Master gardeners: Monarch Waystation in Wheaton

A garden hidden from the view of drivers on County Farm Road in Wheaton is known as “The Secret Garden” to those lucky enough to be a part of it.

Residents, staff and volunteers at the DuPage County Convalescent Center regularly enjoy the gardens, which cover about 12,000 square feet in the center of the complex. Residents who join the Garden Club are designated a 6 foot long, raised bed garden plot in which to grow vegetables or flowers. Garden Club meets weekly and University of Illinois Extension master gardener volunteers garden alongside residents.

Recently the garden was designated a Monarch Waystation by the Monarch Watch organization, a nonprofit educational outreach program that focuses on the butterfly and its habitat.

On a basic level, to survive, Monarchs require milkweed plants, in the genus Asclepias, and a wide range of flowers for nectar. Female monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed leaves. The larvae (caterpillars), which hatch from eggs, exclusively eat milkweed leaves. Once metamorphosis is complete and the adult monarchs emerge, they feed on flower nectar.

Monarchs migrate south in the fall and north in the spring and must have all of these plants available for their lifecycle to again be completed along the route. Monarch Watch promotes establishing waystations to help provide monarch habitat requirements.

The center’s entire garden is waystation 7272. Within it, a 12-foot raised bed garden among the residents’ plots is set aside to educate about monarchs. Pink flowering swamp milkweed and a host of monarch’s favorite nectar-providing annuals and perennials are growing. Laminated photos of all stages of the monarch lifecycle are on stakes in the ground, as are plant identification labels.

“The monarch garden and waystation designation have added some magic to the garden,” said Henry Parker, the center’s recreation therapy coordinator. “A lot of residents who aren’t gardeners are coming out because they’ve heard of it and will bring their families out to look for butterflies.”

Linda Kunesh, master gardener team leader agrees.

“We see residents out specifically looking for Monarchs,” she said. “It’s been very educational and fun for them. Monarch numbers are low around the country, but we have spotted several here and have found eggs on milkweed plants.”

Email your home garden and lawn questions to uiemg-dupage@illinois.edu or call the Master Gardener Helpline at 630-955-1123. Visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/.

Julie Moore has been a master gardener volunteer with the University of Illinois Extension in DuPage County for 10 years and has a degree in ornamental horticulture from the University of Illinois.

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