Make Way for the Monarchs

By Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts

Thanks to the volunteerism of master gardeners of Iowa County, one of Wisconsin’s newest certified Monarch Waystations is at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts.

In 2018, Master Gardener Harriet Ridnour had an idea, and Master Gardener Jane Stenson had the energy to apply for a $400 grant from the Wisconsin Master Gardener organization to purchase plants to develop two of the 20 garden beds on the 2.5-acre Shake Rag Alley campus into monarch butterfly gardens. 

Iowa County Master Gardener volunteers briefly came together for a photo at the Shake Rag Alley butterfly gardens last month. Jane Stenson (holding the certificate of appreciation from Monarch Watch), Jean Halverson, Harriet Ridnour and Sharon Stauffer stand at the Monarch Waystation sign fashioned by Master Gardener Dr. Everett Lindsey.

According to Monarch Watch (monarchwatch.org), “Monarch Waystations are places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. Without milkweeds throughout their spring and summer breeding areas in North America, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration (to Mexico) each fall. Similarly, without nectar from flowers these fall migratory monarch butterflies would be unable to make their long journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico. The need for host plants for larvae and energy sources for adults applies to all monarch and butterfly populations around the world.”

With support from the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and guidance from Micah Kloppenburg, outreach ecologist with the Blue Mounds Area Project, last spring the volunteers cleared and prepared beds 12 and 13 adjacent to and near the historic Potter’s House and planted different sources of milkweed for monarch larvae — common milkweed, rose or swamp milkweed, oval-leaf milkweed, butterfly weed, whorled milkweed and poke milkweed — as well as several nectar plants that serve as protein sources.  

“As we began our work, butterfly weed was transplanted into Bed 12 and immediately a monarch  alighted on the plant. A sign!” Stenson recalls. “Then the very next day a woodchuck showed up and swallowed the plant.” But, the butterfly weed persevered and once again grew and flowered — just in time for Shake Rag Alley’s summer Youth Program.

In collaboration with the ICMG volunteers, Youth Program Director Elizabeth Johanna carried the theme of the monarch over into two summer workshops. Last July, paper mache campers made scores of paper flowers and decorated butterfly wings and masks for the annual July 4 parade down High Street. And the Free Arts Camp, which is supported by the Mineral Point Community Chest and United Fund of Iowa County, treated youth in grades 1-5 to four days of butterfly arts, crafts and education including a presentation on monarch butterflies by Jacob Roberts of the Pecatonica School District, a milkweed and nectar plant scavenger hunt, storytelling and the film “Aiden’s Butterflies” provided by Stenson, and several related arts and crafts projects.

In November, Shake Rag Alley was officially added to the Monarch Waystation Registry maintained by Monarch Watch and is the fourth waystation in Mineral Point (the others are at the Merry Christmas Mine Hill Prairie, Trinity Episcopal Church and at a private property). A signpost constructed by Master Gardener volunteer Dr. Everett Lindsey was installed last month, just in time for Shake Rag Alley’s participation in Museum Night, which brought more than 30 visitors to the grounds.

Shake Rag Alley has been an attraction for gardeners since the 1970s when Madison florist Al Felly and his wife purchased the property to showcase the gardens and Mineral Point’s artist community.

“All of the Shake Rag Alley gardens are contributing to and are a part of the ‘Butterfly Garden,’ said Ridnour, whose idea has now blossomed into reality. “We have added the necessary milkweed host plants to qualify (for waystation status), but all the other gardens are filled with the nectar plants.” 

A nonprofit school of arts and crafts founded in 2004 by local artists and community members, Shake Rag Alley’s 2.5-acre campus is a national destination for participants of adult workshops, a robust summer youth program and a host of annual special events — all of which have been drastically scaled back this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The tremendous work of the Iowa County Master Gardener volunteers in developing these butterfly gardens furthers our mission to preserve and restore our campus in the historic heart of Mineral Point,” said Executive Director Sara Lomasz Flesch. “We are grateful for the time and energy of all of the volunteers involved in the development and maintenance of these gardens and the Monarch Waystation, and look forward to continuing to partner with them on creating interactive, educational opportunities for the visitors from near and far who enjoy the peaceful oasis of our grounds.”

“To understand the role Master Gardeners are now playing in their communities, we also have to start with the role plants have in our communities,” said Wisconsin Master Gardener Director Mike Maddox. “Research now shows there are economic, environmental and health benefits of having plants in the places we live, work and play. So, community gardens, urban forestry, downtown beautification projects — all this plays a role in making our communities healthy, happy places to live. Master Gardeners are now playing a lot of that role in providing that greening.”

For more information about monarch butterflies and how you can develop your own garden into a Monarch Waystation, see www.monarchwatch.org. For more information about the Wisconsin Master Gardener program, see https://wimastergardener.org. To learn about volunteer opportunities at Shake Rag Alley, email info@shakeragalley.org or call (608) 987-3292. Shake Rag Alley’s grounds are open to the public from dawn to dusk. See www.ShakeRagAlley.org for information about adult and youth workshops, upcoming events, lodging and site rentals.