JENNY STEEL  A New Garden for Butterflies




How to Create a Wildlife Friendly Garden - BBC Easy Gardening

Growing the 10 Best Plants for Wildlife in your Garden - BBC Gardens Illustrated

A Flavour of April in your Wildlife Friendly Garden - Country and Border Life

The Rural Craft of Hedgelaying in Dorset - The Countryman

Managing your Garden in October  - Country and Border Life

The Historic Welsh Gardens of Plas Tan y Bwlch - The Countryman

Looking after the Bees in your Garden - Daily Express

Making Wildlife Ponds the Easy Way - Daily Express

Wings over Mull - a Centre for Birds of Prey - The Countryman

A New Garden for Wildlife with Butterflies in Mind - Butterfly Conservation

The Wildlife Art of Ian and Richard Lewington - Limited Edition Magazine

'I went to Noke and Nobody Spoke' - Fascinating Otmoor - Limited Edition Magazine

Gardening on the Wild Side of Town - New Consumer Magazine

Peter Parks and the Great Rainforest Project - Limited Edition Magazine

The Countryside in January - Limited Edition Magazine

The Countryside in May - Limited Edition Magazine

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Contact Jenny to find out more about her freelance writing


Since constructing a butterfly garden several years ago I have been asked many times whether it was actually worth it.  Do we have more species and greater numbers of insects than before we put in all the hard work? The answer to that question is an unqualified ‘Yes’.  The success of the project has been phenomenal, and that garden was visited or used for breeding by a total of 24 species of butterfly and also had an excellent population of moths, as well as a huge variety of other insects.

The project began when I acquired an area of a commercial orchard on the suburban outskirts of a large Oxfordshire village.  The original insect fauna amongst the apple and plum trees was poor - there was intensive spraying of a variety of pesticides and fungicides on a weekly basis in the growing season: in fact once spraying ceased, and an organic regime was implemented, a few of the trees actually succumbed, overwhelmed by the pests to which they had no natural resistance, after years of artificial help.  Good numbers of some butterfly species did exist in the commercial orchard. Red admirals were abundant late in the summer, feasting on the fallen plums and the occasional comma and speckled wood could also be seen.  There were no good butterfly habitats nearby, in spite of the fact that a local road had been closed, leaving the verges to mature and wayside flowers to bloom.

Careful planning began, with the aim of increasing insect diversity by planting appropriate species, particularly natives, and starting a management regime that was friendly to all wildlife and to butterflies in particular.  Some fruit trees were removed to allow for the planting of a wildlife garden, but as many as possible, nursed back to heath after their lifetime on chemicals, were left to create green screens between different sections of the garden.

The key was in the planting.  Cottage style borders were created using a wide selection of nectar plants.  Native species such as wild marjoram were included in the nectar borders, and a selection of flowering and berry producing shrubs including many Buddleia varieties, were planted in the borders where space allowed.  The whole garden was surrounded by a mixed native hedge with large quantities of buckthorn, blackthorn, spindle, wayfaring tree, hazel and hawthorn.  A large ornamental willow hedge was planted to screen part of the garden, and soon provided a habitat for some of our most conspicuous moth larvae, (particularly White Satin in huge quantities)  Wildflower plugs were added to the sparse orchard grass, and other smaller meadows were created using native grass seed and home grown wildflower plugs.  Even the vegetable garden was designed to be wildlife friendly, with insect attracting plants between the rows, a Buddleia border to screen it from the cottage garden and an edible flower border with many varieties of nectar providing herbs.

The garden matured and grew in spite of a poor dry soil. Eighteen species of butterfly bred in the garden including Brown Argus and a small colony of Marbled Whites.  The management was all important, and the long grass areas were only cut twice a year.  Some tussocky grass was left completely uncut between the trees to allow safe over-wintering habitats for many varieties of invertebrates, as well as hibernation places for hedgehogs.

The effort was well rewarded.  As well as commas, blues, small tortoiseshells and all those other beautiful winged creatures I desired, the garden had many species of visiting and nesting bird, good populations of small mammals including weasels thriving in the long grass, and a large colony of great crested newts in the wildlife pond.  It became a very pretty garden into the bargain, not a forbidding tangle of overgrown shrubs and uncut grass ( as the uninitiated imagine a wildlife garden to be) but an attractive cottage style garden, with cool walks beneath the orchard trees where the speckled woods flew, as well as colourful warm places between gravel paths where clouds of sun-loving butterfly species congregate.

The hard work continues but now elsewhere  After 12 years creating this wonderful garden I moved on to something even bigger - two acres in rural Shropshire.  Here the extra space gave me the opportunity to make large wildflower meadows and a huge wildlife ponds as well as create wildlife friendly herbaceous borders and vegetable beds.  A garden of this size always demands time and effort, and the management is all important if the butterflies and other wildlife are to thrive.  So is it all worth it? There are times when, with my back aching, and my fingers full of wild rose thorns or tingling from nettle stings, I wonder if it is.  But then I see ringlet butterflies dancing over the meadow, or gatekeepers feeding on the wild marjoram, all just outside my back door, and I know I could never have any other sort of garden.

© Copyright Jenny Steel 2017