Grow a secret garden for butterflies

Ringlet (c) Josh Kubale

This year’s Wild About Gardens campaign, run jointly by The Wildlife Trusts and Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), is calling on gardeners to get growing to help the UK’s falling numbers of butterflies and moths.

Butterflies and moths are important pollinators and, along with caterpillars, are vital food for birds like robins and blue tits as well as bats. However, their habitats have faced catastrophic declines and once-common species like the small tortoiseshell have dropped by up to 80% in the last 30 years in some areas.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly on flowers

Small tortoiseshell butterfly © Scott Petrek

An ideal butterfly garden has a wide variety of flowers throughout the year to support their life cycles – for butterflies and moths emerging from hibernation, egg-laying females, caterpillars and then adults. Early flowering species include dandelions, aubretia and native bluebells which could be followed by buddleia and red valerian, wildflowers and long grass. Ivy flowers late into autumn. Even a small flowerbed or flowering window box could throw declining numbers a lifeline, especially in urban areas.

The Wildlife Trusts’ gardening champion, horticulturist and TV presenter Frances Tophill says:

“Our garden flowers and plants provide a rich source of rejuvenating nectar for these much-loved garden visitors as they emerge from hibernation to herald the start of spring. Go wild in your garden and leave the dandelions and daisies in the lawn to provide a meal, aim for year-round flowers and include a wildflower area for egg-laying females as well as gardeners’ favourites like lavender, nasturtium and verbena. The Wild About Gardens website is packed with information and easy actions we can all take to support butterflies and moths throughout their impressive life cycle.”

Go wild in your garden and leave the dandelions and daisies in the lawn to provide a meal, aim for year-round flowers and include a wildflower area for egg-laying females as well as gardeners’ favourites like lavender, nasturtium and verbena.
Frances Tophill

Ellie Brodie, senior policy manager of The Wildlife Trusts says:

“We all love watching moths and butterflies as they flutter by and brighten up our gardens – being in nature replenishes us and makes us happy. We know that UK wildlife is in decline and needs our help – that’s why we’re asking gardeners to work together and create a wave of long grass, wildflowers, colour and perfume across the country – a nature recovery network for these gorgeous creatures.”    

Helen Bostock, Senior Horticultural Advisor at the RHS says:

“Many moth and butterfly species are helpful pollinators and an important part of a balanced, healthy garden. With many of their natural habitats under threat, consider rewilding an area of the garden to provide food and shelter for these fascinating insects or sacrificing a patch of plants – for example, a window box bursting with nasturtiums will help attract large white butterflies away from your cabbage crop.”

Brimstone butterfly

© Amy Lewis

Pledge for butterflies

Every butterfly garden counts. We want to know about every new wild area, box or border that’s being grown for butterflies. Each garden contributes towards the network of green spaces that nature needs to survive.

Pledge a bit of garden for butterflies and put it on the map 
Wildflower meadow

Wildflower meadow © Paul Hobson

Take notice of nature

In the story of The Secret Garden, the garden eases grief, heals rifts and brings the joy out in all who experience it. Make a special place for wildlife – your very own Secret Garden where you can replenish your soul, reconnect with nature and help wildlife to thrive. You’ve probably noticed how spotting butterflies and birds or walking through woodlands, alongside rivers and streams can help to lift your mood. Make some time for nature today and enjoy the restorative benefits!

A gardener in a community garden

© Paul Harris/2020VISION

Download or pick up a booklet

The Wildlife Trusts and RHS have published a free booklet with colourful advice and easy tips designed to make our outdoor spaces more attractive to butterflies, moths and their caterpillars.

Download here

Find the full range of wildlife gardening booklets, advice and inspiration here.