UC Master Gardener Program
UC Master Gardener Program
UC Master Gardener Program
University of California
UC Master Gardener Program

Celebrating Pollinators and Gardeners with Heart for National Pollinator Week!

Heather Hafner, UC Master Gardener volunteer, at the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary during the 2020 Western Monarch Summit – a three-day conference dedicated to the science behind saving the western Monarch butterfly.

If you have seen a butterfly native to Orange County fluttering its wings along a flowerbed searching for nectar, chances are the same species has been found in the garden of UC Master Gardener volunteer Heather Hafner. But that wasn't always the case. For more than two decades, Hafner played professional volleyball on the sunny beaches of Southern California. If it wasn't for a related sports injury, she might have never been introduced to the adventure of attracting butterflies and pollinators into her garden.

While recovering from surgery, Hafner decided to refresh her landscape and visited a local nursery. Slowly shuffling down the aisle and waiting for help she overhead an employee at the nursery showing a customer a monarch egg on the underside of a leaf. Captivated by the possibility of taking home a butterfly for her garden, she optimistically purchased the plant with a monarch egg and patiently waited.  

Monarch caterpillar on a balloon plant seed pod. Photo: Heather Hafner

After learning about the many challenges monarchs face to survive, Hafner quickly began to explore how to support monarchs and other butterflies in her garden. She watched videos, read books, and attended workshops and events with the UC Master Gardener Program of Orange County. Hafner was determined to learn everything she could about what butterflies are native to her area and how to build a habitat to support them. Then she got to work. Her goal is now to provide a larval host plant for as many local butterflies as possible. 

Her small garden in Irvine, Calif., offers a food source for more than 30 kinds of butterflies. "If I can't eat it, or it's not food for a butterfly – then it doesn't go into my garden," says Hafner, "For me to give up real estate in my garden, I want to know that it is serving a purpose and supporting local butterflies and other pollinators." 

A new male monarch butterfly on a pentas plant bloom. Photo: Heather Hafner

She has planted many host plants and trees for almost every type of butterfly found in Orange County. Some of her plants include pipevine, passionvine, hollyleaf cherry, fennel, rue, popcorn cassia, figwort, monkeyflower, Snapdragon, lupin, licorice, California lilac, penstemon, puellia, California buckwheat, bladderpod, and deerweed. She specializes in milkweed (Asclepias) and propagates 12 kinds from seed with differing soil, soil temperature, stratification, and watering requirements. Like any gardening journey, it has been a series of wins and losses. 

Her passion for butterflies brought her to the UC Master Gardener Program in search of native plant propagation techniques. Still, she also knew she wanted to make a larger impact in her community and encourage others to help build pollinator habitat in their landscapes. Hafner was accepted into the UC Master Gardener Program of Orange County and completed her training in 2019.

Gulf fritillary caterpillar on a passion flower vine. Photo: Heather Hafner

As a UC Master Gardener volunteer, Hafner first focused a large part of her volunteer efforts on the propagation, orchard and youth garden teams. Today, she serves as the co-lead of the youth demonstration garden at the South Coast Research and Extension Center (REC), where they are installing a monarch conservation exhibit with the three native milkweeds and some non-natives to show how non-natives can be responsibly used (cut them back when natives go dormant). Her goal is to help conserve the Western monarch butterfly, which is dwindling in numbers.

Propagating milkweed for the youth demonstration garden at the South Coast REC monarch conservation exhibit. Photo: Heather Hafner

She quickly fell in love with the beauty of a diversified garden. "I love monarchs … but my garden wouldn't be the same without the diversity of the other butterflies and pollinators," says Hafner. While not all butterflies arrive at the same time, they are all welcome in her garden. 

For the past year, Hafner has expanded her volunteer efforts and used skills from her professional career as a teambuilding facilitator to help improve the diversity of the Orange County program's volunteers. Being a trained facilitator helped her recognize who was missing or underrepresented in the program, which is primarily white and female. She ran a comprehensive outreach campaign to help recruit new volunteers that included geographical, ethnic, economic and chronological age diversity. She called newspapers and community centers in the corners of Orange County to recruit volunteers who were more representative of the people the county serves. Her recruiting efforts and strategy resulted in the county's largest and most inclusive class (58 trainees).

Hafner was most proud of the fact that the program in Orange County now has members who speak 10 languages: Vietnamese, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, Urdu/Hindi, Portuguese, German, French, Italian and Farsi. These new UC Master Gardener volunteers will create presentations in their native language for outreach into their communities. "I think it's important that UC Master Gardener volunteers represent the community we live in," says Hafner, "and I think this year we delivered on that." 

2021 Gardeners with Heart 

The UC Master Gardener Program is proud to recognize Heather Hafner as a 2021 Gardener with Heart for the impact her volunteer work is making in her community. "Without Heather's incredible contribution, our first virtual UC Master Gardener training class simply could not have happened," says program coordinator Randy Musser, "and our program in the future will benefit greatly because of its new, more diverse members." 

