Gardening for butterflies

You can find plenty of information in books and online about making your garden more wildlife-friendly: adding a pond, or leaving an area untended can really help. However, this doesn’t work for all of us. Your garden might be too small, you might have young children or perhaps (like me!) you like things a bit neat and tidy in the garden. However, gardening for wildlife doesn’t necessarily mean having a wild garden…

1. Butterflies have good taste in flowers

Some of the best plants you can grow to attract butterflies are also very beautiful and easy to grow. The top 5 summer nectar plants, according to Butterfly Conservation, are Buddleja, Lavender, Oregano or Marjoram, the perennial wallflower Bowles Mauve and Verbena bonariensis. These are all lovely garden plants although they do, except for Buddleja, need a sunny spot. The main thing is to have plenty of flowering plants in your garden, and choose single rather than doubled flowered varieties. Remember that flowers come on trees and shrubs as well!

2. Try to think of caterpillars as cute baby butterflies or moths

I know – it’s hard not to squish a caterpillar. However, most of them will grow up into beautiful butterflies or moths. (Watch out, however, for sawfly larvae, which don’t). Different caterpillars feed on different types of plant, and healthy plants can generally tolerate a bit of munching. So unless a caterpillar is doing significant damage to a particularly precious plant, try to leave it. It’s quite nice to take a photos, and find out what it is (there are plenty of online forums where helpful people will identify them for you – I like the Gardener’s World Forum, and there are lots of groups on Facebook). Who knows – you might spot your caterpillar again in its adult form.

Holly Blue caterpillar

3. Butterflies are a great excuse if you haven’t got round to things

If you can’t quite keep up with your weeding, haven’t cleared up the leaves or don’t have time to cut back your perennials in the autumn, just claim you’re doing your bit for the environment. Your garden doesn’t have to become a wilderness (unless that’s the look you’re going for), but a more ‘relaxed’ gardening regime is friendlier for butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects such as ladybirds or bees. That’s because as well as food, they need shelter during the summer and for overwintering. Dead leaves and plants are ideal for this. The dead flowerheads of some perennials can look very good in winter – they give structure and form to what would otherwise be an empty garden.

Sedum flowerheads in winter
Sedum flowerheads in winter

4. And finally…

Don’t use pesticides or herbicides. And please don’t buy peat-based compost – this contributes to the destruction of butterflies’ natural environments.

If you want to find out more, there’s lots of information on the Butterfly Conservation website. And you can also (ahem!) read my article on butterfly walks in Vert Woods in September’s Lewes News and Seaford Scene.

Image credits:
Holly blue, Butterfly Conservation, Jim Asher
Wildflowers (Verbena bonariensis)” (CC BY 2.0) by Tobyotter
Seed-um” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by InAweofGod’sCreation
Great Comp Garden – July 2017 – Comma on” (CC BY 2.0) by Gareth1953 All Right Now

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