Widgets Magazine
MIGHTY CULTURE
Richard K. McMullen

Butterfly garden acts as 'spiritual refuge' for vets

Veteran James Petersen noticed five unused planting beds on the grounds of the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Clinic in Colorado Springs. He realized they would be perfect for a butterfly garden.

Petersen is a social worker for the VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System (VAECHS). He and his "Butterfly Brigade" filled the planters with soil and flowers. The brigade includes VAECHS volunteers and patients.

"The beds hadn't been touched in years," said Peterson. But he welcomed the challenge. "I thought this would be a great opportunity to engage our veterans, as well as create a place for them to socialize between appointments."


The garden features perennial and annual flowers. It also contains milkweed, the only food eaten by the monarch caterpillar.

The garden is an official monarch waystation.

A painted lady butterfly stops at the garden.

"The monarch butterfly is endangered, declining almost 90% over the past 20 years," Petersen noted. Because of their efforts, the garden now is an official monarch butterfly migration pathway station.

Petersen has planted flowers to attract butterflies before. When he returned from five years in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said he "found a lot of therapeutic value in gardening." As a result, Petersen went through the master gardener program at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

"When I worked at the St. Louis VA last summer, I planted a monarch butterfly garden," he said. "Several of the veterans on my caseload worked with me in planting the garden. They loved it."

Place of change for butterflies and veterans

A painted lady butterfly stops at the garden.

"This is a place to meditate, minimize stress, socialize and observe the many changes butterflies encounter, much like our own lives," said clinic director Kim Hoge. She further called the garden a "spiritual refuge" and thanked clinic employees for donating their time, money and resources to build it.

Peterson said just as caterpillars become butterflies, veterans change when they transition to civilian life.

"This garden will do our part for conservation. It will also create a therapeutic place for veterans to hang out," he said. "They will appreciate the symbolism of transformation and metamorphosis. Especially those who are dealing with traumatic histories."

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.