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The Butterfly Gardener - a book by Miriam Rothschild and Clive Farrell of Butterfly World

Updated on December 18, 2015

The Butterfly Gardener is a book about butterfly gardening

The Butterfly Gardener is, as its title suggests, a book all about attracting butterflies to your garden and helping to keep them there. Miriam Rothschild became an expert on the subject of these winged insects, and together with Clive Farrell, another avid lepidopterist, she wrote in detail about her findings, as well as giving much advice on the matter.

The book is spilt into two main sections with Miriam Rothschild having the first of these and writing all about British butterflies and gardening in the UK, whilst Clive Farrell, who incidentally now runs Butterfly World, shares his expert knowledge on rearing tropical and exotic species.

The Butterfly Gardener

The Butterfly Gardener cover
The Butterfly Gardener cover

The Outdoor Butterfly Gardener

"The Outdoor Butterfly Gardener" is the first half of The Butterfly Gardener , and is all written by Miriam Rothschild. In it the author explains that she gardens for pleasure because she loves plants and flowers and finds that, for her, butterflies add "another dimension" and poetically she describes them as "dream flowers" that she says were dreams from her childhood that magically broke away from their stems and went flitting away into the air.

She goes on to explain how she very rarely used any insecticides and liked to let her garden grow wild, so much so that a visitor once exclaimed: "I don't believe that anyone could LIVE there..."

The author goes on to explain the very great importance of wild flowers, not just in gardens but in the countryside in general where modern farming is destroying wildlife and species diversity with its monoculture crops. Where we lose the wild plants we lose so many other species that depend on them. Conservation of nature means conservation of the plants that are native to the country they are found in, in this case the UK.

Miriam Rothschild takes us through the seasons in the butterfly garden. She discusses the different types of butterfly we can expect to see in spring and what flowers they feed on at that time of the year.

Spring Butterflies and Moths

In February and March it is possible to see the yellow Brimstone butterfly which has emerged from hibernation. The Small Tortoiseshells, Commas and Peacocks have done likewise, and can be found feeding on the catkins of the Sallow.

It is not just butterflies that the author is hoping to attract but also moths. She reveals that she plants the Spindle Tree for the Magpie Moth. This beautiful black and white species with its looper caterpillars was once a common garden insect that was also found on currants but has been fast disappearing and needs all the help it can get.

The author also recommends the Wayfaring Tree to attract the strange Clearwing moths that mimic wasps, and to grow Holly for the aptly named Holly Blue.

Next she talks about how she finds that growing the Dame's Violet is an easier plant than the Lady's Smock, both of which are food-plants for the attractive Orange Tip butterflies.

In summer, different flowers come into bloom and attract a different range of butterflies, as well as later generations of some of those that hibernated. Miriam Rothschild describes the species she could expect to see in her garden. She writes that at one point on 26 July, she was able to see Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, a Red Admiral, a Brimstone, a Comma, several Whites (from the three species - Small, Large and Green-veined), a Meadow Brown, several Gatekeepers and a single Wall Brown, all feeding on her Buddleia bush.

Hawk Moths

Again she talks about some moth species that can be attracted to the garden too. She mentions the very pretty Large Elephant Hawk-moth, and the aptly named Hummingbird Hawk-moth, that looks like what it is named after when seen hovering in flight. Red Valerian will attract the hawk-moths, and so will the Tobacco plants.

The author goes on to explain that she grows wild Honeysuckle up every tree in her garden, both as an attraction for the long-tongued moths and as the food-plant for the beautiful White Admiral butterfly.

Seven Wonders of the World: Miriam Rothschild (part 2 of 3)

Grass and the Hayfield

The author explains that it is not only wild flowers that are important to butterflies but also many species depend on a good selection of grasses for their caterpillars to feed on. The Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Wall Brown, Small Heath and Speckled Wood are all species with larvae that feed on grasses.

So important to the author are grasses that she says she had called herself a "grass gardener." Although she recommends grasses being left to grow or deliberately planted, there are some "aggressive" species she would agree that are best left out.

But describing the use of species such as the Wall Barley and Quaking Grass, Miriam says "And nothing is so rewarding in the garden as the hayfield 'where tides of grass break into foam of flowers.'"

