If Plant Stems Could Talk: An Inherited Native Garden with a Past

Specs of orange and black float before you, bouncing from flower to flower, floating through the air as the delicate insect pursues its course – a monarch butterfly.

Columbia resident Kellie Campbell noticed a possible connection between the new home she purchased and its previous owner – a blooming native garden attracting insects and wildlife to her front yard.

Native gardens are a habitat for pollinators like butterflies, moths, bees, wasps and hummingbirds. People plant these gardens full of native flora and plant species for their beauty and positive impact on pollinators.

Former owners Carolyn and Rob Spier lived in the 1950s-style home until Carolyn Spier passed away in 2021.

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Kellie and her husband Chris Campbell knew Carolyn because she often volunteered at the Boone County History and Culture Center, where Chris works as the executive director. He noticed how much she enjoyed volunteering and according to Kellie he “also remembered seeing her big smile”.

Meanwhile, the Campbells were looking for a 1950s-1960s style home, and it wasn’t until Chris met Spier’s daughter, Roberta McCard, who pointed out that Carolyn’s home fit their ideal home description and would soon be on the market.

“It was nice to have a connection to the house,” Kellie said when buying the house.

As she moved in, Kellie noticed tall green stems in the front yard. She turned to Google Lens for answers about their lens.

“The first thing I noticed was the milkweeds, those taller plants,” Kellie said. “I was like ‘What the hell is this? then after doing some research I realized that they were really special, and how special they are for monarchs in particular.

She then contacted McCard to see if the planted milkweed had any connection to Spier when she resided there.

“I reached out to her daughter Roberta and said, ‘Did your mom have anything here because I don’t think these milkweed plants were accidental,'” Kellie said.

McCard responded with a heartwarming photo that opened up a new perspective on their home.

“She sent me this wonderful photo of her mother standing in the middle of the milkweed long before she passed,” Kellie said.

Spier planted flowers, native plants and pollinating plants – like milkweed in the photo – because of his admiration for nature and the contribution of plants to the environment.

“She has always loved pollinator gardens and what they mean to nature as a haven for insects that will pollinate other gardens, as well as birds,” McCard said. “Milkweed was given to her in seed form and she would often swap seeds with her sister when it came to planting different flowers in front of her house.”

After Kellie saw Spier’s photo surrounded by the same milkweed plants she now inherited, she felt it was an opportunity to maintain a garden legacy that had been unwittingly passed on – an opportunity that holds significance for her and for Spier’s family.

Kellie then decided to make a sign with Spier’s name on it and place it in the garden to honor her efforts with native plants.

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“And so, Carolyn had something going on here,” Kellie said. “I went on Etsy and found a company in Texas that makes these cool little signs, and I designed it for Carolyn, kind of a tribute to her.”

McCard acknowledges her mother’s appreciation for the outdoors as she “often found solace in the garden and just enjoyed nature and loved being out there and seeing the colors and the different wildlife that appeared there” .

“My mom just wanted to beautify her surroundings, not just for herself but for others,” McCard said.

At first, Kellie wasn’t as familiar with native gardening, but friends at her book club were able to give her advice on caring for these gardens. One such friend is Robin Tillitt, who dedicates much of his land to the native peoples of the prairies.

“She had a lot of garden so as a result you end up having a lot of invasions [plants] that are starting to establish themselves,” Tillitt said. “We’ve started reporting some of these invasive species that will come in, either birds with seeds or squirrels burying things.”

With advice from her friends, Kellie sees Spier’s garden as a chance to expand her knowledge of this element of nature that has been shared with her.

“I love research, I love learning new things, so it was definitely something new to learn,” Kellie said. “What is the native? What attracts pollinators? What’s good for them, you know?

Now, Campbell continues to hold the nearby Native Garden and the aspect of it being Spier’s closest. She plans to maintain and expand the garden as spring approaches.

“I’m like, ‘Hey you know what, somebody started it, let’s build on it, that’s a good thing and you know, let’s go.'”

Edited by Lucy Valeski | [email protected]