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Behold Butterflies

“If you plant it, they will come.” That’s the philosophy of Julie West, who will be giving a free presentation on “Inviting Butterflies Into Your Garden” March 15 for the Windsor Garden Club. (6:30 p.m. in the main room of the Windsor Senior Center, 9231 Foxwood Drive).

West is a former president of California Garden Clubs, Inc. She lives in Sebastopol, and over the past 20 years has turned her five-acre property into a haven for butterflies. Her particular passion are Monarch Butterflies – the beautiful orange and black beauties who migrate thousands of miles every year to spend winters in Mexico and on the California coast.

Monarchs have been in the news for their plummeting numbers as well as scientific efforts to save them.

Bringing the Monarchs back from the brink is something ordinary gardeners everywhere can help with, West says. All it takes is planting milkweed – the plants Monarch eggs and caterpillars need to feed on before transforming to their beautiful stage.

At least two varieties of those key plants thrive in Sonoma County: Narrowleaf Milkweed (Aesclepias fascicularis) and Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). Both are usually stocked at local nurseries in summertime. It’s the loss of ‘wild’ milkweed habitat to housing developments and big agriculture that’s decimated the Monarch populations, West explained. That, and pesticide use.

West doesn’t use pesticides and urges other gardeners not to – especially if they want to create a butterfly garden. Instead, she uses ladybugs and other beneficial bugs to take care of harmful insects. “I don’t need to have perfect plants if I have butterflies instead,” she says.

Other keys are keeping a garden well stocked with flowering “nectar plants” that serve as a food source for all butterflies. “The goal is to have as much year-round blooms as possible.”

West started creating her garden in 1993; since then it’s become certified as a Butterfly Garden, Wildlife Habitat, Monarch Way Station and Monarch Garden, among other things. In addition to butterflies, it attracts bees, frogs, birds, and more.

But you don’t need multiple acres to create a butterfly garden, she says: “You can do it if you’ve got space for some containers on a balcony.”

Her presentation March 15 will include photos and details about the butterflies found across Sonoma County, photos of the flowers they love, and a plant list to take home if you’re interested in making a safe space for Monarchs, Swallowtails, Bay Checkerspots, Painted Ladies and others in your backyard.

West is on a mission to get local gardeners excited about them. Given today’s environmental pressures, “if we

as gardeners don’t plant the right plants for butterflies,” she stressed, “How will they survive?”

Windsor Butterfly Trivia: The Windsor Garden Club is working to attract Monarchs to the Town Green Community Garden. Contact the club to find out more about the project, or rent an irrigated bed in the garden during 2016. Get all the details on the club website at

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