The hayfield is an area of the garden where many wild flowers and wild grasses can be planted and allowed to grow. So important is it for attracting many species of butterfly and moth, as well as helping in the conservation of species that the author devotes an entire chapter to it.

Autumn and winter in the butterfly garden

The autumn is a time when some species of butterfly can still be seen. Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Red Admirals are three species you can hope to spot and the last of these is often attracted to rotting fruit like plums, pears and apples that have fallen from the fruit trees.

Michaelmas Daisies and Sedum spectabile are two butterfly favourite flowers that are still in bloom in early autumn. the author explains that Old Man's Beard, the wild British clematis, is a climber that she grew too. If other flowers had finished the late butterflies would find nourishment in its flowers. Ivy being another very later-flowering plant that should be included by the butterfly gardener.

When it has all become too cold and the winter has set in properly all the hibernating butterflies and their caterpillars will have gone into their dormant phase. This is a time for clearing and cleaning up in the butterfly garden and planning for the next year ahead.

Clive Farrell interviewed by Karen Frandsen of Eerie Investigations at the launch of Butterfly World

The Indoor Butterfly Gardener

In the second half of The Butterfly Gardener Clive Farrell takes over the writing and tells us all about how to set up greenhouses for breeding and keeping exotic species of these magnificent insects. He discusses some of the recommended species, such as the Monarch, the Dark Mormon, the Zebra, the Postman and the Christmas Butterfly, as well as talking about the plants and flowers that need to be grown and methods of feeding.

Certain sub-tropical and tropical plants, such as the Dutchman's Pipe, Milkweed and Passionflowers can be grown indoors as food for the caterpillars of some exotic species of butterfly. Some plants can be cultivated to provide nectar and artificial feeding can be used as well by providing a 'butterfly table' with rotting fruit and sugar solutions to tempt the butterflies.

The co-author also devotes a chapter to talking about captive breeding of native species. Stinging Nettles are a very important food-plant for several species, including the Peacock and the Small Tortoiseshell. Many species will lay their eggs in specially constructed breeding cages with the right food-plants growing in them.

With Clive Farrell's expert knowledge on indoor butterfly gardening added to Miriam Rothschild's detailed information on catering for the insects outside, anyone who wants to be a butterfly gardener need look no further than this excellent book.

© 2011 Steve Andrews


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    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I am really glad to hear it! Thanks for commenting!

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 4 years ago

      That sounds like a book I would love to read! I love butterflies. I have a patch in my yard of wild flowers that I mow around every year. I have 4 butterfly bushes around my home. I also have lots of other fragrant flowers growing in various spots. We have lots of butterflies and hummingbirds that visit us. Great Hub!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for your comments, Marissa! Clive Farrell is running that butterfly project in the UK so that is helping make people aware of these amazing insects. I have hubs about Tenerife spiders and insects, such as Ant Lions and Mantises. I am currently looking after a snail I rescued from a pack of leeks on a supermarket shelf so maybe I will write about it in future.

    • profile image

      Marissa 6 years ago

      She's an interesting lady. I just ordered my book on worms. Do you have any blogs on invertebrates Bard?

      These types of people are not readily known to people. We need to see more of these gorgeous creatures on earth.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, Earth Angel!

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 6 years ago

      Butterfly Morning to You Steven! I LOVE your Hubs on all things related to these amazing creatures! YOU are the BEST! Blessings, Earth Angel!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for sharing your feedback!

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Do read my hub on the butterfly garden and raising Monarch butterflies. They are some of my favourite creatures. Great hub.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for your comments, Davenmidtown and Racheal!

    • Racheal Ambrose profile image

      Racheal Ambrose 6 years ago from Indiana

      I will have to check this out. I've been wanting to attract butterflies to my yard for some time now.

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      I will certainly check that out... I can not even tell you how happy I am to find both of you.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      That is wonderful news because I think Miriam is amazing too! You will see that I have recently also reviewed another of her books - The Rothschild Gardens. Thank you for your comments and the fanmail!

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Bard of Ely: oh my god... this woman is my hero! What a wonderful surprise for me to find this hub this morning. Thank you! Voted up and Shared!