A quick search on Google will tell you the benefits of gardening; a little gentle exercise (or maybe slightly more strenuous) mixed with some fresh air and the joy of watching our gardens evolve over the months can all have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing, but we don’t need to search, we already know, we can already feel it. All that good stuff would be eradicated, however, were it not for pollinators, going about their day, busily ensuring the survival of our plants and shrubs without knowing the effects of their labours. Including plants that encourage them into our gardens is always a good idea, and if you need any help with choosing some, our experts are always around to advise. Although bees are the biggest pollinators, they’re not the only mini miracles we should be grateful to; butterflies also rely on the nectar provided by many of our plants, and whilst they’re busy flying from flower to flower in search of their next meal, they’re helping nature as much as she is helping them, adding more elegance and beauty to our outdoor spaces in the process.

Whilst we may associate butterflies with sunny afternoons in the warmer months, some common species can be found all year round; most are active, however, during spring, summer and autumn. Overcast days are better if you want to get a closer look; butterflies are cold-blooded, so they rely on the warmth of the sun to enable them to fly and will hang around a little longer when the sun hides itself away.

With around 60 species of butterfly in the UK, 20 or so can be found in gardens, so we couldn’t resist looking at the most common varieties and how to entice them, not least because we get the chance to see some stunning photos.

These are quite large butterflies, and although both male and females have greyish bodies and veiny, pointed wings, they differ in colours: males are a lemony yellow and are the only butterflies of that colour in the UK; females are a greenish white and have an orange spot in the middle of each wing. They can be seen throughout the year in England and Wales, though they’re less common in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and can be found hibernating amongst plants like Ivy that provide the perfect camouflage. Purple flowers like Thistles are a particular favourite, although caterpillars will feed on Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn leaves.


Although their wings are brightly coloured when open – a mix of orange and brown with darker spots – when closed, they’re a mix of browns that give the appearance of dead leaves or bark, enhanced by the ragged edge. There is also a silvery comma shape on the underside of the wings that obviously gives the insect its name. This butterfly can now be found in central Scotland and, having successfully crossed to Northern Ireland, is now becoming a more familiar sight there; if the weather’s good, there could be two broods in a year. Flowers and fallen fruit provide a meal for adults, whilst Nettles, Hops and Elm feed caterpillars, that are perfectly camouflaged as bird droppings!

Common Blue
Preferring the warmer months, you’ll find these butterflies from May to October throughout the UK. The males’ wings are bright blue with a thin brown border and edged in white; females are predominantly brown with a wash of blue that extends from the body in varying degrees. With the upper wings slightly more pointed, the underside for both sexes has a crescent of orange spots and a number of black spots with white halos. The intensity of the blue increases the further north and west the insects are found, and they feed on a range of flat-headed flowers as they bask in the sun. The short, green, furry caterpillars will feed on the underside of young leaves from plants such as White Clover, secreting as they do, a nutrient-based substance that entices ants to protect them from predators; the ants may also protect the chrysalis.


Green-Veined White
You’ll find these small butterflies from April to October, and whilst the male and female are very similar there are subtle differences, but there are also differences between the generations: all are white and have black, dusty wings tips and dark veins visible on both sides, but the intensity of both the tips and the veining varies depending on the sex and the time of year. Females have two black spots on the forewing; males, however, have a single spot that may be missing altogether in the first brood. Whilst they can be found in many different habitats around the UK, they’re particularly drawn to damp locations including ditches and ponds. Adults will feed from a variety of plants, but caterpillars prefer plants like Hedge Mustard and Watercress.

Holly Blue
Similar to the Common Blue, the Holly Blue butterfly shares its colour, but there are subtle differences in appearance: the Holly Blue has slightly more rounded wings, and the underside is silvery and missing the orange spots and the white halos of the Common Blue; the black spots are still there, and the females have large black tips to their forewings. Whilst you may spot them between April and September, they’re more common in the south, although they are making themselves known further north and in Northern Ireland. Although there may be two broods a year, populations are greatly influenced by a particular parasitic wasp that develop inside the green caterpillars and pupae, reducing numbers; the good news, however, is that lower numbers will make it difficult for the wasps to find hosts and consequently, their populations will dwindle, allowing the Holly Blue butterfly to thrive again. Holly provides the ideal site for eggs in spring, allowing caterpillars to feed on the flower buds, whereas Ivy is preferred later in the year for both eggs and caterpillars; ants may also play a part in the care of the chrysalis. Adults will feed on Hogweed and aphid honeydew and will mostly be found around the tops of bushes.


