Gardening at HPNC

Follow along with the HPNC Garden!

Material from this blog comes from our wonderful Volunteer gardener and Monarch waystation keeper, Ms. Marilyn Cavicchia. Next time you see her, be sure to thank her for all she does!

Marilyn sends information and instructions to the HPNC staff each week so that we can all work together to be good garden stewards. We learn so much from her! Marilyn has been working in the HPNC garden for well over decade and knows just how to bring our officially recognized Monarch Habitat to life! She also brings lovely, unique education to HPNC’s Summer Camp kids and teachers. We hope you enjoy learning with us this year!


The main story this week is migration. A bunch of monarchs came into our area and then got penned in for a few days by all the rain and cold weather. They mostly huddled in the trees. Yesterday morning, Marilyn was up and out earlier than usual for a Sunday, and saw the butterflies waking up in the trees and starting to head south and west. A couple of hours later, she checked in the garden, and sure enough, there were a lot of them there, something like six at a time, mostly on the Mexican sunflowers: 

That last one isn’t a monarch. It’s a tiny butterfly called a skipper. The funny thing is, it kept chasing monarchs away from the flowers it wanted — and they kept giving in.  But migration isn’t the whole story just yet. Yesterday Marilyn found a monarch egg. Noooooooo … But if she calculates one month from today, she still feel mostly OK about its chances, and if she really gets into a bind, it is possible to ship a caterpillar or chrysalis further south, as long as the recipient has a special USDA permit — and Marilyn knows people who do.

Meanwhile, the four caterpillars Marilyn already had are doing well, and yesterday she added a black swallowtail. You might recall that their way of coping with cold weather, rather than migrating, is to remain in their chrysalis all winter. So, if all goes well, the caterpillar she found today will be a butterfly in May. Here’s her current crew (the swallowtail is the black and white one at the bottom — when they’re really young, they camouflage as bird poop):

Finally, because photos weren’t fully capturing what she saw, Marilyn also took this video:

Continue to watch for activity in the garden, especially in the mornings and evenings — there will probably be a few waves of butterflies migrating through (and then Marilyn’s stragglers, of course).


Marilyn writes that this is a very appropriate photo for this time of year, from the slight crispiness of our annual flowers grown from seeds to the fact that a migratory monarch (Marilyn thinks she’s just a little banged up, not one of the older ones that won’t make the trip) is sitting on a big marigold. You might recall that both marigolds and monarchs are very significant in the area of Mexico where the monarchs spend the winter. Here’s a little booklet explaining the connection, written by someone who lives near one of the big monarch reserves: Journey North

However, our monarchs are not quite done yet. Apparently, though Marilyn hadn’t seen any eggs for at least a week (and fewer and fewer before then) and has definitely been seeing the larger butterflies that are designed to make the trip, we do still have some eggs being laid here and there. (Remember, the ones that go to Mexico can’t reproduce until it’s time to start heading north again, sometime in March.) Yesterday, when she was walking her dog, Marilyn saw a monarch flying suspiciously close to some milkweed on her corner. Migrators have no interest in milkweed, but the nonmigratory ones still laying eggs do — and that’s what this one was up to. Marilyn actually said out loud, “Noooooo! What are you doing?!”

It’s not too late, yet, for the eggs to hatch and the caterpillars to develop into butterflies that can make the trip — but it’s getting close. If you see an egg this time of year, you’re supposed to think how things will be about a month from now and figure out if it’s actually kinder for nature to deal with that egg (and most often, this means something else will eat it). No one wants to get stuck with a butterfly that can’t leave because it’s too cold and there are no flowers left. Marilyn is comfortable for this week and possibly next week, too, and then after that, she really hopes to not see any more eggs until next May or June. The past few years, things have wrapped up in early October, and it’s been fine — still enough blooming, and big groups of butterflies passing through so that ours wouldn’t be flying alone. All of that being the case, Marilyn brought in the three eggs she found yesterday and one more today from that same spot. Keep watching the butterfly garden because apparently it’s not going to empty out quite as soon as we thought!


