A Butterfly Garden with a Mission

There’s a little mile-high park by our house up on top of the hill in Laguna Beach called Alta Laguna Park. Besides the 360-degree views of the ocean, hills and mountains, there’s a small playground, some tennis courts,  a baseball field and trail heads to the surrounding open space.  A visionary local landscape architect named Ann Christoph designed the seven-acre park using almost all California native plants.

For the last decade or more,  a friendly guy named Andy has tended the park for the city, and a couple years ago I heard he had started a butterfly garden tucked away behind the baseball field. Several weeks ago, I wandered over and saw the official sign: Monarch Way Station. When I got home, I Googled the Web site on the sign–Monarch Watch.Org— to learn more about this project.

 In a nutshell, the numbers of Monarchs are down due to loss of habitat.
These Way Stations provide mini-habitats in developed areas to provide more food for these and other butterflies. The “Bring Back the Monarchs” campaign is trying to restore 20 milkweed species, as well as encourage plantings of other native, nectar-producing flowers. Click HERE to see their list for both states in the East and West, as well information on how to order seed kits to grow these plants.

When I first learned about how these plants attract Monarchs to your garden, I was doubtful. But a couple years ago, I stuck a couple milkweed plants in my front garden that I bought from my favorite California Native Plant nursery, called Tree of Life. And sure enough, that summer I had caterpillars crawling all over the milkweed plants, and then the glistening green chrysalis, and then Monarchs emerging and fluttering away! Click HERE to see and read about what I saw.

 What’s so amazing is that almost anyone (Yes, that includes YOU!) can grow these plants, and within weeks or months, have your own Monarch resort! Most nurseries, at least here in Southern California, carry native plants now. And milkweed is very easy to grow by seed. You can even register your Way Station and get a nifty sign (like the one on Andy’s garden.), and become one of about 5,000 of these official butterfly retreats.

If you live West of the Rockies, the Monarch Watch folks recommend these plants to attract Monarchs:  Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa),  Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), as well as these general nectar plants: Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea), Chia (Salvia columbariae), Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea), Tithonia Torch, Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia), Zinnia and Dahlia Mix (Zinnia elegans).

But any nectar-offering plant can do the trick. Our friend Andy in the park has a Passion flower vine growing up an old tree stump. So mix and match. Monarchs aren’t that picky.

If you ever happen to visit Alta Laguna Park, look for these whale sculptures near the baseball field, and you will spot Andy’s Monarch Way Station and butterfly garden right behind them. And make sure and say “Hi” to Andy if you see him. People like him are quietly making a difference about our future–one filled with butterflies!

 Here’s the scoop again on how to order your own seed packet:

Shop online at Shop.MonarchWatch.org (direct product link) or by calling (800) 780-9986.


Here’s a book about Monarchs if you want to learn more:

The Amazing Monarch: The Secret Wintering Grounds of an Endangered Butterfly


7 thoughts on “A Butterfly Garden with a Mission

  1. Since I am right in Monarch central (and see them flitting about my yard from time to time even though there is not much yet to attract them) I started some Asclepias curassavica from seed the other day. I’ll probably just buy some plants though when they become available.

  2. Planting garden milkweeds cannot offset even one tenth of one percent of the amount of milkweed lost each year in the western USA due to sprawl, roadside spraying and the intensification of agricultural practices. So the pace of the ongoing decline in western monarch numbers will not even be slightly reduced just become some home gardeners and landscapers decide to plant some milkweeds here and there. Indeed, one could argue these “waystation” plantings are distracting the public and regulatory people from doing anything meaningful to curb sprawl, roadside mowing and spraying and the intensification of agricultural practices via misleading them into believing garden milkweeds can actually help in a mathematically valid way.

  3. This is a fabulous blog, which I will repost in three places. Thank you for getting the word out about Monarch Way Stations. You’ve made it easy with all the contact information. Just to let you know, the book you recommend is a large coffee table book, and IMHO, the photos are poor; often out of focus. At the end, there is a researched essay on monarch butterflies. The Last Monarch Butterfly: Conserving the Monarch Butterfly in a Brave New World, by Phil Shappert, is a beautiful, detailed, readable information book on the monarch. For those of your readers who would like to bring a caterpillar indoors and raise it, I would recommend the newly released, How to Raise Monarch Butterflies A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids by Carol Pasternak. OK, I wrote it, but it is already being touted as the best monarch book for kids on the market.

