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Create a Butterfly Garden in Your Backyard

Butterfly gardenAfter visiting the wonderful Butterflies & Blooms exhibit at the San Francsico Conservatory of Flowers, my kids decided they wanted to make their own butterfly garden in our backyard. The informative little booklet that the Conservatory hands out to visitors even has a guide to help you create one.

What's a butterfly garden? It's a welcoming spot filled with plants and other features attractive to butterflies. If you do things right, butterflies will eventually find your little oasis and decide to stick around and both beautify and pollinate your garden. That's the idea, anyhow. Creating this sounded like a fun and educational project, and truthfully, our backyard needed a little sprucing up for the summer, so we decided to get to work!

The first step in creating a butterfly garden is select plants that butterflies find beneficial. There are two kinds of plants: nectar plants and host plants. Nectar plants are flowering plants that provide a food source for butterflies. Host plants provide a place for butterflies to lay their eggs, which means they'll be back for another season.

You'll find plenty of online resources to help you learn about butterfly-friendly plants, and many nurseries and garden centers will label plants that attract butterflies. Otherwise, just ask. We find that specialized garden stores like West End Nursery in San Rafael and the locally-owned Sloat Garden Centers (with stores throughout Marin) have really knowledgeable staff that can usually point you in the right direction.

Butterfly garden plants and materialsButterfly garden

Some great choices include any of the salvia plants, which come in a variety of colors and forms, and sunflowers, both of which have a place in our little garden.

In addition to plants, you'll need to provide a comfortable habitat for your little fluttering friends. A water supply in the form of a puddle or dish is helpful, as is a sunny place for butterflies to rest; a flat rock or two works well for this.

We tore out some old plants (and carefully dug up and moved some others) to clear a spot for our butterfly garden, and in a couple hours, the space was completely transformed. It's also useful to have our butterfly garden in close proximity to our vegetable garden beds, since pollinators like butterflies are necessary for plants like squash that rely on them.

Butterfly gardenButterfly garden

We plan on putting in a few more carefully selected plants in the near future, but for now our little butterfly garden is hopefully as attractive to butterflies as it is to us! We haven't seen any yet, but then the weather here hasn't really been very cooperative (although the hummingbirds seem to have found the garden).