Once we’re past this drought, the garden should rebound and enter a really nice phase where everything looks refreshed and some things that didn’t like the heat bloom again, at the same time that some things bloom for the first time. There will be plenty to see until sometime in November — some of the flowers can even survive a hard frost or two. The monarchs are heading out early this year, but we should continue to see other butterflies and insects throughout the fall. 

This is a male Monarch, fueling up one evening on a Mexican sunflower and showing off the extra-large wingspan that will help him get to Mexico.

Then another one joined him, while a bumblebee found the other kind of sunflower. 

If you’re able to stop by, you might consider coming around 5 or 6 in the evening — there’s been a lot of activity around that time, lately, and eventually, we might start to see groups of monarchs gathering to spend the night before flying off together the  next morning.


According to Marilyn, this is both an ugly time and a beautiful time in the butterfly garden. Ugly, because we’re in the midst of a drought, so the zinnias and other flowering plants often look terrible. But the good news is, they perk up again once they’re watered. It’s a beautiful time because even if the plants are dry or wilted, they’re blooming profusely and attracting many different kinds of pollinators.

The monarchs are in a transitional period where we’re seeing some of the generation that will migrate to Mexico, and some from the previous generation still hanging in there and laying their last round of eggs. If we see a monarch that is very large and also bright and fresh looking, there’s a good chance that it’s a migrator. If we see one that’s torn and faded, there’s a good chance that it’s a “parent” of the migrators and is reaching the end of its life. All are drawn to our flowers, and it’s nice to have a chance to see both at once. 

The Helen’s flower that Marilyn has told us about previously is starting to bloom, and at this stage, it has funny angry faces.

Right under the Helen’s flower we find another native plant, called bottle gentian, blooming for the first time. The flowers don’t open any further. Bumblebees pry them open to get the nectar, pollinating them at the same time.

A painted lady butterfly shows one reason zinnias are such a great nectar flower: The yellow things are actually individual little flowers, so this painted lady sat and went around in a circle to get a lot of nectar all in one place.

Marilyn says she’s been watching these tall plants in the area where the zinnias are because she knew they were “something” but didn’t know what. Today she saw them blooming and realized that they’re marigolds. She remembered that there were some marigold seeds among some random ones someone gave her. She had heard these were great for pollinators but always thought, “Really? Huh” because previously had only seen the short kind you buy as plants in big flats, and they were… fine. It turns out that if you plant them from seeds, they grow to about 3 feet tall and apparently have a ton of nectar. This seems to be similar to the difference between a supermarket tomato and a homegrown one. Marigolds will be on Marilyn’s seed list from now on. The area of Mexico that the monarchs migrate to, both monarchs and marigolds have a deep connection to the Día de Muertos holiday — so, they’ll be a nice addition to our garden for that reason, too.


Remember that ‘leaf-footed bug from last week? What is it really? Thanks to someone asking about it in a Facebook insect group, Marilyn discovered that it’s a jagged ambush bug, which is in the assassin bug family (sounds scary!) All of that is just as it sounds: It hides and then attacks other insects that are many times its size. So, it was in the zinnias because of the many other things we now have visiting them!

Here is a lovely photo of beautiful evening light on an older male monarch. Marilyn can age the butterflies based on the condition of their wings (you can too – are the wings a bit jagged and fading? Those characteristics come with age.

This is the closest she could get, so we’ll have to trust Marilyn that this is a very large butterfly, and also a big deal because she’s pretty sure she’s never seen one in the HPNC garden before, and possibly not anywhere. It’s called a giant swallowtail.

And this is an eastern tiger swallowtail (not a yellow monarch, as some people think). Marilyn says she sees them sometimes, but not very often. [This has been a lucky week!]

This next photo, we are sharing because it’s something you might see, too. If you do, it’s totally fine — it’s a pair of monarchs mating, and it’s normal for them to remain together like this for almost an entire day. No need to worry, or intervene!

I’m not sure quite where we are in the season, but it may be that the eggs that the monarch on the right will lay will be the parents of the generation that migrates to Mexico! We’re getting close to when we’ll be raising the migrating generation, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

Two recent stories about butterflies in our community:

The other night, while Marilyn was in a Zoom meeting about something totally unrelated, she got a message from a neighbor across the street. She had a few caterpillars eating her parsley, and the parsley was almost gone. She found out enough to realize that they’d turn into butterflies, and she also thought I might know how to help them. I told her what to do as a stopgap, and then she brought them over to me after my meeting. They’re eastern black swallowtails, which I’m now raising because I thought after all that, it would be a shame if something in the garden ate them — and also because they’re another butterfly that I really like to raise.

