Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
February, 2004
Regional Report

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Bellying up to the bar for a quick nip of sugar water.

Welcome Butterflies

Skiers and snowboarders may enjoy this winter's snow and ice, but not me. Winter sends me in search of the nearest available tropical paradise just like the migratory butterflies travel in search of a winter haven.

Off to the Tropics?
This time the butterflies and I found our haven in the Big Apple -- albeit indoors and under artificial lights! While New York City might not be our usual idea of a tropical oasis, the walk-through butterfly exhibit inside the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th St.) is almost as good as the real deal.

It's hot in there, hot enough to make you sweat, humid enough to curl your hair, and chockablock full of real fluttering butterflies. The landscape-style exhibit also displays an interesting collection of live tropical plants. Specimens range from exotic blooming orchids to everyday stalwart houseplants, such as mother-in-law's tongue or snake plant (Sansevieria). I over-stayed my timed ticket.

Our Local Butterflies
Bringing us a little closer to home now, the exhibit signage pointed out that over 120 varieties of butterflies can typically be found during the summer in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, and I recognized many of these as being widely distributed throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The names are delightful, almost as fun as botanical names. Think of sulphurs and wood nymphs, monarchs and fritillaries, painted ladies and checkered skippers, azures and swallowtails.

Butterflies at Home
Why not invite some butterflies into your garden? They can be nurtured with nectar-rich plants as well as by providing larval food sources -- plants they can eat during the caterpillar stage of the life cycle. Butterflies also appreciate a spot that's protected from the wind and that offers sunshine early in the day when they need to warm up their body temperature. Set out the welcome mat by adding a few rocks for heating, a little mud puddle for slurping, and maybe a little rotting fruit for a special butterfly picnic treat.

Butterflies and Bees
Common sense says the conditions that attract butterflies will also attract bees and wasps, but in my own garden I have rarely been stung. Maybe once every five years or so at the most. In each case the sting followed an accidental or careless disturbance -- either I stepped on it barefoot, sat on it (ouch), ran into it, or literally grabbed the offender. Now whose fault was that?

A person with allergies might think twice about planting such a garden, but for the rest of us, an occasional sting is a small price to pay for the hours of enjoyment and the enchanting beauty and grace that butterflies so freely share with us. With a little planning, you too can welcome the butterflies this summer.

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Today's site banner is by Marilyn and is called "Salvia regla 'Royal'"