Kristi recently shared a tour of her Southern California garden. It seems like it’s a world away from my own garden here in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. We have some plants in common, but the climate difference provides entirely different life experiences for the plants, creatures, and humans.
Some years ago Kristi discovered that she could grow or raise butterflies in her garden. This is her story:
“Several years ago a friend brought us a chrysalis on a stalk of fennel that he had found in the open space near our house (it’s not really a park, just a little undeveloped canyon area with a short bike path that connects one neighborhood to the next off the busy roads).
The chrysalis hatched into an Anise Swallowtail about a week later and I was completely enamoured. I went and gathered a few seed heads and scattered them in my yard. I didn’t know then that fennel was a completely invasive species!
It took over most of my front yard and I’m still fighting it back each year to maintain just a couple of plants for the butterflies. I don’t let it go to seed any more, though fennel pollen is apparently a very trendy ingredient with chefs and the fronds are fragrant and nice to cook with!
I started reading up on butterflies and learned that while they are abundant in our neck of the woods, they are the pickiest eaters! My children seemed like adventuresome eaters in contrast, since they would eat at least 3 or 4 different things! The caterpillars usually eat just one food, and the adult butterflies sip the nectar of only a couple kinds of plants. So if you know the butterflies who visit your area, and plant the baby food and something for the adults, chances are, they will come!
The first year I had the fennel grow (and lantana for the adults), sure enough, the adults flew over, found a nice little spot to lay their eggs, and I was overrun with caterpillars and cocoons! I was able to take them into classrooms as well as watching the whole life cycle with my kids right outside our window.
We also had Giant Swallowtails who like to eat citrus leaves. The butterflies are huge and spectacular; the caterpillars are voracious and look like bird poop. The passion fruit vines brought in Frittelaries.
Finally, I bought some milkweed. Monarchs came that year to my delight, but every time I’ve bought a plant, they’ve managed to strip it down to nothing and I’ve ended up frantically calling nurseries and scouting people’s yards for the plant equivalent of a wet nurse!
Last year I finally had one form a chrysalis and I watched it hatch before it flew away. This year I finally wised up and bought two milkweeds in the fall to get established before the butterflies come in late spring. Hopefully supply and demand will even out!”
Kristi Porter is a knitwear designer and the author of four books, most recently More Knitting in the Sun: 32 Patterns to Knit for Kids (Wiley 2011). She makes her home, with her husband and two daughters, on the coast of Southern California (Zone 9A, Sunset zone 24).