Written by Erin Newman
Nothing says spring like a garden full of butterflies flitting about, gracing gardens and meadows with their cheerful colors and jaunty aeronautics.
Here in Southern California we are blessed with butterflies year-round, as they enjoy our warm weather.
Monarchs, in particular, adhere to distinct migration patterns to escape the cold. East of the Rocky Mountains, they head down to the Gulf Coast or Mexico to hibernate for the winter. On the West Coast, monarchs stick around, huddling together in Southern California’s eucalyptus groves while waiting for spring.
Unfortunately, many species of this fragile insect face an uncertain future due to loss of habitat, pollution, shifting climate factors and herbicide use.
We can help keep butterflies happy and healthy by creating habitats for them. Gardens that provide pesticide-free nectar sources for adult butterflies and host plants for their offspring, along with a small mud or sand puddle and shelter from the wind, will give them respite and a place to thrive.
A patchwork of such residential gardens spotted through cities and rural areas can help restore healthy butterfly communities while providing visual delight.
Some butterfly lovers take it a step further, opening nurseries that supply plants for butterflies throughout their developmental stages.
Monarchs, in particular, benefit from their own network of safe havens, called Monarch Waystations. These official habitats at homes, schools, businesses and on random spare plots of land help assure the preservation of the species.
Butterflies have been on earth 50 million years. Taking care of them allows future generations the privilege of experiencing the beauty and wonder of these delicate creatures.
Photo by Joan Pahoyo
Kim and her husband, George, North Ranch residents for the past 25 years, have filled their expansive back garden with an abundance of lush vegetation. Pathways lined with flowers and rare fruit trees are interrupted by vine-covered arbors and archways that lead in different directions; one meanders to a gazebo graced with an artist’s mural, another to a romantic tea pavilion.
It’s no coincidence this paradise has been featured in the Westlake Garden Tour five times.
But Kim’s main motivation isn’t to please human visitors. Most of what she cultivates are plants that butterflies of all shapes and sizes love to nibble on.
She became interested in the creatures about five years ago and dedicates her time and resources to rearing them and providing a lush habitat for them.
Kim, who was born in Korea and raised in Hawaii, meticulously tends to the raised flower beds, growing cabbages for the white butterflies, passion vine for the Gulf fritillary, milkweed, salvia and lilac for monarchs, plus hundreds of other plants.
She often checks her milkweed for monarch eggs. When she finds some, she carefully breaks off the leaves containing eggs and brings them into her sun porch, where she has incubators for them. She also tends to a couple of small quail, chickens, a macaw and an Amazon parrot.
Kim says she is perfectly content to tend to her garden all day, planting and nurturing her colorful collection of butterfly-friendly plants.
Despite the fact that butterflies “gobble up money,” she says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
As a Monarch Waystation, their lush backyard is host to 50 to 350 monarchs each day and has a bevy of monarch-friendly plants in the private nursery.
Rick and Lynne are passionate about all things monarch and are involved in providing a habitat for them and educating others about the importance of helping the butterflies.
Their operation, which they call “This is a Monarchy,” does both.
After seeing a newspaper ad that simply said “Got Milkweed,” Rick obtained several of the plants, which monarchs use to lay their eggs. The couple took on the mission of helping the winged creatures flourish. Their garden became an official Monarch Waystation in the fall of 2011.
When finding pesticide-free milkweed became a challenge, they began growing it themselves, along with several other nectar plants. They opened their nursery in early 2013.
Rick and Lynne hold monthly open houses, where they educate families about caring for monarchs. Children can see and hold the insects in their various life stages as well as learn about them through videos, coloring pages and demonstrations. The backyard koi pond and horses are also a hit with visitors.
Lynne also spreads the word by visiting schools, libraries, garden clubs and the like as well as hosting cutting and transplanting classes. Visitors to their nursery come from all over Southern California. And more than 900 email clients buy milkweed for monarch eggs and caterpillars, and nectar plants for adult butterflies.
Cultivating hundreds of plants, rearing and releasing monarchs, and educating the public keep the couple very busy, but they find the project well worth the effort, knowing they are part of a community of monarch lovers working to keep the beautiful butterfly off the endangered species list.