Call us now on

0800 201 4811

How To Create A Container Garden For Butterflies 

Helen Bostock

Helen Bostock



In this article, Helen Bostock, Senior Horticultural Advisor at The Royal Horticultural Society shares her advice on creating the perfect environment for butterflies, by making the most of your outside space no matter what its size.

In this article, Helen Bostock, Senior Horticultural Advisor at The Royal Horticultural Society shares her advice on creating the perfect environment for butterflies, by making the most of your outside space no matter what its size.

We don’t have to travel far to enjoy wildlife in the summer. Sit out on a balcony or patio on a warm, calm day (with the obligatory Pimms and lemonade to hand) and see what flies by. With just a few planted pots all manner of hoverflies and bees will stop to take their turn on the flowers.

But perhaps the most beautiful and ephemeral of our flying visitors are the butterflies. The Holly Blue with its azure flash, the dashing red, white and black of the Red Admiral, or the dazzling multi-coloured eye-spots and wing markings of the Peacock butterfly, to name but few. Just a little know-how of which plants they like and you’ll have an instant butterfly container garden.

Summer nectar bar

Adult butterflies only feed on nectar; the sugary liquid produced by many flowers. The long tongues of butterflies mean they can access nectar even from long, tubular shaped flowers such as honeysuckle but they will also happily sup from flatter flowers if the nectar is there.

It is best to choose butterfly summer favourites such as red valerian, echinacea, asters and purple verbena and a decent sized pot will take pretty white, purple or blue buddleia. Look for more compact patio forms such as ‘Blue Chip’ or the ‘Buzz®’ series - perfect for late summer colour.

Another idea is to train wonderfully fragrant honeysuckle up an obelisk in a larger planter, or simply pack some lavender and marguerites in a window box. Whatever you choose, a quality compost such as John Innes No.2 for longer-term planters or a peat-free one for seasonal pots is key to ensure the best growing environment.

Herbs – a lepidoptera’s best friend

Rather than buying herbs from your supermarket, why not grow your own? Not only will it add a zing to your summer salad, growing a few herbs is a clever way to attract butterflies to your outside space. Although don’t get too carried away with the cutting – making sure you leave some in the container or pot will keep the butterflies happy by providing them something to fed on too. Keep a watch for what species you attract! 

Take oregano as a great example. This is a doddle to grow in a container, coming back year after year. In spring and early summer, a lush mound of small rounded leaves form. Shoot tips can be nipped off between fingers and thumb or scissors to add to tomato and pasta dishes or on pizzas.

But leave part of the plant alone and hey presto, by midsummer the stems have pushed up into pretty pinky-purple flowering spikes. These will be loved by the butterflies.

Let’s not forget moths

A pot of mint will be sufficient to attract a day-flying little moth called the Mint Moth. This is found all over the country except for the north of Scotland and can be recognised by its small size – not much bigger than a 1 pence piece – dark reddish-brown upper wings and black lower wings, all of which have a distinct yellow spot on them. So, there’s every chance you will spot it on mint or related plants such as basil, deadnettle (Lamium), catmint and Agastache.

Keeping the nectar flowing

  1. Here are some tips to get the most from your butterfly bonanza:
  2. Choose butterfly favourites such as lavender, verbena and oregano
  3. Water daily to prevent soil drying out as this will result in the flowers to stop producing nectar 
  4. In small pots and baskets, add water-retaining gel to the compost
  5. When flowering begins, use a liquid feed once a week
  6. Stop cutting at least some of your herbs to let them flower
  7. Position containers in the sunniest part of your balcony or sitting out area 
  8. Pick off faded flowers to encourage more to come
  9. Get a butterfly field guide to discover which butterflies are visiting your patch
  10. Find a comfy chair to sit out and watch the wildlife in
  11. And start a plant wish list to make an even bigger, better butterfly container garden next year!

Theres lots more information on attracting butterflies, on the RHS website.

