Garden Photo of the Day

Van’s Garden

A garden and a community of gardeners

Today’s photos come from Linda Kennedy, who is taking us all on a visit to her talented gardening friend in Dallas.

Van Johnson has become the gardening guru here in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. Several years ago Van started a Facebook gardening page, Oak Cliff Gardeners, and it has grown to more than 3,000 members, most of whom live in the immediate area. It is not only an educational page but also a wonderful place for all to ask questions, get help, and share photos of our gardens. We spread goodwill among each other with the goal of nurturing and preserving nature.

Van’s home is on a relatively small plot of land, common to most of us living here, roughly 50 feet by 150 feet. But he has transformed his property into a literal nature nook. He has turned the city easement (alleyway) behind his house into an Advanced Certified Wildlife Habitat; it’s bird friendly and is a monarch waystation. He has also, with permission, taken over several other neighboring easements, handcrafting about 300 feet or so of otherwise wasted space into a natural landscape. He often repurposes what most would consider junk (old stone, bricks, etc.) to form the pathway throughout.

He has been instrumental in arranging seed and plant swaps in the area and continually gives away starter plants taken from his garden. He’s also been instrumental in beautifying many public areas and asks for volunteers to help. Such projects include an overgrown hospice care facility, the Texas Theatre, and so many more.

The monarch migration has arrived in our area. Van has been updating us regularly as to when to expect them. The prediction was that they would arrive September 29 and that held true. On September 29, Van announced on the Facebook page that his beautiful butterfly garden had dozens of monarchs, and he invited everyone on the page to come observe. So many, from toddlers to seniors, come to witness this amazing spectacle.

Van is a wealth of information and will gladly share everything he knows with you.

I am fortunate not only to be a member of Oak Cliff Gardeners but also to live less than a mile away. Each time I visit, Van teaches me something new.

These are some pictures I’ve taken in Van’s garden.

gregg’s mistflowerMigrating monarch butterflies stop by to fuel up on Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinum greggii, Zones 7–10).

garden pathA simple path leads through the lushly planted garden, full of beautiful flowers for humans and wildlife.

Silver foliageSilver foliage shows off surrounding flowering plants.

butterflies on lantanaMany different species of butterflies love to sip on the nectar of lantana (Lantana camara, Zone 8–10 or as annual).

monarch butterflies sipping nectarThe long flight south to Mexico requires lots of energy, so providing ample nectar plants in late summer and fall is key to helping monarch butterflies thrive.

prickly pear cactusThe pads of a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia species) make a beautiful contrast to airier plants.

monarch butterfliesA pair of monarch butterflies get intimate on the mistflower.

Mexican butterfly weedA red moment in the garden, with Mexican butterfly weed (Asclepias curassavica, Zones 8–11 or as annual) in the front and red salvia (Salvia greggii, Zones 8–10 or as annual) in the back.


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View Comments


  1. blondie3 10/20/2020

    Wow, nice job Van, wish I lived in your neck of the woods. Beautiful butterflies.

    1. LDKennedy 10/20/2020

      I'm very fortune to live so close so that I can observe what works and what doesn't. He has motivated so many in the area to transform our properties.

  2. Carolyn3134 10/20/2020

    SO WONDERFUL! This is what I hope my garden areas will be someday! Thank you, Van and friends, for all that you are doing!!

    1. LDKennedy 10/20/2020

      Van has encouraged and helped so many of us transform our gardens. He's a gem. :)

  3. User avater
    treasuresmom 10/20/2020

    Just absolutely beautiful! Great, great pics.

    1. LDKennedy 10/20/2020

      Thank you! :)

  4. mgol1068 10/20/2020

    Lovely, and well done. So glad to see the monarchs arriving. We have seen few in Maryland this year.

    1. LDKennedy 10/20/2020

      Thank you! We are fortunate to be in the migration path and with the right plants, they stop to refuel. :)

  5. User avater
    simplesue 10/20/2020

    So nice of you to share the garden accomplishments your friend has done for the community and the easements!
    Oh how I wish there were more like Van in the world making beauty out of otherwise boring spaces for nature and for people.

    If I were on FaceBook I would follow their garden page, I will look for them on Pinterest and Twitter!

    Also your photography is beautiful, you've really captured the garden atmosphere- especially feel like I'm there in that glowing green leaf background up close to two monarchs- super beautiful!

    1. LDKennedy 10/20/2020

      Thank you! Yes, Van's gardening page is educational and fun! He's encouraged and helped so many in the community transform our gardens.

  6. btucker9675 10/20/2020

    This makes my heart happy! What a beautiful thing Van has done. I first saw the blue mistflower on a Fine Gardening Photo of the Day post and immediately ordered two for my garden. They are in full bloom now and are so beautiful! Thank you to all who post their inspiring gardens.

    1. LDKennedy 10/20/2020

      I'm glad it makes you happy! Van is so generous! He promotes mist flower a lot, warning that it needs a dedicated area though as it will take over otherwise. :)

  7. cheryl_c 10/20/2020

    Beautiful gardens, beautiful photography, and a beautiful community to support each other as you learn to care for earth's creatures.

    1. LDKennedy 10/20/2020

      Thank you. Yes, we are very fortunate to live in a community that cares deeply for earth's creatures. :)

  8. pattyspencer 10/21/2020

    I have never seen (outside of a Nat Geo show) so many butterflies at 1 time - beautiful

  9. User avater
    bdowen 10/22/2020

    I'm late finding this post but what beautiful photographs of both flowers and butterflies. I loved reading the story about this garden. Thank you so much for sharing this good news.

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