Gardens were invented specifically with butterflies in mind and the quality of the garden is proportional to the number of species resident. The minimum count allowed is seven. If for any reason you find yourself lacking the minimum requirement, there are two recommended options.
- Be more observant, you are missing a few.
- Grow some flowers.
My knowledge of this subject is not great and the purpose of this page is to acknowledge the presence of the various butterflies & moths rather than provide a reference source. Some qualities of a good gardener are patience and keen observation and studying the insects around the locality helps to focus the mind. Whether you are beavering away at the flower beds or just sitting out on the patio, be aware of what is happening nearby. Butterflies are usually highly coloured, but all too often go unnoticed.
A dozen common butterflies
- Large white
- Cabbage white
- Orange tip
- Holly blue
- Red admiral
- Painted lady
- Speckled wood
- Meadow brown
The Red Admiral is most often seen in late summer, flying around the fallen apples or basking in the afternoon sunshine. Along with its cousins the Peacock and the Small Tortoiseshell, it is frequently attracted to the Buddleia bush where they can often be seen in large numbers. These butterflies all start out in life attempting to annihilate a nettle patch, but I suggest you grow the buddleia, enjoy the butterflies, and leave the nettles and caterpillars for your neighbours to grow.
The speckled wood butterfly has become much more common during recent years and is probably the most commonly seen butterfly nowadays in the suburban London garden. The small tortoiseshell on the other hand has seriously declined in the same period and I was very pleased when the rather poor specimen opposite flew into camera range. This is another nettle lover so do not nag the neighbours about their weedy gardens too much.
Most of the butterflies found in the garden cause no trouble whatsoever, however the whites can be a serious pest in the vegetable patch. Here the caterpillars feast on all forms of cabbage plants including cauliflowers, sprouts, kales etc but will also eat your nasturtiums. Protection of your brassica plants is best done by covering the crops with fine netting although sprays are an option.
The Orange Tip is one of the smaller butterflies and is usually only on the wing for a few weeks about May or June. The male is easily recognised by the distinctive orange patches at the wing tips while the female is plain white in colour.
There are a number of blue butterfly species but you need to be an expert to identify them while they are flying. The Blues are also quite difficult to see clearly and tend to go unnoticed in the suburban garden.
Several brown butterflies are common in the town garden and these include the Meadow Brown and the Gatekeeper. If you have lots of flowers, these species will take your borders as their own and will be seen flitting about for as long as the sun is shining. If you want butterflies in the garden, then flowers are vital. The more blooms, the more butterflies to flutter by.
Generally, these are the poor relations of the lepidoptera tribe and tend to get ignored as well as overlooked. They are largely creatures of the night but the assumption that if it's "flying during the day it is a butterfly" is a bit short of the mark.
Pyrausta aurata on Dahlia bud
Relegated to the dark hours, most moths tend to be more sombre coloured than their daytime cousins. Coupled to this, many hundreds of the so called macro moths are very small and get passed over. Many of these are very pretty when studied close up as can be seen in the photo of the Pyrausta aurata. This little moth is only about 10mm across (Or maybe I've got the biggest dahlias in the country).
The twenty plume moth, is one of those insects that fly into the house during a Summer's evening to annoy you while watching the telly. This one conveniently parked itself on the edge of the monitor shortly after the day's photos had been transferred to the computer. I had it snapped and run through Photoshop faster than most people would find the fly spray.
Many of the moths produce spectacular caterpillars, either hairy like the wooly bear or just extremely large. Hardly a Summer passes without me having to reassure a distraught mother after little Nipper proudly brings home a privet hawk moth caterpillar. All in a days work.