Top Plants For Butterflies

Butterflies are a good indicator of a healthy garden as their abundance means it will also be rich in other invertebrates. They look good, are fun to watch and they’re a great way of getting children interested in the natural world.

Whether or not you took part in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count recently (see News 18th July), you may like to consider the addition of some plants to the sunniest part of your garden to help these insects thrive.

Buddleja (aka Buddleia) is nectar rich and is nature’s butterfly feeder (hence its common name ‘butterfly bush’) as 22 of Britain’s 59 species are known to feed on it. It generally forms a large shrub (though dwarf versions are available) and flowers from June through to September. There is a choice of white, yellow, pink, blue or purple varieties to suit any garden.

Buddleja davidii has had a bad press recently regarding its invasive nature as it can self-seed prolifically. Regular deadheading takes care of the problem which also helps to prolong the flowering season.

Butterflies need a rich nectar supply derived from shallow flowers from spring through to autumn. I’ve had particular success in my garden with Erysimum ‘Bowles mauve’, which I find flowers for the entire season, plus crocus and violas in the spring, lavender in the summer, then sedums and Echinacea in the autumn. In the case of flowers such as Echinacea double blooms are best avoided as these are often low in nectar.

Other plants worth consideration include:

Spring: primrose, grape hyacinth, English bluebell, forget-me-not, grape hyacinth and pussy willow.

Summer: marigolds, heliotrope, nasturtiums, sweet rocket, sweet william and yarrow.

Autumn: Rudbeckia, hebes, asters, Nicotania , Verbena bonariensis and yarrow

Good herbs for butterflies include hyssop, marjoram, oregano, mint and thyme.

If you include wildflowers in your garden, then bird’s foot trefoil, dandelions, clover, knapweed, scabious, bramble and ox-eye daisies are popular with butterflies.

Most caterpillars require completely different food plants to the adult butterflies. Nettles and grasses are the two most important plants for these and luckily there’s a large ‘wild and woolly’ patch of both close to my house so I don’t need them in my small garden.  Other useful garden plants for caterpillars include holly, ivy (which also forms a shelter for overwintering butterflies), violas, honeysuckle and primrose.

Note: If you haven’t taken part in the Big Butterfly Count already, there’s still time this week. It just takes 15 minutes and it’s the perfect excuse for a break in the garden to see what flutters by. Full details can be found on the Butterfly Conservation website.

The picture is a gatekeeper butterfly on Echinacea purpurea – previous Big Butterfly Counts have shown this is one of the most commonly seen butterflies in England and Wales.

Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and garden blogger based in Chippenham, Wiltshire. She is the author of the award winning blog,Veg Plotting, where she writes about her small town garden, seasonal food and anything else which strikes her whilst up at her allotment. Her blog can be found at