These Easy Projects Will Fill Your Space With Colour and Come Hither Wings
E nticing one of the world’s most beautiful creatures into your garden is fun and easier than you might think. Just provide the right food and habitat, and pretty quickly, you will be rewarded with the soothing sight of butterflies flitting from bloom to bloom, as in Bella’s garden, p34. They’re mesmerising to watch, and seriously good for stress relief! These fragile treasures play a vital role in pollinating our crops and flowers, but they need our help in return. Recent national reports have shown a 76% decline in Britain’s butterflies over the last 40 years. These projects will make your garden a place where they can thrive, with a feast of nectar and a spot to lay eggs and hibernate.
BUILD A HOTEL
This nest box will provide warmth and shelter for your garden butterflies, and it’s easy to create by altering a standard bird house with a pitched roof. With three vertical slots cut into the front, the winged insects can climb through the openings and find refuge among their favourite leaves placed inside. Using a flat-head screwdriver, carefully prise off the front of the nest box. Use this as a template to cut out a replacement from an offcut of 6mm thick plywood or MDF. To create the three slots, measure and mark three parallel lines in the centre of this piece. Position them to form an arrow shape that echoes the gable roof line. With the wood flat and secure, drill holes at either end of each marked line.
These holes need to be big enough for a jigsaw blade to slide through. Carefully saw down either side of each line, joining the top holes to the bottom, to create three 5mm wide slots. Fill the inside of the box with a few twigs – branches of buddleja are perfect for butterflies – before fixing the front section back in place using a staple gun or tiny metal tacks. If you like, paint the box to suit your planting scheme and staple on an offcut of roofing felt for extra charm. Screw to a wood post and sink into the ground or sturdy planter.
PROVIDE A PUDDLER A
well-placed saucer of water will allow male butterflies to ‘puddle’, where they suck up water to get vital salts and minerals. Simply place a shallow dish on a level surface near to nectar-rich plants such as ivy, buddleja, mint or hyssop. Cover the base with sand, add a few pebbles and fill with water, making sure the tops of the stones protrude above the surface. This will enable the butterflies to drink and bask without getting their wings wet.
PLANT A LAVENDER AND HERB WINDOW BOX
Lavender, lemon thyme and lemon balm flowers all produce plenty of nectar, and the scent will alert butterflies to the feast from far and wide. And they’ll love sunbathing in the reflected heat from the glass pane. Make the window box from an old wooden box – a reclaimed narrow drawer is perfect. Drill holes in the base for drainage, and paint the outside a soft shade of blue. Or try the Heavy Duty Large Rectangular Wooden Window Box, £24.99, from amazon.co.uk. Fill with moisture-retentive container compost, add your plants, firm the roots in place and top up with compost. Water thoroughly.
MAKE A SUGAR STATION
Butterflies need energy to fly, breed and survive, and this feeding station will supplement what they get from the nectar in your blooms with a fast fix of sugar water. Constructed from a branch, ribbons, plastic tray and sponge, it’ll attract lots of these shimmering beauties to your outside space. You will need an attractively shaped, sturdy branch that is around 1-1.5m high. Check that the timber is sound and free from rot, and push into the soil in the centre of a flower border or large pot. Firm the soil around the base using your heel to ensure the branch is secure and remains upright. Wedge a couple of plastic trays (a clear takeaway carton is perfect) into the forks of the branch, place a sponge in each and use florist wire or string to secure. Mix up a sugar and water solution to attract and feed the insects. Stir 3 tbsp of granulated sugar into 12 tbsp of warm water, and pour into the containers. The sponge will soak up the liquid and hold it for longer. Finally, tie lengths of brightly coloured ribbon to the branch – yellow, orange and pink work best. As they flutter in the breeze, they’ll attract butterflies who mistake them for vibrant blooms.
SET UP A BUTTERFLY WALL
Create a heavenly spot for butterflies with an eye-catching nectar feeder hung among the leaves of a protective climber. Star jasmine is a real go-to plant for pollinating insects, as its scented blooms and long-flowering season from June to August, provide them with plenty of food. This fast-growing climber also keeps its leaves throughout the year, providing a vital place for butterflies to perch and hibernate during the colder months. Double the appeal by teaming this prolific climber with a row of low-growing but bloom-laden thrift, whose pink drumstick flowers are full of pollen. Plant directly into a raised flower border or opt for a flat-sided planter such as the Contemporary Light Concrete Trough Planter, from £31.99 getpotted.com.
Fix wire supports to the wall – if you want to make it quick and easy, try stretching 25 x 25mm Welded Wire mesh, £18.99/90cm x 6m wirefence.co.uk, across the wall. At the base plant the star jasmine, carefully firming the root ball in place and gently twining shoots around the nearest supporting wire. Next, plant the thrift along the front of the border. Fill the butterfly feeder with the supplied nectar – simply mix one sachet with 150ml of water – before hanging from the trellis. Refill nectar sachets are available, £7.99/3, nhbs.com.
GROW A NECTAR FEAST
This planting recipe is a butterfly banquet in a pot, and it looks good too! Filled with daisy-like cosmos and China aster, feathery Chinese fountain grass and a dwarf buddleja, this all-white combo is ridiculously rich in nectar and totally irresistible to pollinators. A bowl-shaped planter gives them plenty of places to bask and shelter depending on the weather and temperature. If you haven’t already got one, try the Vanburen Plastic Plant Pot, £14.99, from wayfair.co.uk. Fill the planter with moisture-retentive container compost to just below the rim. Add the plants, sowing the aster and cosmos seeds in the gaps, and water thoroughly. Keep the compost moist but not sodden, and wait for the flowers, and a cloud of winged wonders, to arrive!
WHAT TO DO 1
Line the basket that will form the lower half of the sphere to retain the compost. Line with sheet moss first, then cut a circle from the piece of weedblock fabric with a few splits for drainage, so it will fit inside the moss lining. Half-fill the basket with compost, then gently firm down using your fingers.
2 Arrange the plants inside the basket and cover the root balls with compost. Add more compost to fill any gaps.
3 Lower the second basket carefully over the plants, teasing the flowers and leaves through the gaps in the basket.
4 Use wire cutters or pliers to cut short lengths of wire to join the two baskets. Bend and wrap the wire around the rims to fix them securely. Four equally-spaced wires around the circumference of the baskets works well. Repeat steps 1-4 to create two more spheres. 5 Suspend the spheres using the metal chains that are supplied with the baskets, then water well and allow to drain.
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