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Why we love butterflies

Updated: Apr 19

Here at Gaia’s Garden, we love butterflies. Just to see them in the wildflower zone around our building is a joy in the summer.


 As we have been creating our “mother cultures” on an ex-Military of Defence site, we have been amazed at the amounts of wildflowers that have been growing around us after declaring it to be a No Mow Zone.


There has been an abundance of “Fox and Cubs”, beautiful tawny orange flowers (there are also quite a few foxes and their cubs further down the valley as the rabbits are out in profusion in the evenings), much beloved by bees and butterflies, as well as the yellow “Bird’s foot trefoil”, pink and white yarrows, purple vetches and “Self-Heals”, “Eyebright” and “Joy of the Ground”, starry whites and happy clovers and pinks.

All around the rest of the Industrial area, the lawns are still mowed in military precision to less than half an inch of their lives. In one season, without adding anything into the mix (just pulling up a few bramble shoots), we have over thirty different varieties of native wildflowers, filled with nectar for hungry pollinators and seeds for the birds in autumn. There were a few occasions we had to run outside to prevent the valley’s “man on a mower” from taking it all out, but now that we have had our signs painted and put strategically around the zone, he no longer feels like he is not doing his duty. It’s incredible how quickly nature can manage to come back and begin repairing the damage we have made if she is given a chance.



We have been trying to convince the managers of the valley to have more areas for the wildflowers to be allowed to grow. Sadly, they think that it will make the industrial area look “messy”, a strange view as we are surrounded by old world war2 buildings, often involving cracked tin, and there is a desperate need to heal the ravages that have been carried out on nature since this war finished.


 I am still reading Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. It’s not easy reading, the clouds of chemicals dropped from planes over millions of acres in America and Canada, 88% of the songbirds killed almost overnight in the aftermath (no more dawn chorus in springtime), the streams and rivers affected, killing off salmon in their spawning grounds, birds that feed on the fish, killing off the beavers, otters, dragonflies, butterflies, bees…not to mention the cattle, pigs, chickens…cats, dogs. So many deaths as a result of the use of toxic post war chemicals to combat different “threats” (red fire ants, beetles, mosquitos) and going into the ground, being taken up by the earthworms (then killing the robins and blackbirds that eat them), going into the fish that are caught for the angler’s table, going into the vegetables for the market. On and on, a tide of death, a horror story beyond the worst nightmares because it’s real. “Yes, but that was back in the 1950’s when we first started to think that these chemicals would be a good thing to help us recover after the war!” I hear you say. Yes, it was then and somehow, despite the rain of death, the piles of evidence mounting up (literally piles of corpses of songbirds), the government agencies, the “Environmental Protection Agency”, continued the bombings of nature. Over and over again. It happened in the UK and it is happening around the world. Now it is estimated that there is only 4% wildlife left in the whole world.

Four percent. This includes the seas, the Amazon rainforest, the highest mountains.

In gardens today, people are still blissfully using weed killers, insecticides, fungicides, pesticides, filling their little patches of nature with these same chemical cocktails that literally poison the earth and all of her inhabitants, including ourselves. We buy “Butterfly friendly” plants from garden centres that have been often been sprayed with chemicals to prevent pests or fungi. These chemicals go into the plants and come out in the pollen and nectar that are taken up by the butterfly or bee. Professor Dave Goulson (author of “Silent Earth” and other books) has shown how the bumblebee is affected by even the smallest dose of the killers; how she goes into convulsions, seizures, becomes disorientated and eventually dies.

The war on nature is still happening. On the shelves of almost every garden centre, in almost every garden shed, there still are toxic chemical compounds that kill our beloved beautiful butterflies and bees. They kill the ladybirds who feed on aphids. They kill the bluetit babies who either starve because the aphids have been wiped out or because they have been fed poison. They kill the hedgehogs who eat the poisoned earthworms and the blackbirds, thrushes, robins and song birds that create the music that makes sitting in our gardens such a joy. Surely that dandelion could have been dug up if it was making such a mess of your gravel or your lawn?


In Gaia’s Garden, the beautiful golden flowers of the dandelions could either be dug up and composted, or instead, allowed to flower, provide nectar and pollen for native pollinators, fresh leaves for salads, seeds for birds and children (and more golden carpeting the lawn the following year!) We need to break the cycle of death. It’s been nearly 80 years since WW2; the lifetime of my mother. These deadly cocktails have been distributed around the globe, used on crops for food, clothing, paper pulp and more.

Each one of us needs to be part of the change. Safely dispose of any residual chemicals and refuse to use them any longer in our gardens, our allotments, our window sills. We need to turn our gardens into sanctuaries for nature (Mary Reynolds “We are the Ark” has a nice book on how to do this), we need to throw off the bliss of ignorance and find a way to create havens for the 4% of the natural world that is left.

We love butterflies, let’s provide them with safe havens across the globe. Every garden can make the difference.

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