UHealth's secret garden

UHealth's secret garden

Photo by: T.J. Lievonon
By Jennifer Palma Sanchez

Photo by: T.J. Lievonon

UHealth's secret garden

By Jennifer Palma Sanchez
What started as a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Miami has blossomed into something much more.

Tucked away in a quiet corner, far from foot traffic, and adorned with intimate seating, the GreenU butterfly garden on UM’s medical campus creates a peaceful escape for patients, faculty, staff, and students. About 400 square feet in size, the garden is only a small piece of downtown Miami’s sprawling Health District, but its impact on the UM community is a delightful surprise. Located behind the Professional Arts Center (PAC), adjacent to the parking garage, this unconventional campus respite was built by GreenU volunteers with the help of Frances Kaniewski, director of environmental services at UHealth, and her team.

“I’m certainly not an expert in gardening or butterflies but the project, which started with facilities, has become part of our everyday lives,” said Kaniewski, who has been a UM employee for 30 years.

Last year, Kaniewski noticed that the butterflies weren’t as plentiful as she expected, although their food source, milkweed, was vanishing from one day to the next. Unsure of the best solution, she enlisted the help of Edelman Lopez, cardiac ultrasound technologist at UHealth.

Lopez, who also doesn’t consider himself an expert, jumped in to provide guidance and was quickly deemed the fairy godfather of the butterfly garden, a title which he embraces but hasn’t made official.

Together, Kaniewski and Lopez spent their free time seeking expertise and working toward a  solution which would allow the garden to serve its purpose to the community and to the butterflies. The end result? A monarch caterpillar rescue service on campus.

When Kaniewski discovered that many of the monarch caterpillars were being eaten by lizards, and those who eluded their predators were running out of food, she literally stepped in to save them.

Today, Kaniewski, Lopez, and their colleagues transport healthy and hungry monarch caterpillars from the garden to office spaces where employees have volunteered to keep sheltered milkweed. Within the offices, a close eye is kept on the transformation of the monarch caterpillars, until they are ultimately released in the garden. In addition to the success of the monarch caterpillar rescue service, the butterflies and the garden continue to unite faculty, staff, and students throughout UHealth’s campus.

“We have people stopping by the office during lunch just to relax, disconnect, and see the caterpillars,” said Kaniewski. “It’s really amazing to hear how witnessing a miracle of nature can truly change the trajectory of someone’s day and allow them to be happier while at work.”

For Kaniewski, Lopez, and the volunteers, the garden has truly become a part of life and they are hopeful that their efforts provide a quiet space for the University community, while offering a way to get involved with environmentally sustainable initiatives.

Looking to get involved with GreenU initiatives on campus? Contact greenu@miami.edu to discover volunteer opportunities for faculty, staff, and students on all campuses.

Editor's note: The idea to establish a butterfly garden was introduced through the Green Committee at Miller and the office of sustainability, under the guidance of long time community partner, Treemendous Miami.

Are you involved in sustainability efforts that impact the UM community? We want to hear from you! Send a note to lifeattheu@miami.edu and let us know what you've been up to. 


topics: