There is something to be said about watching a butterfly makes its way around a garden. Perhaps it is even a little mesmerising the way it glides through the air, the quick beat of its silent wings lifting it gracefully as its delicate body happily bobs a dance with the breeze from flower to flower, leaf to leaf. This sweet sight is usually enough to make most of us stop what we are doing and follow their path with our eyes (or as children dance along behind them with arms outstretched) before they catch a final gust of wind and float off into the sunlight and out of sight again.
Yes, there is little doubt that a beautiful garden is one that is alive with butterflies but whilst their presence was once one we could almost take for granted the truth today is quite different. Gone are the days of butterflies in abundance with today’s reality being that their numbers have decreased significantly over the years due to development and the subsequent destruction of their natural habitats. This is distressing, not just for the loss of their wonderful presence but because they are great pollinators and their existence is important in the continuing life cycle of our local flora and fauna. The good news though is that you can help to protect and conserve them, and it all begins by creating your own beautiful garden in which they can thrive. Its a win, win situation really.
How to build your own butterfly garden
If you build it they will come. A line from a famous movie and a very apt one in this case. Helping to protect and increase our local butterfly numbers starts in your own backyard and by knowing how best to create an environment in which they will thrive you will be aiding in their long-term conservation.
Step 1: Get familiar with the butterfly / caterpillar life-cycle
The first step towards building your own butterfly garden is to understand their life cycle. The entire life cycle of a butterfly – from eggs to caterpillar to pupa (chrysalis) and finally to butterfly can vary and, depending on the type of butterfly, may take anywhere from one month to a whole year. In order for the butterflies to survive and thrive they need to be able to have their needs met for each stage and so you will need to make sure you have the right plants in your garden to ensure this will happen and the perfect condition as well.
Step 2: Native host plants
Have you ever read the book The Hungry Caterpillar? Remember how when he first emerged from his egg he was starving and pretty much just ate and ate and ATE? Well, this is pretty much the primary goal of stage 2 of the life-cycle. Once the egg has been laid and the baby caterpillar inside has grown and emerged its primary job is to eat as much as possible, so it can grow as quickly as possible. Since they are only tiny and can not travel to a new plant, the caterpillar needs to hatch on the kind of leaf it wants to eat and as each caterpillar type likes only certain types of leaves this is where it is important to have done your research.
You can encourage a particular type of butterfly to your garden depending on the native host and nectar plants you have. The host plant is the one that will provide a bed for the eggs to be laid on and then subsequently leaves for the baby caterpillars to feed on. It will also be where the caterpillar transforms into a pupa (crysalis) prior to emerging as a butterfly. If you don’t have the right host plants for the butterflies to lay their eggs on, then they will not come. It is that simple.
Step 3: Native Nectar Plants
Equally as important, once your caterpillars have undergone their transformation and a beautiful butterfly has emerged it will be a native nectar plant that they will actively seek. This could be a small plant or vine like the Birdwing Vine or the Arrowhead Violet or it may be a larger shrub or tree like the Bottlebrush or Lemon Myrtle. There are many varieties that they like but the key is to have the right host and nectar plants available that are both suitable for the type of butterfly you are hoping to invite. This way from caterpillar to butterfly and back to egg, your garden will be able to supply each stage with its requirements that will help them to thrive and will ensure your garden is alive with their elegant presence.
Step 4: Hidden Dangers
It is very important to not just know what type of butterfly you want to attract and to get the plants that suit, but to also know how well those particular plants will suit your current environment. There are some host plants that, while enjoyed by caterpillars or butterflies, are actually poisonous – which renders them as such too. This can be dangerous for local birds or other fauna if they eat them so be as well informed as possible.
Step 3: Getting informed and all your supplies – a trip to Gold Coast Butterflies in Gaven
Gold Coast Butterflies, a butterfly hobby farm in Gaven, is a fantastic way to start your journey and a trip there on your way down the coast will equip you with not only an impressive knowledge of the butterfly life-cycle, but also an experience in their delightful butterfly house. Most importantly, they are dedicated to helping people set up their own butterfly gardens and have an array of different kits and products available to get you started.
The owner, Josephine Romeo, is particularly keen to help lift the numbers to the threatened Richmond Birdwing Butterfly and will happily help you prepare your garden with plants and supplies so that you can do your part in their conservation as well.
There are so many benefits to creating your own butterfly garden at home. It is a great educational exercise for your family in both the life-cycle of butterflies as well as the need to do your part for the environment. It will help nurture and foster skills for future little gardeners.
It will encourage an appreciation and love for nature and how precious it is. And it will help to create a wondrous space that will be alive with the colourful, yet delicate wings of butterflies so that your family may protect and enjoy them for many years to come.