The Darien Garden Club took its first step to save monarch butterflies a few years ago when a butterfly garden was planted at St. John Lutheran Church, the location for its monthly meeting. By 2020, the club was ready to link their educational outreach and monarch habitat projects to the county wide conservation effort by becoming an associate member of the DuPage Monarch Project.  DuPage Monarch Project is a collaboration of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, River Prairie Group of the Illinois Sierra Club, The Conservation Foundation and Wild Ones Greater DuPage Chapter with a goal of supporting and fostering monarch conservation throughout the county by connecting public and private landowners managing land in pollinator friendly ways.

“While enjoying the rewards of maintaining monarch and pollinator habitat many of us were following the exciting progress and inspirational goals set by organizations such as DuPage Monarch Project,” said Cathy Streett, Darien Garden Club Community Outreach/Service Project Chair. “We look forward to working together as an associate member of DMP to advocate for monarch butterflies and in turn all native insects and wildlife.  We hope that our energy and progress in these areas will serve as an example and filter down to others in our community to bring yet more support to struggling insects.”

Conservation education has been a part of the club’s mission from its inception 20 years ago and has been regularly included as a component of their annual Spring Gardening Inspiration event.  Conservation education turned into action when the club learned about the dramatic decrease in the number of eastern monarch butterflies.  Gardeners are uniquely equipped to help butterflies and pollinators as gardens are part of the solution to reversing their decline.  The loss of native trees, shrubs and flowers through urban development and the ongoing conversion of natural areas to farmland is a contributing factor to the dwindling populations of butterflies and native bees.  Yards can replace lost habitat by shrinking the amount of lawn and increasing areas planted with native species, especially milkweed, an essential plant for monarch butterflies.  

Last year, the club provided every member with two native plants to increase the habitat value of their gardens.  Several members’ gardens qualify as native landscaping and have been certified by Conservation@Home, a program of The Conservation Foundation.  The original butterfly garden was also enhanced in 2020 through the addition of 25 new plants.

Butterfly garden at St. John Lutheran Church

Saving milkweed is as important as planting it.  A few years ago, Claudia Borowski, the garden club’s president, walked past a patch of milkweed growing in an easement along a sidewalk near the Darien Police Station and City Hall and noticed evidence of spraying.  The milkweed leaves were dried and curling up, the plants were dying.  Resolved to save them, Borowski learned the land was owned by DuPage County but managed through a contractual agreement with Darien.  She decided the best way to protect the patch of over 80 milkweed plants was by getting permission from the City of Darien to post a Do Not Mow or Spray sign.  She reached out to Dan Gombac, Director of Municipal Services and was granted permission to post the sign.  

Borowski continues to be involved with the rescued milkweed, weeding the patch in summer and removing dead stalks in spring.  The healthy, thriving plants are now providing seeds for members’ gardens and to IDOT for future roadside habitat projects.

“As you can see, it only takes one person’s effort to make a big step in helping one endangered butterfly to reproduce and prosper,” said Claudia Borowski.  “So, think of how much you can do to help save a species. Look around and act.”

DGC’s Community Service Committee has recently attended several summits hosted by the Illinois Monarch Project and is exploring opportunities for working with diverse landowners to improve existing landscaping for monarchs and promote consideration of pollinators and monarchs in the planning of new projects.

“We are excited to support Illinois Monarch Project’s action plan and especially the Route 66 Monarch Flyway initiative.  We plan to provide resources and encourage businesses, public parks, IDOT right of way, and other landowners near local sections of Route 66 to add habitat to  extend the flyway throughout the state,” said Streett. 

The Illinois Monarch Project’s conservation plan extends to 2038.  Its long-range goal of saving the monarch butterfly is well matched to the commitment and enthusiasm of the Darien Garden Club.