garden, the plants that grow there and the changes it has undergone over the years. 

Burgeson said she had a lot of fun doing research about night gardens. 

“I love what (this garden) has taught me,” she said. 

Helianthus is planted in the Francesca Rappole Memorial Night Garden by Smith Wilkes Hall. The garden is filled with night plants — often in bright shades or with foliage that pops in the moonlight — for nocturnal pollinators. Brett Phelps/Staff Photographer

Before working on the Francesca Goodell Rappole Memorial Night Garden, she said she had a misconception that late-blooming plants were the only aspect of a night garden. Instead, she learned there are many aspects that make plants suitable for night gardens. Some plants have colors — like yellow or blue — that stand out at night, while others have a “silvery foliage” that pops when moonlight hits them. 

A flower’s scent can also play a significant role. Some night garden plants, Burgeson said, have “a really cool, almost intoxicating evening smell.”

Finally, what makes a plant suitable for a night garden is the kind of pollinators it is meant to attract. Bats are night pollinators, which is why there is a large statue of a bat that welcomes everyone into Smith Wilkes Hall with open wings.

Francesca Rappole Koron, granddaughter of Goodell Rappole and treasurer at BTG, said her grandmother dedicated a lot of her time with BTG to spreading information about bats and bat houses, even supporting a seven-year study done by the Institution on the local brown bat population. 

The message she said her grandmother was trying to share was that bats are “an important part of the overall ecosystem (at Chautauqua Institution), as opposed to nuisances that people need to get rid of.” In addition to offering Bat Chats and other educational programs, BTG used to sell aprons with bats painted on them. 

The garden was dedicated in July 1998, featuring a large sculpture by artist Larry Griffis. Since that time, it has gone through a lot of changes, including the addition of a second garden – one that attracts daytime pollinators. 

“It’s kind of a mix of two worlds,” Burgeson said.

The pollinator garden is also the first Monarch waystation on the grounds. Burgeson said such waystations provide necessary habitat and nectar sources not only for the butterflies, but also caterpillars. 

The addition of the pollinator garden to the original night garden, Burgeson said, creates “a mix of the past, the present and the future.”

The change, however, did not take place without challenges, she said. Burgeson said she and her team encountered issues with soil, watering and drainage. 

“I’m really happy that anything’s growing in there right now. Hopefully, we’ve got things figured out. It’s always nice to point out things that worked really well, as well as things that (didn’t) work,” she said. “We have over 250 garden areas that we make mistakes in and learn from.”

The Francesca Goodell Rappole Memorial Night Garden is the only night garden on the grounds, which is why, Burgeson said, she was very excited to start working in it. 

One of the flowers she is particularly fond of is the night-blooming primrose, which she was introduced to by her daughter. 

“It’s the coolest plant because from 8:45 to 9 o’clock at night, these little yellow flowers just burst open,” Burgeson said. “You can sit there and almost tune your watch.”

At the 1998 dedication ceremony, along with her cousin Whitney Rappole Gleason, Rappole Koron delivered a speech in which she remarked on her grandmother’s love for Chautauqua and BTG, as well as the memories that their family made on the grounds, like making grilled mushroom sandwiches. 

Rappole Koron said she likes to think she takes after her grandmother in some ways, from her love of family to her involvment with BTG. BTG members’ “passion for the overall beauty … and health of the grounds from an environmental standpoint” appeals to Rappole Koron the most. 

Twenty-five years after the dedication ceremony, she said it is “wonderful to have a beautiful tangible remembrance” of her grandmother.


The author Mariia Novoselia

Mariia Novoselia is a senior at Western Kentucky University studying journalism with a minor in political science. Born and raised in Odesa, Ukraine, she previously attended Odesa I. I. Mechnikov National University. She has experience writing for student publications and interning at a local newspaper in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Summer 2023 will be her first season on the grounds of Chautauqua, where she will be covering environmental issues. Mariia is also a music enthusiast, and when not writing, she enjoys singing and playing the guitar.