Whenever spring decides to roll around, I never cease to be amazed. I look forward to seeing the crocus and irises emerge, the grass turn green, and the sight and sound of the first robin. But what gets me the most excited is the return of the caterpillars and butterflies to the garden. Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the thought that these two polar opposites are even closely related. I mean, how could you explain the “Jekyll and Hyde” of a long, squishy eating machine possibly becoming a light, delicate, colorful wisp of flight?
I’ve always wanted to invite these amazing creatures into our yard and last year my wife and I gave in to the urge- we decided to plant a butterfly garden. We did our research and found out we should provide a few basics such as food plants for the caterpillars and nectar sources for the butterflies. Butterflies are sun worshipers preferring a sunny spot away from strong winds. Sandy puddles of water for moisture and basking areas of rocks and logs are also favorite hangouts. Plus, butterflies are important plant pollinators and because of their specific requirements for certain plants, they are good indicators of environmental quality.
We wanted a wide variety of plants that would provide nourishment during the entire life cycle of a butterfly: egg, caterpillar (larva), chrysalis (pupa) and adult butterfly. So our perennial flowers include purple coneflower, liatris, sedum, butterfly weed, asters, and butterfly bush. Next year, once we have a better idea of the growth habits of our perennials, we may add a few annuals such as alyssum, zinnias, heliotrope, marigolds, or sunflowers.
I’m proud to say that we were more than adequately rewarded for our efforts as Monarchs, Viceroys, White Admirals, Aphrodite Fritillarys, and something I had never seen before- the Hummingbird Moth, filled our backyard. I enjoy sitting in the backyard with my wife just watching this new world unfold. Surprisingly, we also saw an increase in the number of birds that visited and our list now includes hummingbirds and the American Goldfinch for the first time.
I think what I like most about the garden is the simple beauty of nature. I have come to realize that, with the emphasis on endangered species and other environmental concerns, preserving nature is one thing and appreciating it is quite another. There is so very much beauty all around us to see, touch, and hear. Nature is so miraculous because it is always changing. No matter how many times you look at something, it is always different. Our butterfly garden has come to remind us of natural cycles and the delicate interconnection of all life.
The beauty found in nature is a common theme in life and in art. Whole sections of libraries and bookstores are filled with books on all aspects of nature. For me, the library is much the same as the butterfly garden, there is every bit as much color, vibrancy and joy to be found in the stacks. And if you add the two together, it gets even better- or in the immortal words of Cicero- “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”