The Joys in One’s Own Garden

The Joys in One’s Own Garden

Today was intended to be a day to finish a homework assignment and a paper, both due tomorrow. But, my husband awoke with other intentions. He was going to pick pears off of our trees that have suffered this season and attempt to dehydrate them.  They are delicious, albeit very small. I was frank, bluntly telling him I had no time to help with fruit harvesting today.  After that, and after getting  a few routine chores done , I set about my assignment tasks. In short order, progress was made that allowed me to go out to the garden, myself.

It’s hot already, and predicted to be 90 today. If I was going to get the eight mums I bought in the ground, I needed to start early in the day. Immediately, I was distracted, however. My bird bath was scum green, the feeders were empty, my chrysanthemum fountain was empty, and the hummingbird feed was dry.  As I took care of some of these yard related tasks, I happened to glance out and see a swallowtail visiting one of the many hydrangeas that dot our yard. Taking no time to grab my DSLR Nikon 5200 camera (which has been used recently by my portrait making son to photograph beautiful young ladies in sunflower patches), I instead whisked my iPhone off the counter and headed out the hydrangea beckoning all the butterflies. There, I identified not just one swallow-tail but two, a painted lady, a red admiral, and a monarch. Five types of butterflies feeding all at the same time on one bush!  What a sight! I’ll surely be doing some Photo shop work on some of these – so beautiful!

From my pretending to be butterfly paparazzi, I morphed into the gardener once again and proceeded to get some of my new fall mums in the ground.  While working I gazed at lovely pink coneflower, striped petunias, and a plethora of zinnia. As these summer, heat lovers fade my new mums will grow, spread, and bloom into colorful masses at the end of my driveway.

Cone Flower, 2018.


Cone Flower, Cheyenne, and Bubble Gum Pink Petunia, 2018.
Zinnia, 2018.

Many things went through my mind as I worked in my gardens in the heat this morning.  First, and foremost, is that I find joy in taking care of my own gardens. I love the color, the peace, watching things grow and change with the seasons, and knowing I am doing it for no one but just my own enjoyment (unlike school gardening).  In my search for sources of joy in my life this summer, I can honestly say gardening in my own yard is a source of joy for me. While I sat on a pink fleece blanket to soften the ground against my aging knees, I thought of my friend Cheryl who was an avid gardener. She moved away some years ago to Florida. I am sure she is still doing some great gardening there! I thought of other friends, and how we really do not have many common connections and what strengthens that friendship or is now making it fragile.  I thought of my parents’ yard, and my love of plants and gardening from whom I received some of each from my mom (house plants and indoor gardening) and dad (yard work and outdoor gardening). I grew Portulaca for the first time this year, and will do so again. It reminds me of the garden around our pool when I was a teen. We had portulaca and prickly pear cactus in those beds. I love the connection I now have with butterflies. I realize that attracting them to my yard provides me with great pleasure.

Portulaca, 2018.

Through gardening, I am reminded of the joy of being alive, being well, being curious, and able to pursue activities I love. Through gardening, I have definitely have a source of joy in my life.  How do you receive the gift of joy?

Raising Monarchs Part III: Early August

Raising Monarchs Part III: Early August

While sitting in the dentist office yesterday I saw a that our local paper featured a man in my town who was raising monarch butterflies. I have to admit that seeing the article stung a little bit.  I’ve been doing the same for fourteen years but have never been featured in the paper!  I guess it’s all in who you know and where you volunteer. He volunteers for the USFWS, while I volunteered in a school district. Obviously, the value placed on what we were doing and who was paying attention to our individual quests was different. Still, when it comes down to it, we are both trying to help save and educate about an iconic species. Many people need to do what we are doing, so in the end, it’s all good!  Therefore, I am working at letting not letting the sting I felt yesterday fester today.  I also hope no one has a problem with what I wrote here. I try to be a good person and do see the larger picture but am subject to all the same emotions and feelings every human experiences. The difference is I just shared what I felt. Enough said.


