On Magic Wings: A Visit to the Beautiful Butterfly Conservatory & Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden…

March 4th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Postman (Heliconius melpomene) – Native to Central and South America

Spring may be fast approaching, but yesterday’s cold and wintry temperatures left me craving a bit of warmth, moisture and color. I love visiting conservatories at this time of year, and fortunately, I live near several, wonderful gardens-beneath-glass. One of my favorite wintertime ‘vacation’ spots is the nearby Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The 8,000 foot greenhouse contains hundreds of blooming, tropical plants, a koi pond, birds, reptiles and of course, beautiful and exotic butterflies from all over the world.

Gardeners often ask me what they can do to attract beneficial insects —especially butterflies— to their gardens. Providing a constant source of nectar from cluster-blooming flowers —particularly Buddleia (butterfly bush), Asclepias (both native and tropical milkweed and butterfly weed), Verbena bonariensis, Monarda (bee balm), Phlox, Heliotrope, Aster, Scabiosa, Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Viburnum, Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Liatris (gayflower) and Sedum (stonecrop)is one of the keys to drawing butterflies into your garden. And although the plants mentioned here are favorites, remember that most flowering plants will attract butterflies. Try to fill your garden with blossoms from spring through fall (when migrating butterflies need to gather strength for their journey south), supplementing flowering perennials and shrubs with free-blooming annuals. And remember, many plants attractive to butterflies are also fantastic sources of food for other pollinators; including bees and hummingbirds. Native plants and grasses supply not only food for local caterpillar and butterfly populations, but also create and provide habitat for butterflies throughout their lifecycle and metamorphosis. Butterflies prefer protected spots —enclosed by nearby fences, shrubs/hedges, trees or other tall plants— where they may light on flowers without being blown away by wind. Creating a still oasis will help you to spot these beautiful creatures on calm-wind days.

Beyond design and planting, there is another critical thing to consider when gardening with butterflies in mind. Most gardeners reading this blog have adopted organic practices, but it’s important to note that even the use of organic pesticides can be harmful to butterflies and other beneficial insects. Butterflies of course begin their lives in tiny, vulnerable egg-clusters. As their life cycle progresses —and they become voracious caterpillars— many butterflies are inadvertently killed when they consume pesticide-laden foliage on host-plants; including leaves treated with organic substances like insecticidal soap and Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki). Use organic pesticides sparingly —only when absolutely necessary— and in a targeted manner. To avoid unintentionally killing butterfly caterpillars and other beneficial larvae, become familiar with garden insects, and their various stages of development. Learning about butterflies —and watching their metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to mature butterfly— is a great activity to share with children. If you live in New England, I highly recommend a visit to Magic Wings Conservatory & Garden at any time of the year.

Cattleheart (Parides iphidamus) – Native to Central and South America

Glasswing (Greta oto) – Native to Central and South America

Yet-to-be Identified.

Female Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia (see male below)

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonia) – Native to Central and South America

Rice Paper (Idea leuconoe) – Native to Asia

Male Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia

Owl Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) – Native to Central and South America

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) – Native to Central and South America

All of the butterflies pictured here —from Central/South America and Asia— were taken at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. I will be writing more about North American butterflies in spring and summer. My favorite butterflies from my visit to the conservatory were the Glasswing and Blue Morpho, and in my own yard, I am partial to Monarch butterflies. What are your favorites? Do you try to draw butterflies to your garden oasis?

Special Thanks to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield Massachusetts for Information, Resources and a Lovely Afternoon!

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Article and Butterfly/Botanical Photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Late Summer’s Garden Delight… Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’: Beautiful Bush Clover, Buzzing with Bees

September 3rd, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’ (bi-colored bush clover)  A Bee’s Delight from Late Summer through Mid-Autumn

Ever notice how there always seems to be at least one hopping joint in every town, where the locals routinely gather for their morning coffee or to grab a quick bite at lunch? Yesterday afternoon, I met up with a friend at a just-such a café, and as usual, it was just buzzing with activity. I thought about that place this morning, when I went outside to water the pots on my terrace; noting that my garden has a similar hot-spot. Popular with all the busy bees, my bush clover, (Lespedeza thunbergii), is conveniently situated at a busy garden intersection, between the long perennial borders and the wildflower meadow. From dawn-to-dusk, this elegant-but-relaxed place is just packed with bees and butterflies. The nectar must be very sweet indeed…

Lespedeza thunbergii, ‘Edo Shibori’ – Bicolor blossoms

Lespedeza thunbergii, ‘Edo Shibori’

Of course, this is an undeniably gorgeous plant. And, I’ll readily admit that I planted Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’ for purely selfish reasons. Five years ago, when I picked her up at the garden center, I was —and still am– smitten with her beautiful bi-colored blossoms and soft, graceful form. I also grow the more common cultivar, L. thunbergii ‘Gibralter’, which produces stunning, cobalt-violet hued blossoms; equally popular with the the cool-bees in my garden…

Bush clover softens the edge of my terrace here at Ferncliff

The graceful branches of bush clover sway beautifully in the breeze

Lespedeza thunbergii, which also goes by the name ‘bush clover’, is a relatively uncommon shrub —sometimes classified as a herbaceous perennial plant— native to Asia. Hardy in USDA zones 4-9, in colder climates —like mine— bush clover behaves similar to Russian sage (Perovskia antriplicifolia) and butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii): it dies back to the ground, or nearly so, every winter. In spring, I cut the shrub back hard, and it rewards me each August with a beautiful, airy shape and cascades of tiny, pea-like blossoms from late August through the end of September (Vermont). Bush clover can reach a mature size of 36-48″ high x 48-72″ wide. There are many lovely cultivars, including L. thunbergii ‘Gibralter’ —a popular and beautiful, cultivar with cobalt-violet hued flowers. Bush clover is a non-native species, and although it was introduced to the United States as a valuable food-source to wildlife, it should be noted that this plant may be considered an invasive in some areas (mainly in the southeastern US). Be sure to check with your local cooperative extension system before ordering or planting bush clover if you are in a potentially-vulnerable area (check highlighted links above).

Lespedeza thunbergii is a constant swarm of bee activity in late summer and fall

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Article and Photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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