PHOTO: Balcony butterfly gardens are sprouting up at Kingswood Senior Living Community.
Gardening on a Balcony
By Sue Loudon
Kingswood residents don’t need a plot of ground to plant a garden that attracts butterflies. They plant pots on the 4 x 8 square foot balcony of their apartments at Kingswood Senior Living Community, 10000 Wornall Road.
Marge McMillen is currently growing parsley, dill and fennel to attract swallowtail butterflies. “They are the beautiful bright blue and black long-tailed butterflies,” says McMillen. She is concerned about the swallowtails, which she says may go the way of the monarch butterflies. The monarchs are currently under consideration as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.
Dr. Dan Evans, a retired United Methodist minister, is chairman of the Gardens and Grounds Committee at Kingswood. He has applied for Kingswood to become a Monarch Watch Waystation. “Monarchs have been reduced 80 percent in the last ten years due to loss of habitat, pesticides and pollution,” he says. “We need butterflies, bees and other cross pollinators for our food supply.”
Evans says monarchs live on milkweed which has been destroyed by mowing as well as pesticides. “The Missouri Conservation Commission has persuaded the highway department to stop mowing milkweeds. The highway department has even planted some native flowers,” says Evans.
Monarch Watch at Kansas University is encouraging groups to become Monarch Waystations by providing milkweed, nectar plants and water. It also sells the plants in the spring and provides advice to novice butterfly gardeners.
Kingswood has two garden plots devoted to plants for butterflies. Besides milkweed residents have planted zinnias, phlox, coneflowers and marigolds. “We don’t plant phlox anymore because it was deer food,” says Evans. “Fortunately they don’t eat zinnias or marigolds.” Kingswood also has a pond with a fountain nearby for the thirsty travelers.
Monarchs migrate to Mexico every winter. They should travel through the Kansas City area starting in August and increasing in September. Last spring monarchs stopped at Kingswood on their way north.
“Interest in saving butterflies began back in July 2017,” says Sarah Lowry, a Kingswood Villa resident who has planted a backyard full of butterfly friendly plants. She also “nannies” monarch eggs as they grow into larvae, milkweed-eating pupa or chrysalis and finally adult butterflies.
“If we left the larvae on the milkweed we would lose too many to birds and worms,” says Lowry. She carefully removes the stems with the larvae and puts them in collapsible mesh butterfly cages. It takes about two weeks for the chrysalis to become butterflies. “Then they dry their wings and fly away,” says Lowry.
Lowry and McMillen are the founding members of the Kingswood Butterfly Group which now has about 30 members. McMillen also is a butterfly “nanny.”
“In the next week the five swallowtail butterflies I have now should be ready to go,”says McMillen. “They do not migrate. They find a place around here to spend the winter and then come out in the spring when the weather is warm enough.”
Last spring the Butterfly Group saved and released about 150 Monarchs so they are anxiously waiting to see how many come by on their way to Mexico for this winter.