Bring on the beautiful butterflies

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Visit gardens and enclosures to learn what plants will attract butterflies to your yard

Bring on the beautiful butterfliesAs Jane Austen might phrase it, a summer garden must be full of butterflies to be complete. If only all desires could be so easily achieved, because there is scarcely a garden in the Lowcountry that does not already grow one or all three of the major butterfl y magnets: lantana, pentas and salvia.

Add coneflower, verbena, coreopsis, rudbeckia, butterfly bush and honeysuckle, (the Lonicera sempervirens variety), and a water source, and they will come.

But the most fun of all is to nurture the butterflies yourself by planting a couple of host plants, which include the herbs parsley, dill and fennel. From personal experience, fennel is a sure-fire attraction for the vividly striped fat caterpillar that eats and eats until sated, weaves itself into a green chrysalis, then fastens onto the decimated stalk by means of the slenderest of threads. The trip from caterpillar to butterfly is a fascinating one and nothing short of a miracle. But you will be very lucky to see the final dramatic metamorphosis; they seem to achieve that under cover of night.

One way to learn about attracting butterflies to your garden is to visit the butterfly enclosure at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.

The small space is beautifully designed by landscape architect Eric Walsnovich to simulate as much as possible an outdoor habitat. It has a screened roof and floor-to-ceiling windows, and is very light-filled, airy and animated by the delicate pattern of butterflies in perpetual motion. Go early to take an enchanting stroll through an intimate space.

Plants in the enclosure are labeled and you can read about butterflies’ favorite nectar and host flowers, shrubs and small trees. There are also colorful illustrated information boards posted around the area.

The site is surrounded by a garden, again featuring butterfly-productive plants, shrubs and small trees generally native to the Lowcountry. Most of the sage or salvia family is well-represented there, too. You will see a variety of familiar plants and some that probably should be better known, many originating from Daniel Payne’s nursery on Coosaw Island, which specializes in natives.

But for the ultimate experience in butterfly enclosures, one must undertake a road trip quite a bit further from the Lowcountry.

The Day Butterfly Center, named for Cecil B. Day Sr., founder of Day’s Inns of America, is a major attraction at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. It opened in 1988 and consists of 8,000 square feet of glass that encloses a rain forest environment. A tropical climate is maintained for the survival of the butterflies, many of which are imported from exotic locations, including Kenya, Taiwan and Ecuador.

Callaway, a major destination for garden lovers, is located on the western edge of Georgia, 30 miles north of Columbus and 70 miles south of Atlanta.

Butterfly enclosure

Where: Coastal Discovery Museum, Honey Horn
When: Open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Cost: Free

Guided tours: 10 a.m. Monday and 3 p.m. Wednesday
Cost: $10 per person; $5 for children 4-12.
For more information: 843-689-6767; or visit www.coastaldiscovery.org.