Experts reveal the one plant you should grow to attract butterflies to your garden

A contender for the RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2022, buddleja is the ideal choice for an eco-friendly butterfly garden

butterfly landing on a purple buddleja bush in bloom
(Image credit: Flowers and Gardens by Jan Smith Photography/Alamy Stock Photo)

The humble buddleja grows profusely on waste ground and railway embankments, but a delicate magenta-flowered variety of this common shrub, Buddleja davidii Little Ruby ('Botex 006') (Butterfly Candy Series), was shortlisted for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year 2022

It lost out to winning plant, × Semponium 'Destiny', a dark purple succulent, but buddleja’s appearance on the 20-strong Chelsea shortlist reminds us of its importance in bringing butterflies and other pollinators to the garden. 

So if you're looking for the best ways to grow a butterfly garden, there are plenty of reasons why you should consider putting buddleja on your planting list.

Buddleja davidii Little Ruby, shortlisted for RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year 2022

Buddleja davidii LITTLE RUBY, shortlisted for RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year 2022

(Image credit: Andrew Sydenham/Future)

'Buddleja is always top of the list of most commonly-used nectar sources in our Garden Butterfly Survey and lives up to its alternative name of the Butterfly Bush,' says Karen Goldie-Morrison, chairperson of the Butterfly Conservation (opens in new tab) charity. 

'The plants are also highly attractive to moths, bees and other insects,' she adds. illustrating why it's one of the best plants for pollinators

Avoid the invasive variety

butterfly landing on Buddleja davidii 'Black Knight'

Buddleja davidii 'Black Knight'

(Image credit: Flowerphotos/Alamy Stock Photo)

However, choose your variety carefully. Some, such as Buddleja davidii, which grows wild, can sometimes be considered an invasive plant, particularly in the US. This variety produces lots of small, light seeds, which spread like wildfire. Seeds will settle pretty much anywhere, even in cracks in buildings, where they can damage the brickwork.

Buddleja davidii also forms rapid thickets in natural habitats such as chalk grassland. 'These places support a large number of invertebrate species, some of which are rare and endangered,' says a spokesperson for the bird charity RSPB (opens in new tab)

'Buddleja davidii can quickly cover open ground, which means those special species can no longer live there.'

Experts recommend this variety

If you’re looking for a buddleja for your garden or backyard in the US, the National Garden Bureau (opens in new tab) recommends Southern Living Butterfly Towers, an RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year finalist in 2019. 

'Available in magenta or white blooms, the profuse flowers beckon butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, appearing in summer and blooming through fall,' says National Garden Bureau spokeswoman Gail Pabst. 

'The unique vertical habit makes a pretty hedge or screen.' 'Butterfly Towers' grows four to five feet tall and two to three feet wide. It enjoy full to part-sun and is suitable for USDA zones 5a-9b. 

'Butterfly Towers' is available from Southern Living (opens in new tab) in the US and Thompson & Morgan (opens in new tab) in the UK. 

It's worth remembering that pruning buddleja correctly is also advised to keep your butterfly-friendly bush under control. 

dark pink flowers of a buddleja

(Image credit: RHS)

Jayne Dowle is an award-winning freelance gardening, homes and property writer who writes about everything from swimming ponds to skyscraper apartments, for publications including Sunday Times Home, Times Bricks & Mortar, Grand Designs, House Beautiful and The Spectator. Awarded the Garden Journalist of the Year accolade at the Property Press Awards in 2021, she has a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Oxford and a lifelong love of homes, interiors and gardens. Her first memories include planting potatoes with her grandfather and drawing houses. Her own garden - her fourth - at home in a 1920s house in Yorkshire, is south-facing and on the side of a valley. It’s a constant challenge