The Big Butterfly Count is a nationwide survey of butterflies that we can all take part in. This year Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count starts on the 15th July 2016, and runs until the 7th August 2016. During this time, if you want to take part, you simply spend 15 minutes, on a sunny day, counting butterflies and day-flying moths. You can choose to take your Big Butterfly Count in your garden, or in the gardens of your school, college or university, in a forest, at a park, or nature reserve, or whilst you’re taking a walk. The Big Butterfly Count is a lovely, relaxing activity that everyone can enjoy. The results from the count will help Butterfly Conservation study and monitor the success of butterflies throughout the UK.
If you’d like to encourage butterflies into your garden, there are many simple steps you can take that will help to turn your garden into a more desirable habitat for a variety of different butterflies. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Grow a variety of suitable, nectar rich, flowing plants that flower from early spring until the first frosts, while butterflies are on the wing.
Buddleja, also known as the butterfly bush, is probably the best-known garden plant for butterflies. If the somewhat vast height and spread of the older Buddleja cultivars deter you from including these plants in your borders, newer dwarf varieties, such as cultivars from the Buddleja ‘Buzz™’ series developed by Thompson and Morgan, are now available which only reach 120cm (4ft) in height when planted directly in the garden – container grown plants are probably shorter. Buddleja ‘Blue Chip’ (PBR) (Lo and Behold Series), is another dwarf variety, a little smaller in size than the cultivars from the Buddleja ‘Buzz™’ series, with lavender-blue flowers, and Buddleja ‘Miss Ruby’ (PBR) is a little taller, with large, bright magenta coloured flowers. All of these varieties are mostly sterile, so they are unlikely to set seed in your garden.
Other popular butterfly plants include: Astrantia major, Calluna vulgaris, Centranthus ruber, Hebe, Hesperis matronalis, Lavendula, Verbena bonariensis, Scabious, Sedum spectabile, as well as the flowers of many herbs, such as mint, thyme, oregano and sage.
In addition to providing a variety of nectar-rich food plants, ideally planted in a sunny spot and dead-headed regularly, to really help butterflies you need to provide food for caterpillars – their young. Most caterpillars have only one or two dedicated food plants, so you don’t need to worry about them devouring your prize plants.
Nettles are the food plant for Peacock, Comma, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. If you leave a patch of nettles, ideally in a sunny spot, in your garden, you’ll be doing these butterflies a great service. If you cut back some of your nettles in mid summer, the resulting fresh, new growth will be perfect for late egg laying butterflies. Any nettles you cut back can be used to make a fertiliser, or added to soups – whichever you prefer!
Lotus corniculatus, also known as bird’s foot trefoil, is a pretty perennial with yellow and orange flowers; it’s a food plant for a number of different caterpillars and its flowers are also popular as a source of nectar for butterflies. Other caterpillar food plants include: grasses, Hedera helix, Ilex, Prunus spinosa, and Nasturtium to name but a few.
Avoid using any pesticides or insecticides; these kill butterflies, caterpillars and other insects.
This article was first published in the June 2016 edition of Vantage Point Magazine.
Other articles and links that may interest you………………
For ideas of long-flowering, container plants that will attract butterflies, moths and bees to your garden, please click here.
For ideas of beautiful looking, delicious tasting plants that you can grow in your garden or at your allotment, please click here.
To see the results of my 2015 Big Butterfly Count at Pewley Down, please click here.
To read about the 2016 RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, please click here.
For ideas of how to protect your plants from slugs and snails, please click here.
To read about slug-proof plants, please click here.
To read about carnivorous plants, please click here.
For gardening advice and tips of what you could do in your garden or at your allotment from mid-June to mid-July, please click here.
For gardening advice and tips of what you could do in your garden or at your allotment from mid-July to mid-August, please click here.
For a calendar of 2016 specialist plant fairs, festivals, sales and swaps, please click here.
For special offers for gardeners, please click here.
To visit Butterfly Conservation’s website, please click here.
To find out more about Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count 2016, please click here.