Recently, my Marilyn’s husband took their son to get a replacement library card and somehow in conversation with the head children’s librarian at Blackstone, Jocelyn Simmons, it came up that she raises a small number of monarchs each summer, too, from caterpillars given to her by someone at Brookfield Zoo. She ended up calling me, and then I gave her a couple of monarch eggs because she was interested in seeing the whole process but wasn’t sure what the eggs looked like. She mentioned that she knows Mr. Andrew, too (!), so it’s a small butterfly world here in Hyde Park.


With so many flowers blooming in the HPNC butterfly garden lately, Marilyn suggests that one of the best things you can do to enjoy the garden is to stand in one spot and just watch for a few minutes to see what (or who?) comes to visit. Here’s what Marilyn saw when she gave this a try (and this isn’t all — these are the ones she got photos of):

Marilyn cut herself a bouquet to bring home (more on that in a minute) and found this little guy hiding in an orange flower, so she had to move it. We’re not sure what it is but there’s something called a leaf-footed bug that looks similar. Notice how the camouflage effects change with the background!

This is one that Marilyn has talked with kids about before. It’s called the great black asp, and it loves to drink milkweed nectar (and pollinate our milkweed plants in the process). They are very focused on their work and not aggressive at all (though take care around any wasp, just in case). I got so close to this one that I felt a breeze from its wings when it took off — you might not want to get quite that close. 

This is a species of sweat bee (meaning that they like to drink sweat for its minerals) called a bicolored agapostemon. There’s another one that I’ve seen, too, where the whole thing is metallic green like the front part (the thorax and head) of this one.

Again, that’s just what I got pictures of. I also saw a leafcutter bee, monarchs, and an eastern tiger swallowtail, which is the very large yellow butterfly with black stripes. Hold still and watch your garden sometime, and see what you can see!

Back to Marilyn cutting a bouquet! Here are a few guidelines on how to cut flowers in order to allow the plant to re-flower for you to enjoy over and over again! Here is an example using a Zinnia:

The best flowers to cut are ones with a long stretch of uncomplicated stem rather than a lot of leaves right near the top and the best place to cut is before you get to a bunch of leaves that branch off from the main stem.

Be sure that you cut with scissors or clippers rather than pulling, for less risk of pulling up the plant. Finally, just cut a few flowers per day so that there are always enough left blooming for the pollinators to have plenty of flowers to choose from. The drawing on this photo gives an example of where to cut.


Today Marilyn says that she’s continuing to see a lot of monarchs, and we are too! She says we can expect to see them for the rest of the summer — a few generations live and die here, and then the last generation will hatch as eggs in late August/early September and then migrate south in early October (if things go according to the usual schedule). 

Two of our favorite flowers are now blooming at the south end of the butterfly garden: Mexican sunflower/tithonia

And this type of zinnia called peppermint stick, which has random stripes and spots:

Once we have a few more zinnias blooming, Marilyn will can give Summer Camp teachers some parameters for where on the plant to cut, how many at a time, etc., so they can let kids cut a few now and then. As long as everyone leaves enough for the pollinators, it’s good to cut zinnias because this encourages more blooms.


With more flowers blooming now at the south end of the butterfly garden, we can finally offer one-stop shopping for the monarchs! We have both milkweed for them to lay eggs on and for the caterpillars to eat, and nectar for the butterflies to drink, like this one on a zinnia:


This is great because if monarchs come to mate or lay eggs, they can refuel without having to spend energy flying somewhere else. Also, while they smell the milkweed with their feet, brightly colored flowers can help attract them visually. With a steady supply of zinnias and other flowers in that area, we can fill in gaps in the perennials’ blooming times and always have something for our pollinators to “eat.”

