May is for Monarchs!
How to Build a Monarch Habitat

by Tiara Chapman

Tiara Chapman

Tag Archive: garden

  1. May is for Monarchs! How to Build a Monarch Habitat

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    In the past two decades our State Insect, the monarch butterfly, has lost 165 million acres of habitat– that’s an area about the size of the Lone Star State itself.  In terms of food security, one in every three bites of food we eat is provided by a pollinator (like a monarch) doing its job in the ecosystem. Making sure pollinators have ample access to native food sources and host plants to support their offspring is not only important to the environment, it’s important for our plates!

    Supporting pollinators, like monarchs, is as easy as planting a flower. You can help monarch conservation efforts right from your own backyard by creating a garden full of nectar-producing plants and milkweed they will love and visit year after year.  Check out our step-by-step guide to building a monarch habitat below.

    Several Monarch Butterflies resting and feeding on tall yellow flowers in a field. Photo: IrinaK/Adobe stock photo
    Several monarch butterflies resting and feeding on tall yellow flowers in a field. Photo: IrinaK/Adobe stock photo
    • How much room do you have? 

    Whether you have 5 acres or a 5-foot balcony, creating a butterfly garden and making great monarch habitat is possible for just about any outdoor space! A healthy butterfly garden needs 3 things: good soil, good sunlight, and access to water. If your site has soil with heavy amounts of clay (i.e., the soil packs down in the rain and forms a thick mud) you may want to use containers, build a raised bed, or mix in compost into the bed to help loosen it. Most of the nectar-producing plants that adult monarchs love require full sun. On a bright day, note how much sunlight the area where you want to plant is exposed to. Be sure the area gets at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day. Your plants (or seeds) will need a helping hand settling into your landscape so you may want to pick a site close to a reliable source of water, whether that be a garden hose where you water by hand or an area equipped with irrigation. 

    • Choose the right plants

    Monarch caterpillars need milkweed to grow into adult butterflies. And they need a lot of it! and a typical caterpillar will grow to about 2000 times their hatch size before forming a chrysalis. Some great milkweed species for these very hungry caterpillars include the Antelope Horn milkweed, Asclepias asperula, and Green milkweed, Asclepias viridis.

    Finding milkweed plants and seeds can be difficult. Thankfully our Conservation Partner, the Native Plant Society of Texas, has a special program to help you source local nurseries with NICE plants for monarch habitats! Their Natives Improve & Conserve Environments (NICE) Native Plant Partner program educates the public on the value of native plants as well as partners with local nurseries and wholesalers to ensure native plants are available for purchase.

    For more information about sourcing, growing, and propagating milkweed, our Conservation Partner, Monarch Joint Venture has a vendor map and guides that will help you build a perfect monarch habitat! Click here to check out their resources.

    Adult monarchs are less particular about their food sources. They are attracted to any nectar-producing flower, so while you are at a NICE nursery, be sure to ask which blooming plants are best for your area. However keep an eye out for perennials that will bloom in the spring, summer, or fall. Some great examples include lantanas, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), salvias, verbena, yarrows, and goldenrod. No matter what remember, if you start with Texas native plants you’re guaranteed to end with a successful butterfly garden!

    Green milkweed in bloom Credit: Tiara Chapman
    Green milkweed in bloom Credit: Tiara Chapman
    • Plot out your plant layout and get digging!

    Now that you know what you want to plant and where it should go, it’s time to get outside!

    You’ll need a few tools to get started:

    • Shovel or garden hoe
    • Hand trowel or hand shovel 
    • Gardening gloves
    • Water hose
    • Mulch

    Depending on what part of the state you live in, you may be planting directly into the ground, using raised beds, or growing in containers. Our partner, the Native Plant Society of Texas has an ecoregion map of Texas and plant lists for each area that you can use to decide the best way to plant your garden. Click here to check it out!

    A repurposed wheelbarrow used to make a beautiful butterfly garden. Credit: Buchanan's Plants
    A repurposed wheelbarrow used to make a beautiful butterfly garden. Credit: Buchanan’s Plants

    If you are planting in a raised bed or container, prepare the bed by filling the space with a 50-50 mix of compost and garden soil. Next, take your garden hose and lightly spray down the soil so that it is evenly moist.

