Winged jewels of the air ... flutterbys ... or no matter what you call butterflies, they fasacinate everyone. Planting a garden to attract them is one of the best ways to get children of all ages interested in gardening and nature, while introducing them to a bit of science at the same time.
How to Attract Butterflies
To attract the most butterflies design a garden that provides a long season of flowers (nectar plants). Perennials, such as chives, dianthus, bee balm, butterfly weed, mints, black-eyed Susan, and purple coneflower, offer a succession of blooms. Add annuals that flower all season, such as cosmos, petunias, and zinnias, to fill out the border banquet. Select flowers with many small tubular flowers or florets-liatris - goldenrod, and verbena, for example - or those with single flowers, such as French marigold, Shasta daisy, and sunflower.
Caterpillars may not be your favorite life form - although your kids might disagree with you - but you will have only a fleeting glimpse of butterflies passing through unless you provide some nourishment for their juvenile (larval) stage. Many of those sources are trees and shrubs, at least a few of which probably already grow in your yard - willows, poplars, cherry trees, and spice bush for example, but they also include herbs, such as dill, fennel, angelica, and parsley, and weedy plants like common milkweed and thistles. One of the best-known butterflies, the monarch, lays its eggs only on milkweed, and its larvae feed on the plant. The weediness of some host plants makes them less than desirable for a space within your more attractive garden beds, but they serve the same function if you place them away in a corner of the yard. To keep them from becoming invasive, remember to remove their spent blooms before they go to seed.
Planning a Child's Garden
Find the sunniest spot in the yard for the garden. Butterflies need the heat of the sun to raise their body temperatures, which helps them fly.
Combine butterfly plants with your other perennials, annuals, and herbs in existing beds, or create a separate garden area especially for the kids. The size of the garden should suit the age of your children; even a space as small as 3 feet by 6 feet will hold enough flowers to attract a few butterflies. If the kids lose interest partway through the season and the garden gets weedy, don't worry: neatness counts for very little to a butterfly. Color, however, is important. Butterflies are attracted to flowers first by their color, and a swath of bright orange butterfly weed or red salvia is easier for them to see than individual or isolated plants. After color, fragrance follows in significance; butterflies have a keen sense of smell.
Incorporate a few rocks in the design. Butterflies often rest on rocks, which reflect the heat of the sun. Edge the garden with rounded rocks, put a small pile towards one side, or make a path through the flowers with flat stepping stones. Create a place where water can collect with a concave rock or a pot saucer filled with wet sand (Moisten the sand periodically if it doesn't rain). Butterflies "puddle" in such spots-the perfect opportunity for kids to watch them up close.
Information courtesy of the National Garden Bureau