We continue to have new milkweed popping up, including this variety, in an area where Ms. Marilyn have no memory of planting it (and it’s not one that tends to drift around, like the really tall kind). It’s called swamp, rose, red, or incarnata, and I’m glad to have it, however it arrived:


Here’s a sight we don’t often get to see — a butterfly that has escaped predators long enough to reach old age (several weeks), which you can tell because she’s tattered and faded:


She was on a tall plant along the 55th sidewalk called Joe Pye weed, and she stayed there for the entire hour or so that I was at the garden today. If you look closely, the long, thin, black thing coming out from her face is her proboscis. She’s drinking nectar in this photo, and that’s what she was doing most of the time that I saw her.


The big news this week is Flowers!!! Finally, some things are starting to bloom.

This zinnia way at the back, at the south end of the butterfly garden, is the first to bloom! Zinnias are not native here, but many butterfly gardeners gladly plant them because they produce a lot of nectar and bloom right up until the first frost. Some gardeners only plant red ones because they think those are especially attractive to butterflies, so it’s nice that the first one of ours happened to be red. 

This is a native pollinator plant called lanceleaf coreopsis, or tickseed. I bought it this year from Possibility Place, a little paradise in the south suburbs that usually has things at our Garden Fair, but this year, I went to them for curbside pickup (because sadly no Garden Fair).

Let’s pretend the blur in this photo of borage is intended to be arty, rather than just that the phone camera not accurately guessing our target. The photo focus on all the bristles, though, and those are the main reason that Marilyn planted borage this year: Last year, we discovered that painted lady butterflies will sometimes lay eggs on this plant, and then the caterpillars eat it and make nests in it. Their main plant is thistles, but borage is bristly enough for them, too. Bees like the blue flowers, which are also edible (for us), but for me, what We really want the caterpillars because they were so much fun to raise last year — and a very different experience from if you’ve ever ordered them as part of a kit. 

This is called hoary vervain, which is another native pollinator plant. It’s a perennial. It’s a good all-purpose nectar plant, but also, it can be eaten by common buckeye caterpillars, which look a lot like painted lady caterpillars but then become this:

Pretty neat, huh?


This week most of the students and teachers learned that our butterfly garden is hosting a few swallowtail eggs or little caterpillars and a few monarch ones as well. As of yesterday, Mr. Andrew said said that we are all set for weekend care (raising butterflies doesn’t stop on Saturday and Sunday – especially when our students are bringing them into the classroom to observe and feed).

Whatever the reason our monarch numbers seemed low thus far, we seem to be past it now. Our summer campers are checking for eggs on the milkweed in the playground garden, but Marilyn helps to check in the evenings and weekends because Monarch eggs can quickly be eaten by predators if not collected right away and brought to a safe netted environment! Along the 55th sidewalk, she’s finding tons of eggs. She’s also routinely seeing a monarch butterfly or two whenever she visits, and it and the kids are seeing them now as well.

There’s still not a lot blooming yet, so what we’re seeing is females coming to lay eggs, and also males coming to stake out and defend a territory — because they, too, know the milkweed is there and that it will attract females. The males’ territorial behavior is kind of funny because they’ll swoop at you sometimes, as if you might be another male monarch trying to intrude. 

Here are a few other things Marilyn says she’s seeing recently (besides many baby bunnies). All of these photos are from online, not her own but illustrate the great ecosystem we are seeing emerge:image.png
This is a red milkweed beetle. Some people really hate them, but others find them kind of cute. They eat milkweed but not in huge amounts, from what I’ve seen, and they don’t harm the monarchs at all. Apparently they make little squeaking noises, which I’ve never heard. 


This cute, tiny butterfly is called a silver-spotted skipper. The caterpillars can eat a few different plants, including one that we have in the butterfly garden. So, it could be that the butterflies are there to lay eggs on it, or hatched and developed there as caterpillars, and we just don’t realize it because it’s not one of the species we know best. 

This is a carpenter bee. It’s like a bumblebee, but with a shiny rear end. It is a native species, a great pollinator (as you can see from this one’s back), and not very inclined to sting. 

Here’s something else that looks scary but is actually a great friend to the garden. It’s called a great black wasp. Only the females can sting, and even then, they seldom do — only if their nest (which is in the ground) is directly threatened. The males, which we see more often, can’t sting at all. Unlike many other wasps, this one doesn’t eat other insects or bits of decaying animals — instead, it lives on flower nectar. Like in this photo, it is especially fond of nectar from milkweed flowers, so it is very helpful in pollinating milkweed so it can make its seeds. Not so much in this photo, but when you see them in person, their wings are iridescent blue.