    If you are planting directly into the ground, preparing the bed will require two additional steps:

    First, remove the existing vegetation from your garden space. Take a shovel or a garden hoe and outline the entire area where your habitat will be. Then use those same tools to remove all the vegetation from the area. Working in sections, scrape along 2-3 inches deep into the ground and dig up the grass with its root structure.

    Shovelful of turfgrass. Credit: Adobe Stock
    Shovelful of turfgrass. Credit: Adobe Stock
    • Next, you can use a tiller to break up the ground or plant in holes dug individually.    

    Now that the bed is prepared for planting, arrange your plants along the space the way you want them. It’s important to give them room to grow out and up, so read the label instructions to ensure proper distancing. Aesthetically, you can place taller growing varieties along the edge or in the center depending on your view of the space, and plant milkweed in the interior so it won’t be as noticeable when caterpillars chew them down. With your hand trowel, dig a hole as deep as the plant’s original plastic nursery container. Take your plant out of that container and gently loosen the root structure over the hole you dug.

    Carefully hold the plant by its base in one hand, centered on the hole and level with the ground, where the roots are lying in the center of the hole. With your other hand or hand shovel, fill in the space with the excess soil. Once the hole is filled, press down around the base of the plant so that the roots make good contact with the soil. Once finished planting everything, give your new monarch habitat a good soaking with the garden hose. Lastly, add a thick layer of mulch to keep the garden hydrated as it gets established. 

    • Get creative

    You can level up your monarch habitat in a few different ways! Incorporate some nature art with a natural fairy lodge house. Those structures make great supports for monarch chrysalises. Give pollinators a break from the Texas sun by adding an insect watering station. The habitat is a living ecosystem, so keep a video journal of what you planted, how it performed over the year, how many monarchs you noticed in it, and other details that will help it grow and thrive. For inspiration and more ideas for your garden, make plans to visit our Conservation Partner, the National Butterfly Center during their October 2024 Texas Butterfly Festival!

     Fairy house in a forest constructed out of twigs, bark, and pine boughs. Credit: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
    Fairy house in a forest constructed out of twigs, bark, and pine boughs. Credit: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
    • Certify your habitat

    Our Conservation Partners would love to celebrate what Texans are doing to help monarch butterflies! Click the links below to learn more about how to add your efforts to national databases that amplify how we do conservation in the Lone Star State.       

    Monarchs nectaring on Gregg's mistflower Credit: Tiara Chapman
    Monarchs nectaring on Gregg’s mistflower Credit: Tiara Chapman

    Learn more and become a Texas Monarch Steward
    Our partner’s program, the National Wildlife Federation Monarch Stewards Certification in Texas will equip you with the skills and knowledge to create native gardens for monarchs, to educate and inspire others to conserve monarchs, and to even become a Monarch Citizen Scientist if you want!

    Our vision is for every business and every Texan to participate in conservation and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world. 

    By using this how-to guide to create monarch habitat, not only are you making their journey that much easier, you are also bringing us one step closer to achieving our vision. Together, we are rising to the challenge of natural resource conservation and helping our State Insect, the monarch butterfly, take to the skies once more!

  2. Garden Grand Opeining

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    The Demonstration Gardens are opening! The Grand Opening will include a ribbon cutting ceremony, guided tour, presentation on rainwater catchment systems by Adam Brown of HarvestRain, and a Year in Review slide show and snacks at the following annual meeting! Come join us for food, education, and, most importantly, some great ideas for your landscape!

  3. 9 Natives Showcase Garden Volunteer Day

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    Join us on the second Monday of each month for the 9 Natives Showcase Garden Volunteer Day! Located outside of the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Cockrell Butterfly Center, this garden brings the beauty of native plants and the coastal prairie to the heart of Houston. We welcome volunteers of all ages and experience to join us from 9:00 am to 11:30 pm to plant new native plants, pull weeds, and monitor the garden’s growth. This come-and-go event is the perfect way to support native plants in Houston by getting your hands dirty.

