The Pollinator garden is a big focus of The Gardens at Lake Merritt. While there are many beautiful more formal themed gardens ringing the garden space, the center of the garden holds a big area for a wild and crazy pollinator garden. Our park director Tora Rocha founded The Pollinator Posse a few years back, and it has taken flight with local and national attention! With attention to the alarming declines in the population of the Monarch butterfly, we plant native and a little tropical milkweed as habitat for the butterflies, their eggs and caterpillars.

Here’s the thing: habitat gardens are inherently messy! Seedlings are growing underfoot, so conventional weeding and mulching have to be handled with special care. The caterpillars chomp through the milkweed leaves – in a normal garden this would be an unsightly cause for alarm, but for us it’s a sign of success! If they eat here, they lay their eggs here and hatch here.  We create pollinator habitat in the urban jungle.

The first year of the Pollinator Posse project we had just a few butterflies – six by our count. Last year there were about 300 and this year, thanks to our fostering program, we have released about 600 butterflies into the garden.

And fostering – what is that anyway? We find lots of Monarch caterpillars in the garden. To protect them from their many predators, we gather them, and volunteers take them home in mesh cages, feed them milkweed for a few weeks till their go into chrysalis, then wait patiently for the exciting emersion when the butterflies “eclose” from the chrysalis.

Watch for workshops in the garden teaching families how to participate in this early science learning for kids.