Sunday, August 21, 2022

If You Build It, They Will Come

By Bruce Blake, DuPage Monarch Project, Garden Specialist 

Photos by Bruce Blake

One of the environmental programs the Sierra Club, River Prairie Group, belongs to is the DuPage Monarch Project - Founded and chaired by Lonnie Morris, the Project is a cooperation among several groups: Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, The Conservation Foundation, Wild Ones-Greater DuPage, and many other municipalities and park districts. Our main purpose is to provide education and to promote increasing Monarch butterflies and their habitat in DuPage County. 

As you may know, Monarch butterflies have been put on the IUCN list as endangered. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is a membership Union of government and civil society organizations that work together to advance sustainable development and create a just world that values and conserves nature. Monarch populations have declined by over 80% in the last 20 years. There have been many factors. The large-scale use of herbicides that destroy milkweed - the monarch caterpillar’s sole host plant and only food source during its caterpillar stage - is a driver of the butterfly’s decline. The butterflies are also threatened by neonicotinoid insecticides, fungicides, and other chemicals that are toxic to young caterpillars. Climate change has also affected the migration of monarchs from Mexico. Butterflies, as well as bees and other pollinators, are needed in our food chain. One out of every three bites of food we eat requires pollination!

One of the groups we have partnered with is Immigrant Solidarity DuPageThe Monarch is a very important part of Mexican culture. The return of the Monarchs to their overwintering spot in Michoacan, Mexico, is a special festival. It symbolizes the return of the dead. Working together, we have planted several Monarch pollinator gardens.

One of these is at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in West Chicago. Cristobal Cavazos, of Immigrant Solidarity, talked to Pastor Josh Ebener about doing a Monarch garden on a grass area south of the church. We developed a landscaping plan and presented it to the church. With their approval, we started. The area was roughly 40 feet by 120 feet. We needed to get rid of the sod. We tried covering the grass with tarps over the winter, but that didn’t kill the grass as hoped. We really didn’t want to herbicide. After a long time looking for someone who could remove the top 2 inches of sod so we could plant, we found a local landscaper, Daniel Fuenteswho volunteered to remove the sod and help us with the stonework for the pathway.

Removing the sod.

This was early 2021. After removing the sod, we had 40,000 lbs. of crushed stone ordered for the path foundation. Unfortunately, we couldn’t dump it where we were working, so we had to dump it on the parking lot and use a small trailer to spread it by hand. 

Preparing the path.

Once we had the path outlined, we hand sowed a native seed mix. It was a combination of many different native flowering plants to provide nectar, several types of milkweed, and a variety of tall grasses. All the plants are native to our area. They will provide nectar and a place for butterflies to lay eggs. A large portion of the seeds were collected and donated by members of Wild Ones-Dupage. We put in over 1,200 plants by hand. This was fall 2021.

We have the best volunteers to help us! Many people helped plant, work on the pathway, and weed. Our thanks to Miguel Romero, Mateo Suarez, Robert Cook, Andrew Van Gorp, Gabriela Hernandez Chico, Rafael Vieyra, Cristobal Cavazos, Rocio Hernadez, Patricia and Marti Landry, and Bob Sherman.  Hayley Hawkinson joined us from the West Chicago Garden Club. Without their support and hard work, we couldn’t have accomplished this. The brick pathway is an amazing design and is yet to be finished. The center will have a butterfly done in tile, by a local artist.     

We couldn’t wait for spring 2022 to come! At first, a few plants were coming up, but they were very sparse.

Garden weeding..

It looked promising, but not as many as we hoped for. During the spring and summer of 2022, we worked on the pathway, pulled weeds, and added more native plants. Slowly, the plants took root and flourished. It was amazing how the area filled in.

Finished brickwork and growing plants. 

It will take several years for some of the plants to flower. We need to find volunteers who can help us maintain this beautiful native Pollinator Garden. If you would like to be part of bringing nature back to us, you can reach me at to help.

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