Harmony in the Garden Blog

The mystery of the monarch

IMG_7443 copyThroughout my daughter’s life, I’ve tried just about everything I could think of to pique her interest in gardening. And while she’s always appreciated playing in a beautiful garden, I realized early on that getting her excited about working in a garden just wasn’t going to happen.

But, I figured if I can get her to enjoy eating from the garden, growing weird things in the garden, finding bugs, and watching birds in the garden then maybe, just maybe, the gardening seed would be planted to emerge one day when she had a home of her own.

So, when she left for college a few years ago, I figured that was it – any possible chance I had of keeping her engaged in gardens would have to take a backseat to college life.

Which is certainly did, until I received a text from her a few weeks ago saying ‘OMG mom – look what’s on my front door!’


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After searching on the internet, she excitedly informed me that the two little green chrysalis were going to turn into monarch butterflies!

I told her how lucky she was to have them make their home on her front porch, about the difficulties monarchs are having due to habitat destruction, and about the huge movement of gardeners everywhere to help bring back their declining numbers.

Well, that did it – she was officially hooked and excited to watch her new precious babies grow. She was even able to get her five roommates excited about what was happening on their front porch.


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Each day, before leaving for work, she’d check on the chrysalis and send me photos of their progress.


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Her patience paid off when she returned home from work one day to find this!

Not wanting the excitement of raising these two monarchs to quickly fade away, I casually asked if she’d like me to send her a butterfly kit.

And to my great surprise, she said yes! So I quickly ordered one on Amazon and had it sent to her home.


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Though the butterflies were Painted Ladies instead of monarchs, the whole experience of watching the transformation of tiny little caterpillars into butterflies was fun and easy.

The result was a batch of beautiful butterflies that hatched just a few weeks later.


Asclepias seeds copyI have since visited her in Los Angeles and was curious to see what was planted in the neighborhood that was bringing the monarchs to her – and voila! In her front garden were two tiny tropical milkweed plants that must’ve re-seeded themselves in the garden.

Again, I used this as an opportunity to tell her about that plant and why it’s so important to these butterflies (and miracle of miracles, she was actually interested in hearing about it!)


IMG_9337 copyI have to admit, that after sharing this fun experience with my daughter, I’m now hooked on helping monarchs.

In fact, just recently, I purchased the native California Narrowleaf Milkweed (asclepias fascicularis) to add to my garden. This variety grows to 3’ with clusters of creamy white flowers and tolerates my heavy clay soil better than other varieties.

While I’ve planted the more colorful tropical (non-native) milkweed in the past, I’ve since read that they aren’t as good for monarchs as they don’t provide the protection from predators (through the ingested alkaloids) that a native species does.   Las Pilitas Nursery (a favorite of mine) has a wonderful explanation as to why native milkweeds are vital to the monarch.


IMG_9334 copyAnother plant I have near the Milkweed is a Butterfly Mint Bush (Monardella antonina) which has been blooming away for the past six months.

While I’ve heard it may be a little tricky to get established in the garden, I’ve had no problems with it over the past few years. Just a tiny bit of water a few times a week during the summer is all it seems to need to bring in the butterflies.

Oh, as a side-note, since the Monarchs hatched a few weeks ago Emily and her roommates see them flying around their garden almost every day.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed they find more cocoons on their porch soon!


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  • My mother was an avid gardener but because she was a teacher and commuted a distance, summers were her time to garden. I only caught the “bug” with our first home. When I retired in 2009, went to College of San Mateo for 3 1/2 years taking Horticulture. Loved it! Learned so much. Thanks for your great articles and ideas.
    Enid Emde

    • You’re so welcome, Enid – thank YOU for your story! It’s always inspiring to hear people who continue their education after retirement to do and learn new things. So glad you’re developing your passion with horticulture! 🙂

  • There is nothing as beautiful as watching the birth of our beautiful butterflies. I will always miss my garden, although this year I have seen beautiful yellow butterflies flying around. Some houses have gardens, and they must have something that attracts these beautiful butterflies. So I get to share. Rebecca, I think you have finally hooked your daughter, she will not see many gardens as beautiful as yours, where she was so lucky to have whilst growing up. Jean

  • Oh Rebecca I LOVED reading this,brought back memories of our class watching Monarchs & their life cycle when I was in the 4th grade back in the 70’s… Of course your daughter will grow to live gardening,she’s had a great teacher 😉 Just like both of my Grannies have me their green thumbs 🙂 Hugs from NH. p.s. I didn’t know there were different types of Milkweed!

    • I’m so glad it brought back such good memories for you, Erika – that’s part of the fun of these kid-related projects, isn’t it? Makes us relive our own childhood if only for a little while. Happy Gardening!

  • Rebecca, I love hearing your stories, so glad that your daughter has caught the bug…..so to speak. Looking forward to hearing if they stick around her home.

    • Thank you, Lynn – I hope there’s another batch of monarchs soon before they take off in September for their big migration!

  • Thanks, Rebecca, for giving me hope about my daughter! Although she’s a very caring person and interested in all manner of other living things, plants just don’t excite her. She is very concerned about the environmental costs of meat consumption and is actively advocating the addition of crickets to the human diet as a great alternative to meat (uh, at least using cricket flour, if not actually eating the insect whole). Perhaps if crickets were building chrysalis at her house she might take notice…. hmm, what is the plural of chrysalis?

    • You’re so welcome, Karen. Well…we can always hope, can’t we! I’ve tried so many times over the years to get her interested and have to believe that way down deep, on some level, there’s a love of plants that will bloom when she’s older. In the meantime, I’ll take what I can get! I have a feeling that your daughter will discover plants, as well, since she’s so in tune with nature and the environment. Fingers crossed!!

  • I have really enjoyed your story, regarding as a mom involved w/her passion and also trying to have a child of her’s become just as excited as you are! And the joy of the butterflies was a divine intervention!!!
    I bought my two kiddos a girl 14 n a son 10 some years past a butterfly kit and to watch the delight in their eyes of a tiny lil worm an the transformation of coocon to butterfly is amazing!!!
    My son asks me occassionally what he can plant and my daughter asks what she can me w/in my garden…….so as long as there is one person in the household enjoying their passion, I believe someone will eventually follow along…….thx u for this wonderful story,

    • Thank you, Tracy, and lucky you to have 2 kids who are interested in gardening! My daughter is 21 and she’s barely hanging on by a thread in the gardening department, so I’m with you in believing the butterflies were a divine intervention!

  • Uh, oh, Rebecca. Auto correct got you on “Las Pilitas” Nursery. I just had a hard time making my Mac accept it. The quotation marks helped.

    I am still waiting for my daughters to get bitten by the gardening bug!! Well, maybe not actually bitten…


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