Gardening for Butterflies

It’s that time of year again where we head out into gardens and green spaces to spend 15 minutes observing butterflies and sending our findings to Butterfly Conservation… that’s right, it’s The Big Butterfly Count.

This year marks the 10th year of this citizen science project. Data sent in by you via their handy app feeds into long term monitoring of our British butterflies. Why is monitoring butterflies so important? Not only are they under threat and been suffering large scale declines since the 1970s, butterflies tend to react to environmental changes ahead of other species, making them brilliant indicators of upcoming environmental threats such as climate change.

As well as taking part in the Big Butterfly Count, you can help these winged beauties (and their nocturnal cousins) by making your garden lepidoptera friendly! Read on to find out ways you can garden for our British butterflies!

Ringlets copulating (Aphantopus hyperantus)

Larval Food Plants

Moths and butterflies start off life in a larval stage as a caterpillar. Adult butterflies will lay their eggs on plants which the larvae will enjoy eating and this can vary between species. Some butterflies such as the gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus, meadow brown Maniola jurtina, small heath Coenonympha pamphilus, speckled wood Pararge aegeria, large skipper Ochlodes sylvanus and wall Lasiommata megera, will lay their eggs on grasses including such as the bents Agrostis spp., Fescues Festuca spp., cocksfoot Dactylus glomerata and false brome Brachypodium sylvatica. This is why leaving your grass to grow long can be so beneficial.

The herbaceous bird’s foot trefoil Lotus corniculata is enjoyed by the larvae of the common blue Polyommatus icarus, green hairstreak Callophrys rubi and dingy skipper Erynnis tages, whilst both the green-veined white Pieris napi and the orange tip Anthocharis cardamines larvae will feed from garlic mustard Allaria petiolata.

Male orange tip

Many of the British butterflies belonging to the Nymphalinae family including the Comma Polygonia c-album, peacock Aglais io, red admiral Vanessa atalanta, small tortoiseshell Aglais urticae and painted lady Vanessa cardui all use nettle Urtica diocia as their larval food plant.

Some butterflies will lay their eggs on more than one plant, whereas others are more specialist such as the common blue Polyommatus icarus, who’s larvae only feed on kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, and it’s these specialist butterflies which are more at risk of habitat loss. By planting native British species in your garden you can help to extend their habitat and give them a better chance of survival. – but remember, you will only attract the butterflies in your area, for example, planting milk-parsley Peucedanum palustre is unlikely to attract a swallowtail unless you live on the Norfolk Broads.

Nectar Rich Flowers

As adults many butterflies feed on a variety of nectar rich flowers – though some will feed on pollen, tree sap, rotting fruit and even animal dung! To encourage adult butterflies to your garden, plating flowers full of nectar is always a good start. Look for simple open flowers as many of the fussy ornamental garden plants are inaccessible to pollinators. Also beware of where you buy your plants from. Many garden centers and plant suppliers still treat plants with insecticides and introducing these plants to your garden will do more harm than good. If in doubt, ask the staff and buy from places which can give you a reassuring answer.

Some great native nectar plants are:

  • Hemp agrimony
  • purple loosestrife
  • bird’s-foot trefoil
  • oxeye daisy
  • red clover (but also other clovers)
  • ragwort (not as toxic as people think!)
  • red campion (likes shade)
  • aliums

Non-natives loved by butterflies include:

  • bowles mauve everlasting wallflower
  • sage
  • thyme
  • lavender
  • verbena
  • cat mint
  • Evening primrose (for moths)
  • Jasmine (for moths)

I haven’t added in buddleia here because whilst butterflies do enjoy it, it is thought that the nectar quality is pretty poor – it’s the equivalent of us having fast food over a home cooked organic meal. There are so many richer plants out there, if you have a choice, don’t reach for the buddleia.

I hope this has been useful. If you are already gardening for butterflies I would love to hear in the comments some of your tips and the butterflies you are attracting. Meanwhile, don’t forget to download the Big Butterfly Count app and take part between now and the 9th August!

X Larissa

Fun with Kids during Lockdown – #1 Spring Flowers

We are all finding ourselves in uncertain times, and if you’re at home with the children right now, you may be looking for ideas to keep them entertained. I am going to write a series of articles covering different gardening and nature related activities you can do with your children, whether in the garden or on on your allowed walk for exercise as well as some from the comfort of your home. Going outside in nature lowers stress levels and is wonderful for mental health, which is perhaps even more important now than ever before.

This first piece takes a look at some different spring flowers to spot when you’re out. You can adapt it depending on the ages of your children, for example, for younger ones you could talk about the different colours and shapes of the flowers as well as opening up the idea of seasons as these are all spring flowers. Older children could perhaps press one or two, or draw them for an art project, even labelling the parts of each different flower.

As part of her home education my eldest Lily has put together a handy spotter sheet with some of these flowers (and more) which you can print off and take with you on your walks You can find this at the bottom of the page. If you use it we’d love to see your photos – tag us on Instagram or Facebook at @larissasgarden, or @LarissaCoop on Twitter.

Thanks for reading!

Forget-me-nots

#1 – Forget me not

These delicate blue flowers are found all over right now, from gardens to meadows.


