It could be, with very little work or expense – just some basic ingredients and you’ll be on your way!
I’m a big fan of wildlife in the garden, both as a gardener and as a designer; in fact, in my mind it’s similar to the difference between a photograph and a movie. As a gardener, my heart sings in the knowledge that I’ve created a hospitable environment for some lovely and important creatures who live at least part of their lives within my garden.
As a designer, I know that a garden full of wildlife is a healthy garden and that is a gift I want to share with all my clients, for the benefit of their plants, and their own quality of life. We don’t need to cordon off a section of our property for wildlife, or leave a large section “natural” and then have other areas for ourselves. We can share with them the abundant life and beauty in a garden we can be proud to show off.
Butterflies need three things – just like the rest of us – food, water and shelter. For food, they need nectar plants and fortunately, many of our favorites are favorites of theirs, among them:
- Echinacea (coneflowers)
- Asclepias (butterfly weed)
- Eupatorium (Joe-Pye weed)
- Monarda (Bee balm)
- Buddleia (butterfly bush)
- Solidago (goldenrod)
- Achillea (yarrow)
- Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
In fact, it would be easier to list the plants that won’t be popular in your butterfly garden! Use flowers with strong colors like orange, yellow, and purple. Be sure never to use pesticides in your garden. They don’t just kill undesirable bugs; they kill them all. If you have a pest problem, it would be far better to attract a natural predator than to use chemicals. Ladybugs eat aphids, for example, and will not damage your plants or endanger desired insects.
The butterflies in your area may be different than the ones in mine. Get a field guide and learn about the species that are common where you live.
Plant your plants in drifts (a few to several) rather than using single plants whenever possible – this makes them easier to see by nearsighted butterflies. Make an effort to have something in bloom from Spring through Fall. It won’t be long before you’ve got several enchanting butterfly species visiting your garden and asking to have their pictures taken.
Another source of food for butterflies is overripe fruit, the funkier the better, either fallen from your own fruit trees and shrubs or provided on a feeder – a favorite menu item is banana. You can buy a feeder at a garden center or you can easily construct your own. The best feeder will be a flat surface, fairly low to the ground (as long as it’s safe from other animals), and in the sun for a portion of the day. It may be easiest to suspend it – a little harder for the competition (and ants) to get to. Just place the fruit right on it. You shouldn’t have long to wait. It’ll be a great place for a photo shoot, so put it somewhere convenient for picture taking. Other fruits butterflies enjoy include peaches, oranges and watermelon.
Manure is attractive to butterflies. You may see butterflies snacking on dog poo; don’t be alarmed, it’s just their need for salt and minerals.
Water can be provided by leaving a low lying area that naturally holds moisture. You can forget to fix that leaky outdoor faucet. The butterflies will appreciate it. You can also provide a shallow dish of water with stones in it so they can drink while resting on secure footing. You can bury a bucket to the rim, fill it with sand and gravel and add water as necessary. A mud puddle also works just fine. Just provide shells or rocks for them to stand on.
Butterflies need warmth and sunshine, as well as protection from wind.
Leave an area in your garden undeveloped, or a little unkempt. It’s better for wildlife if you’re not a neat freak in the garden. Most gardeners that I know have a place that would fit the bill for wildlife to find shelter. Butterflies hide under leaves in the rain. Plants of varying heights and textures will give them lots of choices for shelter and reproduction.
Butterflies lay eggs on plants that will house and feed the caterpillar (butterfly larva) once it hatches and as long as it is in the larval stage. For example, the Black Swallowtail butterfly lays its egg in the foliage of members of the carrot family, like the dill, carrot, parsley, or fennel plant. Providing host plants for the larval stage of your desired butterfly is what really makes your garden a butterfly garden.
Once the caterpillar emerges, it’s already on the plant on which will feed. During the time that the caterpillar is feeding, the fennel will be picked clean, but it will grow back quickly, and it’s a perennial that will come back bigger every year for several years. The caterpillar will go through 5 instar phases in which it will molt and replace it’s skin with a larger one to accommodate its increasing size. The last molting produces a chrysalis rather than new caterpillar skin. Within the chrysalis, the adult butterfly will form.
This work will continue for 10-14 days. When it’s ready, the new butterfly begins to move and opens the chrysalis. Over a relatively short period of time, it wriggles and stretches until it’s free. It will hang upside down until fluids are pumped into its wings and it is ready to fly. Then the beauty we’ve been waiting for begins.
So, give yourself the gift of a butterfly garden – if you will provide for their needs, they really will come. Pay attention to who’s visiting, learn their names and see how you can make life richer for them. They will reward you one hundred fold with beauty, fascination, and entertainment. Get out in your garden and experience the creatures that share it with you. Feel good about your contribution to the quality of their lives, and your own.