Community feature: Milo-Grogan Butterfly Garden

Erica Thompson

The alarming decline of the monarch butterfly population has inspired conservation groups to petition that the insects be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The decision won't be made until 2019, but people throughout North America are taking action to sustain butterfly migration, which follows a path from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico each year, via monarch way stations. These butterfly gardens provide milkweed, the butterfly's necessary habitat, much of which has been destroyed by pesticides over the years.

In 2016, Columbus joined the conservation efforts via its Milo-Grogan Butterfly Garden, which Jamie Abbott founded to serve an additional community-focused purpose.

“I think she started [the garden] to connect the Milo-Grogan neighborhood with the arts community that's blossoming,” said Mary Sundermeier, who oversees marketing and programming for the way station, which is located near 934 Gallery, Milo Arts studios and the new Racket Club recording studio.

But in its first year, the butterfly garden struggled to achieve both its conservation and community goals; it lacked milkweed, and although there were events held in the garden, there wasn't much foot traffic. By April 2017, the garden was in a state of disrepair. Gloria Keough was brought in as the garden manager, and in the past month master gardener Marlin Languis also came onboard and brought the way station to life.

“Marlin is the reason why we have a flourishing garden,” Sundermeier said. “You should see the before photos of the garden. It was literally just dirt and rocks.”

“We've come a long way in the short time,” said Languis, who helped plant herbs along with milkweed and other plants donated by community members and organizations. He has also been a catalyst for getting neighborhood kids involved by building a birdhouse and painting rocks with them.

“I just love to work with kids,” he said. “I started out as an elementary teacher way back when I was a young person. So this fits right in with where my heart is.”

Sundermeier has also taken the lead booking music acts that include everyone from rappers to garage bands. Because the garden doesn't currently have sponsorship — “We are open to anything and everything,” Sundermeier said — all audience donations go toward the upkeep of the garden, with one exception last month.

“We had four bands, [and] two of them were touring from Kansas City,” Sundermeier said. “We raised $86 and gave it to them because they were touring and I know when you have nothing, that means everything.”

Columbus band GIMME will perform in the garden on Sunday, July 23. In addition to music performances, there are also open-gardening sessions and a free kids' dance class at the garden each Sunday. While the gardening team is still waiting for more community participation, they see a positive future.

“It's not very many places that I know where there's a garden right next to an arts center,” Languis said. “It has a lot of potential.”


6 p.m. Sunday, July 23

Milo-Grogan Butterfly Garden

Adjacent to 934 Gallery (near the intersection of Cleveland and East Third avenues)