Bringing in Butterflies

The Long Border at Linden Hill

When you’re zipping past Linden Hill Gardens on Route 611 in Ottsville, PA, you’ve undoubtedly noticed our super-sized Long Border. At 300 feet long and over 20 feet wide, it’s hard to miss! We work hard to keep it filled with lots of color for passersby to enjoy, even at 55 miles an hour. It’s not just our version of a floral billboard, though. The Linden Hill Long Border serves another purpose: providing a welcoming habitat for a wide range of beautiful butterflies.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)

Large-scale plantings are excellent for attracting butterflies, but you don’t need a 6,000-square-foot border like ours to welcome these winged beauties. A small bed, or even a collection of containers filled with butterfly favorites, can make your property more enticing.

Silver Spotted Skipper on ‘Black Beauty’ Lily (Lilium)

A sunny spot that’s near a deck, patio, or garden bench, where you can sit and enjoy their comings and goings, is an ideal spot for a butterfly garden.

Black Swallowtail on Compass Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

Adult butterflies have particular plant preferences, based on the flower structure and the composition of the nectar. Fortunately, many popular perennials are as appealing to butterflies as they are to us: coneflowers (Echinacea and Rudbeckia), coreopsis, salvias, scabiosas, phlox, and yarrows for summer, and asters, mums, eupatoriums, and ironweeds (Vernonia) for fall, to name just a few.

Monarchs on Tatarian aster (Aster tataricus)

There are many annual options, too, such as lantana, verbenas, zinnias, cosmos, and marigolds, and shrubs as well. You can find much more extensive lists of plants to consider at Recommended Plantings to Attract Hummingbirds, Butterflies, and Moths.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails on Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)

Providing an ample supply of food is just part of the picture, though. To create a complete habitat, you also need to provide butterflies with the plants they prefer for egg-laying, and for their larvae to feed on.

Anise Swallowtail Larva on Dill

This is the tricky part for some gardeners to deal with: that hosting butterfly larvae (caterpillars) means accepting a little — or a lot — of leaf damage as they feed.

Monarch Larvae on Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of caterpillars chowing down in your best beds and borders, consider planting a collection of host plants — such as dill and parsley for black swallowtails, spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and sassafras for zebra swallowtails, and milkweeds (Asclepias) for monarchs — in an out-of-the-way spot. Then, if you find the larvae in your main garden, you can gently relocate them to the less-visible planting, where they can feed freely without damaging your display.

Black Swallowtail Larva on Rue (Ruta graveolens)

We encourage you to come by this summer to stroll around our gardens and enjoy the beautiful butterflies that call them home. And if you would like to enhance your own plantings with butterfly favorites, we still have many excellent nectar and host plants available!

Spicebush Swallowtail on ‘Nicky’ phlox (Phlox paniculata)