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Show butterflies they're welcome to visit your garden

May 12, 2003|by Dorry Baird Norris

Last summer the new butterfly garden outside my office window was finally settling in. At least it was doing as well as could be expected in the drought. The butterfly bush (Budidleia davidii) and butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) were surviving. The annual bachelor button (Centaurea cyanus) seeds I had tossed in were surviving, as was the blue flowered borage (Borago officinalis).

By September the borage was sprawling in every direction.

The violets seemed to have taken hold at the base of the Kousa dogwood. It was a satisfactory start for the garden that I hoped would lift my spirits when the dreaded writer's block wrapped me in its dark cloud and I could look out and enjoy butterflies - Mother Nature's fluttering rainbows.

Now it's time for the finishing touches. Many of the plants I wanted to include were too big to split last fall and too stressed from the dry summer to move. Now is the perfect time to divide and set them in place in the butterfly garden.

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One big clump of chives (Allium schoenoprasum) chopped into three parts will make the perfect backdrop for the low-growing pearly everlasting. This year the yarrow (Achillea) seems to have escaped the predations of the rabbits. Their bright yellow flowers will add a jolt of color to this group. The painted lady butterfly larva should find this a perfect dining spot. Later they will enjoy the nearby butterfly bush when searching for nectar.

For the past three summers every time the coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) put out a leaf the rabbits made a meal of it. Since the yarrow has escaped them perhaps if I move the echinacea now and carefully put a cage around it may survive and provide nectar for a wide variety of butterflies.

In another part of the garden the rockcress (Arabis species) is smothering a struggling penstemon, a heritage plant that I bought at Monticello. If I dig out some of the rockcress around the penstamon and replant it in front of the anise hyssop, it will feed the butterflies - give a spot of white to the spring garden and save the penstemon from an early death.

The stonecrop (Sedum spectable) that has been having a rough time in a shady spot should find the butterfly site to its liking. The fritillary will welcome it as a larval host.

The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has popped up in other parts of the garden and is still small enough to move. Monarch and fritillarry larva enjoy that. Cleome seedlings from last year's plants are popping up all over the place; they too can be moved. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for any seedlings that might appear around the false indigo (Baptisia australis). Their pea-like blue flowers and black seeds should provide a good background for the other plants as well as some interest through the winter.

The dill (Anethum graveolens) seed that I got from the Herb Society of America seed exchange that I put in for the monarchs to use as larval food has not appeared - so I will just have to re-seed. The parsley should have already planted so that the swallowtail larva will have a choice of plants to devour. It's amazing how, overnight, they can denude a parsley plant. If they get too hungry they'll just have to move down the garden to the fennel, also a favorite of theirs.

Butterflies called spring azures love dandelions, but they will just have to be content with those growing with abandon on the front lawn. I'm certainly not going add them to the garden.

Add some of these other plants to your garden to send an invitation to passing butterflies that they are welcome. And don't under any circumstances spray with insecticides. You don't want to poison your guests.

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