Ready for a little flutter?
Put out a welcome mat for caterpillars and butterflies by growing their favourite plants
Winter is the time to spread flutters of joy through the garden – or at least plan for butterflies to fly daintily from bloom to bloom in our summer plots.
Butterflies epitomise nature and all that is good and healthy in our eco- systems. Disney adopted them to symbolise playful landscapes and lazy days outdoors.
But why, in turbulent January, not to mention dour February, would we think of these delightful creatures?
Because by putting a bit of thought now into what we need for a butterfly garden it will enable us to understand their requirements and garden accordingly. They need cover to lay their eggs over winter, some slightly untidy areas such as meadow and nettles to allow the larvae to feed in spring, then pollen producing plants and seeds which will provide the sweet food that fuels their dance. Three- quarters of butterfly species are in decline in Britain. Habitat destruction is thought to be a key factor in their demise and this is where gardeners can do their bit. Butterflies are an indicator of a healthy biodiversity and are a key part of the food chain. They also play a big part in plant pollination. Creating a garden that attracts butterflies is easy – it’s a matter of choosing a nice combination of plants that they and moths are attracted to, and providing the flora and conditions which enable their complete life cycle. What plants do they love? Ideally you need to keep them well fed from March through November. The butterfly bush, buddleja, would definitely be their favourite dish. They also like lavender, escallonia, caryopteris, hawthorn, blackberries, heathers and hebes.
But you don’t need to have heaps of space either – the balcony gardener or courtyard dweller can plant perennials and colourful annuals that will tickle their taste buds.
There are many scrumptious flowers such as cornflowers, single- flowered dahlias, heliotrope, verbena, solidago, alyssum, echinacea, sedums, aubretia, calendulas, asters, zinnias and dianthus that will provide nectar. And they love to sink their proboscises into native flowers, so loosestrife, valerian, teasel, dandelions, buttercups, angelica and clover will signal your garden as a wildlife-friendly zone. You will also need to provide food for caterpillars. Cabbage growers and readers of the children’s classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar know all too well how much grub they require to fuel their metamorphosis. But you can redirect them to nasturtiums, nettles, thistles, meadow grasses, docks, sorrel, and even holly and ivy.
As with all gardening where we are concerned with the creatures that surround us which enable a healthy environment, lay off the chemicals.
If we garden with nature, using the aids that it provides, it’ll make the butterflies – and us – happier gardeners.
A HUNGRY CATERPILLAR feeding on heather and a welcoming bed of tasty Nasturtiums
Wood sorrel in flower
Blue Wave butterfly sitting on a leaf