Book Review:: Butterflies and Butterfly Gardening in the Pacific Northwest

An Introduction to Butterflies and Butterfly Gardening in the Pacific Northwest by Mary Kate Woodward covers local butterflies, how to attract them and how to landscape for them. It’s not a large book, topping out at only 104 pages including the index, but it has some good, basic information. The basics of butterfly garden design are covered including not using pesticides, messy landscapes, and plant structures. The first couple of chapters cover some of the essential design elements including sun aspect, wind sheltering and basking sites. Accompanying the text are sample design layouts.

There is a chapter dedicated to caterpillars and how to design a landscape for them. Topics include host-larvae relationships, plantings in patches and timing the plant food with the emerging of the larvae.

Flowers are the subject of another chapter that includes a discussion of how to find plants and planting design such as plantings in groupings, overlapping groups, mixing annuals and perennials, color choices and scent considerations. Also of interest is a bit about planting night-blooming flowers for moths.

Habitat elements are also focused on with a look at basking rocks, mud puddles and ponds which are discussed briefly. Enjoying and watching the butterflies is one of the last topics to be mentioned. Unfortunately, by page 41 the design portion of the book is over and the rest is about the butterflies and plants. This could have been beneficial, but the butterflies section is really no more than several pages of photographs of butterflies with almost no information about the specific species.

The plant chapter which follows the butterflies chapter fares little better. There is a poor quality zone map followed by useful plant lists for larval hosts plants and butterfly nectar plants sorted by plant type. The chart is useful listing the plants and the specific larvae that use that plant. However, there is no further plant information other than the list. The final few pages contain nothing more than line art of some of the plants listed but no information about the plants growth, bloom length, growing conditions or any other horticultural information.

I would recommend this book only if found used at a book sale for a low price, because unfortunately, it’s too light on useful content to make it a solid resource. The plant list is nice, but there are so many available resources with regional plant lists that it’s not a major selling point for this book. The design portion is valuable as an overview, but lacks real depth and discussion about all aspects of butterfly garden design in general let alone for the Pacific Northwest. It misses out on addressing the local climate, regional aspects such as coastal influence, or even discussing native plants. It also doesn’t get into urban gardening, balconies, small spaces or community-wide planning.

For a butterfly gardening book that I highly recommend read Design for Butterflies which features a look at Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic in Your Garden, published by The Xerces Society and The Smithsonian Institution.

An Introduction to Butterflies and Butterfly Gardening in the Pacific Northwest
Mary Kate Woodward
Whitecap Books 2005

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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist, writer and photographer based in Seattle. She is the author of NATURE OBSCURA: A City’s Hidden Natural World, coming Spring 2020 from Mountaineers Books. She writes freelance articles about natural history and has bylines in Crosscut, ParentMap, National Wildlife Magazine and others. On the side she writes fiction.

Kelly holds a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon and a certificate in non-fiction writing from the University of Washington.
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