Cuckoo flower – Cardamine pratensis

#2 Cuckoo flower (or Lady’s smock)

This flower can be found in damper areas and is the larval food plant for the orange tip butterfly (which also likes garlic mustard Allaria petiolata).


Violets

#3 Violets

There are a few different species of violets in the UK including dog violets Viola canina and sweet violets Viola oderata. Look closely at woodland floors and hedge banks to find this purple beauties.


Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara

#4 Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot flowers appear before the large leaves do. Similar in appearance to dandelions, these flowers have a distinct scaly stem. In traditional medicines, coltsfoot is used to treat chronic coughing.


Cowslip – Primula veris

# 5 Cowslip

Cowslips like to grow in sunny spots and are often found in meadows. These bright yellow flowers are loved by springtime pollinators.


Gorse – Ulex europeaus

# 6 Gorse

These bright yellow flowers are found on the prickly gorse bushes which are abundant on healthlands and areas with acidic soils. If you smell the flowers they have a slight coconut scent to them. Bees love them too!

Bluebells – Hyacynthoides non-scripta

# 7 Bluebells

A common plant in ancient woodlands at springtime, often carpeting the forest floor. Due to hybridisation with garden varieties our native bluebells are in decline. Are the bluebells you’ve seen native ones? Use this handy guide to find out.


Primroses – Primula vulgaris

# 8 Primrose

These flowers can be found in woodlands and hedge banks or where these habitats once existed. They are loved by early springtime pollinators such as this male hairy-footed-flower bee.


Red campion – Silene diocia

# 10 Silene diocia

Red campions are able to thrive in shady areas such as woodlands, but can be found almost anywhere. They are prolific seeders and are sometimes overlooked because they are common, but I think they are one of our best wildflowers, and pollinators agree too!


Wild garlic – Alium ursinum

# 10 Wild garlic

These members of the onion family are seen on woodland floors. They spread well so often carpet the patch they grow in. Loved by pollinators, wild garlic is also favoured by foragers. All parts of the plant are edible, however if you are foraging, it is illegal to uproot a wildflower, so take only the leaves. It’s a good rule of thumb to only take what you will use and to ensure you leave much more behind that you take.Wild garlic can be used in cooking for flavour, or makes a delicious pesto!


Feel free to download & share! Made by Lily

PDF version below

Spring Flowers Poster

Please ensure that you adhere to the guidelines on social distancing if you are venturing out for daily exercise. If this information changes, please follow the updated guidelines.

Gathering inspiration

The summer holidays have been here for a few weeks already and it’s been quite busy. So busy the garden has become slightly overgrown and neglected. When I went on maternity leave I had envisioned lots of free time to lay in the sun and read books, potter in the garden become a lady of leisure. I was very wrong, and with the eldest off school as well, the garden has definitely taken a backseat.

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The Garden before the summer holidays – relatively tidy!

At the beginning of the holidays the kids and I spent a week away in Norfolk visiting friends and family leaving my partner in charge of the garden. While we were away it gave me a chance to pinch a few ideas and get some inspiration from other people’s gardens. My Dad has recently become quite keen on attracting wildlife to his garden and had added a few insect hotels since our last visit, one of which was being used by a leaf-cutter bee.

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A couple of holes have been blocked off with vegetation – suggesting a leaf cutter bee has been busy.

I was also quite impressed with my Dad’s use of pots in their small garden. Without the pots, there wouldn’t be nearly as much colour. A great idea for a rented garden, especially as the plants are easy to take with you if you need to move. He even had a pot with wildflowers which the bees were enjoying. I picked up a box of all white wildflower seeds at hampton court which I am saving for next year. I was going to sow them into the flower border out the front to create a white garden, but I think I might sow them in a pot. This also might protect them from the slugs too.

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Wildflowers grow in the pot below an ornamental tree

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A nice arrangement of pots can bring splashes of colour or year-round foliage and structure

We also went to visit my partner’s mother who has a beautiful cottage garden, as well as a vegetable patch. The flower beds are gorgeous and look like they belong in a Gardener’s World feature. I also love that there are surprises around every corner; a hedgehog house, and old wheelbarrow filled with plants, raspberries and blueberries hidden in the hedgerow and magnificent tomato plants in the greenhouse! The tit boxes were used this year and so were the bat boxes – but by tits too! Looking at the veg patch also made me realise a mistake I had made with my own at home – I hadn’t grown enough peas!

These flower beds have inspired me to extend ours for next year

These flower beds have inspired me to extend ours for next year

Blue tits using their nesting boxes earlier in the year

Blue tits using their nesting boxes earlier in the year

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The Vegetable patch – peas protected by netting earlier in the year. By the time we visited they were doing really well.

 

When we got home I was please to find the garden not only alive – but thriving. Having had quite a few days of rain the vegetables had exploded and everything was doing really well. Lots of different plants had also flowered including the purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria (one of my all-time favourites) and teasel Dipsacus fullonum, both growing by the pond.

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The vegetables had grown a lot while we were away

The vegetables had grown a lot while we were away

Bees love teasel

Bees love teasel

As August has progressed, much of the time in the garden has spent harvesting the crops, but more on this later.

One final note – while we were away my partner spotted what we are pretty sure was a silver-washed fritillary in our garden. A first record for us and one I have yet to see myself.

photo