Feed Them, But Will They Come?

June 18, 2015 bees 026


As I wander around our garden, watching for pollinators to photograph, I notice the quiet.  Where is the hum and buzz I’ve grown accustomed to in other summers?

The feast is laid, but there are very few guests today.


June 18, 2015 bees 024


We began work on our “Butterfly Garden” during our first spring in this new garden.  We constructed a huge raised bed and populated it with butterfly bushes, roses, Zinnias, and various herbs.

We delighted in watching the constant activity of butterflies, hummingbird moths, hummingbirds, and varies sorts of bees, wasps, and flies.   This is great entertainment for the newly retired!


June 17, 2015 pollinators 007~

And every year since, we have expanded the offering of nectar rich flowers.  Our “Butterfly Garden” now extends from the street to the ravine.  We’ve developed areas to attract and sustain these flying creatures throughout our property.





We garden organically, without harmful pesticides; we provide habitat, sources of water, and host plants.


Asclepias, a host plant for Monarchs which also provides a long season of nectar, grows in our new bog garden.

Asclepias, a host plant for Monarchs which also provides a long season of nectar, grows in our new bog garden.


We plant a variety of nectar rich herbs to sustain the pollinators in all parts of our garden.  We also choose flowers, like Fuchsia, Zinnia, Lantana and Canna, to appeal to nectar loving insects and hummingbirds.  We allow nectar rich shrubs and trees, like the Mimosa, to grow on the edges of the garden.


June 11, 2015 garden 017


Still, we are thrilled to spot a single butterfly visiting our garden.

I realize it is yet early in the season.  I understand that there will be more activity as summer progresses.  Yet, we spotted our first butterfly in April this year.  Why are there still so few?  And where are the bees?


June 17, 2015 bees 025


This is a disturbing mystery for us.

We follow the news closely, and know it has been a difficult time for wildlife across the planet.  Rogue weather systems have disrupted normal migration patterns and habitat.  Chemical leaks, oil tankers bursting into fiery infernos, radiation in the Pacific, eruptions and climate change all make it that much harder for wild things to sustain themselves generation to generation.

This is a global challenge.  What can one family, gardening on a little suburban lot, do to make a positive difference?


Tiny new dragonflies hover around the Comphrey.

Tiny new dragonflies hover around the Comphrey.


I wrestle with this question a lot, actually.  Maybe this issue helps fuel my passion for photographing and writing about our garden.  I know it drives our decisions about how to manage the garden.


We leave these tree Hibiscus, 'Rose of Sharon' because so many pollinators visit them to feed.

We leave these tree Hibiscus, ‘Rose of Sharon’ because so many pollinators visit them to feed.  They self-seed prolifically.  A fairly weedy plant, their flowers are beautiful each summer.


I know the butterflies are free, and freely fly from our garden to another.  In the next yard, they may meet up with deadly chemicals sprayed by the lawn company our neighbors hire.

No matter how organically we manage our garden, the environment remains full of pesticides used by others, and barren of many of the native plants they seek to raise their young.  We don’t plan to string up netting and keep our beauties safely here.


July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.

July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.


At some point, most of us wise up and live with ‘The Serenity Prayer’ in mind.

And in accepting those things we can not change, we think carefully and courageously about the change we can instigate… both in ourselves, and in others.

And so here are the simple things we can do, and we have committed to do:

1.  Refrain from the use of pesticides and herbicides.  Find organic controls for problems of infestation.

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed, July 2014

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed, July 2014

2.  Leave parts of our property ‘wild’ to provide shelter and habitat for a variety of animals.

3. Allow many ‘native’ plants, which provide food and habitat for pollinators and birds, to grow on our property.

4.  Select most ‘new’ plants we bring to the garden for their value to feed and sustain wildlife.

5.  Provide sources of water.

A butterfly shares the Joe Pye Weed blossoms with the bee.  August 2014

A butterfly shares the Joe Pye Weed blossoms with the bee. August 2014

6. Leave end of season clean-up until spring, so wildlife may continue to use available resources through the winter.

7. Learn as much as we can about the wildlife who visit our garden in order to better care for them.


“Everything takes time.

Bees have to move very fast to stay still.”

David Foster Wallace

We hope that by offering a safe and supportive environment, pollinators and other wildlife will find safe haven in our garden.


Parsley offers nectar when it blooms, but many butterflies lay their eggs on parsley, also.  It is a good host plant to sustain caterpillars.

Parsley offers nectar when it blooms, but many butterflies lay their eggs on parsley, also. It is a good host plant to sustain caterpillars.


For every generation of butterfly and bird, bee, lizard, turtle and dragonfly that we can allow to grow here, we will contribute in some small way to their continued survival.

This is a tiny effort, but many of us all making this tiny effort can partner to preserve these beautiful and ecologically important creatures for another year; another generation.


These catmint plants attract many pollinators when they bloom.  By cutting them back, they can be kept blooming for several months.  Our cat believes we plant them just for him....

These catmint plants attract many pollinators when they bloom. By cutting them back, they can be kept blooming for several months. Our cat believes we plant them just for him….


We look forward to each spring and summer when our garden is filled with the buzzing of bees and the ballet of feeding butterflies once again.

And until then, we will continue to celebrate and appreciate each individual who finds their way to our Forest Garden.


