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SLO girl's backyard butterfly sanctuary is certified as wildlife habitat

Genevieve Leroux, 9, stands in the garden of her San Luis Obispo home. The garden has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as wildlife habitat, particularly habitat for monarch butterflies.
Genevieve Leroux, 9, stands in the garden of her San Luis Obispo home. The garden has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as wildlife habitat, particularly habitat for monarch butterflies. dsneed@thetribunenews.com

Like a lot of people, Genevieve Leroux likes monarch butterflies. But unlike many other people, Leroux is doing something about it.

The 9-year-old San Luis Obispo girl has transformed her small backyard garden on Royal Way into a sanctuary for monarchs and other wildlife. She has planted a variety of flowering plants that provide food and cover for many different species of birds, butterflies and frogs.

“I planted my butterfly garden because I wanted to help monarch butterflies, hummingbirds and bees,” Genevieve said. “They are an important part of nature, and we need to protect them. They can’t do it themselves. They need our help.”

The effort has paid off. The National Wildlife Federation recently certified Genevieve’s garden as wildlife habitat through its Garden for Wildlife program. The certification also makes her garden part of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, a national effort to restore critical habitat for pollinators.

But the best part of the garden for Genevieve and her family is watching the wildlife the garden attracts. It is the beginning of the monarch butterfly season along the Central Coast and the Leroux garden has already attracted monarchs in all their various stages of life.

On a recent afternoon, Genevieve found two monarch caterpillars devouring milkweed plants she had planted specifically as a food for the monarchs. A wooden fence bordering the garden is festooned with several monarch cocoons called chrysalises. Adult monarch butterflies are frequently seen flitting through the garden.

“We are so excited to have another passionate wildlife gardener join us and create a certified wildlife habitat,” said David Mezejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. “Over the past 40 years, nearly 200,000 wildlife gardeners have joined NWF’s Garden for Wildlife movement and helped restore wildlife habitat right in their own yards and neighborhoods.”

Wildlife gardens specifically designed for monarch butterflies are a vital tool in ensuring the continued existence of the butterflies in California. The National Wildlife Federation and other groups estimate that monarch populations in California have dropped by as much as 90 percent over historical levels.

“I enjoy watching nature, especially monarch butterflies and their caterpillars and wanted to do my part to help,” Genevieve said. “I love my butterfly garden!”

Cognizant of the Central Coast’s ongoing drought, Genevieve was careful to plant drought-tolerant plants and install timer drip irrigation systems to minimize water use. The garden also includes bird feeders, bird baths and nesting boxes.

Genevieve learned about the Garden for Wildlife program in the National Wildlife Federation’s Ranger Rick magazine, a publication she reads from cover to cover. Genevieve’s mother, Kimberlee Leroux, said the garden has been a great learning experience for her daughter and a lot of fun for the whole family.

“It has everything for a kid — digging in the dirt, bugs and wildlife,” she said.

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