The second blog in our Guest Garden Writer series comes from Sheryl Babin, a writer and gardener from Texas, gardening in zone 9. We hope you enjoy her post and the photos she took as much as we did!
My first experience with butterfly gardening happened by accident and came as a complete surprise. Living in a typical Houston suburb home and being low on outdoor space, one of my first gardening purchases was a Meyer lemon tree. I placed it into a container and set it out on our front porch. Just a few weeks afterwards, I noticed a green and white blob on one of the leaves. It looked suspiciously like bird poop.
I was slightly grossed out, but before I plucked it off I noticed quite a few of the leaves had been eaten. Suspecting it might have been a caterpillar, I turned to my trusty search engine and typed in “caterpillar that looks like bird poo.” I chuckled at myself for such a ridiculous entry, but lo and behold, the first search result came up with a picture of a Giant Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. I admit I squealed with delight.
After a few years, we were fortunate enough to purchase a new home with more outdoor space and gardening options. The first thing we did was tear out shrubbery in the existing back landscape bed. I was determined to have a butterfly garden and immersed myself in research about the type of plants needed to make a habitat. Being in Zone 9, I planted Salvia, Butterfly Weed, Lady Margaret Passionflowers, Lantanas and a Firecracker Bush.
Caterpillars came quickly, and I steeled myself against the inevitable destruction of my plants. The hardest thing about butterfly gardening is watching those tiny creatures decimate your garden! However, it’s completely worth it in the end when you have butterflies swooping in and out of the landscaping.
In the fall, after our first gratifying year of butterfly gardening, I began to contemplate a redesign. However, as I poked around outside, I realized the garden was still teeming with caterpillars I had never seen before. I researched again and found I was the recipient of hundreds of Gulf Fritillary caterpillars, all intent on destroying my Passionflowers. Two days after the discovery, I walked outside and so much of the vine had been eaten you could see right through it to the other side of the garden!
Last year, multiple types of butterflies visited, including Giant and King Swallowtails, Gulf Fritillaries, Monarchs and another type I suspect might have been the Cloudless Sulphur. This year we did a complete redesign and dropped in a Meyer Lemon tree, Lavender, Verbena, Passionflowers, Mealycup Sage, Salvia, Creeping Rosemary and Georgia Blue Speedwell.
I tend to plant for butterflies outside of just one space and have multiple baskets around my property full of Impatiens, Petunias, Bacopa and Calibrachoa. In addition, the front landscaping is full of Duranta, Salvia, Lobelia and Verbena, all plants known to attract butterflies. With just a little research and a small amount of time and effort, I can look out almost any window and be rewarded with a show of butterflies flitting around enjoying the feast I’ve provided.