Gardeners with Heart are nominated by local county leadership for their stewardship of the UC Master Gardener Program during the pandemic period, their diversity equity and inclusion leadership, and their digital superstardom.

Posted on Tuesday, June 22, 2021 at 7:40 AM


Congratulations, Heather !!

Posted by Nora Koenig on June 23, 2021 at 11:44 AM

Love this. Congratulations Heather!

Posted by Brook Gamble on June 23, 2021 at 11:59 AM

Great job Heather! Very well deserved. Many thanks to Melissa and the statewide UC Master Gardener program for helping to spread the word about our outstanding volunteers!

Posted by Randall Musser on June 23, 2021 at 10:45 PM

You are such an incredible inspiration to me, a first year Master Gardner!!!

Posted by Yoon S. Lee on June 25, 2021 at 9:00 AM

Congratulations Heather! If it wasn't for your presentation in our group I never would have known about the Monarchs in our area. Because of the information you gave to us I'm planning a butterfly area in my garden. Thank you for making so many aware of this special garden visitor. :)

Posted by Marilyn Johnson on June 25, 2021 at 12:01 PM

Wow Heather, your contributions to the Master Gardener program are truly inspirational. Congratulations!

Posted by Stephanie Jeanne Erskine on June 26, 2021 at 6:59 AM

Wonderful information....

Posted by Linda Ivie on June 27, 2021 at 5:00 PM

Congratulations Heather Hafner! I read this because your last name caught my attention and like you, I am really into Monarch's.

Posted by Elizabeth A Haffner on June 29, 2021 at 2:40 PM

One of the biggest-hearted gardeners ever, and for butterflies, for certain! So we’ll deserved! Congrats Heather, it is everyone’s pleasure to know you, to learn from you and be around you. I’m so grateful for you, and the butterflies are so, so lucky to have you, too.

Posted by Robin Jones on June 29, 2021 at 9:29 PM

Heather - your story is inspiring and definitely heart warming. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many.

Posted by Alice Burns on July 8, 2021 at 9:25 PM

Congrats Heather!!

Posted by Livia Tommasini Yanagihara on July 11, 2021 at 3:30 PM

Heather, you are truly a wonderful human being! Thanks for all you have done for Monarchs and other butterflies, and for increasing the diversity of your local MG program, which of course will get science-based knowledge into hopefully every corner of your community. And how terrific for everyone to be part of such a talented and diverse team! You have accomplished so much through your curiosity, talent, and drive—it’s truly inspirational! Congratulations!  
—Bonnie Brookhart, MG Contra Costa County

Posted by Bonnie Brookhart on July 20, 2021 at 10:36 PM

Heather, you are truly a wonderful human being! Thanks for all you have done for Monarchs and other butterflies, and for increasing the diversity of your local MG program, which of course will get science-based knowledge into hopefully every corner of your community. And how terrific for everyone to be part of such a talented and diverse team! You have accomplished so much through your curiosity, talent, and drive—it’s truly inspirational! Congratulations!  
—Bonnie Brookhart, MG Contra Costa County

Posted by Bonnie Brookhart on July 20, 2021 at 10:40 PM

Heather, you are an inspiration! I am a fan of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. My hope is to dedicate my backyard redo to them. Continue to enjoy your "Dream Come True" results.

Posted by Linda Denise Lanting on July 24, 2021 at 1:11 PM

Increasing the Monarchs population is an important issue. The larger issue is the decrease in the world wide population of bees.  
We need to increase the growing 0f plants that require pollinating by bees. The bee population is in trouble Europe is doing a much better job of addressing this crisis All Master Gardener programs in California need to be working on this larger issue.  
Jeff Biletnikoff  
San Diego MG

Posted by Jeff Biletnikoff on July 27, 2021 at 9:33 PM

Thank you for your leadership on multiple levels. Recruiting members from the many ethnic groups is a remarkable and important achievement for master gardeners. Working with youth is a way to plant the seeds necessary for sustainable garden habitats. Cheers and more cheers to you.

Posted by Elizabeth [GB] Cutter on September 16, 2021 at 1:46 PM

I loved reading about the many pollinator species: some are growing in my garden. I will plant others that were mentioned.  
Mostly I was so happy to hear about your efforts to promote Master Gardeners from many different groups and ethnicities. I would love to hear a workshop dedicated to ways to increase diversity - a California wide simposios??  
I’d love to hear more from you.

Posted by Meredith Lavene on October 3, 2021 at 10:14 PM

Hi Meredith, so happy you were inspired by Heather's work in Orange County! We posted a blog highlighting statewide DEI priorities here: https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=45727.  
Reach out to your local program coordinator about tools and resources available for volunteers interested in learning more about reaching a wider audience in your program.  
We are still working on sessions for the 2023 statewide conference (rescheduled from 2020), https://ucanr.edu/sites/2020MGConference/

Reply by Melissa G. Womack on October 4, 2021 at 10:52 AM

Congratulations Heather. Well deserved!

Posted by Todd Nicholson on October 5, 2021 at 9:11 PM

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