A couple of people have said they saw praying mantises, and Marilyn saw one, too, yesterday. She thinks that the one she saw, like in this photo, was the native variety, which is much smaller than the ones we usually see. Unfortunately, we most often see the larger kind, which is an invasive species that kills native insects and even hummingbirds (!). If we do have this smaller, native one, that is great news because its numbers have been reduced, overall, because of the invasive one. 

image.pngSpeaking of hummingbirds, Marilyn says she saw one that looked just like this, one evening. It’s a male ruby-throated hummingbird. They’re mostly around in the morning and evening. They eat some insects, and also nectar from tube-shaped flowers they can stick their beaks into. Like monarchs, they migrate to and from Mexico each year.

Here’s one photo that Marilyn took herself, and it’s gruesome but also kind of cool. It does have a dead insect in it, so keep scrolling if you don’t want to see…

This is called a bold jumping spider, and one day, Marilyn saw this one eating a red milkweed beetle. Her guess is that the scary face on its back is a defense mechanism. When it’s not busy eating, this kind of spider is known to be curious, smart, and even “friendly” (in that it turns its head to look at you better, and doesn’t bite) with people it happens to see. They are known for their large but pretty fangs that look like big teeth, and for their eyes that are in a row across their head (wow!):

When Marilyn posted the ‘scary’ photo on Facebook, one of her friends asked who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” in the milkweed beetle/jumping spider scenario. The answer is that in nature, there are few or even no 100% heroes or villains. We have certain species that we prefer over others and try to help if we can, but everybody has to eat. Just like in Charlotte’s Web, for those of us who read that book, the spider can’t help how it has to make its living. Also, in this case, one reason we don’t see more damage to our milkweed from the red beetles may be because predators like this help keep beetle numbers under control. So, thank you, spider, even though we like the milkweed beetles, too.

Overall, there’s been a lot more activity lately. Campers and teachers (and all of the HPNC staff!) have enjoyed seeing it and we are excited that it will build as the summer goes on.



First of all, a big Hello from Ms. Marilyn! Here’s a quick summing up of things she’s seen this week/news from the butterfly garden.

She says she came by on Thursday evening and watered a couple of spots that were dry and found some interesting things:

1) A bunch of monarch eggs on the potted plants at the south end of the butterfly garden, by the rope fence! She brought the eggs home because if you leave them outside even overnight, there’s a good chance they’ll get eaten.

2) This little caterpillar, also on one of the potted milkweed plants – do you see where it is hiding?

Tiny caterpillar on milkweed

3) This big caterpillar, on the milkweed in the main HPNC veg plot:


Marilyn has been leaving caterpillars outside because results are better when you bring them in as eggs instead and also so that kids have a chance to see them in their natural environment. The same applies to black swallowtail eggs and caterpillars — there are a ton in the Little Inspirations dill.

Sometimes kids and adults alike are disappointed when they don’t find evidence of butterflies right away. Ms. Marilyn says that, in general, throughout the eastern half of the country, things have been slow for every kind of pollinator (except that we’re booming in black swallowtails). Every garden/insect group that she’s in on Facebook is saying the same. I’m noticing it in the perennials, too — some things that usually bloom in May don’t even have buds yet! On a more hopeful note, she continues to see new milkweed plants just about every day, and they’re already very large. This has mostly been along the 55th sidewalk (under the south-facing hpnc letters) rather than in the interior butterfly garden.

We are all happy to have them in any location!

Help Needed from Summer Camp kids!!

Marilyn says she is needing some help from our summer campers! The main things she need help with are:

1) Watering

2) Removing any vines campers may see growing on plants at the front of the butterfly garden, in the raspberry bushes, or in perimeter areas. Even if the vines have pretty pink flowers on them, if they’re twining around something else, they need to go! Exception for the grapevine on the tree at the south end of the butterfly garden.

3) Pulling weeds from cracks between the bricks. Ms. Marilyn spends a few minutes on this when she visit, mainly focusing on the length of the butterfly garden, up against the wood that borders the playground. But kids – you can do this and it can be fun. Let’s see who can pull the most!


