Perennials for Butterflies
When we moved into the house we now live in very few butterflies visited the garden. Largely planted up with roses, there was little for butterflies to feed on. The garden has now expanded to become a perennial garden and on warm days butterflies of all kinds can be seen merrily fluttering about the flowerbeds. Perennials produce just the right kind of blooms for butterflies and there are many that flower from July to September, a time when butterflies most need the nectar. Here are just a few of my favorite perennials I find butterflies love.
Achilleas (Yarrow) produce wide, flat heads of small flowers on strong, upright stems, which create a layered effect and are especially pleasing if planted in front of taller, upright perennials. Found in a variety of bright colours, including red, pink, orange and yellow, many open one colour and mellow to another with age. Achillea ‘Terracotta’ is one such variety. The flowers start soft orange, change to yellow, eventually fade to cream.
Asters are an autumn must, but many start to flower a little late to provide much nectar for butterflies. The finely rayed, lilac daisy shaped flowers of Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ open from late July. These are carried in loose sprays that spill forward creating a neat, mildew free mound.
Coreopsis (Tickseed) have the right kind of starry flowers for attracting butterflies. Once only available in yellow, these now come in shades of pink, red, orange and white. Sadly I have found some of the newer hybrids, most of which have been raised in the USA, are not winter hardy. Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ however is very hardy. Slow to emerge in spring, when it does get its act together it produces lots of small, soft yellow starry flowers on wiry stems that cover a low delicate looking mound.
Echinaceas (Coneflowers) have striking daisy shaped flowers that face upwards showing off the large a cone shaped centre. In recent years the choice of varieties has burgeoned with green, orange and yellow flowered varieties being added to older, well-established white and red ones. For those who want reliability I would advice sticking to the older ones such as Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ with creamy white petals and a green centre that turns bronze as the flower matures.
Echinops (Globe Thistles) are stately perennials with intriguing, ball-like flowers that sit on top of tall, rigid stems. Ranging in size from a golf ball to a tennis ball, these balls are created from tightly packed flower buds. Over time little flowers, usually blue, pop out of the buds softening the spikiness of the ball.
Heleniums are some of the best late summer flowering perennials for butterflies. They produce daisy-shaped flowers with relaxed petals that create a frill around a domed, flat-topped centre. The flowers are carried on upright stems and form a lovely colourful broad clump.
Knautia macedonica is one the most charming perennials I grow. The small burgundy scabious-like flowers fit effortlessly into any planting scheme. Blooming for many weeks, the flowers are carried on tall, slender stems, which allow them to float above and between more upright perennials.
Origanum is the latin name for oregano, a plant most people will know as a herb for cooking. However there are some lovely ornamental ones that are a magnet for butterflies. Origanum ‘Rosenkuppel’ produces small, broadly tufted heads of little pink flowers, which emerge from toning mauve calyxes. A low growing plant, in my garden it sit nicely next to purple leaved Sedum ‘Xenox.
Sedums are sturdy, reliable and easy to grow as well as being essential feeding posts for butterflies. They produce wide, shallowly domes heads of little flowers from August onwards. Found in shades of pink, yellow and red the flowers sit on thick stems with fleshy, succulent leaves. The leaves of some varieties, like Sedum ‘Matrona’ are tinted, or coloured dark red.
Verbena bonariensis is a short-lived perennial that it is worth growing for the slender, tall stems that are topped with heads of little purple flowers. Great for adding see-through elegant to a border it is wonderful for attracting butterflies. To keep it in the garden make sure you allow it to seed around the border.