Harmony in the Garden Blog

Monarch Mayhem: joy and heartbreak in the garden

Remember last year when I wrote about my daughter’s newly found passion for monarch butterflies?

Well, I recently received this text from her: “Guess who’s back!’

Emily was thrilled to find two more emerald chrysalises hanging from her front door – a repeat performance of last spring!  (can you spot them?  It’s the teeny tiny bright green dot at the very top of the door.)



Remembering the Butterflyweed (asclepias tuberosa) that had at one point re-seeded and grew with abandon in her garden (and how it was the main food source of the monarchs), she quickly began hunting for more caterpillars.

Imagine her joy when she found not just one but EIGHT fat and colorful caterpillars happily munching away.

Emily has been under a huge amount of stress this semester, as she’s getting ready to graduate in a few weeks, dealing with the pressure of finding a job, leaving the comfort of college life, etc.

So for a few moments each day, she’d sit down in the sun and watch the caterpillars methodically munch away. Even her roommates would sit down and join her, relishing these brief moments of stress-release, warming themselves in the sun, and watching nature.

Here’s where things take a turn for the worse.  A few days later I received a panicked phone call from her.



Barely able to comprehend what just happened, she told me she had just come home from work, and the mow-and-blow gardener had mowed the weedy-looking asclepias down to the ground.

It was total devastation.  She was crushed – her babies nowhere to be found.

I told her to run outside and quickly look in the composter to see if any were there, and after digging around she found three who survived!


Now a new problem emerged.

Since the asclepias is the only food the hungry caterpillars eat, how was she going to keep them alive until she could get to a nursery the following afternoon?

It was currently 5:10 pm, and we were pretty sure nothing was open. I called her local Home Depot (since they’re usually open late), but they didn’t have a single plant. I quickly googled local nurseries and found one that was not only open for another 15 minutes, but they had blooming plants for sale!

So I called Marina Garden Center and quickly explained the whole story, letting them know how important these caterpillars were to a bunch of college kids, and would they please, please stay open a few minutes past closing time until she was able to get there? While the woman said she couldn’t keep the store open past 5:30, she would leave a branch of asclepias outside the closed gate for my daughter to pick up to feed the starving caterpillars.

Even if my daughter left that very second, with LA’s rush hour traffic, I figured there wasn’t a prayer she’d get there in time. Which she didn’t. But the monarch Gods were with her, as she pulled into the parking lot to find the nursery still open, thanks to a woman making a giant plant purchase. So she quickly bought a large, flowering plant, took it home, and fed the remaining caterpillars.

One week later she had three more chrysalis, and soon after was rewarded with this:



As I mentioned earlier, my daughter is graduating in a few weeks.

I’ll be staying with her a few days after graduation, and we plant to buy and plant more asclepias in her garden for future monarch generations.

I also found these perfect cards on Etsy, which I’ll laminate and place near the plants, letting the gardener and future renters know about this special plant and the monarchs that will follow.

Fingers crossed the new batch of college kids who come through this garden will continue to be good monarch stewards!



Oh, and for anyone who’d like to learn more about monarchs, my good friend Kylee Baumle has a new book being released next week:  The Monarch:  Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly.

I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this book for both myself and my daughter.




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  • Hi Rebecca, I finally got around to reading this very sweet and happy story. Thank you for sharing it with us all. It made me cry–which seems to be happening a lot recently as we anticipate the birth of identical twin grandsons in a few weeks. Everything makes me emotional that has to do with new life. Or threats to new life and our environment. This is a truly wonderful story!

    Congratulations to your daughter on her graduation. I hope that she finds a job she loves and a bright future. You’re a great Mom.

    • Oh Jo, how exciting for your family – twins!!! Your lives are about to change in such a wonderful way, no wonder you tear up easily these days! 🙂 I’ll pass along your congratulations to Emily, she’s getting excited and sad at the same time. It’s a hard transition for her as she’s loved college so much and hates to see it end. I keep reminding her of her OWN metamorphosis that’s happening, and that she’ll soon fly away on beautiful wings. Thanks for your kind words, and I’ll be thinking of you a lot in the next few week! xoxo

  • Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. What a woman! Both of you! That was a great recovery to a terrible disaster.

