The butterfly effect: Small changes can help these creatures thrive in your garden
- Nigel Colborn said false eyes and fancy patterns give butterflies their beauty
- British gardener said they are always more abundant in a wildlife-friendly garden
- He said if garden is insect-rich, songbirds, hedgehogs and other creatures thrive
How could we not love butterflies? They do no harm, apart from the cabbage munchers and even those are beautiful insects. Everyone admires the gaudy species, but even the dowdy ones are fascinating.
Among those, the sub-fusc Meadow Brown seldom receives a second glance. But study its underside and you’ll see a prominent black spot with a small white dot, just off-centre. That shows as a menacing eye and deters predators.
False eyes and fancy patterns give butterflies and moths their beauty. But the marks are there for a purpose and that makes them even more interesting. Butterflies are always more abundant in a wildlife-friendly garden. So if yours is insect-rich, songbirds, hedgehogs and other beneficial creatures will thrive.
Nectar points: Nigel Colborn said butterflies are always more abundant in a wildlife-friendly garden. He said if garden is insect-rich, songbirds, hedgehogs and other creatures will thrive. Pictured: Meadow Brown
The year’s first yellow Brimstone butterfly tells us spring is coming. The first frail orange-tip confirms that summer won’t be far behind. Butterflies feasting on a July buddleja double that plant’s beauty.
If butterflies are abundant in your garden, it’s good for other wildlife, too. To attract more, small changes can make a whopping difference.
A PERMANENT HOME
Over the past 18 years, I’ve recorded 22 of the 57 resident British butterfly species in our garden. Among those, 14 breed on our premises. I think those numbers have grown because of the right habitat.
To welcome more butterflies, grow plenty of nectar-rich flowers. Buddlejas are the strongest attractors, but lavenders, red valerian and tall sedums are good, too. If butterflies are to breed in your garden, they’ll need specific larval food plants. The largest and prettiest residents in mine are Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. They’re buddleja addicts and hibernate in our ramshackle outbuildings.
But the larval food plant for both is stinging nettle; a gardener’s bête noire.
We have scruffy corners so yes, we have nettle patches. But for tiny or tidy gardens, nettles are hardly desirable. Luckily, both species are strong flyers. So they’ll travel to your garden for nectar but lay their eggs on nettles elsewhere.
Our most successful breeders are grassland butterflies. These include Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper and Small Skipper. They breed in our flower-rich mini-meadow or in areas of rough grass.
TIME YOUR MOWING
To conserve breeding meadow butterflies, delay cutting rough grass until September. If it makes mowing impossible, I use a wheeled brush-cutter. A powerful strimmer is fine if you cut in stages.
To hibernate, the larvae of many grassland butterflies move low into the sward. They’ll stay snug and comatose all winter.
Different butterflies rely on different larval food plants. So a flower-rich meadow sustains more species, as well as making a lovely feature. A few square metres in a sunny spot will do.
In my tiny meadow, non-grass plants such as clover and sorrel increase numbers of breeding species. Visiting butterflies including Commas, Dark Green Fritillaries and migrant Clouded Yellows. Hibernating butterflies need dark, weather-proof places. Outbuildings are good, and heavy shrub cover or dry dark corners are also fine.