In an effort to save the monarch butterfly population and raise awareness of the protracted decline of the species, the City of Santa Monica is working to turn one of its community gardens into a welcoming habitat.

City representatives and many of the local residents with plots at the Main Street garden are planting several different kinds of native milkweed and nectar plants to support the migratory monarchs.

“We want to help increase the monarch population, we want to bring public awareness to the dwindling population, and we want to help our gardeners because it helps cross-pollination and promotes growth,” said Thomas Carpenter, the city’s acting community program coordinator. “It’s encompassing the entire ecosystem. It’s a process where animals interact with plants, and it allows for one to give life to another and pass it on.”

The goal, Carpenter said, is to have more plants in place before the arrival of the black and orange butterflies, whose travel patterns have fascinated scientists for decades.

The garden, which was established in 1976 on Main Street between Strand Street and Hollister Avenue, could soon qualify as a certified monarch waystation, he said.

A similar project was recently launched at Crossroads School, where the roof of the new science facility was designated as a feeding habitat for monarchs. A ground-level garden at the school features planters shaped like a bar graph to show the decline of the butterfly population over time.

At the City level, the idea to promote the growth of the monarch butterfly population was floated by Cris Gutierrez at a Community Gardens Advisory Committee meeting as members discussed intriguing ways to educate the public about gardening.

Gutierrez noted the importance of milkweed as a crucial food source for the butterflies, Carpenter said.

“We said, ‘Let’s run with it,'” he said. “We started getting tons of information about it.”

Gardens representatives started doing outreach around town, handing out milkweed seeds at the Santa Monica Festival at Clover Park in May and encouraging people to plant it in their private gardens.

“Once we had success with people wanting to do it, the next thought was, ‘Well, why don’t we do that with our own garden?'” Carpenter said.

About one-fourth of gardeners at the Main Street site are either already growing milkweed or interested in planting it, he said.

City officials plan to caution gardeners and the public about milkweed, which is potentially toxic to humans and animals when ingested.

Carpenter said the initiative will start at the Main Street garden, but that it could expand to include Santa Monica’s two other community gardens. There’s one on Park Drive between Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway and another at Euclid Park between Broadway and Colorado Avenue.

The city’s website indicates that demand for garden plots is high and that it could take years to be assigned a plot, but Carpenter said he’s “looking at all options” to cut down on the waiting list.

For more information, visitsmgov.net/communitygardensor emailgardens@smgov.net.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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