Creating a garden for butterflies: Notes & ideas September 11, 2017 20:21

butterflies on the verbenaI'm going to say this in hushed tones. Literally, a whisper. Because, I'm feeling a touch heretical.

Let me explain. 

Over the weekend, I settled myself down to enjoy the oracle that is the Gardener's World magazine. I read Nick Bailey's article about the decline in butterflies and found myself in a strange position. Only last week, I was in the front garden, our neighbour in theirs, and together we exchanged glowing remarks across the boundary about the abundance of butterflies this year. And yet, clearly, in the wider world, there is a problem. 

Ooh, hello I thought. This is spooky timing. What's more, we're bucking a trend over here. And, in a good way! 

Our garden has been awash with butterflies all summer. The nasturtiums have provided the main canteen for the caterpillars. The south facing window panes have proved to be useful incubators for chrysalis. Flowers and foliage have delivered some much needed R&R and 'grown up time' for the fully formed butterflies. From the outside, it's all looked rather efficient! 

gardening for butterflies - ideas and tipsBut what do I know? I tend to think of my garden as a glorified B&B or small hotel. The guests are in charge. I am merely the gardening equivalent of 'Manuel'. Feathery and furry visitors come and go, using the facilities like their own. Some are welcome. Others, well, quite frankly, you're pleased to see the back of them. But for the lovely ones, butterflies included, I find myself wondering how we tap into a little repeat business. What do we need to keep doing to get them, and all their new offspring, back next Spring?  

Purely from personal observation and gut feeling, I'd say there are several things that make quite a difference. Firstly, it is pretty obvious to say that butterflies love flowers. But from what I've seen, they are a picky bunch. They each have their favourites. The white butterflies (both small and large) love the nasturtiums. The blue butterflies MUNCH solomon seal to within an inch of it's life. However, this normally happens after its flowered, so I don't mind their decadence. They are the insect equivalent of Oasis - smashing up hotel rooms like no tomorrow. Rock on boys, that's what I say. 

The Comma's, Red Admirals and the Tortoiseshells love a club classic - Buddleia. Large Whites, Brimstones and Orange-tips have been swaying on the verbena with wilful abandon and in recent weeks, the Painted Ladies have put in a fashionably late appearance. Caterpillars are all about the place, making the most of the nasturtiums (again!) along with the leaves of an old twisted hazel and a small, silver birch. So, varied planting seems to be popular; creating a rich, diverse menu for these discerning guests to enjoy. 

Secondly, I'd like to think that clean living is having an effect. We've been developing our little cottage garden for around eight years now, without the use of weedkillers or pesticides. Relying on companion planting, pulling out weeds as and when, and trying to create a garden that literally looks after itself, has been the focus. It feels as if, finally, we're starting to really get a sense of balance in the garden. The frogs keep on top of the slugs. The bats munch the mozzies. The herbs keep the crops in good shape. Instead of being in a rush to have the perfect, manicured garden, it feels as if we've lucked out - slow and steady (not to mention regular disasters and failures) was the only option, and yet, as it turns out, it's been the right course for us. It has also given us a host of regular visitors we might not have otherwise attracted.

Lastly, diversity, not just in terms of flowers as already mentioned, but environment, seems to be important. Having shady, damp areas; brambly, dare I say wild, areas as well as flower beds and borders that are producing the goods from early Spring through to the first frosts, seems to help create the right environment for butterflies, as well as many other moths and insects, to flourish. The bonus of all this is that it also delivers an diverting, enjoyable garden escape for us humans, too. Brilliant. 

Have a top tip to share? We'd love to hear it. Simply drop us a note in the comments below! 

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