The Butterfly Effect

What happens when a Kansas neighborhood rallies to build a garden? 

Michelle Gangel (third from right) with her daughter and neighbors creating the butterfly garden.

Michelle Gangel (third from right) with her daughter and neighbors creating the butterfly garden.

By Michelle Gangel
Vice President of PGAV

Starting this summer, 9 volunteers met with the goal of creating a butterfly habitat. Identifying the two runoff areas adjacent to the pond in conjunction with the city storm water engineer was the first step.

During our planning sessions, we procured cardboard, organic soil & mulch, confirmed our plant selection and drafted the plan, determined a maintenance plan, ordered the plants, and secured the volunteers.

In one weekend, we had 36 enthusiastic volunteers ages 5 to 70 work over 20 hours to install the two gardens!  These hard-working folks pinned down 1690 sq. ft. of cardboard to provide the base, shoveled 21 cubic yards of soil and laid out 112 linear feet of hay mat to prevent erosion.

Then came the cool stuff! On top of the cardboard and soil, we planted 347 individual native perennial plants comprised of 33 distinct plant varieties.  And finally, we covered it all with 15.5 cubic yards of mulch.  The last step was to soak it all thoroughly, although, once the plants are established, they will need little or no water – even during the hottest August droughts!

These plants are all native to Kansas and have developed naturally with our native insects and birds to meet their needs.  While each plant variety will only be in bloom for a few weeks, the plant list was selected so that the gardens will have lots of blooms throughout the growing season – from March through November. 

Our garden provides host plants such as four varieties of milkweeds for Monarch butterflies to lay their eggs and for their caterpillars to eat.  The garden provides nectar to feed the adult butterflies as well as moths and hummingbirds.  The winter gardens will be left standing even after the plants die back and will provide bird seed, shelter, and nesting cover for wildlife that overwinters in our area.

The populations of all insects and birds are in steep decline in the U.S. – some up to 90% reduction from their populations 30-40 years ago.  Our chemical-free gardens will help give these populations a boost, along with the efforts of other projects such as the I-35 Pollinator Corridor , a 1588-mile-long highway area from Duluth, Minnesota to Laredo, Texas and the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge http://millionpollinatorgardens.org.

This garden will send cleansed water to our pond and downstream stormwater rivers after filtering out chemicals from our lawns, roofs, and driveways.  The native plants’ deep roots slow down the flow of water during a big rainstorm and absorb chemicals directly into the plants. 

With that, our garden is ready to welcome butterflies! In fact, our butterfly gardens are officially “Monarch Waystation #14822” with Monarch Watch www.MonarchWatch.org whose mission is to create, conserve, and protect Monarch Butterfly habitats.