Rabble-rousing: State park garden designed to draw butterflies – Columbia Daily Herald

On paper, Mark Matzkiw’s plan to expand the gardens at Henry Horton State Park reflects careful consideration for aesthetics, space and interaction.

Colored boxes and circles positioned on the paper grid represent the location of various types of vegetable and flower gardens, walkways and other visual elements.

The kidney-shaped plot depicts about 500 square feet of a garden within a garden — an oasis he hopes will attract a rabble — also known as a swarm — of butterflies.

As a state conservation worker, Matzkiw knows a little about cultivating a garden, but attracting butterflies is something new for him.

“I’m by no means an expert,” he said. “But I’ve been put in charge of making this work.”

That is why he found himself sitting among members of the Maury County Master Gardener club during Feb. 11 meeting to hear advice from butterfly expert Rita Venable.

Venable has worked as an assistant biologist with the Tennessee Department of Conservation, as a former editor of Butterfly Gardener and is author of “Butterflies of Tennessee.”

Within minutes of listening to her presentation, Matzkiw learned he had made a butterfly garden faux pas — the bird bath within the garden’s center had to be moved. Venable did suggest having a water source for the insects, but attracting birds and butterflies to the same area is a deadly combination — at least for the butterflies.

She suggested incorporating elements to collect rain, wet mulch, mud or puddles, dripping water on rocks or even sprinklers so the butterflies can hydrate their bodies.

Plants are essential for a proper butterfly garden, but knowing which plants are best depends upon the garden’s purpose, Venable said.

“Do you want the garden to be a nursery or a restaurant?” she asked.

A “nursery” garden supplies plants that encourage breeding and provide places for caterpillars to feed and form a chrysalis before emerging as a butterfly. This type of garden is good for children to experience the life cycle of butterflies, Venable said.

Nectaries — such a pawpaw tree — are a good type of plant on which butterflies lay their eggs. The pawpaw also is the only host plant for Tennessee’s state butterfly, the Zebra Swallowtail. Butterflies also like to feed on beer, horse manure, rotting fruit and tree sap, Venable said.

A “restaurant-type” garden uses plants that attracts butterflies for feeding. Milkweed, for example, is an important feature for monarch butterflies. It is the only plant monarchs use to lay their eggs, and caterpillars love to eat the leaves for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A feeding garden may be more interesting to people who just like to sit and observe the variety of butterflies.

Venable advised developing a focal point for the garden and then surround it with plants and other features.

“A bench, for example, is a great focal point and one that invites people to stay,” she said.

A butterfly garden can be in full sun or shade, but Venable said butterflies do need some shade for protection from predators and the elements. Also, consider a courtship area for the butterflies, she said, noting that male butterflies like to feed in groups on minerals to “beef up” before mating — a phenomena known as puddling.

“There are hundreds of plants out there we can use,” she said. “Look beyond the usual to the unusual for your butterfly garden.”

Plants should be placed at different heights and the garden should include trees, she said. Native plants are usually the best choice, but Venable advises gardeners to plan to have blooms through November to attract and feed the migrating Monarchs that pass through Tennessee on the way to winter grounds in Mexico.

Venable also recommends limiting the use of pesticides and suggest gardeners not worry about keeping the area “too neat.”

“You don’t have to rake all the leaves up in the fall,” she said. “Some of those leaves may contain the eggs for next year’s crop of butterflies.”

Based upon Venable’s lecture, Matzkiw said he would like to build a butterfly garden that serves as a nursery and a feeding ground. He still has time to select the right type of plants to use since planting won’t begin until the end of April or the beginning of May, he said.

Matzkiw said he feels more comfortable about building a butterfly garden at the park, but he also realizes he needs to follow Venable’s advice to construct a garden only as large as can be maintained.

“I would like to have knowledgeable help and will encourage anyone who would like to be active in these gardens to come and volunteer,” he said.

For more information, contact Mark Matzkiw at (931) 637-4170.


Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*


  • Garden Design
  • Gardens
  • Sign up now to get up to 50% discount on Patio decor !!!