Top honors went to Douglas County during September's annual state conference of Extension Master Gardeners at Kansas State University. The Douglas Co. gardeners won the Kansas EMG Search for Excellence award with an ongoing project called Monarch Waystation #1.
"Search for Excellence recognizes Master Gardeners who have developed innovative, successful educational projects – worthwhile activities that others will want to emulate," said Ward Upham, K-State Research and Extension's EMG program coordinator. "The Douglas project has done that by taking gardeners' love of butterflies into a much-needed and much more extensive realm.
"Waystation #1 is a 'how-to' garden -- a model of the wilderness-like gardens that can support the monarch butterflies' threatened yearly migration. Since it got underway seven years ago, this garden has inspired a network of more than 5,000 waystations from Canada to Mexico and in places as far away as Australia."
Douglas county resident Margarete Johnson gave the winning group's project presentation, discussing the challenges of developing and maintaining a waystation. Johnson, who has remained involved in the project from its beginnings, shared photos and recommended-plant lists.
Monarch butterflies are North America's best-known, most beloved butterflies.
They also are unique in that they migrate, much as birds do, to escape cold weather. The trip is about 2,500 miles each way. Because monarchs weigh less than a gram (1 g. = 0.0353 oz.), they need frequent stops for nourishment. Unfortunately, modern development has endangered their habitats as well as their migration flight paths across the continent's three nations.
Waystation #1 is located next to Foley Hall on the University of Kansas West Campus. It attracts people, as well as butterflies, pollinators and birds, Johnson said. It is open to the public year-round, but gets its biggest crowds in September. That's when the Monarch Watch organization hosts an open house and butterfly tagging event.
Using seed money – literally – from private donations, the Douglas EMGs started the garden with basic nectar and host plants. Since then, the area has evolved into a large pollinator garden that includes a wildflower meadow, rain garden and shaded sitting area.
Signs clearly designate the garden site. Labels identify most plants seen from the waystation's trail. As an added bonus, a KU biohouse next to the garden is often full of monarch butterflies.
To attract monarchs and provide food for their larvae, gardens must include certain types of milkweed, Johnson said. To support the waystation and its activities, Douglas EMGs grow milkweed from seed and sell the plants.
To share what they've learned, the EMGs also participate in the Monarch Watch Open House each fall and host tours requested by clubs, other counties' EMG groups, Junior Master Gardeners, school groups and individuals throughout the year.
KU professor Chip Taylor, father of Monarch Watch, recruited the Douglas EMGs in 2004 to help start the waystation program by developing a garden that others could replicate. Monarch Watch today is an electronically-based program (http://www.monarchwatch.org/) that includes more than 2,000 schools, nature centers and other organizations. More than 100,000 students and adults participate in the organization's annual monarch tagging activities.
In 2010, Kansas Master Gardeners donated more than 90,000 hours of volunteer work with a total value in excess of $1.6 million. Many were well beyond their initial training's "pay-back" period, remaining involved for their love of sharing, gardening and gardeners. More information about Extension Master Gardeners is available on the K-State Research and Extension website: http://www.hfrr.ksu.edu/p.aspx?tabid=422.