Flowers need to be planted, and seeds need to be sown, but butterflies can be simply attracted to your garden. The right combination of colors and plants will bring these flying flowers to your yard as if by magic--but even magic has rules. This magic involves bringing in flowers that are almost as attractive as the butterflies themselves.
Rolling out the welcome mat
There are two elements to attracting butterflies: providing a good habitat for the caterpillars which will become butterflies, and attracting and feeding the grown butterflies. There will be some differences depending on which butterflies are native to your area, but some examples of good host plants for caterpillars are herbs such as parsley, dill and fennel (Black Swallowtail); milkweed (Monarch), and Queen Anne's lace (Anise Swallowtail). The butterfly bush is aptly named as adult Sulphur, Comma and Mourning Cloak butterflies enjoy its nectar. Goldenrod is another favorite as it will attract adult American Painted Lady, American Snout, Sulphur, Gorgone Checkerspot, Red Admiral and Viceroy butterflies. Another good choice is clover, which prized both as a host for caterpillars and a source of nectar for butterflies. It is used by the Sulphur, Common Checkered Skipper, Eastern Tailed Blue, Gray Hairstreak, Little Yellow, Red Admiral, Silver-spotted Skipper, Sleepy Orange, and Western Tailed Blue. Clover flowers may not be as spectacular, but you can always tuck a little in around a taller plant such as coneflower. In addition to these plants, many common garden plants are exceptional at attracting butterflies. These include daylilies, asters, marigolds, black-eyed Susans and lavender.
Once you have attracted your butterflies, make sure not to lose them. Avoid the use of pesticides at all costs. The "pesky caterpillar" eating your parsley might be bulking up to form a chrysalis and become a Black Swallowtail Butterfly. In the same vein, you might want to be careful about using herbicides on "weeds." Some of these same weeds such as Joe Pye Weed, Thistle, and Milkweed are sources of nourishment to butterflies.
Accessorize and Enjoy the Show!
After you have done all you can to encourage butterflies to visit your garden, add some decorative elements to complement them. Use large ironwork decorations of butterflies, dragonflies and flowers to let admirers know the purpose of your garden. Add gazing balls or glass ornaments to reflect and multiply your butterfly visitors. Add a shallow birdbath to provide a watering hole for butterflies. You can make this even more realistic by adding some sand to the bottom. Finally, consider adding wind chimes with a butterfly theme in order to provide just the right soundtrack for your garden.
While you may have started your butterfly garden to attract butterflies, you will find that it has a beauty all its own. The riot of colors, the variety of plantings and the garden ornaments all combine to make a beautiful garden--even without butterflies. In fact, many of the same elements that make a garden attractive to butterflies will also appeal to hummingbirds, dragonflies and birds.