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If You Plant It They Will Come, Or At Least You Hope They Will


I’ve planted a butterfly garden. At least I’ve planted my side yard with flowers, mostly natives, that butterflies are said to enjoy.


This is what the space used to look like. Overgrown with thistles, here seen through a shrubby plum tree, a mock orange, and bamboo.


Thistles, filling the space in sunlight.


Thistles, finally cut down.

Then I drew that little pencil sketch above. Plotting sage, milkweed, yarrow, mint, checking for height and color.


Then, last November, we planted. Imagine you walked through that plum tunnel above, this is what you see now. Lining the fence,


and accompanied by a horde of volunteer myosotis along the wall of my house. Those stumps are the remains of three Monterey pines that towered over us for years. I used to climb up on the roof and sweep pine needles. Once even when pregnant. I love trees, mind you, but those were non-benign. Best planted along a fierce coast, where they come from.

Now, with any luck, some friends will visit.


Here’s a butterfly’s view.




I think butterflies can look past a weed or two.


We moved the bush anemones from under the oak, where they were perishing. Butterflies, this is for you. A flower boudoir shot, in case you’re feeling romantical.

Butterfly gardens don’t require native plans, as butterflies don’t eat taxonomies. If they like the nectar, they come. But it’s safer, and more fun, really, to sort out which plants those gaudy brilliant flyers grew up on. Native plant nurseries can provide both plants and knowledge. I planted, I confess, without a strict observance of light requirements — I hope the plants bloom despite my lack of attention to detail.

Just this week, we had a spell of summer weather. I was standing at my kitchen window, and I saw, above the abelia hedge, a pair of flapping orange wings. I ran outside in bare feet, exclaiming. Then, really, I ran back inside, and round to the window that overlooks my new plantings. I’ll be darned if the little critter didn’t fly over the fence and land on the warm ground, where it rested, for a few seconds, opening and closing its wings.

One came, one actually came. I’ve ordered this book and will keep it to hand. If I could send out invitations, letterpressed, flower-covered, serve champagne on trays, I would.

Butterfly cast of characters, starting top left of collage, moving clockwise.

Anise Swallowtail
Cabbage White
Gulf Fritillary
California Sister
California Hairstreak


Links may generate commissions. N.B. If you enjoy garden posts, Materfamilias, the Hostess of the Humble Bungalow, and Faux Fuchsia can be relied upon for lovely photos of their flowering friends.

40 Responses

  1. Good morning Lisa!
    A beautiful post on your butterfly garden and I am sure they will come to enjoy those plants.
    Thank you for mentioning our garden and linking to my blog. With spring well underway the garden is starting to come alive after its winter slumber so I will be focusing more energy in that area and posting lots of pictures soon.

  2. For your consideration designing garden note cards from Lisa. Monarch population
    has been declining for years perhaps your
    floral invites will increase their number.

    1. @BarbaraG, That is very sweet of you to suggest. And I’d hop and clap if a Monarch decided to lay its eggs here. Hop and clap and hop some more.

  3. I had a butterfly garden years ago, when the children were young and we lived in a house with a yard.

    It was wonderful – the butterflies came in droves! I would chase them around the garden with my camera (and wasted a lot of film in the pursuit of the perfect shot).

    Lucky for you cameras are digital now!

  4. What a interesting post! Your garden looks so fresh and inviting-the first butterfly has to be the patrol,to check the accommodation and rate 5 stars!
    Now,I’m going to google all of this,step by step!
    And if I find the english name of my first butterfly
    this spring,I’ll be back
    I wish you a lot of butterflies

    1. @dottoressa, ok,much wiser :-)
      Wow,your butterflies are gorgeous!
      Wow again,we have a lot of species!
      I have seen Cabbage white and Cleopatra,for the beginning!
      And I have achillea millefolium,sage and myosotis (oh,I adore it)
      See,I’ve learned a lot and am going to spy on my butterflies :-)

  5. Beautiful idea to open your garden to the pollenators! You will attract birds, insects, and bees as well. Provide a large shallow bowl of water, and the butterflies will rest on the rim and drink. If you want the swallowtails to hatch in your yard, plant parsley and wait for the Queen Anne’s lace-like flowers to appear on second year plants. The swallowtails lay their eggs on the tall stems, and you’ll find vividly striped large lime green, white, yellow and black caterpillars eating there one day. Resist the urge to squash the alarming intruders! They will form jade green chrysalises when they are 3 or more inches long, and hatch into glorious butterflies within weeks, dangling upside down by silky black legs as their wings unfurl and dry. You may be sitting out in the garden having some iced tea one day and madly rush off to get your camera to record the event, all summer long! Thanks so much for your entertaing perspective on life.

    1. @Chaika, Oh thank you for the idea! Parsley? I had no idea. The bowl of water will be tricky, as the Aedes mosquito is around, and they will lay eggs in the shallowest of water. I guess I could put the bowl out in the morning and empty it at night, I assume the eggs take longer than 8 hours to hatch? Thank you also for your kind words. Isn’t life wonderful?

