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Gardening for Wildlife Part 1: The Best Nectar Plants for Butterflies

I have never seen so much wildlife in a garden as I have since moving here to France. Butterflies, bees, hoverflies, beetles, and some of the strangest looking insects I have ever seen are in abundance here.

As they are all kind enough to visit my garden, I think I should make it worth their while and hopefully entice them to stay even longer. Over the next few months I’ll be writing about how I am improving not only the plants and flowers I have in my garden for wildlife, but also about how I am creating living areas for these little creatures.

Verbena Bonariensis

Verbena Bonariensis

To start with I am thinking about butterflies and what shrubs and flowers I can add to provide them with year round nectar.

Butterflies like warmth so it is best to choose plants for sunny, sheltered spots where they can feed on the nectar whilst basking in the sun, out of wind.

The most important seasons to think about flowers for are early spring, when butterflies are first emerging from their hibernation and autumn when they need extra food in order to build up their reserves for the winter months ahead. I have also thought about a couple of late flowering plants I can include in my garden for those who may venture out in winter, falsely attracted by a sunny spell.

There are many flowers you could choose to include in your garden to provide butterflies with nectar throughout the seasons, these are simply ones which I like and have chosen to include in mine.

Early – Late Spring Flowers for Butterflies

Dianthus Barbatus, French name: Oeillet de poète. These can be annuals, biennials or perennials, so check the type before you buy. They flower from February to September and are available in pink, purple, red and white. Height: 45cm

Erysimum ‘Winter Orchid,’

Erysimum ‘Winter Orchid,’

Aubrieta, French name: Aubriète. A mat-forming evergreen perennial which flowers from March to May, available in pinks and purples. Height: 10cm

Erysimum, French name: Giroflée. These can be annuals, biennials or perennials, and come in a variety of colours. They flower from March – August (and probably beyond!), one I’ve seen highly recommended recently is Erysimum ‘Winter Orchid,’ a short lived perennial which is delightfully scented. Height: 30cm

Primula , French name: Primevère. Flowering from February to May these provide a great source of early nectar. They are available in pale yellow, pink and purple. Height: 10cm.


Bergenia cordifolia

Bergenia cordifolia

Bergenia cordifolia, French name: Bergenia Rose. From March to April tall red stems carry clusters of bell-shaped cerise pink flowers. These spikes tower above the large leaves which give this plant its common name of Elephant’s Ears. Height: 30-40cm

Cosmos bipinnatus. From May to November this half-hardy annual will produce an endless mass of saucer-shaped flowers. Available in white, pink, and red this flower is loved by butterflies. Height: 60cm

Ceanothus, French name: Céanothe. From late spring into early summer this evergreen shrub is covered with clusters of dark blue flowers. It is frost hardy but may need some winter protection in colder areas. Height 1m-6m

Pyracantha. French name: Buisson-ardent. In late spring clusters of small white flowers appear on the spiny branches of this evergreen shrub. It can either be planted as a free-standing shrub or trained against a wall. Height: 4m

Berberis darwinii, French name: Berbéris de Darwin. Bright clusters of nodding orange-yellow flowers appear from mid-late spring on this evergreen shrub. Height: 2.5m

Summer Flowers for Butterflies

Allium, French name: L’ail d’ornement. In June to July large round flower heads made up of a mass of tiny star-shaped flowers open on the end of slender stems. Available in purple or white, these bulbs can grow from 10 – 100cm depending on the variety bought.

