Monarch Garden: Golden-Agers Raising Golden Butterflies
Nursing facility residents are becoming grandmas and grandpas again
A movement involving golden agers, butterflies and native plants has begun in a quiet facility in Pearland Texas just south of Houston. The residents of Tuscany Village Nursing Facility and Rehabilitation are sharing the excitement of education on the life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly.
Amy Harkins, a geropsychologist who sees patients at Tuscany Village, and Delia Cuellar, whose mother is a resident, have melded their ideas. They are spearheading a project to create a butterfly garden and indoor habitat at Tuscany Village to bring nature to the residents of this nursing facility.
This project has input from several knowledgeable experts, one of them being Margaret Gnewuch, past president of the Native Plant Society of Texas – Houston Chapter. She said, “Ninety-five percent of Pearland’s soil is ‘black gumbo’ clay, sticky when wet and like concrete when dry. There are a number of Texas native plants that not only tolerate black gumbo, our heavy rains and summertime drought, but also thrive in it. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, a large shrub or small tree is a butterfly magnet with one-inch fragrant white balls in summer. Large butterflies like Swallowtails love it, even if they’re getting tossed around in the wind as they seek its nectar. The winter seed balls feed 25 species of birds including ducks. Needless to say, we plan to incorporate this and many other native Texas plants in the garden as food sources for the butterflies.”
The garden will provide respite for the butterflies, a Monarch Waystation. It will also provide a relaxing and healing place for the residents of the facility.
Dr. Harkins said, “It is well documented that interaction with nature provides people of all ages relaxation and enjoyment. This is something that is particularly needed by elders facing medical crisis and decreased independence. It is also hoped that community volunteers will come to the facility to help tend the garden and meet the residents. As a result, there will be greater interaction between the residents and the community with the garden as the meeting place. Bringing the community to the elders will serve to reduce the isolation that many residents feel. Many elders have stories about gardens and nature to share that will stimulate discussion between elders and community volunteers.”
Ms Cuellar has built two enclosures (shown above) that are on display in the main dining room and has begun to aggregate many native Texas plants for the garden. One of her enclosures has a milkweed plant with hungry Monarch caterpillars munching on the plant’s leaves. The other houses the chrysalises that the caterpillars eventually form.
Ms Cuellar said, “Residents easily watch the life cycle of this beautiful creature. At any time of day, they can stroll by the enclosure in their wheelchairs and check on the progress of the little critters. Handouts are also available to explain what they are witnessing. As a Monarch chrysalis ecloses (hatches) they witness the fragile butterfly go through the process of drying their wings and gaining strength for their journey north or south, depending on the season. The residents then watch and help release the butterflies outside.”
“The Barcelo Family owns this facility and have been very generous and supportive of this project”, Ms Cuellar added. “They graciously helped out by having their landscaper build an 18 x 4 foot, stone-lined garden bed easily accessible to residents. We’re hoping to get the soil in the garden and start planting milkweeds and nectar plants within the next two weeks.”
The results so far have been inspiring. The elders are enjoying the program and discussing it with their visitors. For those with greater disabilities, facility staff members are assisting them to visit the Monarch enclosures. Dr. Harkins is scheduling speakers to give presentations on native plants and about Monarch butterflies. Gail Barcelo is talking about decorating the facility with butterfly balloons. Michelle Ayala, the activities director, is even scheduling events at the nursing facility using a butterfly theme.
Dr. Harkins recently brought her two young children to Tuscany Village to see the caterpillars and visit with the residents. She said “My daughter Evie recently said that she wanted to go back and see all the grandmas and grandpas.”
It’s so magical.