As part of their training, HPNC Summer Camp teachers are learning about raising Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies from eggs! Their expert teacher is Ms. Marilyn Cavicchia, keeper of the HPNC Monarch Waystation.

Marilyn says that for monarchs, the teachers will look for eggs on the milkweed in the potted plants area of the butterfly garden. Here’s what the eggs will look like (magnified here – they are actually tiny!)

Monarch Egg

Marilyn taught the teachers how to tend to the eggs, the tiny caterpillars that will hatch out and how to feed those hungry caterpillars as they get older and bigger!

Black Swallowtail eggs will be found on our dill, parsley, carrot tops, or Queen Anne’s lace, and the plant we have that looks like Queen Anne’s lace. Ms. Kirsten has said it’s OK to take tiny snips of her dill that has eggs on it, Here’s what the Black Swallowtail eggs look like:

Black Swallowtail egg

Marilyn suggested that our kids stop collecting eggs once they have a maximum of 10. Once all have hatched, then we can separate the caterpillars, 5 in each of our netted containers. One thing that is possible and pretty fun, she says, is to have a mixed group of monarchs and swallowtails. They get along fine as long as each has the right kind of food. 

Because of Covid-19, our summer camp kids must stay in their assigned classroom; they can’t visit the other classrooms to see what’s going on. In order to give everyone a chance to participate in our butterfly project, the eggs/caterpillars will rotate through each classroom. In the end, all kids will take turns with their care. 

If you’re on Facebook and you’d like more information on raising Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies, these two groups are very helpful: (Marilyn’s an admin!)

Wow, thanks Marilyn! What a great training for our teachers!


When spring weather is dull and the garden is slowly waking up, what else can we do but wait? Well HPNC Volunteer, Marilyn Cavicchia, actually overwinters Swallowtail Chrysalises (the stage of metamorphosis between caterpillar and butterfly). and its around this time that, with warmth, they emerge into their beautiful adult Swallowtail form.


Butterflies Spread Joy every day at HPNC and we are so glad that the Hyde Park Herald caught some of that joy in action by visiting when Sita Paranjape released her beautiful painted lady in our garden :


Today we received a welcome note from Marilyn, our volunteer Monarch Habitat gardener:

“I’ve seen our first butterflies, either red admirals or painted ladies. Last I heard, the monarchs were in central Illinois. We might see them here by the middle of this month.”

4/26/20 Part 2

These are some flowers/weeds that Marilyn always leaves alone unless she has something else she wants to plant in the spot. Dandelions, Violets, and Purple Dead Nettle (far right) all are very helpful for the first bees and butterflies, before much else is blooming. All are popular among people who like to forage for food, too! She doesn’t know exactly what people use dead nettle for, but dandelion greens are very popular, and lately, she says she’s seen photos where people have deep-fried the flowers. Violets can be candied, made into jelly, or cooked into a syrup that then helps make a pretty purple lemonade (yum!).

4/26/20 Part 1

Today, our volunteer Monarch Habitat tender, Ms. Marilyn Cavicchia removed the duct tape from all but one jug because that last one has not sprouted. But all the others have, and many are stuffed full! She says she’s leaving the top half attached to the jugs for now, in case of a cold snap, but for now she’s flopped them all open.

The big seedlings now have more room to grow, and the small seedlings might benefit from more sun. She will need to watch that they don’t dry out, and lightly mist with the hose if any are too dry. They still need another month or so to grow before planting.

We will have plenty Milkweed to share with anyone who wants some for another community/school garden or at home. We always plant more than we need, because we never know how many will “pop.” The other thing that could happen — and did happen last year — is that if the monarchs arrive early and find no other milkweed (she hasn’t seen any coming up yet), they might lay eggs all over these seedlings.

Marilyn says that she has some other, bigger milkweed plants (different kinds from these seedlings) arriving in the next few weeks, so that will help in the event that the Monarchs show before our plants big and strong. 

Milkweed grown from seed. Originally in covered jugs, allowing for sunlight but protecting the seedlings from gold weather. The jugs are open now to allow more sun in and give the little plants room to grow!

HPNC’s Certificate of Appreciation from MonarchWatch?

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