Students create garden to inspire others, protect environment

August 17, 2016
Butterfly Garden
Buttefly Garden

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Nine students, faculty and staff members at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville seem to have taken French painter Oscar-Claude Monet’s words, “The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration,” to heart by creating their own source of inspiration outside the university’s Art Building – “Butterfly Garden,” a perennial garden featuring native and non-native species whose flowers attract butterflies, bees, moths and other pollinators.

The butterfly garden is a collaborative project designed and implemented by Amy Seeboth-Wilson, sustainability coordinator; Carole Spelić, senior art lecturer and engagement specialist for Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement; and Dawn Lee, Pioneer Greenhouse manager and engagement specialist for PACCE.

Students involved in the project included Zach Donner, a junior geography major; Emily Brunette, a senior sustainable and renewable energy systems major; Alexander Caracciolo, a senior electrical engineering major; Anna Gitlin, a senior reclamation, environment, and conservation major; Melanie Nanke, a senior mechanical engineering major; and Ben Roys, a senior agribusiness major. Donner and Brunette planted the garden; the others are helping maintain it. The students also help manage the edible campus garden, a project of the Green Campus Project student organization, located between the university’s Royce and McGregor halls.

Spelić said the butterfly garden is in a perfect location. “The Art Building was built in the 1940s and has a very utilitarian demeanor. The southern façade has a great, sunny exposure, and as it fronts one of the main walkways on campus, it’s a high visibility location.”

Spelić hopes the garden will inspire those in the university community as well as visitors. “Following the long history of artists creating gardens that inspire them, such as Monet, I believe the collaboratively planted butterfly garden will provide our drawing, painting and sculpture students with a variety of forms, colors and textures that will energize their artwork,” she said. “And since we humans are a part of a larger ecosystem, isn’t it our responsibility to enable beneficial birds and insects to thrive? I’m hoping that members of the university community, as well as visitors to campus, will be inspired to examine their relationship to the natural world – and maybe go home and turn a piece of generic lawn into a haven for the birds and bees.”

Seeboth-Wilson said that in addition to providing inspiration, the garden provides benefits that complement the university’s Land Management Plan. “This butterfly garden is a great addition to campus; it complements our recently created campus land management plan which, in order to promote wildlife, reduce storm water runoff, reduce our carbon emissions and save in operational costs, recommends that we plant more native perennials across campus and remove areas of mowed lawn.”

Lee said collaboration was key to the project. “Collaborating with others on campus is always a gratifying experience. Teamwork brings people together with various expertise from other departments. Creation of the butterfly garden is an example of teamwork; not only will the Butterfly Garden beautify the landscape around the Art Building with its aesthetic look, but it will allow for a diverse approach to teaching students in many disciplines.”

Students agreed that the hands-on, experiential learning opportunity benefited nature as well as the local and campus community.

“The crisis with the rapidly dying population of bees is something that needs to be fixed,” said Donner. “The butterflies are a nice, different aesthetic improvement to campus, but seeing all the bees gave me some relief and a sense of hope for the bee crisis. So in terms of the future, I think any little part in helping improve the bee population is significant for my, and our, future.”

“I liked how easy it was for departments to come together over a common goal,” said Nanke. “Planting the garden was relaxing and brought color to campus,” added Brunette.

Native and non-native species featured in the garden include:

  • Milkweed (Asclepias): provides food and lodging for Monarch butterflies and caterpillars
  • Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache): attracts bees; natural anti-fungal
  • Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium): attracts butterflies, dragonflies and hummingbirds
  • Nodding Wild Onion plants (Allium cernuum): attracts bees
  • Blanket Flower (Gaillardia): attracts butterflies
  • Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium): attracts pollinators; serves as host plant for black swallowtail larvae
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea): attracts nectar insects and goldfinch
  • Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia): leaves serve as hosts for butterfly eggs and food for moth and butterfly caterpillars; flowers attract butterflies
  • Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculate)
  • Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  • Prairie onion (Allium stellatum)
  • Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)

Spelić purchased 14 native plants from Sandstone Nursery in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and several of her friends donated plants. Lee donated plants from the university’s Pioneer Greenhouse, a 6,500-square-foot facility that uses state-of-the-art technology to house plants for the ornamental horticulture program, biology department and the soil and crop science program.

“The project was rewarding for two main reasons,” said Spelić. “One, the enthusiasm that everyone instantly had for the project, and two, now, even in its earliest stages, there are plants growing where there was only brown mulch before. Some of the plants are blooming, and seeing the bees and butterflies already working on those flowers is a delight. I spotted a hummingbird tasting the Black-eyed Susans just last week.”

Students and faculty will maintain the garden and add more plants to the garden through the coming months and years.

As UW-Platteville pursues its vision of being recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities, and empowering each individual, it is guided by four strategic planning priorities. The butterfly garden aligns with the priorities of providing an outstanding education, fostering a community of achievement and respect, and enriching the tri-states.

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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