  4. In this “Waystation” article really a commercial promotion in disguise?

    1) Waystation seed packets cost $16.00 http://tinyurl.com/dx9y8zp

    2) Waystation certifications cost $16.00 each

    3) Waystation signs cost $17.00

    Profits from these sales are used to pay Monarch Watch staff people. I think the article also misleads the public into believing that garden milkweeds can offset the ongoing landscape scale declines that are occuring in milkweed and monarch butterfly abundance due to sprawl, roadside mowing and spraying and the intensification of agricultural practices.

    1. Hi Paul-

      Thank you for your comments and insights regarding the threats and plight of the Monarch Butterfly. Yes, habitat and plant destruction are tantamount to extinction for these needs-specific creatures. Thank you also for bringing to light the nefarious nature of Monarch Watch. How dare they offset their cost to create, support and maintain a web site via a web host, create and disseminate brochures and literature, and to have the gall of covering their costs incurred in offering seed packets, pamphlets, brochures and signs mailed out to an unsuspecting populace. You are correct in stating that planting Milkweed in your garden will not even offset one tenth of the loss each year. But, we will still continue to plant… and plant with gusto, more of this disappearing herb in our own gardens and in public and community gardens throughout the continental U.S. A slower extinction rate, possibly. A finger in the dike is better than no action until auspicious remedies are enacted. Speaking of which…

      With all humbleness and humility aside on your part, please share with us the sacrifices and steps you are taking to augment habitat depletion for these most beautiful of God’s creatures. Allow us the opportunity to stand with you side-by-side, to rally with you against the indiscriminate and wholesale destruction of our environment in general, and butterfly habitat specifically. Any constructive links? Any productive environmental entities you support or recommend? Any constructive criticism from you? We all wait with baited breath.

  5. Paul,
    I see you are once again attacking the efforts of Monarch Watch. It disturbs me that you are publicly stating that waystations are basically a waste of time and really don’t make a difference. Yet I do not see you offering a different solution to the problems monarchs are facing. Then you go on to infer that as an established hard working organization, Monarch Watch is just in this for the money, and somehow mismanages the funds they raise promoting waystation development and migration studies and reports. I do not see any of them getting rich off of the time and effort they put into running MW.

    As far as cash outlay goes, you can plan and maintain a monarch friendly habitat without spending a penny at MW, with free access to the information they so generously offer to anyone who visits the website.

    I am happy to say that I am the proud “Foster Parent” of Waystation # 686, which I stared developing in the summer of 2006 when I moved to a new home. Before that time I had used the resources online at MW to plan and develop a monarch friendly habitat in my yard. It was never registered and never had a sign, but in every other aspect it was monarch waystation and my yard was full of monarchs from spring to fall. MW made no profit from it, and you cannot convince me that it did not make a difference in the monarch population.

    The Monarch Watch website provides a vast amount of free education pertaining to every aspect of monarch conservation. The information on how to plant and manage a waystation is free and available to anyone who wants it. You do not have to be certified and you do not have to buy a sign, and you do not have to buy the seeds the waystation program offers. You can buy seeds or plants anywhere if you do not want the convenience of buying a starter kit that has done all the legwork for you. Seeds, certification, and signs are available to anyone who wants to spend money on them, but are not a required expense. And they do not have to be be purchased as a unit before you can start a waystation garden. When I started my waystation, I browsed the website to learn the best nectar and host plants to plant and then planted my garden with the recommended basics. I did not register my waystation until the plants were established and monarchs and other butterflies started to grace my yard. I felt the fee was reasonable for the information I had already gotten for free, as they were proving space on their website to store my records and as many photos I wanted to post, and would keep them on file indefinitely. Web space costs money and you can use as little or as much as you want to showcase your waystation and share it with other monarch enthusiasts.
    It was not until a few years later that I finally purchased a waystation sign, and did it mostly because people were noticing my butterfly friendly plantings and started asking me questions about “what I was up to”.

    How does running down the efforts of Monarch Watch help the plight of the monarchs?

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