Monarch butterflies thriving in Stratford gardens

A gardener in Stratford, P.E.I. hopes to inspire more Prince Edward Islanders to create habitat for monarch butterflies. Denise Motard's garden is part of the Monarch Waystation Registry.

'I like knowing that what I'm doing can be helpful for an endangered species'

Motard's garden is now part of the Monarch Waystation Registry. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

A gardener in Stratford, P.E.I., hopes to inspire more Prince Edward Islanders to create habitats for monarch butterflies.

Denise Motard started building her garden in 2006 and it's now part of the Monarch Waystation Registry, a map of certified monarch habitats across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. 

"It's simply a place where monarchs at all stages of their life can thrive," Motard said.

"First of all you have to grow milkweed because milkweed is the only plant that the caterpillars feed on and then you have to have also nectar rich flowers that will provide food for the adults."

'Extremely excited'

Although Motard started the garden in 2006 it was only two years ago that she saw her first monarch butterfly and only last summer that she had caterpillars.

Motard gently places a monarch butterfly on one of the flowers in her garden. (Ken Linton/CBC)

"I was extremely excited because, can you imagine, I've been growing this milkweed for so many years," Motard said.

"And it's only two years ago that I finally had one visitor."

She checked all of the milkweed for eggs but found none, so concluded that the monarch was on a scouting visit — and the following year, the butterflies were back.

She raised 17 caterpillars last year, inside her house, as well as another 18 this year.

"It's a big word, raised, but we don't really raise them in the sense that we would raise chickens or cows or pigs," Motard said.

One of the monarch butterflies raised in Denise Motard's house now released into the wild. (Ken Linton/CBC)

She puts swamp milkweed stems in a glass of water for the caterpillars to feed on, and eventually they pupate. 

When they emerge from the chrysalis, she releases them outdoors.

The last eight monarchs she placed in a wisteria bush in her garden to pupate there.

"Which is closer to what nature intended than us raising them inside," Motard said.

This is the last chrysalis in Denise Motard's kitchen from the 2019 caterpillars she raised. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Emotional connection

Motard's love of monarchs goes back to her youth in Quebec when she visited the Montreal Botanical Garden. 

"It has a special, emotional meaning for me, I had brought one home, a caterpillar, I had put it in a shoe box with common milkweed leaves with a screen on top," Motard said.

"I always kept the memory of that beautiful chrysalis, with a lovely light green translucent colours and a golden necklace. It's almost as beautiful as the monarch itself."

Denise Motard watches the monarch butterfly that she has just released. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

She always dreamed of recreating that experience. 

"I like knowing that what I'm doing can be helpful for an endangered species but it's not that easy," Motard said.

Watershed garden

Motard suggested planting a monarch garden to the Stratford watershed group and was excited to see the project come together this spring.

The Stratford watershed group put screening around the garden to give the monarchs a place to form their chrysalis. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Motard provided some of the milkweed plants and the rest came from MacPhail Woods.

The project received funding from the TD Friends of the Environment fund and was built with help from the local Rotary club.

"We built it in the spring and we've had three full generations of monarch caterpillars since then," said Madeleine Crowell, coordinator of the Stratford Area Watershed Improvement Group.

"We've seen them successfully hatch into caterpillars, form their chrysalis and we have had some emerge into butterflies."

Staff from the Stratford Area Watershed Improvement Group look for caterpillars and chrysalises in the garden, next to the community gardens. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Crowell said the project has evolved, as they looked for ways to create the proper habitat.

"It's been a learning process," Crowell said.

"We discovered that because we're in a big lawn that we needed to put something up so that the caterpillars could have more of a structure to form their chrysalis."

The Rotary Club of Stratford volunteered to help create the monarch garden. (Submitted by Madeleine Crowell)

Crowell would also like to see more of the monarch gardens, throughout the community. 

"It would be great to have more and we'd love to promote other residents and people to just have their own," Crowell said.

"To be able to provide people with milkweed so that they can start this in their own garden."

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Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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