August 24, 2017 | Magee Headley, Seasonal Gardener

While caring for the Sensory Garden, I have enjoyed observing visitors interacting with the multitude of experiential plantings as they move throughout the garden. While human guests are always a welcome sight, the visitors catching everyone’s eye right now are the butterflies.

As the high heat of summer begins to settle, these winged friends seem to be crawling out of the shade, eager to enjoy the garden’s large variety of delicious nectar and warm their wings from the comfort of the basking bowl.

On a walk down the wide pathway spotted with large Buddleja, Zinnia, and Pentas, I counted sixteen butterflies in a short fifteen minutes; that’s more than one per minute! A diverse population of native butterflies ducks in and out of trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) and marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis.) One can find specimens of several Colorado native butterflies including the European cabbage white (Pieris rapae), the captivating western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and the brush foot siblings, the American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) and painted lady (Vanessa cardui).

The Sensory Garden is a particularly excellent butterfly habitat as recent additions include monarch supportive plantings. The beds feature multiple cultivars of Asclepias, or milkweed, which is the only food edible to the larval stage of the monarch butterfly. Additionally, lantana (Lantana sp.), dill (Anethum graveolens), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) and hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) offer nectar and a place to lay eggs for each stage of the monarch’s development. While the habitat is enjoyed by bees and butterflies alike, it is specifically relevant to the monarch butterfly as its population nationwide has steadily declined in the past 20 years.

Large-spread land development has resulted in less milkweed, meaning less essential food for the larval monarch. This steep change in population makes the supportive plantings not only a beautiful garden, but a necessary planting choice for the conscious gardener.

Whether you’re seeking inspiration for a new project, or a sensory delight, visit soon as this beautiful phase won’t last long! Though native to Colorado, most butterflies are migratory and will soon move on as the cold pushes them further south to warmer climates. So come enjoy this beauty of nature before it’s too late!

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