A far away look spreads across the face of Solomon Boyé as he turns inward, groping for words to explain why here, in the heart of downtown Toronto where we are sitting, butterflies are important.
Finally, after several intermittent starts, he finds his explanation, and a slow grin spreads. « It’s because they bring joy and happiness,’’ he says. « That’s what they do. They summon up dreams, and then we can transcend the day-to-day. Then we can see hope. And with hope, anything becomes possible.’’
We say nothing for a moment. There’s nothing more that needs be said. Like music, butterflies enrich.
Boyé is community garden coordinator for the city’s parks and recreation department. He’s working with FoodShare, a community organization, to encourage Torontonians to grow their own food in communal gardens. At the same time, he and FoodShare are campaigning for butterfly gardens.
Butterflies, being insects, are extremely vulnerable to pesticides, and from the time that pesticides began coming into common use in the late 1920s, they have been under attack. As a result, butterfly populations have declined and one butterfly, the Karner Blue, with wings of delicate violet shading into lavender, is on the endangered list in Ontario.
But as more and more people are turning to organic solutions for pest control in lawns and gardens, and as roadside spraying has been curtailed, butterflies are increasing. « We’re not back to where we were,’’ says Margaret Pickles, assistant curator of the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, « but there’s a lot of potential developing.’’
To create a butterfly garden, two things are necessary: host plants to support butterflies in their caterpillar stage; and nectar plants for adult butterflies.
Here are the top ten butterflies in the Toronto region, as chosen by Ms. Pickles, and the host plants that they depend upon as caterpillars: Monarchs (milkweed); Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (willows, poplars, birches); Eastern Black Swallowtails (Queen Anne’s lace, wild carrot, dill, parsley); Viceroy (willows, poplars); Red Admiral (nettles).
Painted Lady (more than 100 plants, especially thistles and mallows); Comma Butterfly or Hop Merchant (nettles, hops); Question Mark Butterfly (nettles, hops, hackberries); Little Wood Satyr (grasses); and Orange Sulphur (alfalfa, white clover).
All these butterflies are gorgeous. And, as caterpillars, they are voracious. The field guides are unanimous is saying that if you are planting to attract butterflies, be prepared to see their caterpillars gnaw their through your vegetable garden — especially plants in the cabbage family (cabbage, turnips, broccoli, kale), and the carrot family (carrots, dill, parsley).
This sounds dire, but it really isn’t. The caterpillars attract a host of predators that generally keep them under adequate control. Just make sure you wash all vegetables thoroughly. They won’t be bug-free like supermarket vegetables which are sprayed.
As adults, far and away the butterfly’s favourite plant for nectar is the butterfly bush (buddleia). They’re also attracted to orange butterfly weed, coneflowers (echinacea), bee balm (also called Oswego tea), goldenrod, valerian, yarrow, Joe-pye weed, mints, and cardinal flowers.
It’s most important that nectar plants be in open, sunny areas. Butterflies have to warm their bodies to a certain level before they can fly. But they are cold-blooded, and so they have to rely on the sun to warm them.
If you love butterflies, take a trip to Niagara Falls to see the butterfly conservatory with its 2,000 butterflies. And if you want to see a perfect example of a butterfly garden, the finest in southern Ontario according to Boyé, take a look at the conservatory’s outdoor garden.
There’s even a web site for those who cherish the Monarch butterfly. It’s called Monarch Watch and it can be found at http://MonarchWatch.org/.
And lastly, should you want to get in touch with FoodShare or Boyé for advice on establishing a garden, the number to call is (416) 392-6653.
So, dig, plant, dream, and transcend. Not a bad agenda for a summer, I’d say.