Touch a Butterfly: Wildlife Gardening with Kids

I have talked about gardening for wildlife in the past, especially the idea of gardening for insects other than butterflies. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a recently published book about wildlife gardening with children, Touch a Butterfly: Wildlife Gardening with Kids–Simple Ways to Attract Birds, Butterflies, Toads, and More to Your Garden by April Pulley Sayre.


Who is the author?

April Pulley Sayre is an award-winning author of nonfiction books for a range of ages, but she specializes in natural history for children. She says she has been growing a wildlife garden for over 20 years and that through her husband’s work, ended up with over 300 species of native plants in her 1.5 acre yard. Now that sounds like fun!

Summary of the book:

Part one discusses looking at the potential of your space, and advises how and why to make observations about nature to determine what might needed to improve it. She suggests recording your observations via a nature journal, photographs and sound recordings. I might add keeping a blog or Flickr stream to share your experiences.

Part two involves planning your garden, preparing your soil, and planting and maintaining your plants. Realistically, Sayre includes a section on how to keep you neighbors happy, too. This is important. Every year our family receives our annual notice from the homeowners’ association to remove the “weeds” from our yard. Once we explain the weeds are actually wildflowers, we are let off the hook. Well, that is, until the next year when we have to call and write again.

Part three discusses some of the wildlife to expect, particularly insects and toads. The insects she briefly highlights are butterflies, dragonflies, and bees. Part four concentrates on attracting birds and their various needs. Finally, part five discusses some of the human aspects, such as reaching out to your community and getting your wildlife garden certified. She also briefly discusses some things that may happen that will cause you to leave or lose your wildlife garden, preparing readers for the realities of life.


Given the title, I was hoping for more information about butterfly/insect gardening, which was limited to four short pages and didn’t give many specific details. I understand one handicap about writing this kind of book is that it is impossible to list native plants to use because those will vary so much from place to place and also depend on what wildlife occur in the immediate area. However, some generalizations are possible, such as monarch butterflies use plants of the milkweed family as hosts. To compensate for being general, Sayre lists an extensive number of resources in the back, many of which will have more specific advice.

Touch a Butterfly is a good introduction to wildlife gardening, especially for people who know little about it. The book’s real strength is that Sayre opens the door to the natural world through many excellent suggestions for making careful observations of wildlife all around us. Hopefully you will be inspired to share these insights with children.

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Roost Books (April 23, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1590309170
ISBN-13: 978-1590309179

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Gardening For Pollinators: How to Encourage Bees

In Eric Grissell’s book, Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens he laments that people who are interested in gardening for wildlife invariably choose to encourage butterflies or birds. With all the press about the honey bees suffering from colony collapse disorder, however, there seems to be an upswing in interest in gardening for pollinators. Although the term pollinator does encompass butterflies and birds, bees are generally included as well. In fact, a group in Texas has a new certification program for “bee-friendly gardens.”

What do you need to provide to encourage bees in the garden? Most wildlife gardens concentrate on three areas :  food, water and shelter.

1. Food – Planting Flowers for Bees

Bees collect pollen and nectar for food, which is why they are great pollinators. Planting an array of flowers to bloom throughout the growing season is a good start for providing nectar and pollen they need. Sunflowers are a good choice because they will grow in a wide variety of areas and attract a number of different kinds of bees.

The types of flowers to provide will depend on your local growing conditions. Check with local botanical gardens, nurseries, beekeeping associations, and native plant societies for recommendations. Don’t forget that trees may produce significant nectar and pollen for bees (particularly early in the season), even though they may not have large, showy flowers.

If you plant trees and other flowering plants that supply nectar for well-known bees, like honey bees,

often the lesser-known, but still important solitary bees will also use them.

Sometimes all you need to do is leave the wildflowers you already have.

For example, the humble dandelion tends to flower late into fall and even winter, providing an important late season resource for bees.

In addition to nectar and pollen, bees may also gather a number of different materials from leaves, including nesting components, resin or sap.

2. Providing water for bees

Bees need water to drink. These honey bees are standing on lily pad leaves floating in a pool and drinking the water at the edges. They will use various damp puddles or places where they can walk to edge of the water as water sources. In his book, Eric Grissell shows a simple solar-powered fountain he devised to splash water on rocks. Properly designed and maintained, a water fountain or pool can be a source of a drink for many types of animals.

3. Providing shelter for bees

Providing shelter for bees does not have to be difficult and can even be artistic. Sometimes it may be as simple as leaving a few flower stalks in your garden. For example, our hollyhock stems provide an ideal home for small species of carpenter bees (Genus Ceratina).

Mason bee houses are very popular with both humans and bees, as we see with this video of an European species they have identified as red orchard mason bees (Osmia rufa) colonizing a new bee condo. Listen to them “talk!”

In Tucson, Arizona we have an artist and landscape designer, Greg Corman at Zen Industrial, who does bee habitats that double as sculptures. Some of his bee and lizard habitats are on display at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.

(Robert Engelhardt made this solitary bee house. Photograph from Wikimedia).

A quick search with Google can yield many places to learn more about bee houses or condos:

Another way to provide a place to live is to leave a patch of bare ground for digger bees to nest. You will need to research the requirements for your area, but leaving a small patch of native soil undisturbed may be helpful.

4. Get to know your local bees

To have a successful pollinator garden, it really pays to get to know what kind of solitary bees live in your area and what their requirements are. The more you know about the tiny bees that share you yard, the better you will be able to meet their needs and the more you will appreciate them.

Now, those of you who have been following my blog will probably know where I’m going next. Yes, I’m talking about gardening for ants. Do you think it is possible to garden for ants? Stay tuned…