Turn your garden into a tropical—and tasty—backyard wildlife habitat.
Story and photography by Norman Winter
Can you imagine walking out to your own tropical garden and seeing flowers that remind you of the islands? What if they had butterflies and hummingbirds feasting on their nectar? Then go a step further and imagine harvesting a key ingredient for lemon dill shrimp kabobs or grilled red snapper with lemon dill sauce.
It can happen much easier than you ever imagined. Everyone on the Coast loves hibiscus, both the tropical and the perennial types. Hibiscuses are also favorites for ruby-throated hummingbirds and butterflies.
I was at one of our Mississippi State University Experiment Stations last June and had the proverbial Kodak moment in our butterfly garden. Flare, one of my all time favorite perennial hibiscus, was blooming in perfect sequence with dill.
Flare hibiscus has become one of the most loved, hardy hibiscuses available, becoming a staple in the tropical-style garden, and those wanting to create a backyard wildlife habitat. It has performed exceedingly well in trials across the South and was an award winner in Texas. The fuchsia-red blooms almost glow, giving a possible glimpse into how it received its name. The semi-glossy apple green foliage complements the flowers in striking fashion.
The partnering dill looks quite at home in the butterfly, tropical, or herb garden with its tall, feathery foliage and yellow flowers. It is loved by the culinary artist wanting to create the Gulf Coast delicacies mentioned above, as well as the kids who munch the giant pickles at the movies.
It’s also treasured by the larvae of the swallowtail butterfly, and the pollen feeds hungry adult lacewings and syrphid flies, two highly beneficial insects to have in the garden and of course the yellow flowers are also terrific partners for many hibiscuses as well as the last flower I’ll mention, the anise hyssop.
Anise hyssop—also called agastache—is an all-star performer for the butterfly and hummingbird garden, as well as the herb and perennial garden. In addition to hummingbirds, every kind of bee in the neighborhood delights in the light blue-lavender flowers, no doubt one of the reasons anise hyssop honey is treasured.
You will also find butterflies like the Gulf Coast Fritillary, Monarch, and the Buckeye. A web search reveals scores of recipes or uses for the plant in flavoring teas and desserts.
The lavender-blue flowers of the anise hyssop, the yellow blossoms of the dill, and fuchsia red of the flare hibiscus will form a harmony from the standpoint of color and beauty.
A Gulf Coast garden that attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds and is used in the kitchen is one of the most rewarding gardens you can have, giving your whole family lasting—and colorful—memories.
Norman is a frequent garden lecturer and author of Mississippi Gardener’s Guide, Paradise Found Growing Tropicals In Your Own Backyard and the highly acclaimed Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South
Photos above: Anise hyssop provides a feast for bees and monarchs while a Flare hibiscus (inset) is a popular lure for butterflies and hummingbirds.
Panhandle butterfly house
Picked by Kathie Farnell
Visitors to Navarre, Florida can visit the Panhandle Butterfly House, where gardens inside and out bloom with native plants. The sanctuary is open from late April through Labor Day, Tuesday through Sunday. Visitors can expect to see 300 to 500 butterflies gliding among the flowers. Director Sandra Sherman says the most popular butterflies are the Eastern Swallowtail, the Monarch, and the Gulf Fritillary. The Swallowtail, a summer favorite, comes to penta, lantana, zinnias and merigolds, while its caterpillars chew their way through dill, parsley, and Queen Anne's Lace.
A nonprofit organization, the Panhandle Butterfly House is maintained and operated by the Master Gardeners of Santa Rosa, Escambia, and Okaloosa counties, assisted by more than 100 volunteers. Those inspired to create their own butterfly habitats get help from a brochure which lists plants that attract butterflies and provide food for catepillars.
Excerpt taken from "The Butterfly Effect" story published in Spring 2007 issue.