Sitting in my garden the other day enjoying the breeze and the shade of the Natal mahogany, I watched butterflies dancing in the air above the jungle that is one part of my garden. The jungle wasn’t intended, it is just that everything grew faster than I expected and I don’t have the energy to tackle it in this heat.
It made me think though that we don’t see enough butterflies in this modern world of ours.
There is a lovely paperback that was issued a few years back called Bring Butterflies Back to Your Garden. In it, the authors, Charles and Julia Botha, say one of the keys to successful butterfly gardening is to provide “a delicious buffet of local plants for the caterpillars of those butterfly species that belong in your part of the world. In the minds of many gardeners some of these plants may resemble weeds. This is different to the standard gardening practice of growing foreign plants and covering them with poisons to get rid of the caterpillars that may be eating the leaves. Now you have to grow for the caterpillars.”
Jill Reid, author of Butterfly Gardening in South Africa, is also in favour of indigenous plants. “Butterflies prefer the heavily-nectared wild flowers over expensive hybrids with the nectar bred out of them,” she says.
Reid says butterflies are attracted to bright colours and that height is also important. The larger butterflies seem to prefer the taller annuals or shrubs while the tiny blues go for low growing border plants, she says.
So, what to choose? Cape honeysuckle, particularly the yellow, is a good shrub. So is Plumbago, and the Shell bush (Orthosiphon labiatus). Mackaya bella is lovely for a shaded area, and if you have space for a tree, butterflies love the Turrea floribunda or Wild honeysuckle tree which has a delicious perfume in spring. For autumn or early winter butterflies the Wild dagga is a good choice.
Smaller plants could include Agapanthus, a plant next door’s kitten Munchkin loves because of the cool leaves he can hide under; Crassulas, Gazanias, Asystasia or Creeping foxglove, Geraniums, and Osteospermum are all good choices. For shade or light shade, the Plectranthus family is lovely for late summer butterflies.