Creating a Butterfly Garden: Plants and Practices to Attract Butterflies for Pollination

Butterflies are not only exquisite creatures to admire in our gardens and farms, but they also play a crucial role in pollination. We often think it is just the wonderful Bee that pollinates for us, but that's not true there are a lot of pollinators and none more beautiful than the butterfly.

With many systems especially in the UK still adopting pollinator damaging pesticides in their practices we thought it was time that we spoke up about the amazing butterfly and why they are so powerful for market gardeners and growers.

In the United Kingdom, there are over 50 species of butterflies, each with unique characteristics and preferences. To attract these beautiful insects and support their vital role in pollination, you can create a butterfly garden. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the plants and practices that will help you transform your outdoor space into a haven for UK butterflies.


Understanding UK Butterfly Species

Before you start planning your butterfly garden, it's essential to familiarise yourself with the diverse butterfly species found in the UK. The most common and recognisable species include:

  1. Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae): This small, striking butterfly features vibrant orange wings with black markings. It's commonly found in gardens across the UK.

  2. Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io): Known for its eye-catching "peacock feather" design, this butterfly is a frequent visitor to gardens.

  3. Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta): With its distinctive red and black wings, the Red Admiral is a garden favorite.

  4. Large White (Pieris brassicae): As the name suggests, this butterfly is predominantly white with black markings and is often found in gardens.

  5. Small White (Pieris rapae): Similar to the Large White but smaller, this butterfly is a common sight in gardens.

  6. Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni): This butterfly has lemon-yellow wings and is one of the earliest species to emerge in spring.

  7. Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus): Recognizable by its pale blue wings, the Holly Blue is often spotted near holly and ivy.

  8. Comma (Polygonia c-album): The Comma butterfly features jagged edges on its wings and a distinctive white 'C' shape on the underside.


Planting for Butterflies

Now that you're familiar with some of the UK's butterfly species, let's dive into the key plants and practices to create a butterfly-friendly garden.

  1. Nectar-Rich Plants: Butterflies are drawn to nectar-rich flowers. Consider planting species like Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), Lavender, Verbena, and Marjoram, which are favourites among UK butterflies.

  2. Native Plants: Choose native wildflowers such as Foxgloves, Red Campion, and Cowslips. Native plants are adapted to local conditions and are ideal for supporting local butterfly populations.

  3. Host Plants: Many butterfly species lay their eggs on specific host plants. For example, the Small Tortoiseshell prefers nettle as a host plant. By including these host plants, you provide food for caterpillars, the young stage of the butterfly.

  4. Sun and Shelter: Butterflies love basking in the sun. Ensure that your garden has sunny spots, but also provide shelter, such as tall grasses and shrubs, for protection from strong winds.

  5. Stop Pesticides: Pesticides will harm butterflies and their larvae. Opt for organic gardening practices to maintain a healthy butterfly habitat.

  6. Water Sources: Butterflies need water, especially during hot summer days. Create a shallow, sunny water source like a small pond or birdbath for them to drink from.


Seasonal Planting

To ensure a year-round haven for butterflies in your garden, plan your planting seasonally:

  1. Spring: Early-flowering plants like Primroses, Daffodils, and Bluebells provide nectar for emerging butterflies.

  2. Summer: The warm months are when many butterflies are most active. Plant an array of nectar-rich flowers to keep them well-fed.

  3. Autumn: Late-blooming plants like Sedum and Michaelmas Daisies provide sustenance for butterflies preparing for hibernation.


Butterfly-Friendly Garden Design

To create a welcoming environment for butterflies, consider the following design elements:

  1. Butterfly-Friendly Borders: Plant a mix of nectar-rich and native species in your garden borders. Clusters of similar plants make it easier for butterflies to find them.

  2. Wildflower Meadows: If space allows, consider turning a section of your market garden into a wildflower meadow. This will attract a wide variety of butterflies.

  3. Puddling Stations: Butterflies occasionally "puddle" in damp soil to obtain essential minerals. Create puddling stations using sand or mud mixed with water.


Transforming your garden into a butterfly haven not only brings a sense of wonder to your outdoor space but also contributes to the important task of pollination in the UK. By understanding the unique preferences of local butterfly species and planting an array of nectar-rich flowers and host plants, you can make your garden a thriving ecosystem that supports these graceful insects.

As you put these practices into action, you'll not only enhance the beauty of your garden but also play a vital role in protecting UK butterfly populations.

AllotmentFood growingMarket gardeningRegenerative agricultureSmall scale farmingSustainability