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GARDEN SURROUNDINGS: Easy to Create Butterfly Sanctuary

By Francesca Filanc, for Let's Talk Plants! September 2022.

From a Francesca Filanc Facebook post circa 2016

A Butterfly Sanctuary is Easy to Create in Your Garden

Think of the joy you will feel by making your garden into a butterfly sanctuary. It is easy to do. Even if you don’t have space for a garden, a balcony or the walk to your front door is a perfect spot to plant a passionflower vine in a pot and you will receive the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. Grow a variety of plants for other butterflies such as milkweed, which is also easy to plant in a pot, and is the host to Monarch butterflies. Plant it in the spring and cut the milkweed back in the fall. Most Monarchs are migratory and travel thousands of miles to our area, and it is important to cut back the milkweed in the fall.

According to The Monarch Joint Venture "... it is recommended to prune the milkweed stalks to about six inches in height during the fall and winter months to discourage monarchs from establishing winter-breeding colonies. Cutting back the milkweed will also help to eliminate OE spores (deadly Ophryocystis elektroscirrha disease) that may be present on the plant."

There are many varieties of passion flowers. I have several Passiflora x Blue Velvet planted in my garden (a nurseryman and dear friend of mine remarked that "hybrids often don't have a Latin species name because they are interspecific hybrids with multiple parents. The ‘x’ denotes that it is a cross between two or more other species.")

Did you know that nurseries were not stocking passion vines for many years? Growers stopped growing them and people were upset because they are the host plant for the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. Thankfully, with a little effort, you can source passion vines locally again.

I love passion flowers and I also love butterflies. So, when the plant is all eaten by the caterpillars, followed by gorgeous butterflies that have hatched from their chrysalis', I know the leaves will return the following spring and so will the caterpillars. They in turn will bring more butterflies. Despite the profusion of caterpillars happily munching the leaves and a few flowers, I still have many beautiful flowers to enjoy. If you have a garden, one suggestion is to plant it next to a hedge. I did this with all the passionflower vines except one. The flowers of the vine pop out of the hedge like magic, and you don’t see all the eaten leaves of the vines.

When I was growing up in Del Mar, the plant Mum, Pat Welsh, had was exceptionally fragrant, but the passionflower vines that I grow are not fragrant. I remember as a little girl loving to put my nose right down into the blossoms. Growing up in Del Mar we had so many different varieties of butterflies. The Mourning Cloak was one of our favorites. Its host plants are willow, cottonwood, and Chinese elm. The caterpillars are black and fuzzy. My sister and I used to love to play with them as children. It’s so interesting because we remember them on the passionflower vine. Maybe there was such a profusion of them that they dropped from another plant nearby? We used to hold out our hands as children and occasionally a Mourning Cloak butterfly would land on a palm or a shoulder or our heads or a hat. What a thrill! (Visit blog more articles about butterflies and Francesca’s childhood.)

The Gulf Fritillaries are aptly named. I have been having trouble getting a good photo for this article because they are flittering around the garden from plant to plant. Other varieties of butterflies that are in the garden are:

  • Cloudless Sulphurs, host plant is sennas.

  • Monarchs, host plant milkweed.

  • Mourning Cloak, host plants willow, cottonwood, Chinese elm.

  • Swallowtails. There is more than one species. Western Tiger Swallowtail, host plants sycamore, willows, cottonwoods. Anise Swallowtails, host plants dill, parsley, and fennel.

  • Painted Lady, coneflowers are the host plant.

Wix stock photo of butterfly on a butterfly bush.

Part of designing a garden that attracts butterflies is to plant varied plants, trees and shrubs with colorful blossoms. Buddleia is known as the butterfly bush and attracts many butterflies. The butterflies gather nectar from its fragrant blossoms. One can plant this shrub in all colors of the rainbow. I have white, lavender, deep purple and I would like to have one in yellow.

Behind my pool there is a tall bank. I have planted three passionflower vines that climb up into the hedges and foliage from other flowering trees. My color palette is purple, yellow, orange and blue with a smattering of deep blue, red and white. As an artist I am attracted to this “Matisse” mix of colors and so are the butterflies. Up at the top, with a tall hedge behind them, are Duranta erecta with blooms that are purple and the blossoms of the tree form Cassia leptophylla are yellow. The bank is beautiful with colorful blossoms and a dozen butterflies flitting to and fro.

A friend dropped by recently and remarked, "I feel like I am in Alice in Wonderland’s Garden."

I enjoyed my breakfast out in the garden this morning watching the butterflies and trying but failing to get good photos for the article. Oh well. Just another reason that I hope you make a butterfly sanctuary for yourself and your friends, neighbors and children, as they love the ‘magic’ of butterflies and so do we. SOUTH BEACH (60 X 48 Acrylic On Canvas)

Francesca Filanc Facebook post from September 2021 - "Video of Swallowtail butterflies and gulf fritillary butterflies gathering nectar from zinnias and sunflowers in the garden."

Francesca filanc
Journal sketch by the author.

Happy Gardening!

~ Francesca


Artist, author, photographer, fly-fisher woman, Francesca Filanc grew up in old Del Mar and these days lives, paints and gardens in historic Olivenhain with two French poodles.

Find her art and writings here:

She can be found on social media here:

Have gardening questions or want to learn more about Francie’s art? Contact:


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