Butterfly Gardening in Fall

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

I first met butterfly gardener Stephanie Walquist at the inaugural meeting of the newly-formed West Cook Wild Ones in Oak Park.  She is one of its founding members, as well as the Vice President of the local chapter.  On that gorgeous, late summer afternoon she was giving a talk about making and managing a butterfly garden, and I was there covering it as a contributing reporter for a local newspaper.

But, being the urban gardener I am nowadays, I would have gone to this one anyway.   With these nature-loving garden folk,  I am on the same page.

I arrived just as Stephanie was wrapping up, telling us all about why (and how) this year we should, and could, be "a bit messier" in our end-of-the-season yard cleanup.

She went on to say that "gardening for these vulnerable creatures requires a little knowledge and perhaps readjusting or changing gardening habits.  But with a little effort, we can contribute to the well-being of some of the most at-risk creatures on earth; the effort is minimal and the repayment is huge.  We are losing our butterfly populations because of loss of habitat, indiscriminate pesticide use, and predators and other parasitic insects that have been released to control undesirable moths and other crop pests.  If we all just gave a little of our backyards up for the butterflies, they might be able to make a rebound and survive for generations to come," she advised the packed room at Green Home Experts in Oak Park.

Later, I learned that Stephanie's expanding knowledge base of  "all things" butterfly and moth has been self taught, which I think is really cool...because it means that over the last decade or so the former teacher has pursued this passion, and now is sharing it with anyone who will stop, look and listen.    

To that end, in her Oak Park front yard are planted signs designating her natural landscape as a Monarch Waytation and a Certified Butterfly Garden.  In addition, Stephanie is a volunteer butterfly monitor at Wolf Road Prairie via the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network.   

So recently, when this avid Lepidoptera (/%u02CCl%u025Bp%u0268%u02C8d%u0252pt%u0259r%u0259/ lep-i-dop-t%u0259r-%u0259...i.e. moths and butterflies) enthusiast invited me to her growing spaces to learn how and why she has created a habitat to overwinter these precious pollinators' eggs, larvae and chrysalids, I didn't hesitate to head on over to check it out.

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Stephanie Walquist  

Posted: November 8th, 2013 4:47 PM

Forgot to mention some of our butterflies also overwinter as adults; those include Mourning Cloaks, Question Marks, and Commas. They will find a warm spot under bark, in a brush pile or leaf pile, etc. Also, many of our native bees overwinter in soil and garden debris. Thanks to everyone who cares and does whatever they can to help out the pollinators and wildlife in our area. Even small efforts can really help.

Don Nekrosius from Oak Park  

Posted: November 7th, 2013 2:12 PM

Stephanie's encouragement to leave a garden in the fall a little messy links to what Charley said in an earlier DBB: providing hiding places for nature's minions improves the environment by supporting diversity. Native plants are a win-win proposition says Stephanie, and more and more gardeners are learning to provide native host plants for insects, critters and more. Monarchs were rare this last season and we need to put some milkweed seeds out there to give them a boost. Thanks, Deb!

Lisa Rybicki from Oswego  

Posted: November 7th, 2013 1:25 PM

Great article, Deb!! I think we've all noticed a distinct decline in the butterfly population, particularly Monarchs.

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