It’s a special time of year if you raise monarchs! The last generation of the breeding season is being born in the North and this is the generation that migrates to Mexico to over winter.  Later today I will order my tags from Monarch Watch so that by the time my last group is raised and ready to be released, they can be tagged. It’s been a great season to raise monarch butterflies in our area. I’ve done it long enough to have personally experienced the ups and downs of this population. As of this writing I’ve raised and released 30 monarchs in my own yard this season! There, I offer monarch habitat in the form of three different kinds of milkweed (all native species) and a wide variety of nectar plants for the adults. I am also “caterpillar sitting” for a friend who is on vacation. In the few days I’ve had her four caterpillars, I found a fifth – maybe from an egg or maybe from a new piece of milkweed introduced to the cage for food. Right now, four are chrysalises and one is J-hooked, ready to become a pupa and proceed with metamorphosis.  The daughters of my friend were all former garden club students, and thus, I want to be sure to do a good job for them, as I have a reputation to uphold! It would probably make me more unhappy than them to have to return a cage with fewer monarchs than I received.

In my own cages, I currently only have 2 chrysalises right now. However, the other night I found five small caterpillars on my rose milkweed. Prior to that I had found four eggs on my common milkweed, too.  The eggs and the caterpillars are separated for they do cannibalize – a fact I just learned by reading the book, Monarchs and Milkweed (2017) by Anurag Agrawal.  My milkweed patches, although large, are getting dry and already have formed seed pods, waiting for distribution by mother nature or myself later in the fall. I’ve been picky about which leaves to pick to feed the enclosed caterpillars because I know they prefer a more tender, moist, younger leaf. If you want some really scientific specifics about how monarch caterpillars have evolved special feeding techniques to help them survive on a noxious plant, you must read Agrawal’s book!

A great read if you love monarchs! 

Finally, I am bolstered by how many people I know support my monarch conservation activities. Truly, I am involved in so much more than just raising them. I love sharing what I know and I am proud to say I am sought out for this task more and more often. In late July while at a local art show, we ran into a friend who was with a friend of hers. After some pleasantries were exchanged, we parted ways. A few minutes later, they were approaching me again. Our friend asked me to share what I know about monarchs with her friend. So, there in the middle of the art show, I did just that! She asked questions and I answered! A few minutes later, after parting ways again, a young father approached me (calling me “Miss” which was really rather nice) and asked if he had over heard me talking about milkweed. Yes, I replied; I raise monarchs and was sharing some information about milkweed. I asked if he had a question.  He did. I answered. Wow! I came away from those encounters feeling great. Apparently, I’ve gained a reputation as a monarch conservationist and I cannot tell you how much that means to me!


I’m looking forward to finishing a piece of curriculum on monarch tagging for an assignment this week. It will give me yet another way to share my passion with more school aged children, as it is never to early to plant the seed of environmental stewardship.


A Hero of Mine Has Died: A Tribute to Dr. Lincoln Brower

A Hero of Mine Has Died: A Tribute to Dr. Lincoln Brower

Last night I learned that someone who has been an inspiration to me for the last 15 years has died. He died yesterday. The odd thing about this is that it is someone I do not know personally, but know of his work. He was the Biologist and Monarch Conservationist Lincoln Brower. He was 86.


Just yesterday morning, while waiting for my son’s soccer game to start, I was reading a text book that I selected to read for a graduate seminar I am taking for my degree in Environmental Education. It is called Monarchs and Milkweed. And while you might think this is a lightweight text, it is definitely not and has far out reached any expectations I had of it. I feel this way even though I am not yet even to page 50!  The passage I read described the earliest contributions Lincoln Brower made to the field of monarch conservation. These included facts that I had been unaware of until I read them yesterday morning, which unfortunately, as I found out last evening, was the very day he died.


