Gardening for butterflies: Tips from Cae Hir Gardens

The water and wildlife garden at Cae Hir Gardens, Ceredigion, is largely given over to wild plants and flowers in order to create the perfect environment for butterflies, bees, dragon flies and moths.

Here, garden co-owner Julie Akkermans explains how the garden is sensitively managed to provide food and shelter for butterflies and their larvae.

Flowers for butterflies

It's important to choose plants with open, single blooms so that the butterflies can reach the nectar. Double blooms - as found in many cultivated roses, primroses and so on - are no good for butterflies or bees so we try to avoid them.

We have many butterfly-friendly wildflowers, including:

  •     Red campion
  •     Dandelions (purposefully left speckled throughout the lawn)
  •     Buttercups
  •     Joe-pye weed
  •     Celandine
  •     Speedwell
  •     Yarrow
  •     Rosebay willowherb
  •     Wild strawberry
  •     Wild violets

We've also introduced wild asters, Eryngium, Buddleia, cornflower, Hydrangea, Inula, Cotoneaster, Osteospermum, Lychnis, Sedum, Alchemilla mollis and most of the roses in the rose garden are species roses.

Food plants for caterpillars

We want to not only encourage butterflies, but to create the perfect environment for their larvae as well. So we try to grow a mix of caterpillar food plants and butterfly nectar plants.

The water garden In the wildlife garden - consisting of four large ponds, a natural stream and a new species rose garden - we encourage wildflowers and grasses, leaving the pond verges as natural as possible.

Of particular interest to caterpillars we have a host of wild grasses, crucifers (such as garlic mustard and honesty), honeysuckle, wild violets, thistles, foxgloves, docks, ivy (growing up trees so it flowers and feeds the butterflies), bluebells, clover, gorse, broom and much else besides. Caterpillars also like alder and blackthorn, both occurring naturally along our stream.

Maintenance tip - controlling nettles

Nettles are excellent food plants for caterpillars (and very attractive to look at) but can quickly become a nuisance, even in a wild garden.

To counteract this, as well as managing them carefully in the wild garden, we have a separate area (known as 'the swamp'!) which is not open to visitors but in which we let nettles, grasses etcetera go completely wild.

We do nothing to it, but it buzzes with wildlife and is an invaluable source of food and shelter for caterpillars.

Shelter and warmth

Providing shelter, warmth and moisture are important too. We provide shelter for caterpillars through the winter by not cutting back all the grasses in autumn.

Shelter for butterflies through the summer is equally important, so plenty of vegetation is encouraged to give shelter from the wind and rain.

Butterflies need warmth, so we have stone and gravel areas as well as tree stumps to soak up the warmth of the sun and allow butterflies to rest and warm up.

Butterflies can't drink from ponds or streams, so we encourage plants such as Alchemilla mollis which retain droplets of water, and we never cut the lawns too short so they always remain moist. Mosses are also great for this reason.

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