June 18, 2015 bees 022


Woodland Gnome 2015


June 27, 2014 garden 005

For more information, please explore:

Pollinator Week June 15-21, 2015

‘June Gap’ in butterflies explained, by Butterfly Conservation

Our Pals, the Pollinators, by Tina Huckabee

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

26 responses to “Feed Them, But Will They Come?

  1. The widespread use of pesticide is worrying, and the diminishing numbers of insects with it. Wasn’t Rachel Carson prescient with her “Silent Spring”. I enjoyed reading your post on your welcoming garden. Building awareness and creating safe habitats is the way to go 🙂

    • Thank you very much for your thoughts and kind words. If Rachel could bring about change with her book, allowing countless species of birds to replenish their habitats; surely it is possible to change agricultural practices so our butterflies and bees may be preserved as well. The whole GMO/Round-up paradigm is destructive to the land and human consumers in addition to the havoc it is creating with wildlife populations. Raising awareness is a crucial first step to making change. Please visit again 😉 Best wishes, Woodland Gnome

  2. Your garden looks lovely through your pictures. I’ve noticed an alarming lack of butterflies and bees here in Oxford, England too this year. I’m not what you’d call a gardener really, I’ve three little flowerbeds with a few bulbs and shrubs in them.
    The birds are about this year though, a good few baby blackbirds have been learning to pull worms in my garden, and the sparrows are here in abundance. 🙂

    • Thank you for visiting, Sallyann. So sad to hear you are noticing the absence of butterflies and bees as well. Isn’t Oxford a very green and welcoming place, full of gardens? I have such a lovely mental image of it. What fun to watch the birds! I hope you have good nectar flowers in your flowerbeds for the butterflies who happen by. I was a little surprised to see them enjoy ivy geraniums in my baskets last summer. Best wishes, and thank you for your kind words, Woodland Gnome

  3. I love this post. So many well researched plant choices and great pieces of Eco- advice. I’m curious about the butterfly gap, and will click the link next. Also enjoyed peeking in on the herb link. Your grounds are magnificent. ❤

  4. Very few butterflies so far this year here in Georgia. And very few hummingbirds. Everyone is wondering what’s going on.

  5. Baby steps…we can all do our bit to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. You are not only leading by example but also spreading the word. Kudos!

    • Thank you, Rickii. I believe more and more people are planting for the pollinators. Asclepias was much easier to find in garden centers here in Williamsburg than in any previous year. As we become more and more aware, we all notice small things we can do to help solve the dilemma. I believe that GMO labeling on food will help the cause, as well, as people avoid products made from GMO crops. The industrial application of Round-Up like products must stop for our pollinator species to survive. The rate of decline is what alarms me most….

  6. Wonderful post! If we can all care just a little bit about our Very Important Creatures, it will make a big difference. I know from my tiny yard, no plot is too small to lend a hand (or a flower!) to our pollinating friends. My lavender plants are just about flowering now – they are usually popular with the bees.

  7. Excellent post! Take heart–the pollinators will show up, but perhaps not in the numbers that they should. In the Texas drought of the past 8 years, there have been fewer of all pollinator insects, though the populations in my gardens have increased with our recent rains. Your to-do list is a good one, thanks for the advice!

    • Thank you, Tina. I’m happy to hear the rains are having a positive effect and that your number of pollinators has already noticeably increased. I’m sure you already have every item on that ‘to do’ list covered, and more besides 😉

  8. I am trying to do exactly the same as you, if everyone with a garden would do this, the world would be a better place. But people are caring more and more again about wildlife I think and we are all encouraged by what we read and see an tv. We are all encouraged to build an insect hotel in the garden and there are lots of things we can do, alas we can’t do much about the weather !!

  9. Lovely post. Since blogging I have become much more aware of bees and butterflies in the garden.

    • Thank you, Chloris. I’m glad you are more aware of the beauty and importance of our butterflies and bees. Do you have many in your garden? Do you plant anything special for them? I hope you enjoy the day ,<3 WG

  10. You are so right about all those things to attract pollinators. I waited much longer than usual for our hummingbird hawkmoths to arrive, but now they are here in abundance! Your lack of butterflies may just be the ‘Butterfly Gap’. Read about it here: http://butterfly-conservation.org/48-4203/mind-the-gap—where-are-the-butterflies-.html I do hope they turn up soon for you!

    • Thank you, Cathy- I just added a link to the article you sent me. That rings true, and I hope it is the situation here. We always have our highest butterfly traffic in July. It will be so nice when we have regular butterfly visitors again! So happy to know your hawkmoths have arrived! They are such fun to watch 😉

  11. Thank you for an informative and heartfelt post and for the practical advice to make our gardens safe harbors for little creatures. I’ve been wondering where they are too. I’ve seen very few butterflies and bees compared to last year. We have had enchanting fireflies though. I hope you see more as summer progresses. Blessings to you, Sarah

  12. Really GREAT post about our beloved pollinators! I like your ‘commitment’ list – simple and doable. Well done! 🙂

  13. suzicate

    I didn’t see as many butterflies last year, but I am seeing more already this year. The fireflies (lightening bugs as I call them) are in abundance this year…I love sitting out in the dark with them flickering about.

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