A butterfly ball

Painted lady

Painted lady - Credit: Archant

Support threatened butterfly populations by creating a ‘nectar cafe’ in your garden says Sarah Buckingham of the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust

Coma butterfly

Coma butterfly - Credit: Archant

As well as bringing colour and beauty to your garden, butterflies are an important part of the food chain. Caterpillars provide food for frogs, toads, hedgehogs, birds and others, all of which are good to have. Many of our native butterflies are in decline and with the right planting gardens can provide excellent sources of nectar as well as food plants for caterpillars.

Plants for butterflies

A lot of the old cottage garden flowers are excellent choices. Crammed together in a busy border, they will provide masses of flowers for butterflies to feed on. Grouping plants in threes or fives will give better colour and scent, which is more likely to attract visitors. Varieties with single flowers are best – double flowers are bred for show and may not contain nectar. Plants such as buddleia, lilac and sedum with lots of small flowers packed tightly together, each flower providing nectar, are great. Also, choose plants that flower at different times of the year; in that way, you ensure a constant supply of insect food. Try to include native wildflowers too. Plant your border up in a sunny, sheltered position – butterflies are really only attracted to flowers in the sun. Sowing or planting against a south-facing wall is ideal.

Spring flowering

Honesty, cowslips, forget-me-nots

Summer flowering

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Lavender, bird’s foot trefoil, lady’s smock/cuckoo flower, cat mint, thyme, red valerian, knapweed, buddleia, lilac, ice plants (sedum), field scabious, marjoram, poached egg plants

Autumn flowering

Lavender, Michaelmas daisies, ivy, ice plants

Caring for caterpillars

Think about how you can provide not only for butterflies on the wing but for the caterpillars that turn into these beauties. Butterflies are quite choosy about which plants they lay their eggs on. The stunning common blue butterfly loves bird’s foot trefoil – the pretty ‘egg and bacon’ plant, so named because of it’s bright yellow colour streaked with red. It’s a particularly good choice if your soil is chalky.

It’s also worth leaving a scrubby patch in your garden where nettles and thistles can grow – a little bit of untidiness will be welcomed by some of our prettiest butterflies. A sunny patch of nettles and thistles is a perfect spot for red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell, comma and the migrant painted lady to lay eggs on. White butterflies (small, large and green-veined) all like the brassica family, which isn’t necessarily great news for your cabbages, but if you plant nasturtiums and garlic mustard they may be encouraged to lay their eggs on those plants instead.

Create a butterfly pot

If you don’t have lots of space, create a pot of plants that butterflies will love. It’s best planted in October or April for flowering from July to September. You need a large container (approximately 3ft x 2ft x 1ft deep) with holes for drainage, crocks or polystyrene to line the base of the pot to about two inches deep, then about six inches of soil. Plant with one buddleia, three ice plants, three red valerian, two evening primrose, two thrift.


Butterfly walk, Aldbury

Saturday July 4, 10.30am-1pm

Enjoy a morning searching for summer butterflies with senior reserves officer Paul Thrush. The walk is subject to weather and may be cancelled at short notice. Booking essential at hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/events

Butterfly walk, Hertford Heath and Balls Wood

Sunday July 5, 10.30am-12.30pm

Look for woodland and heathland butterflies with expert Andrew Wood. Meet at 10.30am at the junction of The Roundings and London Road in Hertford Heath village by the College Arms pub, SG13 7PW. Strong shoes should be worn and there are uneven surfaces in places. For more information contact Andrew Wood at zoothorn@ntlworld.com 07765 098824

Magical meadows, Fir and Pond Woods

Wednesday July 8, 10am-midday

Wildflowers and butterflies galore at Fir and Pond Woods in Potters Bar where there is a rare and ancient meadow. Reserves officer Jenny Sherwen is the guide. Booking essential at hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/events

Butterfly bonanza, Aldbury Nowers

Sunday July 12, 10am-midday

Explore Aldbury Nowers Nature Reserve with HMWT Mid Herts group. The reserve is famed for its many species of butterflies. Meet at 10am at the reserve entrance, five minutes’ walk from the lay-by on Northfield Road HP23 5QW, where there is parking. No booking required. For further information contact Penny Fanthorpe at penny.fanthorpe@ntlworld.com 07761 712245

Butterfly and bug hunt, Pryor’s Wood

Sunday July 19

A butterfly and bug hunt at Pryor’s Wood Nature Reserve in Stevenage with volunteer wardens Andy Holtham and Stephen Gardner. Meet at 10am at the main entrance in Gresley Way. Booking not required. For more information contact Andy 01438 368228 or Stephen 01438 861833.


For more wildlife events in Hertfordshire, visit hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/events