The Pollinator garden is a big focus of The Gardens at Lake Merritt. While there are many beautiful more formal themed gardens ringing our seven acre 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.

The first year of the Pollinator Posse project we had just a few butterflies – six by our count. Last year there were about 1000 buterflies released in the garden, thanks to our fostering program. We are now partnering with Children’s Fairyland, our neighbor up the road, to provide sterilized conditions for our eggs and catepillars, which can be subject to a fatal disease.

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.

But here’s the thing: habitat gardens are inherently messy! Seedlings are growing underfoot, and more important there might be a chrysalis for a beautiful butterfly hidden in the debris. So conventional weeding and mulching have to be handled with special care.

We grow a lot of milkweed.  The Monarch 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.