“This year has been great,” she said. “Everything likes rain. I haven’t watered since September and things are popping up all over.”
To attract pollinator insects such as bees and butterflies, Heather and her team of volunteers broadcast seeds such as radish and vetch and clover. To encourage the Monarch Butterfly species, in association with US Fish and Wildlife Service, they are growing 200 pots of the native milkweed species on which the Monarch depends. The idea is to make these plants available to the community, and to plant milkweed throughout the valley and along the coast.
This initiative (and the milkweed plants) will be featured as part of the Coalition’s Earth Week celebration on April 15th through 22nd this year in Ojai.
This is all part of a much larger national effort to sustain the butterfly -- the best-known pollinator in North America -- that was announced in 2015 by the White House. The species has suffered a 74% decline in the last two decades in coastal California, according to a recent study by the Xerxes Society, although an annual count of overwintering winter Monarchs has been ticking up since an all-time low in 2009.
Heather credits the conservation work of Ojai resident Juliana Danaus, aka the “Monarch Mama,” for inspiring the Coalition’s efforts to help the much-loved butterfly species.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Heather says. “This is how a community garden becomes a true community, through networking with other organizations in our area, such as US Fish and Wildlife and the Monarch Arc in Ojai.”
“The Monarch Mama” in turn credits Heather for re-inspiring her efforts at gardening, and laughs off the considerable credit she’s given in the county for supporting the Monarch and other pollinator species throughout the valley and in Ventura County.
“I hoped to encourage people to plant milkweed and other nectar plants,” Daunas says. “But did I expect that at the supermarket little kids would drag their parents over to meet “the butterfly lady?” No! Did I think I would be featured in cover stories? Not at all -- I’m just trying to do what I learned to do from my grandmother and my grandfather, and I’m liking the results.”
Back at the garden, Heather and the volunteers are hard at work, while planning big changes. The idea is to turn a traditional community garden into a permaculture garden, with the help of a $5000 grant received from Patagonia last fall. The focus is on designing a garden that will be productive without exhausting the soil, the water, or the volunteers.
“A typical community garden is resource heavy, especially for the first four or five years,” she notes. “One of the principles of permaculture is thoughtful design. We’re saving water, and we’re learning from people who have experience with permaculture gardens, like Connor Jones. I have been to national community garden conferences and not seen a single presentation on permaculture community garden. So it’s a challenge for us, but I think that’s exciting.”