  4. Texas Master Naturalist Q&A

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    Texan by Nature (TxN) is proud to partner with 115+ conservation organizations working to positively benefit Texas’ natural resources and communities through innovative approaches. TxN accelerates conservation by bringing conservation organizations and business together through programs that connect and convene diverse stakeholders and catalyze science-based conservation efforts and projects to accelerate impact.

    Learn more about TxN Conservation Partner Texas Master Naturalist and their work training well-informed community leaders who effect positive change in the natural resource management in their communities.

    Q: Tell us about The Texas Master Naturalist Program and its mission.

    A: The Texas Master Naturalist Program mission is to develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas.

    Many communities and organizations rely on such volunteers for implementing youth education programs; for operating parks, nature centers, and natural areas; and for providing leadership in local natural resource conservation efforts. In fact, a short supply of dedicated and well-informed volunteers is often cited as a limiting factor for community-based conservation efforts. The Texas Master Naturalist Program is training volunteers to help in these conservation efforts.

    Q: What is the history of The Texas Master Naturalist Program?

    A: The Texas Master Naturalist program began in 1997 and has grown from 4 chapters and 400 volunteers to 48 chapters and over 15,220 volunteers today. Our program’s foundation is based upon the partnership between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. What makes the work of a Master Naturalist so important is that they are not only individuals who love nature and offer their time, but are also trained naturalists with specialized knowledge of different ecosystems, species, habitats, and environmental demands.

    How do you work to achieve your mission and who is your audience?

    Q: We achieve our mission through our amazing corps of volunteers and chapters across the state. Through the Master Naturalist training, participants not only learn about natural resources, but they also receive training on how to educate others about natural resources. 

    A primary goal of the Master Naturalist program is to develop an organization of knowledgeable volunteers to help promote conservation and management of natural resources through educating their communities. We welcome all Texans aged 18 and above to join!

    Q: What are some examples of your projects or programs? 

    A: Our Texas Master Naturalist Chapters all work diligently in their local areas to address the environmental needs of their communities. Members have worked on projects such as:

    • Working as a wetland restoration team along a coastal area
    • Assisting with field surveys of endangered species such as the Golden-Cheeked Warbler
    • Presenting interpretive programs to campers at state parks
    • Performing water quality test
    • Restoring a blackland prairie in a city park
    • Assisting a nature center with the establishment of a herbarium
    • Developing and maintaining nature trails and leading informative hikes
    • Improving a wetland habitat along a river
    • Assisting with a turtle patrol along a beach
    • Leading a school class on a nature hike or conducting a workshop at a school
    • Assisting with the Texas Horned Lizard Watch

    Q: What are the ecological and economic benefits of your organization’s projects and programs?

    A: Members of the Texas Master Naturalist Program have made incredible impacts through the entirety of our program since its 1997 inception through this past year, 2021. Our corps of volunteer citizen scientists have:

    • Helped to train – or become – one of 474 new members in 2021 adding to the ranks of some 15,220 who have been trained as Texas Master Naturalists since our program’s inception.
    • Contributed 442,595 hours of service in 2021 and more than 5.9 million hours to date!
    • Master Naturalist volunteer service in 2021 was valued at $10.18 million and more than $131.53 million to date!
    • Obtained 64,551 hours of Advanced Training in 2021 and 877,664 hours of AT to date.
    • Reached over 137,526 youth, adults, and private landowners in 2021 and more than 6.63 million people to date.
    • Added 2 new acres under stewardship and management projects in 2021 and made an impact on more than 229,100 acres of Texas to date.
    • Developed or maintained more than 2,234+ miles of trail to date.

    “As a Texas Master Naturalist, you’ve heard us say that when you put on the dragonfly badge, your name tags, your pins, or your Texas Master Naturalist shirt – you are part of something bigger. You are part of our state’s largest conservation and stewardship movement. YOU ARE our Texas Master Naturalist Family! And our family is awesome!” – Mary Pearl Meuth, Master Naturalist Assistant State Program Coordinator

    Q: Tell us about the future of your organization. Do you have any upcoming initiatives, exciting events, or challenges ahead?

