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Flowers for butterflies: creating a beautiful garden for wildlife

Updated on May 29, 2013
Imogen French profile image

Imogen is from West Dorset, in the UK. She works in publishing and writes mainly about the environment, gardening, and vegetarian food.

A Red Admiral butterfly on a buddleia bush
A Red Admiral butterfly on a buddleia bush | Source

Picture a cottage garden in the summer - brightly coloured annual and perennial flowers fill the warm air with their intoxicating scents, insects buzz around, bees dip in and out of nectar rich flowers and a host of beautiful butterflies flutter from bloom to bloom. Or do they?

Urban spread, modern gardening techniques and use of non-native plants has somewhat depleted natural habitats for many of our once common butterflies and some species have actually declined. If you can do anything to encourage them back in to your garden it will not only help them to flourish but also bring you the pleasure of seeing them. Thoughtful planting can provide new habitats for your local butterflies, and greatly enhance your gardening experience.

First you need to know which butterflies are native to your region, what sort of habitat they like, and what plants they lay their eggs on. Some butterflies will only lay their eggs on one particular plant, and others favour certain flowers to feed on.

Stinging nettles, for example, are an excellent plant that many species of butterfly - including Peacocks, Commas, Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells - choose as a nursery site for their eggs. Stinging nettles are not the sort of plant that most people want in their gardens, but a small patch can always be cultivated out of sight at the bottom of your garden, or in a container so that the roots do not spread where they are not wanted.

Other butterflies may prefer more ornamental plants, that can be incorporated into your planting scheme, but don't forget that the reason the eggs are laid on these plants are so that the caterpillars can eat the leaves!

Another consideration is to provide plenty of food for the butterflies, to encourage them into your garden to feed. There are many nectar-rich flowers to choose from, but try to choose some that are close to the local butterflies natural foods, and also those that flower when the butterflies are around – this may only be for one or two months of the year, depending on the species, so timing is important. Perennial daisy type flowers such as michaelmas daisies, echinacia or rudbeckia are all good choices.

A tortoiseshell butterfly on some michaelmas daisies
A tortoiseshell butterfly on some michaelmas daisies | Source

A source of water such as a pond or water feature will be beneficial to all kinds of insects and wildlife - even insects need to drink.

The examples here are based on my knowledge of the English cottage garden and butterfly species, some of which may also be found around other parts of Europe or the Americas, but the same principles can be applied whatever part of the world you are from.

The table below is a seasonal guide to a small selection of useful plants and the types of butterflies that are attracted to them.

Yellow alyssum (Alyssum saxatile)
Orange tips, small tortoiseshells and peacocks
Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
Most early butterflies
Buddleia (the butterfly bush) (Buddleia davidii)
Peacocks, whites, small tortoiseshells, commas, red admirals and brimstones
French marigolds (Tagetes patula)
Most summer butterflies
Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)
Most summer butterflies
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Meadow browns and late whites
Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
Small coppers and tortoiseshells
Golden rod (Solidago canadensis)
Most butterfly species
Michaelmas daisies (Aster novi-belgii)
Small coppers and tortoiseshells


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    • profile image

      shell20110309 6 years ago

      butterflies is very beautiful.My mother plant a few in my yard.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 6 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Beautiful hub! I've just become interested in planting a flower garden to encourage butterflies and this hub is very helpful. Thank you! :o) Voting up.

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      This was one of the first hubs that I read from you. It was the hub that hooked me on your writing. I love this hub because of the photos and the information that you convey here. Voted up and BOOKMARKED!

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 6 years ago from United States

      Such a nice list of plants to grow. We live in hot Texas, but I'm going to ask my husband if we can grow some of these. Great information!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Great article! Love the chart.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 6 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you for posting this hub, Awesome. After reading this I decided a walk in the garden sounds pretty good right now, (stretch, yawn, stretch). The lantana are in bloom, surely some friends will be there this morning.

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Imogen French: I loved this hub. That admiral butterfly picture is beautiful. I saw a morning cloak yesterday for the first time in my life. So beautiful. I appreciate the concept of growing gardens for nature. I think it is important. You have presented these ideas so well. Great hub... voting it up and sharing it with the world.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Fabulous hub Imogen, I didn't realise butterflies used stinging nettles for eggs, well worth having a few in the corner of the garden.

      voting up and useful, best wishes MM

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 6 years ago from Southwest England

      They sound beautiful, punacoast. Thanks for your comment.

    • punacoast profile image

      Viet Doan 6 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Another wonderful hub Imogen French! I have tiger swallowtail butterflies in my garden here in Hawaii, they love all the citrus flowers, tangerine and lemon especially. Even their caterpillars are lovely!