Shawnee Mission Faces: Mark Stiles, Prairie Hills island gardener and friend of the monarch butterfly

Each spring, when the living things are hard at work to sprout from underground, Mark Stiles and his team of volunteers begin to beautify the traffic islands in their neighborhood, Prairie Hills. Stiles is the committee chairman in his homes association for gardening work on the islands. He lives in Prairie Village with his wife, Brenda Stiles. A monolith honoring the Stileses stands in the island garden at Cherokee Drive and West 71st Terrace, where our story takes place.

This was all grass except for this part right here. And so we took all the grass out and put in all the plants. This was 2005 for this one. There are 15 (islands) in our homes association, and they’re all funded by the homes association.

It’s a volunteer system, and in April and May, we put in all the annuals on all the islands. There’s about 10 of us who do that work.

On this island, we have the original yews, evergreen bushes, that were put in with the statue that was brought over by Nichols in 1952. This was all built in 1950, this whole neighborhood. The statue, actually, J.C. Nichols, when he built this area, he went around the country and found old statues. Most of the islands have some kind of a statue; this is one of them.

There’s two at the very top of Cherokee, at 75th, there’s two that came from Newport, Rhode Island, that he brought over. So originally, most of the islands were 90 percent grass, and we put annual plants in once a year. And slowly, over time, we’ve turned them into entire gardens.

In the gardens, we’ve got a lot of roses. We have a variety of milkweed on several of the islands and then various bushes. This one has a lot of peonies.

So plenty of flowering plants, plenty of green. And then the other end is the monarchs. I can tell you a lot about them.

This is what it’s all about (he points at two tiny dots on the underside of a milkweed leaf he plucked from the island garden): Those are monarch butterfly babies. I just picked them up. I’ve got nets in my yard, so I put them in nets. Because they have like a 5 percent chance of living in the wild, and they have about a 90 percent chance of living in the net, so that’s my hobby.

They lay the egg on the leaf and then the caterpillar hatches and eats the milkweed leaves. You’ll see holes in it.

I’ll continue to build out more milkweed because, as you can see, it’s pretty sparse right now. There’s just a few plants here, and we try to infill over the years. I just started two years ago on the milkweed.

Beauty. That’s really the goal. When people drive by, they say, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.

When a neighbor’s driving by and they stop and make an effort to get out of their car and come over and thank me for what I do, that’s the best thing I’ve got going. I do it because I love it, but the recognition is a little bit of a push to keep going.