For the Love of Butterflies
Skippers. Swallowtails. Whites and Sulphers. Brushfooted. Metalmarks. Gossamer-winged. These are among the visitors EMG Stacey Morgan Smith welcomes to her pollinator gardens tempting them with an abundance of milkweed (common, pink and white swamp, butterfly), and hundreds of other native plants and vines that provide food and nectar for caterpillars and butterflies. She keeps a log and has identified nearly 40 species that have visited her property for the past five years. Each year she adds another four square feet to her already extensive pollinator garden that meanders along her driveway, although she estimates that she doubled its size during the COVID pandemic. What started as a 5 x 4-foot plot has expanded to 10 x 120-feet.
“Most of what’s here I got from GardenFest or as gifts from fellow gardeners or family,” she said, uncurling a spicebush leaf to expose a clownish-looking Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar. Her favorite. “If you plant it, they will come,” she parodies. “It’s a pretty butterfly, but I’m just in love with those adorable caterpillars! Last year I was able to witness its entire lifespan, right here in my garden.” All of it documented in photos. “I know; I’m a nerd,” she admits.
As she walks by a hill of common milkweed, she disturbs dozens of Great Spangled Fritillaries that drift around her as she makes her rounds. She has always loved butterflies, she said, and butterflies led her to find her passion in gardening.
Although Stacey grew up helping her father tend the family vegetable garden, she mostly did it because she liked eating the produce and enjoyed canning. Weeding and other garden chores were a means to an end. A self-described “happy introvert,” she much preferred reading, crafting, baking and other indoor activities. Even her career choices involved a lot of computer time: close-caption editing for television, accounting, proofreading, internet marketing.
Her passion for butterfly gardening started when Stacey and her husband Tim, a Virginia State Park Ranger, bought a home and 5.5 acres in Mt. Jackson, Shenandoah County, to get-away from the D.C. area where they worked. As she slowly transitioned her life away from the city, spending three or four days a week in Mt. Jackson, she wanted to find a way to connect with the local community.
A life-long volunteer, she saw the NSVMG program as a good fit. After finishing her MG certification in 2014, her NSVMGA mentor Carolyn Wilson got her involved in GardenFest as co-lead of the Plant Sale. She volunteered as Plant Sale Coordinator for the next five years. Since then, she has served terms as Communications & Publicity Chair, Secretary, Volunteer Coordinator, Newsletter Editor and Class Co-Coordinator, most recently for the pandemic Class of 2020. In between, she’s a Partner and Vice President of Business Leasing Associates that links private lenders with small businesses and enjoys baking and decorating cookies. She won a Blue Ribbon at the 2019 Shenandoah County Fair for quilling – rolling and shaping strips of paper into art. “It’s my therapy,” she said. “I call my quilling ‘fantasy flowers,’ because they don’t exist in nature.”
Out of everything she has done and continues to do, the NSVMGA holds a special place in her heart. She said the organization – her work and the people – was her lifeline when her father died. “For me, NSVMGA was life-changing,” she said, which makes it that much more difficult to let go. Her husband accepted a transfer to Suffolk, Va., so they will be selling their much-loved property, but not too soon (she plans to stay active in NSVMG at least through the next GardenFest) and not before she digs up some very special plants, like a native honeysuckle that she’s moved five previous times.
As she walks the grounds, surveying a patchwork of gardens, more than a decade’s worth of work, she is resolved to make the best of the move. “I want to start with a blank slate this time,” she said, “and put my knowledge to work.” She looks forward to learning about different plants “things that don’t grow this far north.” December-blooming camellias comes to mind. “It will be a different lifestyle, a shorter drive to arts and culture venues and, of course, the beach,” she said. But all that will wait until 2022.
Through all Stacey’s activities with NSVMGA, she has promoted pollinator gardens and shared her love of butterflies. There’s no doubt she has generated greater awareness of both in the northern Shenandoah Valley, and there’s no doubt that, like the Butterfly Effect, Stacey’s small change will make a big difference – a difference that will be felt from the northern Shenandoah Valley to the City of Suffolk.
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