A late start to the new butterfly season

This summer, like many butterfly enthusiasts around the country, I’ve totally missed what l call the first wave of caterpillars and butterflies. From mid-November to the end of December, I spotted only two or three Monarchs flitting about our garden in search of nectar or swan plants to lay eggs on. Our visitors found our various dahlias, but my swan plants were safely hidden away in the butterfly garden, doors closed, as they were in poor shape and not ready for caterpillars.

After my first season of caterpillars, I nurtured my swan plants back to health – squashing and even spraying (with organic pesticide, once there was no chance of butterflies reappearing) the Oleander aphids that had infested them, re-potting them, and adding nutrients to their soil. Last year, however, l was less diligent. My surviving swan plants spent the winter (of 2014) with a mild infestation of aphids, my irregular squashing and spraying attempt insufficient to eliminate them completely.

So I kept them in the enclosure, away from prowling butterflies. But few butterflies came, and they seemed to have no interest in my plants. They even ignored the six new little plants I bought in December and stashed in the open greenhouse.

It wasn’t until yesterday, when I cleaned out the butterfly garden and started re-potting my plants, squashing aphids as I went, that the butterflies appeared. I saw two or three different females (as many as I’d seen in total this season), and they wasted no time laying eggs on the plants, old and new. It was a beautiful sunny day, with the promise of more summery weather to come, and seeing the butterflies back in the garden made it more special.

Welcome, Monarchs. I’ll try to make my garden a better place for you.

[I’m working on a video of my butterfly area clean-up to post here.]

In the beginning… Part one

My first butterfly
My first butterfly

People often ask me why I am so obsessed with Monarch butterflies and caterpillars (their eyes tell me they think I’m bonkers). What got me started on all this? How did I become ‘The Crazy Butterfly Woman’?

My family and I moved to the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand late 2012, and I soon noticed the prevalence of Monarch butterflies here. Where we lived previously, we got very few. Here, I could sit on the deck and watch the Monarchs fluttering around the flower garden, looking for tasty nectar. They added beauty and delight to the garden, and I was struck by how big the butterflies were!

Before long, I was off to the local garden centre to get a couple of swan plants to encourage the butterflies. I had a vision at that time of my little plants growing into large bushes, visited by butterflies, and with cute stripy caterpillars and green and gold chrysalises hidden amongst the mass of leaves. Hmm… I soon learnt how naive I was!

The vision seemed feasible in the beginning – I had two lovely medium-sized caterpillars that seemed to appear from nowhere, but must have already been on the plants when I bought them and grown without my noticing. One of them formed its chrysalis on a nearby shrub (I never found the other one). In the time it took for that first butterfly to develop and emerge, the eggs that visiting butterflies had laid on the plants hatched, my two little plants were overrun with caterpillars, and I had bought four more plants, then another five. My dreams of a butterfly garden with bushy, green swan plants were dashed, and I had to rethink.