You know your garden is alive when the plants are buzzing with activity

Setting the right perennials now means you’ll reap the butterflyl benefits later, advises Peter Dowdall.
You know your garden is alive when the plants are buzzing with activity

Lepidoptera. Doesn’t really do it does it, doesn’t conjure up images of hazy sun-filled afternoons on the patio with bees and insect life hovering about the plants.

If I say butterflies however, then a smile will instantly come to all our faces and we conjure up beds filled with flowering perennials alive with creatures fluttering around the blooms of our summer favourites.

So where does lepidoptera fit in? Well that’s the order in the animal kingdom in which butterflies are classified, not an attractive word perhaps, but an extremely attractive order.

We all know the showy peacock and red admiral, but stop for a second the next time you see any small moth or butterfly and admire. Admire the markings on their wings or perhaps just the beauty of the colour on the more simply decorated creatures.

Even those annoying ones that fly straight into you outside at night or that become a nuisance around a bedroom lamp — yes, even those, are wonderful to look at and have great detail on their wings.

There are many shrubs that will attract butterflies, chief among them the aptly named butterfly bush or buddleia.

If this is too much of a thug for your garden — it will grow large quickly and set seed with gay abandon, making itself far too at home in most gardens — then look for some of the less invasive options such as the beautiful blue flowered caryopteris or one of the many varieties of lavender, ‘Munstead’ being a particular favourite.

A good general rule is that, similar to bees, butterflies are attracted to a large planting of any single colour.

Perennials such as Verbena bonariensis, Rudbeckia Goldstrum, Antirrinhum, in particular will all attract them into your garden but for me the two best are Agastache and Nepeta.

I have written before about this combination which I planted several years ago and each year, during the month of August in particular, this part of the garden is literally alive with flying insects making it a truly ‘living’ garden.

When I look at these plants buzzing with activity I know I’ve done something right and the garden is ‘working’.

If you would like a garden full of Lepidopterans during summer and early autumn, then now is the time to get these plants established.

Substantial growth will be achieved by perennials and shrubs planted now.

If you wait until they are in flower during the summer then not only will you have smaller plants that have been longer in the pot, but you will have missed one whole growing season during which they could have been establishing in the garden.

Now of course, to have butterflies you must first have caterpillars.

These will munch on the growth of many of the same treasures that will attract the butterflies. Please do not use insecticides to kill them off.

Try instead to leave a part of the garden planted with plants on which they can feed.

Most caterpillars are specific feeders and more than a bit fussy, feeding on only one type of plant, for example the peacock and comma will feed exclusively on nettles so perhaps a patch somewhere in the garden could be left alone as a place to lay eggs and as a foodsource for these caterpillars.

Down in beautiful West Cork at the moment, a meaningful, worthwhile, and aesthetically beautiful butterfly garden is being created by designer Dominick Cullinane.

He is halfway through building a garden on the Sheep’s Head peninsula that will be called The Laura Lynn Butterfly Garden.

“With huge help from friends and local business in the area we have built a substantial part of the garden,” he says, “but need help, to finish it and then to launch it properly this summer.

“The main part of the garden is an entertainment area with a stage and seating for 200 people. The garden is located beside Eileen’s Bar in Kilcrohane. The idea is that we will have a Laura Lynn musical event in the garden each summer over a weekend.”

The Laura Lynn Foundation was established by Brendan and Jane McKenna who lost both of their beautiful daughters within 20 months of each other.

Laura, 4, died as a result of a congenital heart defect, and Lynn, 15, died 20 months later of leukaemia.

Since the girls’ deaths, Brendan and Jane have set up the Laura Lynn foundation, raising over €10m to build Irelands only hospice for children with life-limiting illnesses.

Since the hospice opened, dozens of parents have availed of its services and care.

When the children at Laura Lynn pass from this life and go to heaven, they do so in an amazing room called the butterfly room.

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