Large Skipper
One of several skipper butterflies, this is the largest, but it is still small compared to other butterflies. It has a rusty-orange colour with a chequered pattern on the wings and is very moth-like in appearance; the males have a diagonal black line across the forewings. With only one brood a year, Large Skippers can be found throughout England and Wales – although they are moving further north – between early June and mid-August, particularly on sunny days in grassy areas like meadows. Adults will seek out nectar from flowers, but Bramble is a favourite, and caterpillars will munch on a variety of grasses.

Large White
Similar to the Green-Veined White, the Large White butterfly has less defined veins. It also has black tips to the forewings, and females have two black spots with a dash on the inner edge; the underside of the wings is a plain, creamy-yellow. You’ll find these butterflies throughout the UK between April and October, with an influx of continental migrants during the summer, but they’re not the most popular with gardeners because of the damage their caterpillars can cause to Brassicas. Adults will consume nectar from a variety of flowers.


Meadow Brown
As its name suggests, the Meadow Brown butterfly is brown, but it has a splash of orange towards the wing tip and a black spot with a white, dotted centre. The females are slightly larger than the males, with more vivid orange patches and double black spots, each with a white dot. The underside of the wings is, again, brown, resembling autumn leaves, and there may be the odd black spot. They’re active between June and September, and unlike many species, can still be spotted on overcast days. Meadow Browns are one of our most common species and another that is fond of Bramble flowers; caterpillars can be found feasting on many grasses.

Predominantly white, the orange tips appear on the males only, finished off with light grey; the females have black tips on their wings, much like the Green-Veined White and Large White butterflies, but both have a striking mottled green pattern to the undersides of the hindwing. They’re more likely to be spotted in England and Wales, but they have moved further north and are more prevalent in Scotland now than ever before; April to July is when they’re likely to be active. One brood is usually produced, and eggs are laid below buds of favourite plants like Garlic Mustard; when the caterpillars hatch the feed on the developing seed pods, but they may also consume their own eggs and any others that are nearby.


Painted Lady
One of the most common butterflies worldwide, Painted Lady butterflies embark on remarkable migrations from as far as Africa to Europe and the UK, but they’re not necessarily seasonal as one might expect; there seems to be no single reason for their excessive trips, but they can take many generations to complete. They’re wings are orange with black markings and tips on the forewings, along with white spots, whereas the hindwings have black spots. They can be found throughout the UK from April to October, and whilst the adults will feast on nectar from many flowers, Thistles and Nettles are particular favourites for caterpillars.

A beautiful display of orangey-red with black markings beside colourful eyespots on the forewings; white dots appear just below the eyespots, and grey edges the wing, which mimics the feathers of peacocks; the hind wings have more grey to the edges and another eyespot on each that’s a striking blue and black, surrounded by a white halo. The effective predator-deterrent is not the only weapon in the Peacock butterfly’s arsenal: the underside of its wings is very dark and resembles dead leaves, and if predators are not dissuaded by the use of colour on both sides of the wings, if under real threat, the Peacock butterfly will rub its wings together to create a hissing sound that should do the trick. Found throughout the UK all year round, these butterflies also drink nectar from many flowers, but have a fondness for Buddleia; their caterpillars have a preference for Nettles.


Purple Emperor
One of the UK’s largest butterflies, The Purple Emperor is a little more elusive than many of the others. It is mainly found in central southern England, but you may be lucky to spot some slightly further afield; they’re barely active, however, generally making an appearance from mid-June to August, and can generally be found flying around the tops of trees in wooded areas. The males have black wings that have an iridescent bluey-purple hue, with white stripes and spots and orange eyespots towards the bottom of their hindwings; the females are bigger than males but are brown, and whilst their markings are similar to those of the White Admiral, they also have orange-ringed eyespots that give them away. Tree sap and aphid honeydew are favourite meals for adults, but they may also search for goodness from animal droppings and even rotting animal carcasses; caterpillars are partial to a range of Willows.

