Make your garden a butterfly-magnet

As Wisley prepares to host its popular Butterflies in the Glasshouse event, we ask three RHS Partner Gardens and Event Hosts for tips on attracting these beauties to the garden

With some thoughtful plant selection and simple garden maintenance techniques, you can make your garden a magnet for butterflies. Here, Ness Botanic Gardens, Longstock Park Nursery and Gardens and Cae Hir Gardens share tips on bringing your garden alive with pollinators.

Embrace buddleia beauty

Not for nothing are Buddleja commonly known as butterfly bushes: their showy, fragrant flowers are loved by pollinators.

Peter Moore has managed the National Plant Collection of Buddleja at Longstock Park Nursery and Gardens in Hampshire - an RHS Event Partner - for 15 years.  Here, Peter shares tips on maximising the number of butterflies on your buddleias.

Maximising buddleia flower-power

  • A healthy plant will produce more flowers so it is important to prune in March-April, add organic compost and feed with a balanced fertilizer in mid April/May.  
  • Over summer, regular dead-heading every few days prolongs the flowering period, giving a second and even third flush of flowers into September.
  • It may also be necessary to water if very dry, to increase the nectar in the flowers for more butterflies and bees.

Peter's top 5 buddleias for butterflies

'Butterfly appeal is down to the cultivar, not the colour of the flower. With more than 170 in our collection, choosing five that are especially irresistible to butterflies is difficult!' says Peter.


Buddleja 'Pink Pagoda'1.  Buddleja x weyeriana ‘Pink Pagoda’

B. x weyeriana cultivars have a complex nectar that attracts more bees than butterflies, but saying that, most days you will see a Small Tortoiseshell feeding.

In the United States this cultivar, named B. x weyeriana ‘Inspired Pink’, attracts the Monarch butterfly.

Buddleja 'Sugar Plum'2. Buddleja Sugar Plum = ‘Lonplum’

For a good red I would go for this, one of our top selling plants. 

A hybrid I made between B. davidii ‘Royal Red’ and B. davidii ‘Summer Beauty’, this plant attracts several species including the Meadow Brown while the Scarlet Tiger Moth is a beauty and was seen feeding last summer.

Buddleja 'Summer House Blue'3. Buddleja davidii ‘Summer House Blue’

This Longstock introduction has china blue, sweetly scented flowers and a very floriferous habit.

It bears silver grey leaves and attracts several species including Painted Lady butterflies.

Buddleja 'White Profusion'4. Buddleja davidii ‘White Profusion'

This cultivar is regarded as the best of the whites and with dead heading will give a good third flush of large flowers into September.

It is good for attracting Peacocks and Red Admirals.

Buddleja 'Autumn Delight'5. Buddleja davidii ‘Autumn Delight’

Another Longstock introduction, this cross between B.davidii ‘Autumn Beauty’ and B. Sugar Plum = ‘Lonplum’, has sweetly scented pink/reddish flowers 25-30cm in length.

It attracts late feeding butterflies including Tortoiseshells and Peacocks from late August to the third week in September.

Choose open-faced flowers

Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'Ness Botanic Gardens, Cheshire, is a good place to see butterflies and to get ideas on making your garden more pollinator friendly.

The herbaceous borders are a hotspot for butterflies, with their many Heleniums - these are loved by bees and butterflies because their open, single blooms allow easy access to nectar.

Among the borders you will see coppery-red H. 'Moerheim Beauty' (pictured), ruby red H. 'Rubinzwerg' and orange H. 'Sahin's Early Flowerer'.

Also flowering in the herbaceous borders is Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldsturm', which attracts various pollinating insects - later, over winter, the seed heads are loved by finches.

By June, the wildflower meadow is also buzzing, with Viper’s bugloss, bird’s foot trefoil and oxeye daisy providing food for many species of bee and butterfly.


Not just about flowers

As well as encouraging butterflies, it's also important to grow plants that feed and shelter their caterpillars.

The water and wildlife garden at Cae Hir Gardens, Ceredigion, is managed to create the perfect environment for butterflies, bees, dragon flies and moths. Here, garden co-owner Julie Akkermans shares some tips for butterfly-friendly gardening:
Small tortoiseshell butterfly

  • To provide food and shelter for butterfly larvae, we grow and encourage wild grasses, crucifers (such as garlic mustard and honesty), honeysuckle, wild violets, thistles, foxgloves, docks, ivy, bluebells, clover, gorse, broom, alder, blackthorn and carefully managed nettles.
  • Some grasses are left tall in autumn to provide shelter and warmth for over-wintering caterpillars.
  • Plenty of vegetation is encouraged to shelter butterflies from wind and rain. 
  • We provide stone and gravel areas and tree stumps which soak up the sun and allow butterflies to rest and warm up.
  • To help butterflies drink, plants such as Alchemilla mollis, which retain droplets of water, are useful. Avoid cutting lawns too short so they always remain moist. Mosses are also great for this reason.
  • Pond verges are left as natural as possible to ensure a mix of caterpillar food plants and butterfly nectar plants.


Meet the Butterflies in the Glasshouse

Don't miss Wisley's popular Butterflies in the Glasshouse event, 13 January - 4 March 2018.

Want more advice on attracting butterflies? Read RHS Advice on encouraging butterflies into the garden.

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