by Jenevieve Hughes | August 28, 2014
One glance at a butterfly, and it’s easy to agree that even the prettiest garden is made prettier with these creatures in it.
Beyond their ethereal beauty, consider also the magnificent role that butterflies play as some of the 200,000 different species of pollinators on the planet.
Of this vast number, 199,000 include various species of bees, moths, butterflies, and beetles, while only a relatively tiny 1,000 account for all the world’s glittering varieties of hummingbirds, as well as bats and other small mammals. Yes, even bats are part of this equation!
Now factor in that 75% of all flowering plants rely on pollinators, and you can see why these creatures are so important to the biodiversity of life on earth.
Last weekend I attended a workshop at the Bellamy-Ferriday House where I learned all about “Creating Gardens for Hummingbirds, Butterflies, and Bees,” the most recent offering in an ongoing Landscape Workshop series led by site horticulturist George McCleary, an expert in organic gardening.
The site also serves as a Monarch Butterfly Waystation, a project in collaboration with the Bethlehem Land Trust, which manages 81 acres of forests and fields surrounding the house known as the Bellamy Preserve. Throughout the summer, special events give children the chance to learn about the life cycles of butterflies and watch caterpillars devouring milkweed, the sole source of food on which the larvae of Monarch butterflies depend.
Using examples of plants on the property, George showed us how he maintains Bellamy-Ferriday’s landscape in ways that protect pollinating species. He also taught us how to create pollinator-friendly gardens at home, and I’ll share a few tips so you too can enjoy these wonders in your own backyard.
The Bellamy-Ferriday property is a unique historic landscape that blends a formal parterre garden with an orchard, extensive meadows, and surrounding woodland. A windbreak of trees flanks the garden on one side, offering essential protection for any pollinators feasting among the perennials. In fact, historic gardens are often an ideal canvas for creating and maintaining a landscape that will attract pollinators galore. For one thing, there’s a good chance they already contain plenty of old perennials, which are primed by nature to charm pollen-carrying creatures close at hand. Old-fashioned flowering plants typically contain more nectar than newer cultivars, which may be bred for other characteristics at the expense of scent. And historic gardens tend to favor traditional methods for garden maintenance that are gentle on the earth.
On the land around the house and formal garden, George cultivates prime pollinator habitat by maintaining the Jewelweed, Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod, and Thistle that have called this landscape home long before the Bellamys or Ferridays ever did.
But every other year, he mows down these plants to knock out poison ivy, which can spread like wildfire, threatening the fruit trees as well as a ‘Red Vein’ Enkianthus that attracts a bevy of winged things and vibrates with a perpetual buzz of bees getting plump off nectar.
And behind one of the barns, George maintains a wild garden that beckons Eastern Swallowtails to linger all summer long.
As in any naturalized landscape, the Bellamy-Ferriday property contains many plants that have evolved over time in tandem with their pollinating species. So you could say that these native plants and their pollinators were made for each other… and who doesn’t love a good love story?
To create your own pollinator habitat, choose an area with as much sun as possible. Butterflies in particular require temperatures above 65 degrees to keep blood flowing to their wings. If you see a butterfly basking on a sunny rock while gently opening and closing its wings, it is attempting to warm itself and ready its wings for flight. For this reason, well-placed rocks in a garden can create the perfect butterfly perch.
Next, select your plants! Gardens with a high density of diverse plants are most attractive to pollinators. The possibilities are extensive, but consider adding: phlox, coneflower, goldenrod, zinnia, nettle, yarrow, snapdragon, aster, mum, coreopsis, cosmos, fennel, sunflower, sweet pea, broccoli, cabbage, nasturium, lupine, lavender, marjoram, oregano, thyme, parsley, and dill… to name just a few!
Finally, place a bowl with mud in your garden to give butterflies a place to drink and obtain materials. Butterflies “taste” through their feet, and the mud is necessary for enabling them to drink, which they do through a process called “wicking.”
The formal garden at Bellamy-Ferriday features stylized parterres that George keeps filled to the brim with flowering plants, which produce a succession of blooms all season. This not only means an enticing palate of changing colors for visitors, but also a continuous supply of nectar.
Spring’s candy-colored mix of lilacs, lupines, columbines, and bleeding heart give way by late summer to lobelia, mullein, and mountain mint, while old roses that tumble over stone walls in June begin to bow out so that lilies, hyssop, and penstemon can steal the show, enticing pollinators straight to the source.
If you attend one of Bellamy-Ferriday’s Landscape Workshops, you’ll come away brimming with information to bring back to your own garden. Armed with handouts, field notes, and questions answered, you’ll have a renewed confidence that you, too, can create a magnificent organic garden, including one where bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will want to hang out.
Join us next time on the blog for another peek at pollinators in the garden, when we’ll take a closer look at selecting plants for hummingbirds. We’ll also head to the Webb-Deane-Stevens House in Wethersfield to chat with Master Gardener Rose Riley about the site’s Colonial Revival Garden and some of her favorite bee-friendly plants.
And don’t miss the next offering in the Bellamy-Ferriday Landscape Workshop series on Sunday, September 14th, from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. George will tell you everything you need to know about garden tools, including how to select the best ergonomic equipment and methods for proper maintenance. You’ll gain a new-found commitment to keeping those wooden handles oiled and those metal tools from rusting!
Then, on October 12th, George will show you how to divide perennials in your garden and explain proper techniques for plant propagation. You’ll learn how to prepare trees, shrubs, and flowers from potential damage caused by winter winds, freezing temperatures, and animals.
And on November 28th and 29th, George and his wife Carol will offer a festive tutorial on how to create a gorgeous holiday wreath using greens, flowers, pine cones, and natural materials. You won’t want to miss this!
But, in the meantime, it’s still summer! Go forth and enjoy your garden, or visit one of ours!
Editorial Note: Landscape Workshops at the Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden are $20 per person. To register, please contact (203) 266-7596 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit http://www.ctlandmarks.org/page/bellamy-ferriday-events.