Red Admiral
Another impressive sight in the garden, the Red Admiral is mostly dark brown or black, with orangey-red stripes across the forewings and at the base of the hindwings and white spots on the black wing tips. Whilst the underside almost mirrors the upperside in part, sometimes with a touch of blue, there is also the appearance of dead leaves to help camouflage the butterfly. They’re visible for most of the year, all over the UK and in most habitats. Migrating from Africa and Europe and continuing north during spring and summer, they would generally return to warmer climes for winter, but many are now choosing to stay in the UK and hibernate. Like other species, the adults will feast on most flowers, but Buddleia is a firm favourite, and during autumn, they can be found feeding on rotting fruit; caterpillars are partial to nettles.


Small Copper
These small butterflies have orange forewings with brown spots and edging, and the opposite on the hindwings: brown with an orange band and brown spots. The males are slightly smaller than the females, and their wings are more pointed at the tip. You’ll spot them between April and October, either alone or in pairs, and throughout the UK, though they’re not so common in gardens as they prefer unimproved habitats and warm, dry weather. Yellow flowers like Ragwort seem to attract the adults, and caterpillars are fond of Common and Sheep’s Sorrel.

Small Skipper
Whilst smaller than its cousin, the Small Skipper is not the smallest Skipper, but it is also moth-like, and holds its wings half open, with the forewing almost covering the hindwing. The colouring is the same – rusty-orange with a brown border and a lighter fringe – but the chequered pattern is absent; males have the same diagonal black line across the forewings as its larger cousin. It only makes an appearance during June, July and August, and whilst it can be found in England and Wales, so far, it has only reached the Scottish borders. Thistles are a favourite, although the adults will feed from other plants, but caterpillars feed almost exclusively on Yorkshire-Fog grass, settling for other grasses only if it’s not available.


Small Tortoiseshell
One of our most familiar butterflies, the Small Tortoiseshell can be found throughout the UK all year round, although it’s more prevalent from spring to autumn. With a touch of brown towards the body, the wings are predominantly orange, but there are yellow and black markings along the upper edges of the forewings and further down, beside a couple of black dots and an edging of blue spots that are more crescent shaped at the bottom of the hind wings; the undersides are a mix of browns. They can be found pretty much anywhere and may well be spotted hibernating in houses and outbuildings, so take care rummaging in the shed. Males and females are distinguished mostly by behaviour: the males use their antennae to drum on the females wings in flight. Caterpillars are also fans of nettles, whereas the adults are fond of nectar-rich flowers.

Small White
Aside from its size, the Small White butterfly differs from the Large White in its patterning: the brilliant white wings have black tips, but the colour doesn’t extend down as it does with the larger butterfly. Females have two black spots on the forewings, the second of which is very faint; males have just the one. Active from April to October, the Small White can be found in a number of places around the UK, although they’re less common in Scotland, but if there are cabbages and Nasturtiums growing – favourites of caterpillars – you’ll generally find these butterflies; adults are happy with a variety of plants. In warmer years, there can be up to 3 generations, but those born earlier will have lighter markings on the wings.


Speckled Wood
Brown wings with creamy-yellow markings, the Speckled Wood butterfly has three ringed eyespots on bottom of their hindwings and another on the forewings, nearer the tips. A mix of autumnal hues colour the underside of the wings, once again, providing camouflage from predators. Although they can be spotted through the UK, they don’t seem to be present in the north of England; March to October is when you’re likely to find them, mostly in shaded woodland but possibly in your garden too. The adults feed mostly on aphid honeydew, seeking nectar from flowers later in the year when their food providers are scarce; caterpillars will munch on a variety of grasses.

If gardens aren’t enjoyable enough, spotting a burst of colour fluttering by on a sunny afternoon will keep you entertained – do you need another excuse to get outside?

All photos sourced from Pixabay.com

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