Home For Butterflies


Apart from the sheer delight of having a garden full of these beautiful creatures going about their business, there is a serious conservation issue at hand, more so with this new garden set amongst the pre-described wildlife wilderness. The idea is that we create a nucleus of highly suitable habitat for them to colonise, so that no matter what happens in the surrounding countryside, there will always be this nucleus of suitable habitat in our garden for them: A HOME FOR BUTTERFLIES in fact.

Properly designed and maintained.

At the end of the 2000 season we were already up to 18 breeding species, only one short of the Derbyshire total. A few of these species differ between the two localities but generally they are similar. Over the last few years the Brown Argus has unexpectedly made a home here, and since the woodland areas have developed the Speckled Wood has also taken up residency. It is also pleasing to note that the nationally threatened Wall brown and Small Copper are holding their own here.

The Cottage Garden There are three main differences between the gardens themselves:

  1. This new one is flat, the Derbyshire one was on a steep north-west facing hillside.
  2. There is no ready made mature woodland garden at this new one.
  3. Things grow like triffids here in view of the very rich arable soil!

Both gardens are an acre in size, and as before, our butterfly garden is not just a garden full of nectar plants to entice passing butterflies: it is a properly designed and maintained mini habitat for them to breed and thrive in. To find out just how we go about it, read on...

How it is achieved

As I've mentioned, our garden is not just a place rich in nectar plants to entice passing butterflies, but a properly maintained and designed mini habitat for them to breed and thrive in. That is the main objective: to have them breeding here, on site, as opposed to them merely visiting for nectar. In a nutshell, we need to create an actual habitat for them - a piece of suitable countryside on our very own doorstep.


The majority of butterfly species do not wander much at all of their own accord from their place of birth, which is partly why they are (generally) in so much need of conservation help. If their habitat is destroyed, they do NOT automatically move on.

Let us look closer at butterfly mobility to illustrate this point further. Of the 58 species regularly found in the UK, the Lincolnshire Fens hosts 24, including migrants. Of this 24, by far the majority - 11 - are sedentary species, the least mobile; 5 are fairly mobile but still generally restricted to specific habitat types; leaving only 4 species that are highly mobile, plus the remaining 4 migrant species - these are the real exception to the rule, butterflies that literally cross countries and do not generally survive the British winter so are not permanent, established residents even though they may breed during their time here.

A normal garden rich in nectar attracts the latter two groups due to their high mobility. By creating a butterfly friendly habitat we encourage all of the groups, but we favour specialist treatment for the most threatened and sedentary ones.

You may ask where do they come from if they’re not mobile as such? Obviously they are in the near locality otherwise we could not attract them (in our case the dyke network ).

Once with us, either by singletons being blown by the wind or females searching for egg-laying sites, the idea (and hope) is that they will stay with us, breed on site, thus setting up their own colony in time.

It is working! In the first 6 years, we were up to 19 species setting up home on our land, and now having experienced the official WORST SUMMER EVER in 2007, the butterflies (and Mother Nature) have fought back and 2008 saw record breaking numbers for the rarer species. Very encouraging indeed.


Over the years I have built up sufficient knowledge to understand what the locally found species individually need. The basics in all cases are the two types of foodplants: nectar for the adult butterflies, but more importantly, the correct larval foodplants for the caterpillars. But even having a mass of these two types of plants throughout the acre site is not the whole story: larval foodplants in particular often need specific conditions. You will find more details relating to individual species’ requirements on the butterfly pages.

Except for certain VIP varieties (very important plants - see box below) nectar plants are purely there to attract, feed, and maintain the adults, which in turn encourages egg-laying. But without a wealth of correctly positioned larval foodplants for the eggs to be laid on, the butterflies will move on in search of them. The fact that larval foodplants are in the main viewed as troublesome weeds: nettles, grasses, sorrels, etc.) is what puts many people off from even contemplating the idea further. But because the very design of this type of garden favours an informal, cottage garden/semi-wild approach, they nicely blend in with the rest.

Three colours of Dame's Violet
The VIP category

A few plants actually double up as both nectar plants and larval foodplants. I call these VIP: very important plants, being as they are performing both the tasks needed to keep our butterflies happy. To the right is pictured one of these: Dame’s-violet (Hesperis matronalis) - used by Green-veined White and Orange Tip.

The other VIPs are:

Honesty (Lunaria annua) used by Green-veined White and Orange Tip.
Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) used by Common Blue, Dingy Skipper, Green Hairstreak, Clouded Yellow, Burnet moths, and elsewhere many other species. A true classic plant.
Clover (Trifolium spp.) used by Common Blue and Clouded Yellow.
Thistles (Carduus spp. mainly) used by Painted Lady.
Marjoram (Oregano vulgare) used by the delightful day-flying Pyralid moth Pyrausta aurata. Marjoram is one of the very best nectar plants (see nectar plants list).