Around 10 species of butterfly are likely to visit gardens, including the colourful small tortoiseshell, peacock and red admiral. Sadly, numbers of many butterflies are declining. According to a Butterfly Conservation report published in 2015, The State of Britain's Butterflies, three quarters of UK butterflies have shown a 10-year decrease in either their distribution or population levels.


Do your bit for butterflies by making them welcome in your garden. Adults feed on nectar, and can be seen nectaring on flat, daisy-like blooms as well as plants with long, tubular flowers. The more of these you can grow in your garden, the better.

Butterfly caterpillars feed on leaves and flower buds of so-called 'caterpillar food plants'. Caterpillars of some of the most colourful butterflies feed on nettles. The brimstone feeds on common buckthorn and alder buckthorn. Discover more caterpillar food plants.

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Discover 10 plants that butterflies will love, below.

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Red admiral butterfly on buddleia flower

One of the best-known nectar flowers for adult butterflies, Buddleja davidii produces blooms over a number of weeks between summer and autumn. Grow a few varieties to extend the flowering season.

Red valerian

Red valerian (Centranthus ruber)
Red valerian flower

Red valerian, Centranthus ruber, performs best in poorer, dry or chalky soils, where it forms a tidy, compact plant and won't be overwhelmed by other, stronger plants. It often flowers early and continues well into midsummer.

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis
Painted lady butterfly on Verbena bonariensis flower

Tall, with lots of purple flowers on stiff, wiry stems, Verbena bonariensis can be grown through other plants or in a border on its own. It flowers late in the season and is extremely rich in nectar.


Hylotelephium spectabile
Ice plant flowers

Always go for the old-fashioned pink form of Hylotelephium spectabile, which produces the most nectar when it flowers in autumn. Red varieties tend to be poor in comparison.


Hebe flower

As well as being a reliable evergreen shrub, hebes attracts a range of insects, in particular bees and butterflies.

Wild marjoram

Wild marjoram (oregano)
Gatekeeper butterfly on oregano flower

Outdoors, Origanum vulgare is best grown as an annual, as it isn't reliably hardy in the UK. The delicate, pink flowers are a treat for butterflies, as well as bees. Plus, the leaves make a delicious addition to dishes.

Common knapweed

Clouded yellow butterfly on common knapweed flower
Clouded yellow butterfly on common knapweed flower

If you've created an area for wildflowers in your garden, then Centaurea nigra is a must-have. The bright, violet flowers will attract a range of butterflies, including the common blue and meadow brown.


Small tortoiseshell butterfly on hemp agrimony flower

Tough and dependable, Eupatorium cannabinum are statuesque plants that enjoy growing in damp areas including riverbanks and wet grasslands or woodlands. The icy-pink flowers will attract red admirals and commas, among others.

Field scabious

Small tortoiseshell butterfly on scabious flower

Like knapweed, field scabious (Knautia arvensis) is another plant that will pack meadows with colour. There are plenty of similar flowers to try too, including the small scabious and knautia, all of which are popular with butterflies.

Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve'

Erysimum Bowles's Mauve
Erysimum 'Bowless Mauve' flower

If regularly deadheaded, 'Bowles's Mauve' can be relied upon to flower from spring and into autumn, providing nectar for butterflies both early and late in the year.

Kate Bradbury says

Don’t forget food for their caterpillars. Nettles, hops, lady’s smock, holly, ivy and meadow grasses provide food for the caterpillars of a wide range of butterfly species.

Kate Bradbury