Lessons from Sam the Caterpillar

It’s always interesting to me how can grow into lifelong passions—and sometimes into professions. My love of nature and the environment began with a natural curiosity at a very young age and a gigantic, bluish-green caterpillar that I named Sam.

Sam was my world at 5 years old and I was delighted when I found Sam inching its way up a willow tree on my family’s Michigan flower farm. Sam was almost as big as my hand and its little hairs tickled my palm when my grandmother, mom and I tucked it safely into an old birdcage.

We had no idea back then that this beautiful creature was a cecropia caterpillar or that Sam would one day become a moth whose species is the largest in the United States. At its biggest, Sam the caterpillar was about four inches long and ¾ inches round. Sam ate mostly bits of willow, apple and lilac and one day spun the most elaborate silken cocoon.

When it hatched, Sam’s transformation was a beautiful surprise, and we worried about how to get Sam out of the birdcage without damaging its huge wings! Cecropia moths’ wingspan is typically five to seven inches.

Cecropia moths are found across North America and as far west as Washington and most of the Canadian provinces. They lay eggs on trees, with larvae commonly found on maple, cherry and birch. Cecropia moths live off the stores from their caterpillar fat. Lacking functional mouthparts and digestive systems, their primary function is to mate.

A member of the giant silk moth family, cecropia’s colors are an artful mix of beige, soft brown, red and cream, with unique markings and patterns on its wings. Their lifespan is about two weeks.

I was heartbroken when the day came that Sam was gone. The bittersweet joy of watching Sam transform provided profound lessons for me. I’m not quite sure how we figured out what type of moth Sam was, but Sam was glorious.

When I see a moth or butterfly in our CityEscape gardens, I remember Sam and those memories make me smile. Growing up on a farm and enjoying playing outdoors with my family taught me many things about life and about living curiously. As summer dawns on Chicago, encourage curious living with the children in your care. You just never know the impact it may have on their life—and possibly even their profession.

See you at CityEscape,


The Power of a Garden

Gardening and caring for the land are in my blood. CityEscape was conceived out of that passion and an internal call to get back to my roots.

Growing up on my family’s Michigan flower farm, early spring was always a glorious season. Soft rains washed away the cold winter and summer was still a promise of warm breezes and family times outdoors together.

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Spring brought fresh fragrances and bright blooms in an array of eye-candy colors accented by rich, fertile soil. Those memories are always present in my every day here at CityEscape, and especially this spring.

Hellebore, a member of the Ranunculaceae family, is an early spring bloomer and is sometimes called the Lenten Rose. Its long-lasting flowers and semi evergreen foliage range from white to deep red. Our favorites include the outward facing, large flowering, Molly’s White, Honeyhill Joy, Walberton’s Ivory Prince and Anna’s Red, among others.

The cold winter is behind us and the promise of what lies ahead whispers hope that life will once again renew itself in glorious ways—evidence in the joy of sunny yellow daffodils, elegant showy hellebores, demure grape hyacinth and poppy chartreuse variegated sweet flag that are planted at CityEscape’s front doors. For me, the experience of removing a plant from its pot, dusting up its roots and digging it into fresh soil for new growth is one of life’s pleasures. That sense of renewal is the power of a garden.

Cool weather annuals, perennials and pussy willow branches are ready for home gardens. Our crews are waking up our inventory of trees and shrubs from their over-wintered nesting spots. Come and see us!

Through a tough winter, there is always a joyful spring. I find that is one of life’s pleasant curiosities.

See you at CityEscape,


(Photos: Sue Markgraf, GreenMark Media)