If butterflies could vote, would your garden win?
Now there’s is a thought, but what if butterflies could vote, would your garden win if pitted against the neighbour’s?
Who would benefit from the beautiful summer spectacle of fluttering butterflies more, you or your neighbours? One of life’s greatest pleasures is sitting in the garden on a warm summer day watching the daily hum of life. Bees buzzing in and out of flowers, ladybirds clambering up plant stems, butterflies and moths daintily balancing on petals to drink the nectar; our gardens are alive with life.
The biodiversity that inhabit these spaces is wonderful and should be enjoyed for the spectacle it is. So how would your garden fare? Will the butterflies vote with their feet and choose your patch and if not why not?
Did you know butterflies taste with their feet
OK, it’s an interesting nugget of information, (butterflies taste flowers and leaves via sensors in their feet), and is a fact that may win you a point and team quodos in a pub quiz; but this is actually a really important piece of information that should govern HOW you garden.
Consider this; if you spray chemicals on the leaves and petals in your garden – what will they taste like then?
One would presume it’s pretty noxious, after all it is meant to kill. The consequence though is that long after the pests have been destroyed, the flower is still useless. It still doesn’t smell or taste like a flower!
The butterfly can’t recognise the plant and so can’t feed, it’s possible the chemical residue could kill the butterfly too! That fabulous ‘kills all aphids in one easy application’ spray has the unintended consequence of rendering your garden a lifeless desert; full of just perfectly formed leaves and petals.
Desiring a ‘perfect garden’ is a false aspiration. It is impossible, plants will always be eaten by something, but plants are used to being eaten. If the munching of bugs was such a problem then our world would look more like this:
I mention this, not because I want most gardeners to feel a sense of guilt about trying to keep the garden looking nice. I just don’t think many gardeners have ever really thought about the long term consequences killing pests has. Most would be horrified to think of their gardens as toxic places for the very creatures they do love watching.
So, what is the solution if you want perfect looking plants, lots of bees and butterflies but no pests!
Unfortunately, if perfection is your goal as a gardener, you are going to be disappointed, there are no smart sprays that only kill the unwanted pests. Chemical sprays simply kill all (or almost all) the insects.
There is a solution however, and it is one I have been writing about for some time now, which is to change what we think a perfect garden is.
You cannot have butterflies without caterpillars, so to view caterpillars as pests but butterflies as acceptable is daft. The problem however is not that caterpillars eat garden plants, it’s that we don’t think they should! Gardeners want plants to look perfect, but this aspiration is neither natural nor is it truly achievable. It is an idea that has evolved from decades of images in books and magazines and TV programs showing how to grow and cultivate perfect plants.
Our understanding of what nature is has been warped by unrealistic imagery!
Albeit lovely, these plants could not look like this if left to grow by themselves. The role of Nature is a balancing act, hunters verses prey, the quantity of life verses the volume of food resource, is all balanced and juggled to ensure all life has a fair crack at the whip. The trouble is we mess it up, because we interfere. We disrupt this balance.
Getting butterflies to vote for your garden is actually quite easy, and involves some very simple steps, what is more of an obstacle though is changing what you think your garden is for.
The simplest step to enjoying a butterfly filled garden is to not spray anything at all.
Let Nature sort itself out. In the short term you will find bugs becoming a problem but that is not because the bugs are the problem, it is because the garden is off balance.
This is the hard bit, though, some of your plants may succumb but this is Darwinism at work; the survival of the fittest. Some of your plants may look a bit bedraggled, but they will grow back. Over a couple of seasons the lack of bug munching predators will resolve itself. If the garden is overrun with bugs, more predators are attracted in and the balance restored. All the gardener needs to do is be patient.
How can you attract more butterflies into the garden though?
Butterflies (and don’t forget moths) drink nectar, as such the simplest way to attract butterflies to your garden is to have lots of nectar rich plants. There are loads to choose from and there are a few simple rules to follow when choosing:
These types of flowers will attract more bees, butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects, they may not look as showy or specatacular as some of the more modern hybrid plants many garden centres sell nowadays, but they are far better for your garden.
Gardens aren’t just for us and the show a garden puts on is more than just pretty eye-candy for humans. The garden show is it’s biodiversity, it is what gardens are all about.
Think of your garden as the place where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of the world with a cup of tea in hand and worry less about being perfect.