    A: We are excited to host our 23rd Texas Master Naturalist Program Annual Meeting, an event to gather, learn, and celebrate another year of the Texas Master Naturalist Program this fall. We’re preparing this year’s meeting as an in-person event at the Omni Houston on Thursday, October 20th through Sunday October 23rd. This year’s agenda is packed with 100+ concurrent technical sessions lined up with a huge variety of topics–from laws & ethics to native pollinators, from fungi to bird conservation issues and from youth programming to water quality community science.

    Q: Are there any other interesting news / events / facts about your organization? 

    A: On Tuesday October 11th, at 12p.m. we will host a Texas Master Naturalist Chapter Project Fair as part of our #TMNTuesday monthly online webinars. All are welcome to learn about conservation efforts conducted by Texas Master Naturalist Chapters across the state. Visit the #TMNTuesday website for more information and a link to register:

    #TMNTuesdays are open to the public to join anytime and recordings of each month’s topic are shared on the same website.

    Q: How can people get involved with and learn more about your organization?

    A: The first step is to visit our site: Texas Master Naturalists not only get their feet wet and their hands dirty, but while doing so, they spend time in a natural setting. Master Naturalist Trainees must successfully complete an approved training program with at least 40 hours of combined field and classroom instruction though a Texas Master Naturalist Chapter. 

    After completing the training above, the candidate donates at least 40 hours of volunteer service back to the state and community. Trainees can complete their 40 hours of volunteer service and 8 hours of advanced training within a year after completion of their initial training to become a Certified Texas Master Naturalist. In subsequent years, the candidate must complete another 8 hours of advanced training and donate 40 hours of volunteer service to maintain their certification (or to re-certify) as a Texas Master Naturalist.

    Texan by Nature is proud to partner with 115+ conservation organizations across Texas. Through our Conservation Partner network, we connect conservation organizations with the resources and relationships they need to extend their initiatives’ impact. Partner benefits include on-going features on social media, monthly media round-up, quarterly meetings, aggregated resources on fundraising, marketing/social media, and more.

  5. NRG Dewey Prairie Garden Ribbon Cutting

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    Located on 10 acres of a reclaimed lignite mine near Jewett, Texas, the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden will provide 10,000 pounds of fresh produce annually to help alleviate food insecurity in Leon, Freestone, and Limestone Counties. NRG, Texan by Nature (TxN), and community partners officially unveiled the garden with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 2, 2022, where 80+ individuals gathered to celebrate the opening.

    The garden, which includes a wetland area, pollinator habitat, and a future orchard is an initiative of positiveNRG, NRG Energy’s philanthropic arm, and is managed by Texan by Nature. Additional garden partners include Texas Master Gardeners, Texas A&M Agriculture Extension, and the local food pantry coalition. 

    Leon County 4-H students presented the flags and lead attendees in the US and Texas pledges.

    According to the USDA, the tri-county area surrounding the garden is considered a food desert. Many residents live over ten miles from the nearest grocery store. Food insecurity rates in the region are 51% higher than the national average. The garden will provide produce to local food pantries, supplying healthy food for up to an estimated 3,000 people every year. Garden managers surveyed and collaborated with local food pantry leaders to determine foods of highest need, including potatoes, beans, green leafy vegetables, carrots, peppers, peaches, plums, pears, strawberries, and blueberries.  

    “Most of our clients are unable to regularly buy fresh fruits and vegetables, due to the cost. Thanks to the support of NRG and Texan by Nature, the garden will be a true blessing for all of us,”

    -Kathleen Buchanan of Lord’s Pantry of Leon County

    The project’s roots go back to 2019 when NRG approached Texan by Nature to collaborate on ways to enhance the conservation mission of its lignite mine reclamation project for the benefit of the communities around Jewett, Texas. This conversation resulted in extensive research by the TxN team and ultimately a recommendation to use the land to alleviate food insecurity in the area.

    Cilantro is one of the many fresh food items the garden provides.

    “Beyond our standard reclamation practices, we wanted to find a way to benefit the community over the long term. We’re excited to partner with Texan by Nature to realize this vision in a special community that’s been part of the NRG family for 40 years,”

    -Chris Moser, executive vice president of operations of NRG Energy

    Although the ground was first broken on the NRG garden in May of 2021, the land has been at work through the reclamation process for over a decade. In 2013, the Jewett Mine site was awarded the coveted Texas Lone Star Land Steward Award for reclamation activities at the site before being purchased by NRG in 2020. Reclamation accomplishments at the mine include planting 3,500 acres of native bunch-grasses and constructing 700 acres of wetlands, which provide habitat and water to native wildlife and pollinators. The garden’s design also incorporates native pollinator plants to attract bees, butterflies, and support a healthy ecosystem for the garden and surrounding areas. The NRG mine staff also used their ingenuity to reuse materials no longer in use at the mine, such as PVC pipes, tanks, and a solar array that were repurposed for use in the garden. 

    The garden team manages crops in orderly rows with labels at each end.

    In addition to the benefits for people and natural resources, the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden will be an educational field trip and project site for local K-12 schools, 4-H, and FFA programs. Students will learn about agriculture, ecosystems, and nutrition through hands-on opportunities at the garden. 

    “The NRG Dewey Prairie Garden is an excellent – and replicable – example of a diverse set of partners coming together for big impact. This project creates an immense, multi-community impact for years to come, and we’re proud to act as the central connector to achieve the vision of this garden.”

    – Amy Snelgrove of Texan by Nature

    Fresh vegetables like broccoli are a priority item for local food pantries.

    TxN is proud to be working with NRG, the Dewey Prairie Garden partners, and members of the community who made this project possible. Rooted in purpose, we wait for the first harvest and look forward to seeing the positive impact the garden will have on people, prosperity, and natural resources in the community for years to come. 

    Learn more about the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden here: 


  6. Farm Volunteer Day

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    Volunteers are needed at the Growing with Sara Farm. Get your hands dirty pulling out weeds, planting seeds, and harvesting crops!

    Make sure to bring water, gloves, and sun protection. RSVP required.

    Free breakfast!!

  7. 9 Natives Showcase Garden Volunteer Day

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    Interested in volunteering at the 9 Natives Showcase Garden at the Houston Museum of Natural Science? This monthly volunteer opportunity is the perfect way to get involved and support native plants in the heart of Houston!

    On the second Monday of each month, volunteers will maintain the garden by pulling weeds, planting new native plants, and monitoring the garden’s growth. Volunteers of all ages and experience are welcome to join this come-and-go event.

    Physical Requirements: Bending, kneeling, or sitting on the ground; some light lifting.

    Recommended Clothing: Hat, closed toe shoes, and long pants.

    What to bring: Water in a reusable water bottle, garden gloves (or the museum has disposable vinyl gloves), and any garden hand tools that you have such as pruners (or scissors), trowel, tool for weeding. KPC will also provide tools.

    The 9 Natives Showcase Garden is located outside of the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the corner of Hermann Park Drive and San Jacinto Street.

  8. Green Team – Coolgreen Park

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    August’s Green Team will be hosted at Coolgreen Park. They will be repotting trees that have outgrown their pots. It will be mostly stationary and mostly in the shade, so this will not be an over-strenuous event especially given the August heat. Hope you can join us!

    What to bring:

    – Mask

    – Gloves, if you have them

    – Water

    – Hand Sanitizer

    What to wear:

    – Closed-toed Shoes

    For Acres Homes and Third Ward residents, give your thoughts on future Healthy Outdoor Communities projects to improve opportunities for you and your neighbors outside for their mental and physical health.

  9. Green Transformation: From Mine to Garden

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    Texan by Nature is partnering with NRG Energy to build a garden on the site of their former lignite coal mine near Jewett, Texas. An initial one acre plot is currently under construction, with the opportunity for the garden to expand up to 10 acres. Upon completion, the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden will provide up to 10,000 pounds of fresh produce annually to local community food pantries.