I know of Brower from his decades of his work dedicated to the Monarch Butterfly. It is virtually impossible to read anything about this butterfly without reading his name. I know I first read of him on the website Journey North when I started raising monarch butterflies back in 2002. I felt a comfortable familiarity when I read his pieces on conservation of the monarch. I felt awe and inspiration when I saw him describe through videotape his trips to the pine forests of the mountains in Central Mexico where they overwinter.  I now feel sadness that this scientist who dedicated his life of study to a butterfly species we both loved, has died.


Just yesterday morning I was entranced as I read about how a young Lincoln Brower studied the evolution of Swallowtail butterflies but became “obsessed” with mimicry and chemical storage of butterflies from toxic plants. This obsession very obviously moved him into his work with studying the monarch and its solely sustaining plant, milkweed.  He, along with other scientists, worked on the chemistry and biology of how these two species co-evolved. These ventures all took place in the early 1960’s.  This field is now called chemical ecology and was solidified in a collaborative, excited, and pioneering fashion. All of it led to what we know about monarchs and milkweed today.

Thank you Dr. Lincoln Brower.

Early yesterday morning, I was captivated by Lincoln Brower’s early work that was unknown to me before those moments.

Then, late yesterday evening, I was crushed.

I am still processing the news of his death, probably like many others in the fields of biology, conservation, and lepidopterology. He was 86; I get it. As humans, we don’t live forever. Over six decades, Lincoln Brower contributed so much to the study of monarchs and their conservation. Now, I just hope we can complete his legacy by helping the species he loved so much to survive.

first tag of the 2017 season


Silent Sunday: Monarch Madness

Silent Sunday: Monarch Madness

Newly emerged male monarch on succulents, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
Monarch in Liatris, 2018 © Carol Labuzzetta
Monarch feeding on Liatris in my Garden, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
Monarchs & Liatris, July 2018. © Carol Labuzzetta
Monarchs Welcome! © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
Newest Monarchs, July 15, 2018. A total of 19 raised and released by this day. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018.
New Monarch. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
Laundry Room Monarchs, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
My “textbook” for my Graduate Seminar in EE/EI this summer! 
Blueberries & Butterflies

Blueberries & Butterflies

Today, I made the rounds on our fruit trees. The cherry trees in our front yard were picked clean by birds while we were away at our cabin for a few days. The 8 cups I picked last Thursday and just finished processing today are all we will have from this year’s cherry harvest! Sorry friends! I know more than one family that will be disappointed at this news.

Our blueberry bushes were faring better.  Last week, I had covered two with a black mesh that keeps the birds away. It was such a hassle that I gave up and left a few more bushes unprotected. So, upon heading back to that area of our yard today, I got an unexpected surprise when I saw that most of the berries were untouched…..even on the unprotected bushes. They were also nicely ripening.  I picked about two cups of  berries before I tasted one….seriously! They were firm and a little tart. So, I stopped picking figuring they need a day or two more to ripen. Still, we had fresh blueberries in our breakfast for dinner supper tonight!  I’m hoping to be able to harvest enough blueberries to make Plum Blueberry Jam this year. It was delicious two or three years ago, when I made it last.

Fresh Blueberries! 

While we were gone, my son let three monarchs go that had “hatched” while we were away. And, I let three more go today. Today’s group was two boys and a girl. I named them Abe, Abigail, and Bruce. They took off to find some nectar late this afternoon. This brings our total of successfully raised and released monarchs to 12 this year already.  Right now, we have 9 chrysalises and three caterpillars that just emerged from their eggs Saturday morning before we took off. They are eating heartily and growing. Since we’ll be home now for a little while, I will go on the hunt for more caterpillars tonight.

Yes, blueberries and butterflies are two of my favorite things!



While taking a hiatus over the Forth of July Holiday, I thought I would provide some links to past blog posts for your reading enjoyment.

