What’s up in the September garden? Butterflies!

Good September afternoon! Hope all is well in your little world especially if you’re in the path of Hurricane Florence or one of her ilk.

Here, at Little Cedar Garden, everything is refreshed from the rain, but a little tired too. There are great swathes of green, but very few blooms. We do have plenty of wonderful insects especially butterflies and spiders. The butterflies emerge from their chrysalides, and the spiders try to eat them as the butterflies flit from flower to flower. Sometimes, the spiders are lucky, and other times, the butterflies are.

Releasing a Monarch butterfly into my garden. It didn't seem to want to go. Thanks to Father Novak for taking such a lovely photo!
Releasing a Monarch butterfly in my garden. It didn’t seem to want to go. Thanks to Father Novak for taking such a lovely photo! I smile whenever I see it.

Personally, I root for the butterflies even though I understand spiders need to eat too. It’s just so sad when I see a butterfly sitting very still on a flower. I know they are dead or dying. Anyway…enough of that morbid talk.

I’m seeing at least a dozen butterflies each day. Yesterday, I saw an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and a Giant Swallowtail flitting about the flowers.

Then, there are the Monarchs I’m raising indoors, along with some who are passing by and checking out various types of milkweed I grow. This year, I added another plant in the milkweed family to the mix, Gomphocarpus physocarpus, formerly known as Asclepias physocarpa, and commonly known by many names including balloon plant and hairy balls.

Yes, you read that right.

Hairy balls aside, I think the flowers–shown in the gallery above–are quite beautiful. Since it is only hardy to Zones 8-10, and I’m in Zone 7A, I don’t think it will take over here. Monarchs seem to love sipping from the small purple-accented white blooms. Wasps also like it.

Stachytarpheta 'Nectarwand Red' is the best-looking plant in the garden right now.
Stachytarpheta ‘Nectarwand Red’ is the best-looking plant in the garden right now.

About Monarch raising, there is a new blog post by the Xerces Society and a revision to Monarch Joint Venture’s handout where they discourage Monarch raising especially in higher numbers and for release at weddings and such. According to one of the pieces–I don’t remember which–higher numbers can be forty or more. I usually release about that many because I still believe it helps the butterflies, and I enjoy the process. Still, it’s something to think about. I try very hard to keep my containers clean, and I’ve probably raised about forty this year so far. I don’t think I’ll bring anymore inside this year, and I may rethink this next year. Like many who raise Monarchs as a hobby, I’m still processing the information.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on false vervain.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on false vervain. Check out those stripes!

The best-looking plant in the garden now is the tall and statuesque Stachytarpheta ‘Nectarwand Red’ false vervain I bought from Bustani Plant Farm last spring. It’s an exclusive introduction of theirs. It is also a butterfly and hummingbird magnet. One hummingbird feels he has to chase the butterflies away from his nectar source all day. Poor thing. He no more than finishes with them and another hummingbird takes the butterflies’ place. It’s fun to watch even if it is terribly serious for them. Gulf Fritillary butterflies love the false vervain the most, and they are bright orange spots next to its healthy red blooms and bright green foliage.

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on false vervain. I've seen up to four or five on this plant at one time.
Gulf Fritillary butterfly on false vervain. I’ve seen up to four or five on this plant at one time.

As for other plants and insects in the garden, Boltonia asteroides ‘Pink Beauty’ is blooming. I bought my plant years ago when I spoke in Seattle at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, but you can find it online. Two other asters have started blooming too, but none of the mums are going yet. My ‘Pink Beauty’ seems very bright in comparison to others I’ve viewed online. Perhaps, it’s actually an ex-aster, one of the symphyotrichum clan. I don’t know, and I’m not burying my arm up to my armpit to find the tag if it’s even still there.

The heirloom pink phlox and P. paniculata ‘Bright Eyes’  are nearly finished, but the butterflies seem to be enjoying the last few blooms so I’m leaving them for now even though it kills me because they look so ratty.

Giant Swallowtail on Phlox paniculata. I really need to cut the plant back, but the butterflies seem to enjoy the remaining blooms so much that I just don't.
Giant Swallowtail on Phlox paniculata ‘Bright Eyes.’ I really need to cut the plant back, but the butterflies seem to enjoy the remaining blooms so much that I just don’t. These are the biggest butterflies in my garden and are simply magical.


Wood bee or bumble on Boltonia asteroides Pink Beauty
Wood bee or bumble on Boltonia asteroides ‘Pink Beauty’

I saw a Bordered Patch butterfly on the ‘White Cupcake’ cosmos today. It is such a beautiful butterfly, but most people who grow sunflowers hate their flower-decimating caterpillars. They can destroy an entire plant so fast. However, I’m glad this one got through and became a butterfly. It’s just so doggone pretty!

Bordered Patch, Chlosyne lacinia, butterfly on Cosmos 'Cupcake White.'
Bordered Patch, Chlosyne lacinia, butterfly on Cosmos ‘Cupcake White.’

Well, that’s it for now. If you’d like a day-by-day timeline of Little Cedar Garden and all the goings-on, please follow me on Instagram. I’d love it if you’d join me. Since I check Instagram several times a day, I can answer questions and comments more quickly there too. You can also specify if you want to be notified whenever I post by clicking on the three dots at the top of my account and clicking on “Turn on Post Notifications.”  That way, you won’t miss a single post.

See you soon!




  1. Love seeing these photos. I’ve also made some conscious choices to bring them flocking to my garden a few years ago and it really seems like it’s working. I have seen triple the hummers and butterflies this year then any other year.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Christine! I think providing food sources for the caterpillars is one quick way we can make a huge difference. Another is not to use pesticides and herbicides. Thank you for helping the butterflies in your garden!

  2. Ollie Oakley says:

    I love this post! By the way, did you plan on attracting butterflies or did they just get attracted to your plants? From what I know, you need to provide food not just for butterflies but for caterpillars as well if you want a butterfly garden.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you, Ollie! I started planting larval sources for Oklahoma butterflies several years ago. I already had the adult nectar sources, and I wanted to help the butterflies so adding food for their caterpillars was an easy choice! Happy Wednesday!

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I am surprised that you get Gulf Fritillary in your garden. Lucky you. It would be note worthy if one showed up here. The Bordered Patch is a beauty too. I have only seen that once or twice. To have it in your garden is a wonderful thing. Love that picture of you and the Monarch. Cheers.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Lisa, I don’t know why Gulf Fritillaries love Oklahoma. You would think they wouldn’t, but we do have native passionflower vine so that’s perhaps why. I know that if I plant passionflower vine, I’ll have tons of them. Of course, the vine usually succumbs to their advances, but it’s okay with me. I never noticed Bordered Patch butterflies until last year. Now, I see them a lot. Last year, also, it was the Painted Ladies everywhere, but not this year. Butterflies are strange. Hugs!

  4. Very exciting, Dee! A garden full of butterflies is a truly special place. Cheers!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Beth, truly butterflies and other pollinators are why I work so hard in the garden. Basically, I’m a pollinator slave.

  5. Laura says:

    Gomphocarpus physocarpus can self sow, even in 7a, which we also are here just outside of Nashville. Yesterday cleared an area in a back field that hadn’t gotten bush hogged in a while and there were probably 75 plants! They weren’t fully mature so I cut down the ones that were not yet in bloom and left the ones that were because they were COVERED in butterflies.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Laura, thanks for that information. I’ll watch it closely. I really don’t want it to self-sow. I’ll take it down before the seed pods ripen. Yes, butterflies love those blooms, don’t they?

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