Monarch Waystation

Allison Stephens turned her passion for gardening into a hobby that gives back with a protective habitat for monarch butterflies.

The butterfly garden and Monarch Waystation.
Produced by Charlie Thigpen / Photography by Jean Allsopp

When Allison Stephens inherited her Indian Springs log cabin, she turned it into a place of healing and renewal. “As you drive in across the covered bridge, it feels like you are entering someplace special,” Allison says. “It’s close enough to everything, but it’s also a wonderful escape. Living here is a way to surround myself with nature in a sort of cocoon.”

Located on 10 acres, the Hearthstone Home, designed by architect Bob Moody, was constructed in the late 1990’s. Thanks to the authentic materials and construction techniques, the house belies its relative newness with features such as 8-inch-thick logs and dovetailed corners. The chimneys, foundation, and gable ends are stacked stone. Copper gutters and wide-plank, rough-sawn, white oak porch decking, along with a cedar shake and standing-seam metal roof, offer even more character.

Leaving the house unchanged except for a few updates and repairs, Allison put her focus on the garden. She called landscape designer Charlie Thigpen to help select plantings and navigate the process for creating a monarch waystation, something that would turn into a full-fledged makeover. “When we began to plan the butterfly garden, Allison asked me what I thought about the existing plants around the cabin,” Charlie says. “The shrubs were overgrown, and I felt like most of them didn’t look like they belonged in the rustic surrounding.”

Charlie’s advice? Replace the overgrown bushes with native plants appropriate to the setting. “I wanted to enhance the house instead of covering it up,” Charlie says. Saving a couple of camellias and the two large sculptural crepe myrtles that framed the front of the home, Charlie and his wife, Cindy, drew up a new and improved landscape plan. Plantings called for a variety of ferns, Itea, and native azaleas. Charlie also added limelight hydrangeas, black-eyed Susans, and coneflowers for seasonal color.

- Sponsors -
Dog sitting on front porch under a cedar arbor
The cedar arbor was made from trees from the property. Vines will eventually cover the structure. The blue flowers at the base are plumbago.

“Monarchs from Eastern North America migrate each fall to the mountainous forest of Mexico. Some will fly over 3,000 miles. In my butterfly gardens, I always try to plant fennel, parsley, or dill, which are also great food sources for other varieties.

Charlie Thigpen, landscape designer
House, yard, garden, and barn

As for the butterfly garden, Charlie brought in lots of milkweed, the necessary diet of monarch butterflies. He also added bronze fennel to attract swallowtails. Planted in the spring of 2020, the garden grew quickly—and then the caterpillars arrived. Allison was able to start the process of collecting the leaves with eggs from the milkweed plants and bring them inside to protect and nourish them until they transformed into beautiful butterflies. “Last year, we released about 80 butterflies,” she says. “This year, we hope to have even more.”

Along with her personal fascination with the butterflies, Allison loves to share and educate others on the importance of protecting monarchs. “I’ll let my friends’ children release them,” she says. “I love to see the wonder on their faces. And I always give them a milkweed plant and encourage them to start their own garden.”

around the garden

Butterflies are always welcome in Allison Stephens’ garden. Every year she invites them to her Indian Springs home with plantings of milkweed (1), the diet for monarchs, as well as bronze fennel (2), the favorite dish of swallowtail butterflies. For nectar, blooms consist of Profusion zinnia (3), Pinca zinnia (4), Red coleus (5), Mystic Spires salvia (6), Homestead verbena (7), Angelonia (8), and coneflower
(9). Other blooms around the garden include Mrs. Huff lantana, Happy Returns daylilies, Vitex trees, and Limelight hydrangeas.

Allison’s hope is that her monarch waystation inspires others to look at gardening in a different way. “I want people to see beyond a pretty garden and think about how something can be beautiful while also serving nature,” she says. “Everything comes full circle. It’s important to give back.”

House and yard

“Mother Nature has taught me so much about gardening. It’s a continuous education.”

Allison Stephens

Get to Know Charlie & Cindy Thigpen

Charlie & Cindy Thigpen

A licensed horticulturist and landscape designer, Charlie Thigpen has a vast knowledge of plants, design, and, most importantly, how to maintain a garden and landscape. For many years, he was director of landscape for the award-winning 27-acre Southern Progress campus, as well as garden editor for Southern Living. He and his wife and business partner, Cindy, spent a decade sharing their expertise through their retail garden shop, Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery. The shop closed in late 2019, and the Thigpens now focus on landscape design, offering consultations and landscape plans.

Creating a Monarch Waystation

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterflies were listed as endangered in July 2022. Threats include declining habitats, climate change, and pesticides. To offset the loss of milkweed and nectar sources, it’s essential to create and protect their environments. Here are a few tips to get your monarch waystation started.

Sunflower and zinnia garden
Allison and her assistant, Kendahl Schnell, created a cut flower garden by seeding zinnias and sunflowers. “I love to share bouquets with friends,” Allison says. “My parents will visit from Tuscaloosa and take back buckets to give to neighbors.”


Your home, school, or local park, as well as unused plots of urban land, are ideal places to start a garden. You need a minimum of 100 square feet.



Butterflies and butterfly plants need lots of sun. To ensure successful blooms, plant in an area that gets as least six hours of sun a day.



Milkweed and nectar plants perform best in light soil with good drainage.

Swallowtail Butterfly
Swallowtail Butterfly


A monarch waystation needs at least 10 milkweed plants made up of two species. Adding even more will create a bigger draw of butterflies for a longer span of time during the season. Mix in other blooming perennials and annuals for nectar sources. Always follow planting instructions for spacing. Plants placed close together will help protect the monarchs in their developing states.

Monarch Waystation sign


Allison keeps an eye out for aphids on her plants. Should they attack her foliage, she handpicks them off. “Gardening is a lot of fun and a lot of hard work,” she says. “It’s a daily labor of love.”

Learn more

Get the best of Birmingham delivered to your inbox

Stunning local homes, inspiring before & after projects, southern-style recipes, entertaining ideas and more!