    2. A very small water feature — just a basin with a pump — would do the trick, add some lovely sound, and the water’s movement would keep the mosquitoes from hatching in it. It’s still water that’s a problem.

  6. Once again, you have inspired me. Will be checking our local nursery for what you’ve done, Idaho version.

    Thank you. Those butterflies need all the help they can get.

    1. @Mary anne, They do need our help. And they’re just so extraordinarily pretty. I hope your plantings go well, and your yard is full of little flappers this summer and fall

  7. I love this, especially the sketches! (and thank you for the mention, although my gardening days will soon be behind me, sniff, sniff). We’ve got some wild patches on the island (side of the road, a few vacant lots) where thistles thrive, and butterflies love the honeyed-smelling flowers, but they’re not such a garden-friendly plant, are they?
    We get butterflies here aplenty and dragonflies seem to love our little pond (did you give yours up after the raccoon troubles?) and we’re lucky to have a neighbour who raises bees on the island, so there’s a high awareness here about what to spray and what to avoid. Gardeners like you help to make more and more of their neighbours aware of the consequences of our penchant for tidiness — and ways we might still achieve beauty and neatness enough without destroying our environment. Kudos!

    1. @Frances/Materfamilias, Your painting inspired me. It does use a completely different part of the brain, a quiet one, which I really enjoy. And I wish you a balcony, with pots, for herbs and flowers, if that would be fun. That’s my dream when I think about an eventual move full-time to the city.

  8. love the new gardening you! Am a big believer in cutting down trees that are in the wrong spot, people go berserk but the light that gets let in is magic. You are brave attracting white cabbage moths- in my garden they eat and destroy everything! Is this not good for the soul?

    1. @Faux Fuchsia, My pleasure! And Cabbage Whites might eat a lot of things, but, I tolerate so much fraying in my garden, yellow leaves, black spot, etc., that their damage probably gets lost in the other kind of “fray;)”

  9. You’re a much better artist than you realize. This is the second time (I believe) that I was blown away by how charming your drawings are!

    Beautiful butterfly garden. I’ll be in full gardening mode for a few weeks getting spring vegetables and fruits planted.

    1. @Kathy, and Susan, this is really lovely to hear. It’s a part of my being that’s been dormant forever and a day, the only drawing I’ve done for years has been rectangles and arrows of strategy on a white board! Good for you Kathy doing vegetables and fruits. Maybe I’ll get there next year. This year has been foundational, I’d love to grow some vegetables and herbs in the future.

  10. I don’t know if you are familiar with the plant Salvia Leucantha (also known as Mexican Bush Sage). I’ve had it for years in our front flowerbed. In Texas, it blooms like crazy (purple and white) in the late summer until frost. The Monarch Butterflies LOVE the blooms.

    I look forward to seeing how your garden progresses!

    1. @Susan D., We had salvia leucantha in our garden years ago, it grows pretty well out here – although the flower stalks tend to get a little twisty, if that makes sense. Best in a bed, as you have it, as opposed to on its own. I have a native cultivar, salvia ponzo, let’s see how it does! I bet the monarchs look just gorgeous in your front flower bed.

  11. I can’t pull up the link to the book. It just comes up blank. Is anyone else having this problem?

    1. @Allyson, Oh gosh you are right. I forgot to QA my links. I’ve fixed it now – it’s a butterfly book that apparently has lots of background and information. Should arrive today, I’ll check back in and tell you if it’s good! I also ordered this,, which is a laminated piece with pictures, simpler, I’m thinking my nephew might like it – who am I kidding, it’s for me! Ha!

  12. I love seeing what comes up in the garden with each season. This time of year, I especially enjoy my walks and looking at all the flowering trees in my neighbors’ yards. So glorious! Thank you for sharing your garden.

  13. What a lovely garden, Lisa. Last year we bought flowers for our balcony that bees like to feed on (there is a serious decline in the number of bees in the UK) and it worked! I was so excited when they were buzzing around the foxgloves. It will happen.

  14. Good luck. It looks wonderful.

    If you haven’t already you may want to further entice butterflies by adding some flat stones for warm resting places for butterflies and a “puddle” (semi-bury a flat pan/plant saucer in the soil with water and a few pebbles or coarse sand which is kept wet.

  15. How wonderful! And what a good decision to leave the stumps. So good for the soil. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Anything has to be better than housekeeping on the roof. Will love to see them all blooming.

  16. Lovely stuff! Here’s wishing you colourful fluttering wings!

    I’ve been on a big gardening kick this week now that I’ve got a little space to fill. It took several days to dig over and weed the raised planter (about 3-4 meters wide by about 1 meter wide), carefully choose the plants and actually get around to planting them. I’ve gone for quite a few ‘bee-friendly’ varieties and made sure that slug pellets are wildlife and cat-friendly ‘cos we have a lot of neighbourhood cats.

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