The Monarch Watch demonstration garden is maintained and developed by Douglas County Master Gardeners and is situated on the University of Kansas West Campus. Professor Chip Taylor and his staff play a teaching role and instruct Master Gardeners about when to be aware of butterflies and caterpillars. Master Gardeners work with the Monarch Watch organization to maintain sustainable gardening practices.
Visitors to this garden can expect to see butterflies and caterpillars in abundance, and not just monarchs. Pipevine grows over arbors in the garden and provides plentiful sustenance for pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. “Monarch Watch research assistant Ann Ryan has said that there are so many caterpillars on the vine at times that you can hear them munching if you stand under the arbor,” said Susan Rendall, Master Gardener and one of the co-coordinators of the garden.
The plentiful swallowtail butterflies are a flurry of activity and movement, but occasionally one or two will pause to feed and offer visitors a closer look.
Visitors to the garden can also identify various host and nectar plants. Many plants along the meandering pathways are labeled with their name and the caterpillar or butterfly that is attracted to it.
Although the garden’s primary focus is on butterflies and caterpillars, attention is being expanded to include all pollinators. “Our button bush is very good for all pollinators and at times it is swarmed by bees,” said Susan Rendall. The ever-reliable echinachea is always available as a landing spot.
The garden focuses on native plants. “They are easier to grow than non-natives,” explains Susan Rendall. “They provide for the full circle of life because they have created their own niche over the years and pollinators have come to depend on them. The native plants and pollinators have grown up together.” Master Gardeners have replaced non-native plants with natives because of the ecological benefit.”
“The greatest diversity of native plants is best for our ecology,” continues Susan Rendall. “Plants bloom at different times and provide varying sources of food for pollinators. They also respond differently to different weather conditions. Many caterpillars are host specific. The monarch is the best example because they only eat milkweeds.” In addition to a variety of annuals and perennials, the garden has a great variety of trees and shrubs that host a different caterpillar.
A current challenge is the trees that are maturing and casting additional shade in the garden. Master Gardeners spend their time weeding and choosing plants that can tolerate more shade.
In addition to all the educational components of the garden, it is simply a lovely place to visit for the beauty of the natural landscape.
“We don’t want to put as many constraints on our plants as you would in a formal garden,” said Susan Rendall. “Bees and butterflies don’t care if the plant is falling in the path. They just want a lot of the plant to be available for their use. But our human visitors need clear pathways, so there are always compromises.”
The garden hosts an open house in the spring and fall. The fall open house is September 14, 2019 from 9am to 2pm. The garden is located at 2021 Constant Avenue behind Foley Hall and is open daily and year round.