Butterfly Gardening

By Joanne A Calitri   |   April 11, 2019
Butterfly gardening volunteers at their educational event are: Lynn Kirby, Jo Bardsley, Donna Grubisic, Janet Rogers, Lana McIntyre, and Celina Andrade

A free, public event on butterfly gardening was launched for the first time on Saturday, March 30 at the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden in the Butterfly Garden area. Janet Rogers and Jo Bardsley coordinated the event with Linda Baity, the Coordinator for the Master Gardener Program of Santa Barbara County at the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE).

Christopher, with a butterfly in his hair, and his mom Vanessa Atyabi, at the Master Gardener Butterfly event Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden

There was much to learn about and lots of free take home information pamphlets, seed packs for planting, and potted milkweed seedlings with gardening handouts. Specific plants are known to attract and feed California butterflies that migrate on the Pacific Northwest coast into our town. The migrations are continuous based on the genus of the butterfly, from laying their eggs through to adult butterflies. While the Texas area has an abundance of butterfly migrations, they typically cannot make it over the Rocky Mountains to the west coast. As local native habitats diminish, the volunteers hope that the informational event and their presence in the garden during the week can help our California butterfly populations.

The entrance to the butterfly garden area is at Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden on the Arrellaga Street side, and then to the right. There is signage. Although the area may look sparse, the plants are deliberately arranged for butterflies to lay their eggs, be caterpillars, go through all their stages, feed, and for cross pollinators. Since all public parks in Santa Barbara are pesticide-free, thanks to the efforts of Estelle Foster, Executive Director of Pesticide Awareness and Alternative Coalition, the volunteer gardeners have a little more work to do manually to control weeds and undesirable grasses in the area, and do a terrific job.

The event was well attended for over two hours, and one lucky child, 15-month-old Christopher, was noted to have a butterfly land in his hair while he planted a milkweed seedling with his mom, Vanessa Atyabi, who said, “One of Christopher’s favorite activities is to play in our native plant butterfly garden. After seeing the event on Facebook, we were happy to hear from the Master Gardeners about how to attract more butterflies and how to save our milkweed. Christopher even got to be a landing pad for two butterflies!” Indeed the cutest attendee of the day.

I met with the lead volunteer of the Butterfly Garden, Donna Grubisic, for some background details:

Q. How did you get interested in butterfly gardening?

A. I was one of the Master Gardeners that helped design and plant the Butterfly Garden at Alice Keck Park in 2008. The vision of a Butterfly Garden there began in 2005 by a team of UCCE Master Gardeners, including Bob Ledbetter, Helen Fowler, Lynn Kirby, and myself in collaboration with the staff of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Working with Santos Escobar, Director of Santa Barbara City Parks and Recreation, we obtained the necessary approvals for the project and identified a suitable plot at Alice Keck Park. Landscape Architect Grant Castleberg helped develop a garden design that incorporates nectar plants for butterflies and food plants for caterpillars. 

Tell us how the Butterfly Garden event came about.

Some members of the public have commented to us, while we are working in the garden, that they were unaware that this was a Butterfly Garden. So, Janet Rogers came up with the idea to help promote the Butterfly Garden with an educational event. The SB Parks and Recreation Department gave us the OK so the event was created. 

Is this the first butterfly gardening event at Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden?

Yes, this is the first year holding this event at the Butterfly Garden. We plan to have this annually so we hope this is a success with the public. I think Mrs. Alice Keck Park would be pleased in how we are showing off part of her Memorial Garden!

411: UC Master Gardeners Program provide volunteer service to the Santa Barbara community by not only maintaining the beautiful Butterfly Garden, but also educating visitors about how to select and care for plants that will attract butterflies and other beneficial pollinators to their own gardens. Please feel free to stop and ask us questions anytime. Our workdays in the garden are the second and fourth Tuesday of each month from 9 to 11 am. 


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