    We recently asked the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden team about the history of the site and their vision for the future of this unique reclamation project.

    Tell us a little about the history of the Jewett mine and the reclamation process.

    NRG: Mining along the lignite belt running across the middle of Texas goes back to the early 1900s. In 1979, Houston Lighting and Power obtained rights for 15 miles of the coal belt near Jewett for a 35-year supply. After that, NRG in 2020 purchased the mine and assumed responsibility for reclamation efforts with the goal of restoring the land to a better condition than before mining started.

    In 2013 the Jewett Mine site was awarded the coveted Texas Lone Star Land Steward Award for reclamation activities at the site. Reclamation accomplishments at the mine include planting 3,500 acres of native bunch-grasses and constructing 700 acres of wetlands. Use of new technologies, software and specialized equipment is helping with stream reclamation that mimics natural processes.

    NRG Garden Glass
    The mine reclamation process included planting 3,500 acres of native bunch-grasses

    TxN: We first visited the Jewett Mine site in fall 2019. We’re quite familiar with rural Texas, but we weren’t sure what to expect of this site given the images you typically see of mining operations. We were blown away by the pristine beauty of the reclamation site. For miles in all directions, all we saw was native prairie grasses waving in the breeze. We had the opportunity to meet with many mine and NRG team members who were passionate about the land, community, and best sustainable options for their operations and reclamation. It was obvious during these discussions that this attention to impact and environmental concern were entrenched in the culture and had been in place for many, many years.

    What was the inspiration for the garden and how did it come to be?

    NRG: An NRG board member was familiar with Texan By Nature’s mission and noticed how well it aligned with the mission of NRG’s philanthropic arm, positiveNRG. We began working together, and the planning firmed up for what became the garden. A reclaimed section of the Jewett mine was a perfect way to bring the idea to life.

    positiveNRG is a central part of our identity – enabling partnering with change-making non-profits like Texan By Nature to positively contribute to the places where we live and serve.

    Positive NRG Volunteers
    positiveNRG Volunteers in Houston

    TxN: We had the wonderful opportunity to get to know one of the NRG board members at a dinner. He talked about how they wanted to take the reclamation of the mine site to the next level and do something more for the community. He asked if we had any ideas. Our team took the question and did a lot of research on the area. We ended up discovering that the food insecurity rate in the area was 50% higher than the national average and the soil and climate is near perfect for growing many fruits and vegetables. After consulting with a few TxN partners, we put a proposal together and outlined a plan for a garden to serve the food pantries in the tri-county area. The more conversations we had, the more excited we became with the vision for the garden and working with positiveNRG to bring the garden to reality.

    How does the project fit in with other sustainability projects that NRG is doing?

    NRG: NRG’s sustainability efforts are wide-ranging – from our employee groups who volunteer countless hours for community efforts to the Dewey Garden to financial goals tied our sustainability efforts. The Dewey Garden effort was a perfect fit.

    TxN: From our perspective and knowledge of NRG, it’s a perfect fit. The passion for sustainability and community is obvious in every conversation we have with NRG team members. From knowing the history of the community to sourcing the project locally to reusing materials from the reclamation in the garden construction efforts, the project implementation has been seamless with the NRG team.

    What is your hope and vision for the future of the garden?

    NRG Dewey Prairie Garden Carrot

    NRG: In this project, the goal is to provide fresh and nutritious produce in a food desert and create a supply for local area food banks. Our goal is to be resilient; to look to the long game. When we refer to sustainability, we want to invest in projects that help people thrive so that we can all achieve our highest potential. The Dewey Garden and Texan By Nature are exactly what we need to assure that hope and vision continues for a long, long time.

    TxN: First and foremost we want to work with the fertile land in the Jewett area to provide consistent, fresh, nutritious produce for this community. We also want the garden to serve as an example of collaboration between industry, community, conservation, and education. One that inspires others to look at their resources and operations and dream of new ways to create long term positive impact.

    Learn more about the NRG Dewey Prairie Garden on the garden project page.