Hooray for nettles, thistles and docks

and because of them hooray for ever more butterflies.

This summer I have seen more butterfly species in the garden than in any previous year.  Whilst none of them are rare I am delighted by each sighting.   Counting actual butterfly numbers is not something I would attempt, save to say that my perception is that there are also more individuals as well as more species.  At times there have been lots!

From the table below it is clear that they must have the (often unpopular) wild plants such as nettles for caterpillar food in order to complete their life cycles.  I no longer allow nettles to grow in the polyculture beds – because I don’t want the grandchildren to get stung – but there are plenty in the hedge.  I do let docks grow everywhere and there are a few thistles too.

This table shows the butterflies that I have seen this year.  The new ones – for here – are painted lady, holly blue, small copper and comma.

Name and Latin name Over wintering and larval food plant Habitat
Orange tip

Anthocharis cardamines



Damp meadows, woodland rides, flowery roadside verges, gardens
Red admiral

Vanessa atalanta


Nettle and hop

Flowery meadows and other flowery habitats
Small tortoiseshell

Nymphalis urticae



Open areas often in vicinity of nettles

Nmyphalis io


Nettle and hop

Woodland rides and glades
Painted lady

Vanessa cardui



Sunny and open with thistles
Holly blue

Celastrina argiolis


Holly and ivy

Diverse habitats with larval food plants
Small white

Pieris rapae



Open clearings, flowery meadows
Large white

Pieris brassicae



Open clearings, flowery meadows
Small copper

Iycaena phlaeas


Common sorrel, sheep’s sorrel, dock

Flowery pastures, heathland

Maniola tithonius



Hedgerows, grassy areas, woodland

Nymphalis c-album


Nettle, hops, elms, currants

Woodland rides and glades

I haven’t been taking photos much this summer so didn’t actually capture any images, so here is one from 2017:

Principle: Welcome the wild.

About Anni Kelsey

I love forest gardens and forest gardening, nature, reading and everything good about being alive. I have written two books - the garden of equal delights (2020) - about the principles and practice of forest gardening; and Edible Perennial Gardening (2014) - about growing perennial vegetables in polycultures, which is basically forest gardening concentrating on the lower layers.
This entry was posted in Borderland Garden, Principles of forest gardening and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hooray for nettles, thistles and docks

  1. Helen says:

    My perception is also that there have been more butterflies and more varieties in my garden, too. Perhaps I have simply become more observant but if it is the case that there really are more, I wonder how far they are travelling. My garden alone is not big enough to feed them, so they must be getting food from other sources nearby.


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