Butterfly Garden


The finished garden

If you have a sunny spot in your yard right now that is filled with less-than-desirable plants, consider creating a butterfly garden. Not only are butterflies beneficial to a garden because they help pollinate the surrounding flowers, but there is also a lot of enjoyment in planting a special spot to host such magical creatures.

I decided to tackle an area like this at my daughters’ school. It took a few hours down in the dirt, some minor aches and a major need of a manicure, but the sweat equity was worth it for producing a lovely little habitat. I have to admit, I was pretty proud of the end result. I even gave myself a few dirt-covered pats on the back. Even more than that, it was fun to think of all the kids joyfully spying butterflies for seasons to come.

Here is what I planted, knowing they are native perennials:

Coneflowers, milkweed, foxglove, phlox, lantana, salvia, mint, asters and budlia.  In the existing area there were already two lovely passion fruit vines, which provide wonderful, nectar-rich flowers for the adult butterflies and delicious fruit, so I kept them in place.

before planting

This is what I started with...

planting rows




If you live locally, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has the Butterflies Alive! exhibit running now until September 16.

I found this resource for buying caterpillars online.


Butterfly Garden

Tips for creating your own butterfly garden:

  • Consider a picket fence— a fence will create nice protection for the plants and a perch for the butterflies.
  • Create a path – for this project we used a combination of cement pavers and bark. This way little feet can stay on the path and not squash the seedlings. The pavers will also create a nice resting place for your butterflies to warm up. Warn the kids though to look out for resting butterflies on the path.
  • Choose perennial plants, then you don’t have to be committed to replanting the area every year. Think in terms of drifts- most of the perennials I bought came in six-packs, so I planted them all together in one grouping and then moved on to the next.
  • Try to pick two colors to be your lead palette. I chose hues of orange and purple (are you surprised?) to be my main colors and then added in lavender and peach. Nurseries typically sell multi-color six-packs of flowers, so ask if you can buy flowers individually or single-color six-packs.
  • Select plants that host both the caterpillar as well as the adult butterfly. Certain butterflies will only lay eggs on milkweed, so make sure that’s part of your planting mix.
  • Also, include enough nectar-producing plants whose blooms will provide food the the butterflies throughout the season. Plant flowers that bloom mid-to-late summer, when butterflies are the most active.
  • Choose native species – your local butterflies will appreciate it. There’s no place like home.