Grow a butterfly garden

Invite these beautiful insects into your garden or green space – and in return they’ll help pollinate plants and add a splash of colour

If you’ve got a sunny spot, you’ve got the foundations for a wonderful butterfly garden in your community space. Create one and not only will it support different species of butterflies – many of which have been in long term decline – it’s almost guaranteed to be a colourful showstopper. Your area could offer a tranquil space for people to relax while taking in one of our most beautiful and mesmerising native insects.

Start by making a rough design. Deeper beds can take shrubby butterfly favourites such as butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), holly (supports caterpillars of the Holly Blue) and lavender. Position benches and other seating so visitors to the garden can experience butterflies up close.

Earmark a spot for seasonal perennials that offer nectar for early butterflies such as Brimstones, through to the last Red Admirals in autumn. Arrange the perennials in traditional long beds, perhaps either side of a gravel pathway, or get creative with island or raised beds, dedicating a bed to each season.

Plants for butterflies

  • Spring: Primroses, sweet William, bugle, forget-me-knot
  • Summer: Cornflower, French marigold, knapweed, marjoram, scabious and purple loosestrife
  • Autumn: Flowering ivy, asters, ice plant

Include an open area for wildflowers and grasses, devoting as much space as you can in order to allow as many butterflies to lay their eggs as possible. A site with low soil fertility is ideal. Seek out butterfly mixes from wildflower seed suppliers.

Top larval food plants

  • Lady’s smock or Cardamine pratensis (Orange Tip Butterfly) – good for wetter soil
  • Bird’s foot trefoil or Lotus corniculatus (Common Blue Butterfly)
  • Common sorrel or Rumex acetosa (Small Copper Butterfly)
  • Fescue grass (Meadow Brown Butterfly)
  • Yorkshire fog grass or Holcus lanatus (Marbled White, Speckled Wood and Small Skipper Butterflies)
  • Stinging nettles play host to caterpillars of Comma, Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies but need planting in large swathes to be effective.
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