Plants attract birds, butterflies – and kids!

Monarch butterfly on butterfly bush (image by Denise Pierce).

There goes my daughter, Maya, helping her “papa” (grandpa) feed the birds again. It’s a very important job for her when she goes over to visit – scooping the bird seed from the big plastic bins in his garage and carefully pouring it into one of the many bird feeders hanging from his front tree like so much ripe fruit.

Now 4 years old, Maya has been doing this as long as she’s been able to walk. And her love of Papa’s birds has only grown through the years, as we’ve made peanut butter-and-birdseed pine cone feeders every winter and later on in the season, watched the hummingbirds and other feathered friends visit plants like our Tropicanna cannas, Volcano phlox, Sun Parasol mandevillas and Blue Storm agapanthus.

(Back row, from left):  plectranthus, Tropicanna Gold , Tropicanna Black, Sun Parasol mandevillas. (Front row, from left): ornamental peppers, thread-leaved croton, lime green heuchera.

Blue Storm agapanthus in a container on my deck

Volcano Red phlox near my deck

Last year, Maya fell in love with butterflies, too, after a visit to the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden at Rochester, NY’s National Museum of Play. After that, we always noticed butterflies hovering around our Volcano phlox, black-eyed Susans, bee balm, Blue Storm agapanthus, coreopsis, stonecrop and chocolate eupatorium (Joe Pye weed).

Of course, we’ve never been able to get a shot of these winged friends in action – hence my borrowed pic of a butterfly (above) from one of Tesselaar Plant’s regional garden bloggers, Denise Pierce of Red Bay, Alabama.

Maybe when Maya’s older, we’ll try to grow some milkweed, since that’s what the Monarch butterfly caterpillars eat (I understand the milky white sap is poisonous, so I think I’d like to wait a few years on that one).

Regardless, I’ve learned that gardening is a great way to keep kids active and connected to their environment, and as with everything else, there’s a fine line to walk between ensuring success and fostering independence. So I’ve gotta roll with what my daughter likes – right now, it’s birds and butterflies – and let her call some shots and pick out and sow some plants, so she sort of “owns” the experience. I’ve also learned to let her experiment, even if it means dead plants on the windowsill. I think I’m just not ready for dead butterflies yet!

Maya sowing her sunflower seeds for the birdies

So tell me – what are some of your favorite bird- and butterfly-friendly plants that can encourage kids to get out in the garden? Post a comment and let me know!

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