When I was planning and planting the demonstration gardens at Against the Wind Nursery the overriding idea was to develop a setting that people would enjoy being in, and where they could see a wide range of plant species that grow in our climate. With that vague notion in mind I set about making plant selections based on basic garden design principles, and that would serve as a foundation for more specific interests.
The subtext of most gardens is that they just might serve as habitat for various forms of wildlife. In the case of our nursery and farm gardens we hoped that we could build a habitat that would be for wildlife of the “smaller” variety – such as pollinators and birds. As good luck would have it, after six years of nurturing small plants into healthy specimens there has been a significant increase in that small critter population. In spite of this happy outcome the work continues. As we learn more about the plight that surrounds native pollinators, Monarch butterflies, and honey bees, our effort to provide healthy habitats or way stations continues to grow.
Some years ago the news of the decreasing Monarch butterfly population led me to do some research about the trouble at hand, and about their migration paths. In doing so I learned that their main source of survival – milkweed, Asclepias spp. – has been under attack for some time. According to monarchwatch.org, the great increase in development, herbicide use and genetically modified crops are the culprits involved in that attack. I also learned that Monarchs have two distinct migration paths – east of the Rockies and west of the Rockies – and that if their flight paths lead them into Southeastern British Columbia at all, they would not likely end up in our mountainous region. Too bad. And then I found a short sentence tucked into all that material I was reading about Monarchs that gave me some encouragement…monarchs will go where there is milkweed. “So.” I said, “let’s plant some milkweed!”
The small swath of milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, that I planted several years ago is doing very well. It took awhile to get established and each year I wonder if it made through another winter. (It is one of the last perennials in the garden to poke through the mulch.) Each year the perennial clumps increase in size, and I can only imagine that the beautiful orange flowers are awaiting the arrival of the Monarch.
While the monarchs have not yet graced our gardens, I have had the recent pleasure of happening upon a ‘butterfly grove’ (an overwintering site at Pismo Beach, California) where they were literally hanging out. What a serendipitous visual delight! I had not seen any monarchs anywhere since I was a child growing up on the Saskatchewan prairie. If any monarchs were to ever make their way to Southeastern British Columbia they would be descendants from the Western Monarchs that hung in clusters on the eucalyptus trees and flitted about at Pismo Beach in January. I like that thought.
Wild pollinators, numerous bird species, and our honey bees seem to quite enjoy what we have managed to put together for them. Their buzz and song starts early in the morning and continues through the day and into the evening, making for a kind of orchestral background for our seasonal work. The sound and animation brought to the gardens by wildlife of the “smaller variety” is a great bonus and sits well with our intentions. Perhaps the Monarch will add to this one day.
There is much to learn about the Monarch butterfly. Here are some useful links: