Gradually Growing a Butterfly Garden (while Finding a Community)

Reader Contribution by Shannon Mach
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Horn-like Osmeterium

It started with a backyard like many others. Some lawn, trees, and shrubs — just a random mix of gardening inherited from a long line of previous homeowners.

Without much thought, I added in some flowers from the local nurseries: peonies, roses, and a few of the commonly sold exotics. In response, I noticed very little wildlife. I convinced my husband to build a large pond, complete with a bubbly cobblestone river for the birds. The pond caused some action — birds arrived and toads began to visit the pond for spring mating rituals. I saw an occasional butterfly pass through, but they would never linger for long.

As a child, I had been fascinated with butterflies, bees, and all other sorts of insects. I had played in the fields and delighted in the array of amazing insects that lived and dined on the native wildflowers. I decided to rethink my backyard with the goal of attracting butterflies.

I learned a bit more about nectar flowers and began planting coneflowers, bee balm and a few zinnias. A couple of Monarchs showed up late in the season to nectar, but still no major results. Then one day, in early summer, things began to change.

Backyards as Essential Butterfly Habitat

Eastern Black Swallowtail egg on fennel

I had a planter of herbs located near my deck door, perfect for grabbing a handful for cooking. To my surprise, I noticed a beautiful Eastern Black Swallowtail frequenting that little herb garden. And then I found a few lovely seed-pearl eggs clinging to the fennel. In that moment, I recognized that host plants are the foundation of a butterfly garden.

Over time, and after reading some of the writings of University of Delaware Professor, Doug Tallamy, I also came to realize that many species of butterflies are in desperate need of habitat — and that backyards have the potential to play a large role in helping many species survive to be enjoyed by future generations.

As they say, the rest is history. I researched regional butterflies and their host plants. Soon I was rewarded with a yard dancing with butterflies — and crawling with caterpillars.

Finding Community through Pollinator Gardening

Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar

This journey of awareness also introduced me to some wonderful kindred spirits; gardeners who are equally concerned about the obvious decline in butterfly (and pollinator) populations. Through our shared experiences, and encouragement – our backyard habitats expanded and so did our winged populations. Indeed, meeting these unexpected friends seemed like a serendipitous occurrence; something that was meant to be.

With this in mind, I began a Facebook group, and chose the name Serendipity. Serendipity is a friendly place that encourages others to share their ideas, learn about host plants, post photos of their amazing backyard visitors, and promote pollinator gardening by inspiring others. It is an amazing experience working with these like-minded people — and being a part of this important grassroots movement to save the pollinators one yard at a time.


Newly eclosed Papilio polyxenes asterius drying its wings

Photos by Shannon Mach, SE Michigan Butterfly and Pollinator Habitat 2018

Shannon Mach believes residential backyards have the potential to support long-term conservation efforts. Her own garden is certified as a Monarch Waystation, a Wildlife Habitat, a Butterfly Garden, and a Pollinator Habitat. The philosophy of her Facebook group, Serendipity, is to create a place that feels like a nature walk with friends.

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