Creating Bird and Butterfly-friendly Landscapes

December 10, 2014

We gardeners have a choice. We can fill our landscapes with plants based purely on their looks alone, or we can deliberately select those that bring in an added dimension – wildlife.

creating a butterfly garden

Of course most gardens don’t have this much sky, water or space to work with, but this vista shows the fantastic result you get when you encourage Life into the garden.

Take a walk around your neighborhood and you’ll soon spot the difference. Most gardens are gorgeous but some seem more alive.

shrub garden

This evergreen setting has structure and style but no flowers, so there’s no reason for the nectar or pollen feeders to visit

Take – for example – one with clipped evergreen hedges, avenues of matched trees and massed plantings in the garden beds. Stylish, green and well maintained, this lovely landscape wraps itself becomingly around the home. It offers welcoming places to spend time outdoors, sitting around a fire pit on a chilly evening or under the cooling shade of a pergola on a warm day. However, from a biodiversity viewpoint, this landscape is less welcoming to non-human visitors. From the perspective of pollen or nectar-seeking insects or birds, there’s not much offered, so they’ll go looking for it elsewhere.

butterfly- attracting plants

Introduce diverse plantings like this edgy combination of Flower Carpet roses set again a stand of Tropicanna

Next look for a garden that seems more alive. It may also have clipped hedges, avenues of trees and masses of plantings in the garden beds, but there will be subtle but significant differences. In this type of garden there will be a lot more going on – birds swooping, butterflies dancing about, bees flitting here and there. This garden landscape is full of life because it supports it. It’s full of the right plants arranged in a wildlife-accommodating way. It’s also a garden that’s just as easy to create and maintain.


Here’s how…

1. The framework. A garden’s bones – the walls, paths and fences – play an important role in providing habitat for insects, reptiles and birds. Skinks, lizards and frogs will colonize a dry stone wall, skipping quickly out of the sun when you need somewhere to sit. Plant a honeysuckle up and over a fence and you’ll not only provide a source for nectar feeders but some safe nesting sites.


This framework is also important to humans because it helps give our landscapes some visual structure. A well-designed landscape is also easier to maintain. Paved paths border lawns to stop the grass creeping into the garden beds and trees are positioned far enough from creeper-clad fences so the vines don’t climb into the canopies. And hopefully the design includes layered plantings – ground covers, knee-high plantings and an over-storey of trees. This mimics Mother Nature and helps create habitats for a huge range of critters to live, eat and be eaten.

border planting

Not only does this classic garden border offer food, shelter and beauty, but the position of the path means the lawn is easily kept in place.

All white garden

Firm layers and an even tighter color scheme give this garden a designer edge. But that doesn’t mean the layering doesn’t mimic Mother Nature in creating a great habitat while the flowers offer food.

2. The plants. This is the critical factor and the key to success. There are any number of lists of bird and butterfly-attracting plants available on the web, including National Wildlife Federation’s  site. All you need do is refer to one of these when you’re selecting plants for your new garden (or hunting down some interesting additions to your existing landscape). It’s not hard to do; it’s just one more thing to think about when you’re making your selections.


For example, if you’re thinking about a massed planting alongside the drive to make maintenance a breeze, consider something like Flower Carpet roses because they provide what you need from a landscape perspective and as a wildlife bonus, they’ll bring in the bees and give foraging cover to the birds. So, whenever you’re considering your plant options, pause and think about which of them would work harder to attract wildlife.

bee-attracting plants

: It all comes down to this native bee on a Flower Carpet Amber rose – gardens come to life when we encourage creatures other than humans to visit.

Attracting butterflies is easy with the right plants too, even in small space gardens. Butterflies feed on a wide variety of easy-to-grow plants – from common meadow plants like Milkweed and Queen Anne’s lace to garden plants like Hollyhocks, Lantana, Daylilies, Purple Coneflowers, Heliotrope, Asters, garden phlox like Volcano and even parsley!

easy to grow plants

Lantana is a butterfly favorite and it’s easy to grow!

And remember to use little, if any, pesticides if you’re looking to attract bees and butterflies; those that kill the “bad bugs” also can kill those we want to encourage in the garden.


So, whenever you’re considering your plant options, pause and think about which of them would work harder to attract and create habitats for wildlife.


3. The little extras. This is where it gets fun. Add water and you add Life! It doesn’t matter whether the water is just a small birdbath or a pond planted with some iris or Tropicanna cannas. The watery landscape plantings will bring in the insects and the birds will follow. And if you’ve room for a larger pond, fish are a brilliant addition. You can also place nesting boxes in your trees or hang up a few bird feeders to encourage the avian visitors to hang around longer.


These are incredibly simple steps that will make a profound difference to any garden and to those enjoying it. Sharing your outdoor space with other living things adds a dimension that will have you hooked before you realize it!

bird houses

Nesting boxes don’t need to be this elaborate (or this exposed) to encourage birds into the garden.

crane statues

Sculpture is a great way to evoke the dream – these cranes set the scene.


Walking stick bug

Walking Stick insect on Tropicanna blossom

Welcome wildlife . . .

  • Add layers to your garden planting to create safe habitats.
  • Choose plants that birds and insects enjoy
  • Add water; all life depends on it.
  • Create a landscape plan with a style that’s easy to maintain.


Click here for downloadable hi-res images for this Story-Starter Release or for further assistance please contact Judie Brower at



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