Boosting butterflies in Roseville

Mike Munzenrider photo • A swallowtail butterfly caterpillar hung out in Vern Cardwell and Rosemary Graham’s butterfly garden in Roseville Aug. 1. The garden, Cardwell says, has been well-received in the neighborhood.

Mike Munzenrider photo • Vern Cardwell is an agronomist who taught agriculture at the University of Minnesota for 47 years.

Mike Munzenrider photo • A bumblebee and great black wasp perused the butterfly garden.

It’s been a rainy Wednesday morning in Roseville at Vern Cardwell and Rosemary Graham’s butterfly garden, but as the flowers dry out, the activity picks up.

A monarch butterfly flutters through after a quick stop atop a flower, as does a zippy hummingbird. The bumblebees show up in force a bit later, and while the Japanese beetles may have been there all along, Cardwell says they won’t be long for his garden, a bucket of soapy water being the pests’ next stop.

The burst of color, 37 species in all, per Cardwell, is on the corner of Arona Street and Terrace Drive just outside where he and Graham live at Applewood Pointe.

“We’re delighted with the way its come on,” he says.

The two moved to Roseville from Graham’s home in Arden Hills late last year, seeking to leave behind living on three floors for a less complicated single-floor life.

Cardwell, 81, taught for 47 years at the University of Minnesota. 

An agronomist, he says he studied the large-acre crops of the world, like corn, soybeans and more, teaching nearly 30 different courses at what he calls “the main campus” — the St. Paul side of the Twin Cities campus in Falcon Heights — before “graduating,” he says, in 2012.

Both he and Graham’s first spouses died in 2010, and they’ve been together since 2013. 

Graham, 75, was a preschool special education teacher and later mentored student teachers. Her first husband was a soil microbiologist, so gardening isn’t much of a stretch for her, and she and Cardwell tended a number of plants in Arden Hills.

Cardwell says the garden came about as a way to open up the views from inside their place on the corner — Applewood Pointe removed some overgrown trees that blocked the windows, and when the senior cooperative was ready to plant some drab alternatives, Cardwell and Graham asked if they could do their own thing.

The two begged, borrowed and stole from friends and neighbors to fill out the garden plot, Cardwell jokes, filling it with flowering plants that butterflies and bumblebees prefer, along with other varieties that are “more of a nursery than a nectar-producing plant” for caterpillars.

Milkweed bookends the garden while zinnias, spiderwort and other annuals and perennials fill out the space. 

Despite the “lousy spring,” Cardwell and Graham got a jump on the garden in May; he dug the holes, she planted the plants.

The garden was enough of a hit in the area that a neighbor who lives above Graham and Cardwell alerted the newspaper to its existence.

“The number of comments from residents about how we changed the look of the corner” has been a delight, Cardwell says, pointing out he and Graham prefer to eat breakfast and dinner on their ground-level porch, which has led to many conversations about the garden, a pleasant plus for the new residents.

“We hope other people will enjoy it as much as we do,” he says.


– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813

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