A monarch butterfly alights on a lantana flower in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Nature lovers and gardeners will find plenty to do this weekend, as Monarch Fest returns to the Indian Creek Nature Center, and the Open Gardens Weekend welcomes visitors to the Iowa City area.

Monarch Fest will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 9, at the nature center, 5300 Otis Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids. Open Gardens Weekend 2022 is set for 4-8 p.m. Saturday, July 9, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, July 10, in Iowa City and Coralville.

At Monarch Fest, visitors will learn about monarch butterflies and other pollinators, release butterflies, make milkweed seedballs, and adopt a caterpillar to raise and release at home. (All caterpillars have been claimed.)

Advocates note that raising a monarch of your own is an exciting educational experience, but the most beneficial, impactful route to helping monarchs is to plant native, pesticide-free gardens and increase their habitat.

Monarch butterflies and other pollinators are essential to environmental and agricultural systems, but they are in decline due to disease, pesticide use and habitat declines.

“To attract and sustain native pollinators, they must have adequate access to food, water, and shelter (just like us!)” the nature center notes. “That means the number one way to support them is to create and maintain habitat that provides those three very important things.”

Pollinator habitat can be created in any open space that won’t be mowed or treated with pesticides. If you have space in your yard, garden, or even container gardens, be sure to plant a few pollinator-friendly plants, such as milkweed: the only thing a monarch caterpillar eats.

A monarch caterpillar munches on milkweed, its sole food source. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

“Of course, other native flowers also provide food and shelter to adult butterflies and other pollinators — what is good for the monarch is good for all pollinators!” according to the nature center. “Planting a variety of species that have differing bloom times, heights, and flower types fuels the widest range of pollinators all season long. And, this not only supports pollinator populations, it also benefits your garden with bigger and better crops…that’s a win-win!”

Learn more about Monarch Fest and read on for more about Open Gardens Weekend 2022 from Project GREEN:

IOWA CITY – Project GREEN co-founder Gretchen Harshbarger once said, “There is no greater expression of art than creating a beautiful garden or more rewarding joy than sharing its delights with others.”

Ms. Harshbarger’s philosophy will be on full display when area gardeners share their creations with the public during Open Gardens Weekend 2022 (OGW) on Saturday, July 9, from 4 to 8 p.m., and Sunday, July 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. OGW debuted in 2019 and returned in 2021 following a hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

This peaceful garden retreat encompasses a water feature with shade plants. (photo/Linda Schreiber)

Business sponsors make OGW a free activity for all visitors.

OGW creator Beth Cody says 28 private gardens and five public gardens are on the tour. Private gardens include a wide range of styles and sizes. Some have been professionally planned and constructed but most are lovingly designed and built over time by their owners, who have learned what grows well in our area.

“People love the chance to visit beautiful gardens that are the personal expression of the gardener. And gardeners often enjoy the appreciation expressed by visitors when they share their gardens with others. Importantly, every garden visit is an opportunity for the visitors to learn something and be inspired, but it’s also a chance for the garden owner to see their own garden through the eyes of their visitors which can give them ideas to keep things fresh and gain even more enjoyment from their private paradise,” adds Ms. Cody.

Nick Pettifer, Vice President of Public Affairs for Think Iowa City, says OGW has the potential to become a destination weekend for gardeners in the Midwest region. “Gardening grew in popularity during the pandemic and there are no indications of a decline. Gardeners actively seek new ideas and like to explore to see what others have done.”

Business sponsorships support the activity making it a free activity for the public. Pick up a map at any of the sponsoring businesses. Businesses gain exposure, which is good for them and the public has an opportunity to learn about their products and services.

Maps will be available by July 2 and can be picked up from any of the sponsors including the city of Coralville, Forever Green, Green State Credit Union, Hills Bank, Iowa City Landscaping & Garden Center, Rindy Inc., Sanders Creek Nursery Company Nursery and Landscaping, Think Iowa City and Urban Acres.

More information can be found online at Project GREEN.

Since Project GREEN (Growing to Reach Environment Excellence Now) was formed in 1968, as a byproduct of an Iowa City subcommittee, Citizens for a Better Iowa City,  the all-citizen volunteer nonprofit organization has funded $2.2 million in local beautification projects. Volunteers maintain the Project GREEN Gardens at the Ashton House, 820 Park Road, where 50 trees for 50 years have been planted to recognize its 50th anniversary of service to the community. The Ashton House is a community event center and accommodates up to 100 people for meetings, reunions, parties, weddings, and receptions.

See images of other amazing Iowa gardens.

The Nancy Seiberling Peony Garden in the Project GREEN Gardens at Ashton House, 820 Park Road, Iowa City, was dedicated in 2015. The peonies were from Nancy’s original Fairhill home north of Iowa City. (photo/Linda Schreiber)