ABILENE Texas (KTAB/KRBC)- For Carolyn Cleveland, there’s no place quite like a garden. she said tending to her plants is a pastime and is its own reward. Hard work turning to peaceful relaxation among the flowers.
“My passion is working outside with plants and the soil and the life,” Cleveland said.
In 2016, she began planting Milkweed in hopes of attracting some “royal” guests. The result was quite overwhelming that first year.
“I didn’t know what to expect I just knew they drew butterflies,” said Cleveland.
Jean Dotson, Master Naturalist, said Milkweed is the only source of food that can support the growth of Monarch butterflies.
“If you put any other plant next to them, they just won’t eat it,” said Dotson.
Dotson said milkweed often isn’t sold in stores due to its poor transport ability, although it grows naturally in the big country and seeds can be collected directly from the plant.
The Texas native plant is prime real estate for the winged wanderers as they make their nearly 3,000-mile flight from Canada to Mexico. Though Dotson said this migration cycle begins in Mexico. Monarchs flying north and laying eggs that will continue their pilgrimage until they reach Canada.
“The final generation that’s passing through now can fly all the way from Canada to Mexico,” Dotson said.
A big journey made just a bit easier when folks like Cleveland are helping them along.
“When they get to my garden, they’re laying their eggs, so I’m a protective mama,” said Cleveland with a laugh.
Though for her, the relationship isn’t one sided. She says the Monarchs are still helping her heal from a loss that no one could have prepared for.
“Five years ago, in 2017 I lost my grandson Brayden to suicide. He was 21,” Cleveland said.
That day, she said was spent comforting her daughter from a pain too deep to comprehend. This was also the first year she fully planted milkweed in her garden, and upon her return, a host of Monarchs were waiting to welcome her back.
“It just made my heart happy, and it restored the hope that I have in me because I know I will see Brayden again…It was just a sign to me from the Lord showing his love and his new life and that his presence and he’s there and he cares,” said Cleveland.
Which is why she has continued to plant milkweed and hopes others will too.
“People are missing out on this! Just plant milkweed, I’ll help you nurture it,” Cleveland said.
Knowing that even though they’ll soon be gone, their return next year isn’t too far off.
“They’re welcome here at my house any time they want to come,” said Cleveland.