Often overlooked, moths play an important part in the ecosystem. Not only are they pollinators, but also food for many birds and bats. Here at Le Jardin Perdu, we enjoy nothing more than watching the moths coming out to feed as the sun dips behind the hills. With their amazing array of colours and sizes, moths are just as beautiful, if not more so than butterflies. However, although moth numbers are also in decline, there seems to be little information (or talk) about how we can help them; we think that it’s time to put that right!
What type of plants are best for attracting moths?
As with butterflies, it’s important to try to include plants in the garden that will provide year round nectar for moths. Day-flying moths will enjoy feeding from the same plants as butterflies do, but what about those moths which come out to feed as dusk begins to fall? After resting during the daylight hours nocturnal moths will emerge in search of nectar rich plants, to help them it is best to choose highly scented, lighter coloured flowers that will aid their search for food in the darkness.
Our 8 favourite scented flowers for attracting night-flying moths into the garden
Lunaria rediviva (Perennial Honesty). French name: Lunaire vivace.
This perennial has gently scented, lilac, almost white flowers which will bloom from April through to June. Plant in a sunny position and in well-drained soil. Height 90cm.
Hesperis matronalis (Dame’s violet, Sweet rocket). French name: Julienne des Jardins.
A gorgeous hardy biennial which has clusters of lilac to white flowers. Releasing its scent mainly in the evening, this plant will fill the air with its heavenly perfume from June through to August. Plant in sun or partial shade and in moist but well-drained soil. This would look perfect planted in drifts along the edge of a pond or stream. Height: 90cm.
Nicotiana sylvestris (Tobacco plant) French name: Le tabac sylvestre.
My absolute favourite scented flower to grow! This annual will provide you with an abundance of highly scented, white trumpet-shaped flowers which are a mecca for moths with long proboscis such as the Hummingbird hawk-moth and Convolvulus Hawk-moth. Easily grown from seed in March, they will flower from July right through to the first frosts. We have this planted in our front garden and on our balcony; the perfume in the evening is simply divine! A word of warning through; they self-seed prolifically! Plant in full sun and in well-drained soil. Height: 1m – 1.5m. You can learn how to grow Nicotiana sylvestris in our earlier blog.
This is a half-hardy perennial which is available in a range of colours but try to choose a light coloured variety such as Phlox paniculata ‘David.’ Highly scented, Phlox flowers from July through to October and prefers to be planted in full sun in moist, but well-drained soil. Height: 80cm.
Buddleia davidii. French name: Arbre aux Papillons.
It’s well known that butterflies love Buddleia, but why not plant a white-flowered Buddleia such as Buddleia davidii ‘White profusion’ for moths? This Buddleia produces clusters of gorgeous scented, white flowers from July through to September. Plant in full sun or partial shade and in well-drained soil. Height: 3m.
Oenothera biennis (Evening Primrose). French name: Onagre bisannuelle or Herbes aux ânes.
We’ve seen Evening Primrose growing wild here in France, its pale yellow flowers adding a splash of colour to the countryside as dusk begins to fall. As its name suggests the flowers open in the evening, filling the air with their delicate fragrance. Evening primrose is a hardy biennial which flowers from June through to September. Plant in full sun and in well-drained soil. Height 1m – 1.5m.
Clusters of star-shaped , sweet-scented white flowers smother this deciduous climber from June through to early autumn. It prefers a sheltered position in full sun, and although it is hardy it may need some winter protection.
Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’. French name: Chévrefeuille.
A beautiful, highly scented honeysuckle which flowers from December through to March. This honeysuckle is either deciduous or semi-evergreen depending on your climate. The clusters of creamy-white, tubular flowers contrast beautifully against the bare branches during the coldest winter months. Plant in humus-rich, well-drained soil in a sunny position. It’s a shrubby honeysuckle but it can also be trained against a wall.
When creating a garden for moths, you’re not only looking after our wildlife, but also creating a space full of heavenly perfume for you to enjoy as you sit sipping wine outside on a summer’s evening, now that can’t be bad can it?
To find out which plants day-time flying moths will enjoy, please read our earlier blog about the best nectar plants for butterflies.
We’d love to know what your favourite scented flowers are or what nocturnal moths you have seen in your garden, so please do leave your comments in the box below.
September 24, 2016 @ 5:26 am Cathy
I have always thought geraniums are pretty but minimal use to wildlife but have been surprised to see the day flying humming bird hawk moth feeding every day on my pink ivy leaved geranium flowers. Nice post!
September 26, 2016 @ 8:18 am Katherine
That’s brilliant, I wouldn’t have thought that Geraniums would be particularly popular either!
October 11, 2016 @ 6:09 am Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault
We get a lot of moths here too so maybe I need to think about adding some more plants for them. I wonder how well Chéverfeuille would do up here in Normandy as some winter flowers and scent sounds like a good idea although I doubt many moths would be on the wing then. I reckon I could add some of the others in to my veg patch though. #AllABoutFrance
October 11, 2016 @ 6:36 am Katherine
Whilst there aren’t many moths which fly during the winter months, there are a few such as Mottled Umber and the rather aptly named Winter Moth! For me, having a plant such as the winter flowering honeysuckle, serves a duel purpose, it adds colour to the winter garden, whilst providing a source of food for those few butterflies and moths which are in flight. Lonicera × purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ is classed as fully hardy, but I guess I will just have to wait and see how well it survives the winter here!
November 9, 2016 @ 12:26 pm Phoebe | Lou Messugo
I must admit to never thinking about plants for moths. I know it’s silly but I don’t particularly like moths; things that flutter at night aren’t really my thing! But I love butterflies so it doesn’t really make much sense. I absolutely love the smell of tabac flowers too but they don’t seem to grow well where I am. In reply to Rosie about honeysuckle, we have a wonderful huge honeysuckle on the wall in our barn in Normandy (close to her farm, she knows what I’m on about…) which gets absolutely no attention for months and months and yet it thrives. Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance…I’m sneaking in just before the next one tomorrow!!!
March 17, 2019 @ 9:00 pm Gill
I’ve seen the Hummingbird Hawk Moth plus a larger variety around the geraniums and petunias at dusk during the summer months
March 18, 2019 @ 2:23 pm Katherine
I love hummingbird hawk-moths. Last year we also had a broad-bordered bee hawk-moth in the garden, very similar to the hummingbird hawk-moth but larger. Perhaps this is what you saw too?
March 17, 2019 @ 10:11 pm cathysrealcountrygardencom
Evening primrose plants are loved by the caterpillar of elephant hawk moths. I have seen them eating them!
March 18, 2019 @ 2:20 pm Katherine
Wonderful! Such gorgeous moths and caterpillars!
March 20, 2019 @ 8:53 pm Francesca
Lovely blog! Moths are so beautiful and many people only consider them a pest. Of course, you don’t want them in the house but definitely in the garden. Buddleia is beautiful and so popular with bees and butterflies too!
March 22, 2019 @ 1:39 pm Katherine
Thank you Francesca. I just love watching the moths as they come out on a summer’s evening. One of the best things about including plants for moths is that they smell divine!