Saturday 2 June, National Butterfly Awareness Day, will see a celebration of these beautiful creatures across the UK. What better time to start shaping your garden to be a hive of activity for bumble bees, butterflies and birds?
These delicate creatures certainly brighten up the garden with a flurry of colour, but they also play a crucial role in our ecosystem.
Why are butterflies so important?
They help to pollinate our fruit and vegetables, providing us with food. Second only to bees, they help to put about 10% of our food on the table. And they don’t just increase the quantity of the food we harvest; the quality of food is much better when it comes from a countryside that is rich, flourishing and full of butterflies and bees. This is because they pollinate our fruit and vegetables, spreading seeds and ensuring the best yield. Vegetables that are well pollinated will even stay fresher for longer and keep a better shape.
We know how healthy our ecosystem is by looking at the butterfly population, as their delicate existence depends on so many other factors. Think of them as being the canary in the coal-mine for indicating early stages of environmental problems.
So what’s the problem?
Research from the Butterfly Conservation shows that nearly three quarters of the UK’s resident butterfly population is in decline. Butterfly Conservation President, Sir David Attenborough, says, ‘If all butterflies were to become extinct, the damages to us would be incalcable.’ He explains that, ‘Small birds feed on caterpillars, so if you have fewer caterpillars you get fewer small birds. The ecosystem is incredibly fragile and complex. If you break one relationship in the food chain, there are significant echoes down the rest of the ecosystem.’
What can I do about it?
Take charge of our butterfly stocks and create a butterfly-friendly garden. You don’t need a vast area to attract butterflies – a patio or path will do. Here are a few simple steps to create a butterfly breeding ground.
Plant the right seeds and grasses for caterpillars
To attract butterflies, it helps to start off with encouraging caterpillars to breed. Believe it or not, caterpillars are fussy eaters. If they don’t have the right type of leaf to eat, they’d rather starve than vary their diet with another leaf. Plant caterpillar-friendly plants and they’ll lay their eggs on these particular leaves (and not your cabbages), happily transforming into butterflies. These plants are a caterpillar’s delight:
|Try planting||Look out for these butterflies|
|Dutchman’s pipe||Pipevine swallowtail|
|Stinging nettles||Comma, red admiral, peacocks, small tortoise shells and many moths|
|Black eyed susan||Great spangled fritillary|
Plant a garden awash with colour
Plant in clumps of colour, as this will gain butterflies attention more than isolated flowers. Butterflies’ are particularly attracted to pinks, purples and yellows so think pink flowering clematis, the aptly named butterfly bush (buddleia), rosemary with its beautiful blue flowers, and lavender. We sell a collection of butterfly seeds specifically selected to attract and sustain butterflies in your garden.
Create a butterfly sunbed
Did you know that butterflies need to be between 28-38 degrees Celsius, and that they struggle to fly when they’re too cold or hot? That’s why butterflies love sunbathing on large flat stones that have spent all day absorbing the sun. In your garden, it’s really helpful if you leave a few flat stones around in sunny south facing positions sheltered from the wind to give them a nice warm resting place.
Put up a butterfly home
Our butterfly and moth habitat has been designed to be irresistible to butterflies. The feed tray has been covered in ultra-violet paint, which encourages them to come closer. You can put a sugar / water solution in here, or fruit and flowers such as lavender. It’s also safe for butterflies and moths to sleep in over winter.
Brush up on your butterflies
‘Attracting Butterflies to your Garden’ explains about the different types of butterflies, the plant species that attract them and the right food plants for caterpillars. There’s also a chapter all about getting the best photographs of butterflies, so you can capture their breathtaking diversity of colours. In this book, you’ll learn the basics of butterfly life-cycles, preferred habitats, human impact on populations, breeding and overwintering.
Avoid using nasty chemicals
Most of those harmful chemicals that get rid of garden pests also get rid of butterflies. Instead, try coir compost. It’s naturally insect and pest-resistant, while encouraging your plants to grow healthily. Coir is a wonderfully sustainable product, as it’s made out of the inner coconut husk – a by-product that would usually be thrown away.
Encourage others to get involved
We’ve got a range of butterfly gift bags on our webshop brimming with all you need to attract butterflies to the garden. This jute bag comes with a colourful butterfly feeder, food for butterflies to give them all the nutrients they need, and a mix of bright wildflower seeds chosen for their high nectar content. A perfect gift for butterfly lovers.