Like this article? Subscribe to receive updates...
Subscribe to receive notifications when we post new articles to our online magazine.
By subscribing to these updates you’re agreeing to receive email updates when new articles are published to the McCarthy & Stone online magazine.
We’ll never send you spam or sell your details. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Related Articles


Foraging Favourites

For many people, collecting and eating wild plants and fungi has been part of life since childhood, filling punnets with wild edibles from ripening berries to sweet chestnuts. ...Read more


Spotlight on York

A city of extraordinary cultural and historical wealth woven into  every  brick and beam, York seeps history at every turn. ...Read more


Summer Events in 2019 To Look Out For

The summer season is packed with a variety of events to appeal to a range of interests and ages. Savour the delights of new and exciting cuisine, enjoy the thrill of world-class horse racing and discover the latest super cars, at events taking place across the summer months.  ...Read more


It's All Greek To Us

Sparkling white beaches, deep blue seas, sugar-cube villages and venerable ancient sites make the
Greek islands an idyllic holiday destination for many. Tourists can immerse in the Greek cuisine,
century-old sites and local culture each island has to offer, while enjoy luxurious accommodation
and the locals’ warm and welcoming hospitality. ...Read more


Fishing for Fun

Looking for an exhilarating and challenging activity that brings a sense of serenity and calmness? We think we’ve found the perfect catch. ...Read more


It’s time to start living life to the full again

A McCarthy & Stone Retirement Living Plus apartment is about getting more from life for the over 70s. It’s the perfect combination really - company when you want it, help when you could use it, care when you need it. And all in the comfort of your own stylish new home. ...Read more


Explore Our Menu

Retirement Living PLUS is all about making life easier. This includes providing a great value in-house restaurant or bistro, where you can enjoy freshly prepared food in good company. ...Read more


Staying Cool and Well During A Heatwave

Although warmer weather can be a welcome sight for many, the increased temperatures can lead to
added risks for some, particularly those with health issues or those that are more vulnerable. Stay well with these tips.  ...Read more


The History of Father's Day

Father’s Day is the perfect time to thank fathers and father figures for their help and support. In this post, McCarthy & Stone look at the history of Father’s Day. ...Read more


A New Adventure 

Colin and Pat Mackay are looking forward to making the most of their retirement following their move to North Berwick.

...Read more


The Benefits of Downsizing in Retirement

There are many benefits of downsizing and if this is something you are considering, here, we share our knowledge about downsizing, and explain why it could be one of the best things you can do for your retirement.   ...Read more


Blooming Marvellous: The Chelsea Flower Show

The world-famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It’s the most glamorous day out in the gardening calendar.

The grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea are once again blooming with flora as the Royal Horticultural Society prepares to welcome 157,000 spectators to their annual five-day flower festival in May. ...Read more


Working After Retirement – Is It For You?

More and more people are choosing to put off their retirement and continue working. Plus, in many other cases, those who have already retired are looking to return to work. Here, we weigh up the pros and cons of each situation. ...Read more


How To Manage Your Diet In Retirement

There are many extra demands placed on our bodies as we progress through life and because of this our nutritional needs also change as a result. It is never too late to revamp your nutrition and nurture your body with a healthier diet.   ...Read more


Tackling loneliness among older people with Pen Pals

We understand the problem of loneliness amongst older people and we want to do something to combat it. That’s why we have created our latest Pen Pals programme, an outlet to connect older people with other older people in communities by the writing and exchanging of letters. Click to find out more. ...Read more


How To Make New Friends In Retirement

Friendship is hugely important at every stage in life, and retirement is no exception. What’s more, in retirement you could make the most of the extra free time you have to discover different experiences and meet new people – leading to new friendships and relationships.  ...Read more


Sheffield – The Steel Centre of the World

Famed for its industry and innovation, the green, modern cityscape now replaces the smoking chimneys from the industrial revolution. There’s a friendly, independent and alternative spirit that can be hard to find in other cities alongside a thriving cultural scene. ...Read more


Wally & The Flying Scotsman

Popular North Gate Court customer Wally Blazey moved into their McCarthy & Stone apartment with his wife Gladys seven months ago, and the couple have just celebrated their 72nd anniversary. At 92, Wally is one of the two last surviving drivers of the Flying Scotsman, the most famous steam locomotive in the world. ...Read more


The Top 11 British Hidden Gems

Where are the best locations in the UK to visit... that you've probably not heard of? We've ranked the best hidden gems around Britain, that are easy to access, and offer a great weekend away with the family. ...Read more


Do Pets Make You Happier?

Whether you're a pet owner or have a pet free home, animals of all kinds have been proven to improve the happiness of their human counterparts. To find out more McCarthy & Stone conducted a survey to see how pets enrich their owners lives. Here are the results! ...Read more