Allium 'Purple Sensation'

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’

Lavender angustifolia, French name: Lavande officinale. This quintessential English lavender is full of spikes of tightly packed small purple flowers from July to September. Height: 50-60cm

Scabiosa atropurpurea, French name: Scabieuse atropurpurea. This flower is a mecca for butterflies and with regular deadheading can continue to flower from June through to November. Height: 100cm

Tagetes patula, French name: Oeillet d’Inde. Available in bright yellows to intense oranges, these can flower from June through to October. Height: 20-25cm

Helenium, French name: Hélénie. This herbaceous perennial has gorgeous daisy like flowers with large centres perfect for butterflies. It will flower from June to September and is available in an array of yellows, oranges and burnt coppers. Height: 50cm – 1m

Helenium autumnale

Helenium autumnale


Centaurea cyanus, French name: Centaurée. A hardy annual with bright blue flowers which appear from July to September. Height: 90cm

Hebe, French name: Véronique arbustive. An evergreen shrub which tends to form a dome shape. From June to July it is covered in spikes of small white flowers. Height: 50-60cm




Late summer -Autumn Flowers for Butterflies

Dahlia. It is best to choose single Dahlias which have open flowers for butterflies to feed from. Flowering from July to September Dahlia grow to 60-10cm in height depending on the variety you buy.

Dahlia 'Happy Single Party'

Dahlia ‘Happy Single Party’

Rudbeckia fulgida. A hardy perennial with gorgeous bright yellow, daisy style flowers and prominent cone-shaped centres. Flowers from August to October. Height: 90cm

Aster x frikartii. This has lovely bright lavender-blue flowers with golden centres which are laden with pollen. This hardy perennial flowers from July to October. Height: 70cm.

Sedum spectabile. Succulent grey-green leaves are topped with large flat heads of pink flowers from August to November, a perfect source of late season nectar. Height: 50cm




Sedum spectabile

Sedum spectabile


Verbena Bonariensis, French name: Verveine de Buenos Aires. Tall, elegant stems, which grow to a height of 1.2m, are tipped with branched clusters of tiny purple flowers from August to October

Buddleia, French name: Arbre aux Papillons. An obvious choice maybe and the French name says it all, but when it is loved by at least 18 different species of butterfly, who am I to argue? Highly fragrant flowers bejewel this shrub from July to September. Height: 1.5 – 2.5m






Winter Flowers for Butterflies

Mahonia Japonica

Mahonia Japonica


Hedera helix, French name: Lierre commun.From October into November clusters of yellowish-green flowers appear on this evergreen climber providing a great source of late season nectar for butterflies.

Mahonia japonica, French name: Mahonia du japon. Spikes of bright yellow flowers tower above the dark-green, holly like leaves of this evergreen shrub from November – March. Height: 1-1.5m








Although butterflies appear to be more attracted to pink, purple and yellow coloured blossoms, this is not an absolute rule and I think that the flower shape is perhaps more important to think about when choosing flowers for your garden; butterflies find it easier to land and feed on either clusters of small, tubular flowers or flat-topped blossoms.

Rather than dotting my butterfly attracting flowers here and there I will be planting clusters of them together, not only to provide them with a veritable feast, but also to give me a better opportunity to watch and appreciate them!

To help prolong the flowering season, regularly deadhead the flowers, mulch the plants with organic compost and water regularly; healthy plants will produce far more pollen for the butterflies.

Everyone loves watching butterflies skip around their garden, but to become a butterfly they must first be a caterpillar, so for my next wildlife gardening blog I will be researching what food plants I can add to help caterpillars survive in my garden.

I’d love to know what nectar providing shrubs and flowers you are adding to your garden this year to attract butterflies, so please do share by adding your comments to the box below.

A bientôt

Katherine x


'Gardening for Wildlife Part 1: The Best Nectar Plants for Butterflies' have 7 comments

  1. January 10, 2016 @ 11:44 am Shannon

    Such great information!! I live in AZ so it won’t be the same, but this gives me a starting point/hoping point! 😉 Merci beaucoup !


  2. January 11, 2016 @ 3:25 pm Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

    We get loads of insects including butterflies in our garden, but all by chance, we’ve never done anything specific to encourage them. I like your idea of planting specifically for butterflies. Interesting. Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance


  3. January 12, 2016 @ 7:51 pm Jill Barth

    Just the pop of color I needed on day covered with white snow!


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    […] You can read my earlier blog about the best nectar plants for butterflies here […]


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    […] You can read my earlier blog about the best nectar plants for butterflies, which day-time flying moths will also enjoy, here. […]


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