bachelors' buttons, Baby's Breathe and poppies

bachelors’ buttons, alyssum and poppies

Some years ago, Sister Sue, a friend and I were driving on an Iowa country road when we began to spot Monarch butterflies headed our way. I always cringe when my car destroys one of these beautiful creatures, so I slowed and eventually pulled over and stopped. Our car was completely engulfed in fluttering wings for a number of minutes. I heard a collective sigh of awe from all of us. That glorious experience is not likely to happen again due to the declining population of butterflies.

Lincoln Bower, Professor at Sweet Briar College, attributes the decline to “[d]eforestation in Mexico, recent bouts of severe weather, and the growth of herbicide-based agriculture destroying crucial milkweed flora in the Midwest.” In the last few years, many gardeners have heard the cry of alarm. Butterfly gardens are increasingly springing up in both rural and city landscapes. Even patio and balcony gardeners can provide habitat for butterflies. If you don’t have room for a  big butterfly garden, think about planting pots of annuals that butterflies find irresistible. Lantana and Penta are happy in pots and are native growing favorites for Monarch butterflies in their winter location.


potted lantana

I began planting pink swamp milkweed a few years ago and enjoyed watching butterflies land, caterpillars munching, and finding a few gloriously iridescent chrysalises.butterfly garden 2

This spring, we decided to plant a dedicated bee and butterfly garden. It is definitely not a tidy Versailles type garden. Fortunately, I enjoy a blousy “whatever decides to grow” back garden. Apparently the humming birds, butterflies and bees approve. In addition to watching the flying critters as I wash dishes, I delight in seeing what new flower varieties spring up from the pound of seed we liberally strew on the 10’ X 20” plot.

Pink Marsh Milk Weed

Pink Marsh Milkweed

cilantro blossoms are bee candy

cilantro blossoms are bee candy

Here are some inspiring Midwest Butterfly Gardens open to visitors:

Reiman Gardens, Iowa State University    Ames, Iowa

Olbrich Botanical Gardens     Madison, WI

Kansas State Insect Zoo    Manhattan, KS

Pueicher Butterfly Vivarium  Milwaukee, WI

Garden Sanctuary for Butterflies  Bellevue, Iowa

Cave of the Mounds National Natural Landmark  Blue Mounds, WI