On Reading

The Gift of a Book – August 15, 2017

Searching For a Book – March 27, 2018

On Writing

What Do You Want Me to Write About? February 2018

Writing About Nothing – February 2018

Not Writer’s Block But… October 2017

Gray: A Color Poem, April 2017

On Travel

Drinks of Bermuda, December 1, 2017

Back To Western New York: The First Few Hours, November 2017

Sugar Cane Ditch Tubing on Kauai, January 2018

A Dutch Licorice Treat, March 3, 2018

Christmas Morning on Haleakala Volcano, December 24, 2017

On Monarchs

Monarch Activities in August, August 31, 2017

Monarch Migration Update, May 2018

Monarch Count, August 2018

Monarch Conservation Activities: Inspiring Youth


Look for more on:

On Giftedness

Trying to Be Funny

On Education



An Enrichment Post: Summer School

An Enrichment Post: Summer School

For over ten years – almost the entire duration of time I led the Evergreen Garden Club at one of our district’s four elementary schools, I wanted to be involved in providing an enriching summer school experience on Monarchs or other seasonal horticultural topics. After all, our growing season in Wisconsin is short and what better time to involve children in nature and gardening, as well as the lessons it can provide, than during the summer?

So I asked, several times over many years, about how I could be either hired to be a summer school teacher or be utilized by the teachers who were teaching summer school.  I asked teachers. I let the principals I worked with during the school year know of my interest. I asked the summer school principal – who, at the time was part of district administration. And, I asked two different superintendents. I was available. I was passionate about the subject matter. I had a substitute teaching permit – which allows teaching up to three weeks at a time in Wisconsin.  My requests never went anywhere. Mind you, I am generalizing a bit here.  I cannot say with one hundred percent accuracy that I asked each person I worked with each year.  As with any system, our district has had a fair amount of staff and administration changes.  So, although my desire to be involved in summer school was usually met with enthusiasm and optimism to bring the idea to reality, the year passed and, more often than not, the person I spoke to changed positions and the request, along with my interest, was forgotten.

I am sure that some of this occurred because summer school is often seen as a time for remediation. Summer school provides a chance to catch those students up who had fallen behind or did not fare so well during the school year.  But, it can also be a time for low stakes enrichment. Studies show that when there is a more relaxed learning environment, and less focus on “teaching to the test,” students’ might actually absorb more content. Plus, it demonstrates, in a very real way, that learning can be fun. In addition, a garden based summer school would provide a chance for students to participate in experiential, place based learning that some might find fit their learning styles better than a traditional classroom.  And, let’s face it – our kids all need more exposure to nature.

In 2014, I went a step further and wrote a piece curriculum specifically tailored to a camp and/or summer school setting, called Monarch Education for the Environment. The following spring a local university, Winona State, asked me to teach it for their College for Kids Camp. After a period of initial excitement, the class was cancelled due to the lack of registrants! I guess nature could not compete with the attractiveness of technology based courses like Lego Mindstorms or Robotics. I was disappointed and felt sad at what potential students had missed out on.  The course has never been taught. However, nature remains an exciting teacher.

But, I persisted. When hired for a new Garden Club Advisor position in a different school district this fall, I let the hiring principal know of my interest in offering a summer school enrichment opportunity.  She took it under advisement. Spring came and garden activities at this new school became all-consuming. I thought about the summer school option but did not bring it up again. After all, repeatedly bringing it up in the past had never made an impact.

All that changed a few days ago. I was contacted by the lead summer school teacher at the school in which I am now based. She wanted to schedule some lessons to be provided by me during their summer school session in July!  So, after a few back and forth emails, we hatched a plan. The younger students will get a lesson on plant parts we eat, complete with samples to try. And, the older kids (3rd – 5th grade) will receive a lesson on monarchs, mimicry, and the butterfly habitat found right in our own school yard! I am excited. What took over ten years of asking to participate in summer school took less than one year in a different district! This amazes me. I realized that perhaps, I was asking the wrong people at the wrong time. In any case, I will finally be able to teach some summer school lessons for enrichment! For that, I am very grateful!