    • Thank you, Barbara – yes, I was so proud of her for going the extra mile to help these poor little caterpillars.

  • What a heartwarming and amazing story. You are both such special and beautiful 💕💕.

    • Thanks, Lisa – now we just need to get some of those amazing monarchs to visit our gardens, right??

  • How uplifting to read your story and to hear about a young woman under stress who was ready to put it all aside to help some vulnerable butterflies. People like Emily remind me that there is hope for our planet’s future. She a credit to you. And I agree Sheila – this would make an excellent children’s story!

    • Emily wanted me to thank you for such sweet words – she’s such a softie when it comes to anything in harm’s way so I was thrilled when she was able to help them. I’ll be visiting her in the next few weeks (for her graduation) and can’t wait to see the monarchs flying around. She said they stay in her neighborhood and are always spotted in her garden – she’s so lucky!!

    • I agree! Cheers to us gardeners, new and old alike!!

  • i just loved reading your story, your daughter is a doll for saving those babies!

    • Thank you, Diane. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • I agree with Sheila about your darling daughter…..she must write a children’s book with illustrations about herplight with her Monarchs!!! My granddaughters would love that story…..and I love your Garden Gossip! I’ve been reading it since you spoke to our Village Garden Club of La Jolla a few years back. I

    • Thank you, Bev – and I’m so happy you’ve been enjoying my blog all these years! Your garden club was one of my very favorites of all and I have such fond memories of that day! My daughter is amazing at drawing, so I’ll see if I can get her to put pen to paper and write a book. Maybe in her downtime while trying to find a job? 😉

  • I can’t tell you how much I love this story! Thank you for sharing it.

    • Hi Suzie! I’m so glad you enjoyed this story. Warms my heart, too, and I just had to share it with you all. 🙂

  • How nice that your daughter has such a wonderful sense of nature and all the beauty it brings to us human beings. I wonder if either of you have read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Flight Behavior?

    • Hi Vivian,

      I haven’t read that book, and after googling it just now I have one on the way! Thanks so much for the recommendation and I look forward to diving in and then passing it along to Emily.

  • What a sweet story! I’ll look for the Etsy cards to have friends put by their plants to protect the Monarchs and educate the public. Great idea!!!

    • Thanks, Liz – I was so excited to find those cards as they seem like they’ll be perfect to laminate, stick in the garden, educate and inspire!

  • I can hardly believe Emily is about to graduate. Wasn’t it just yesterday when you were traveling around and looking at schools? I love this story Rebecca, it is very special as is your sweet Emily. It would make a perfect children’s story!

    • You and me both, Sheila. Where did the time go??? Time passes so quickly (unless waiting for succulents to fill in, right?) When she wakes up this morning (she’s home for Easter break) I’ll run the idea by her about writing a children’s book. That would be so amazing if she did! I think of you often and would love to hear all about your big move coming up!!! xoxo

  • Great story with a happy ending! Thanks for sharing!

  • You’ve given me another reason to love the Marina Del Rey Garden Center! Congrats to your daughter on her pending graduation!

    • What a beautiful story. I will keep good thoughts for your daughter’ graduating and getting a job. She sound like such a neat person, just like her Mama. Love you, Jean Gillette

      • Thank you, Jean – getting a job is such an overwhelming process, so she can use all the good thoughts she can get. I, too, happen to think she’s a neat person (not that I’m biased, right?) You’re such a sweetheart, thank you. XOXO

    • I wondered if any of my readers knew this nursery – lucky you, as they seem pretty fabulous! I’ll be visiting there in person to buy more asclepias when I’m there in a few weeks for Emily’s graduation. Hope to find the woman who helped Emily and the caterpillars!

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