Port garden draws monarchs, rave reviews

For three years Shelly Culea has nurtured the pollinator garden outside City Hall that is being praised for its beauty and the insects it attracts to this Monarch City

AN ABUNDANCE OF colorful flowers fills the beds outside Port Washington City Hall, the handiwork of Shelly Culea, who inspected the garden recently (top photo). Culea has been working for the past three years to create the pollinator garden, and her efforts have been rewarded this year both by compliments from people passing by and by the number of birds and insects found in the garden.
Ozaukee Press staff

The pollinator garden flanking the entrance to Port Washington City Hall is overflowing with colorful blossoms. Bees, hummingbirds and butterflies dart among the flowers, while birds chirp in the trees above.

And when Shelly Culea is working in the garden, you can add the sound of people chatting.

“It’s amazing how many people stop when I’m working there,” Culea said. 

They tell her how beautiful the garden is and thank her for her efforts, and ask about the flowers, the insects and, of course, the many monarchs that flit among the plants.

She gives her card to some, and many will contact her later to find out about the plantings and the creatures they attract.

“It’s a great way to promote Port Washington as a Monarch City,” Culea said.

Culea has been working on the garden for the past three years, and her work has paid off. Once little more than a patch of grass, the garden now teems with life and adds a splash of color to the area.

Port’s City Hall garden has inspired the Village of River Hills to create a pollinator garden at its municipal offices, Culea said.

“I use this as my poster child,” she said. “Any city can do this.”

Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Mayor Marty Becker said Culea’s gardens have “accented the beauty of City Hall.”

“I’m extremely impressed,” he said. “They’re just gorgeous, and I think people should appreciate that. She really knows her stuff.”

Just a few weeks ago, he said, he was astounded to see how many butterflies were flitting around the gardens.

What’s more amazing, Becker said, is that Culea has volunteered her time and purchased some plants for the garden herself.

“That’s quite something,” he said.

Culea was invited to work on the garden years ago by former Mayor Tom Mlada, who spearheaded the move to have Port declared a Monarch City.

She’s been aided in her efforts by city Forester Jon Crain.

“He has been the engine behind it all,” Culea said. “He has supported me every inch of the way. Anything that comes up, he takes care of. 

“Without Jon’s hard physical work and cooperation, the butterfly garden could never have become what it is today. He took up the weed barrier, added soil — whatever I needed. I couldn’t have done it without him.”

Culea has been working on the city garden for the last three years, and said it has taken her this long to figure out the best mix of plants for the environment.

“Just trying to figure out the sun has been a challenge,” she said.

“This is our first good year, where I’m finally happy with the garden.”

While the garden was initially envisioned as a monarch garden, it is more of a pollinator garden, Culea said.

She noted the number of bees in the garden, adding that there are more than 40 native species of bees.

“When you look at the garden, you’ll see the teeniest, tiniest, itty-bittiest bees. They don’t sting. They don’t have the hives we often think of,” she said.

The garden is an official monarch way station, a stopping point for the insects as they make their way from Canada to Mexico each year.

“Lake Michigan is a freeway for monarchs,” Culea said, noting the butterflies, which are migrating now, stop each day for nectar and sleep.

The plants at Port’s garden include milkweed — food for the monarchs — butterfly weed, black-eyed Susans, asters, coneflower, delphinium, Joe Pye weed, catmint, hyssop, fennel, coreopsis, lavender, shasta daisy, hydrangea, verbena, zinnia, parsley, nasturtium and black and blue salvia.

Many of the flowers won’t be cut in fall but instead will remain standing to provide food for birds and to provide a place for the many butterfly chrysalises that hang from the plants in winter before the butterflies hatch in spring.

Culea, who lives in Mequon, has been intrigued by monarchs for years. 

“I call it the Hollywood star of pollinators,” she said of the insect. “It’s our iconic butterfly.”

She got hooked in 2011 when she heard a mother and son talking about tagging one of the butterflies.

“I was astounded,” she said. “I never heard of such a thing.”

She set out to raise one butterfly that year, and did so successfully — and the rest is history.

“So far, I’ve raised 85 this summer,” Culea said, noting that’s half the number she usually raises.

A member of Monarchs Unlimited, Culea gives workshops and lectures on the butterfly.

She’s converted her garden to a pollinator garden, and in addition to the garden at City Hall has also created one for the Cornerstone group home on Second Avenue in Port where her daughter resides.

It’s a labor of love, she said, adding it brings her joy to see others who are delighted by the gardens and inspired to create their own pollinator garden.

“Anyone can have a pop-up nursery,” Culea said. “I try to get everyone to think differently about their yard. 

It’s easy to start, she said. Just include one milkweed plant. These plants have been unfairly designated a weed, Culea said, noting they are a source of food and shelter for many pollinators.

“If you’ve got just one milkweed, you have a nursery for everything from the American ladybug to the monarch. When it’s in bloom, it draws so many bees and pollinators,” she said.

“It’s not a weed. It’s an herb, a wildflower, and it supports so many other things.”


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