Butterfly Horn of Plenty

Giant swallowtail butterfly on tithonia, photographed by Jeff Zablow at "Butterflies and Blooms in the Briar Patch," Eatonton, GA

Nine years old and in Brooklyn, New York, we lived on the very edge of development. Just beyond our street corner, there were undeveloped, hardscrabble lots. There was my dream world. After the games of punchball, stickball, stoopball and roller hockey, I’d slip away and head to my favorite ’empty’ lot on E. 57th Street and Clarendon Road. Two to three hours there, in mid-June afternoon, I’d see maybe, 4 or five butterflies. That was the normal, I thought then.

From 1975 to 1990 we lived in suburban Long Island, New York. Doug Tallamy would tell you that my high ranch-style house was typical, with its many nectar-pumping cultivars, and surrounded by hundreds of houses carefully manicured by professional landscapers, and they planted 85% with alien shrubs. My squadron of butterfly bushes (Buddleia) drew perhaps 5-6 butterflies daily.

My third house in Pittsburgh marked my big epiphany. I took Kathy’s advice and read Tallamy’s ground breaking book, and I planted 90% natives, Clethra, Coneflowers, Milkweeds, Obedient plant, Pagoda dogwoods, American plum, American hornbeam, Senna, Monkeyflower, cardinal flower, and so much more. When attendance was taken, by day’s end, a sunny day would count 10 or more butterflies about.

My move to Georgia’s Piedmont in 2017, and now my largest garden ever, most of it in full sun, hit jackpot! I’ve put in hundreds of plants, almost all native to Georgia. At any given time, 30 or 40 butterflies may be flying, with many more busily nectaring on the tens of thousand of flowers there. Squadrons of Cloudless Sulphur, Dozens of skippers, too many Gulf fritillaries to count, platoons of Buckeyes, Painted ladies and American ladies, Giant swallowtails, as many as 5 or 6 at a time, Zebra swallowtails and Zebra heliconians and  . . . . At times, it’s battlestations, for I’ve seen my first ever Great Purple Hairstreak there, and some unlikely ones, as that Palamedes swallowtail that Kindly paid a visit.

There are several excellent nurseries that specialize in natives, including Night Song Nursery and Nearly Natives Nursery, and they are just a moderate drive from my home. You visit them, and Katy and Debi and Jim are 100% friendly and helpful.

This Giant swallowtail typifies the heady times that I enjoy here in this, my garden in sunny Georgia. Butterfly horn of plenty . . . dream . . . realized.

Up from the streets. My life.

Jeff