monarch butterfly at wilmette prairie garden

I'd driven driven by it a hundred times on the way to the pool and barely even noticed it. And then, all of a sudden, it seems, the big one and a half acre section of Centennial Park that used to be a grassy depression, came alive with a carpet of wildflowers.

Finally, on the last official day of summer, having taken my last swim of the year, I stopped to see it up close. I got out of the car, walked out into the middle of the garden and just stood there without moving for about ten minutes, just watching and listening.

And the longer I stood, the more I saw and heard. I saw scarab-like beetles in clusters on flowers. Grasshoppers jumped from plant to plant. Two Monarchs fluttered around me, stopping to drink the nectar of the liatris. Goldfinches swooped and cavorted before stopping to gorge on the seedheads of the brown-eyed susans.

This is Wilmette's new prairie garden, which has been three years in the making. The garden is the brainchild of Charlotte Adelman, retired attorney and author of two books about native Midwestern plants. She approached the Wilmette Park District back in 2009 and proposed turning the retention pond into an oasis of native plants and wildlife. It is now full of native grasses, thistle, cardinal flower and, perhaps most important to those of us who love Monarch butterflies (and who doesn't), the garden is home to milkweed. Milkweed is the only plant on which Monarchs can lay their eggs, and there is less and less of it as land has been cleared for development, so Monarchs are becoming scarcer.

You can learn more about prairie gardens and tour the Centennial Garden at a free lecture sponsored by the Wilmette Garden Club on September 7 at 12:30 pm at the Mallinckrodt Senior Center. Charlotte Adelman will speak and then lead a walking tour of the garden from the corner of Hunter Rd. and Wilmette Avenue. For more info, contact Susan Gatto at 847-256-1353.