Butterfly effect at Chartwell
The connection between Chartwell and butterflies is a strong one, starting with Sir Winston Churchill’s love of the small creatures and one we still continue here today.
Since he was a young man, Sir Winston Churchill had a fascination with butterflies. As a soldier serving out in India in the 4th Hussars, he picked up the hobby of entomology, creating a collection of colourful butterflies such as purple emperors, white admirals and swallowtails.
This fascination continued and after he moved to Chartwell, Churchill decided to ensure his gardens would become a haven for all wildlife, including butterflies, building his very own Butterfly House in 1946.
Originally a game larder used for hanging meat, Churchill and his architect, Philip Tilden, converted the small building to a summer house in 1924 by removing the east wall and it stayed as such until it was converted again to begin the conservation of his butterflies.
With advice from local butterfly expert, L. Hugh Newman, who owned a butterfly ‘farm’ in nearby Sidcup, he raised and released butterflies including green-veined whites, speckled woods, peacocks, and later on the rare but local black-veined white and the continental clouded yellow.
To support the butterflies already visiting the Chartwell gardens, new butterfly friendly flowers and plants were soon introduced to the grounds. Red and white valerian, buddleia, hebe, lavender and sedum were all planted to encourage the butterflies to visit. These plants are a fantastic source of nectar and soon made the garden a great place to spot butterflies. Newman even encouraged the Churchills to grow fennel near the lake to encourage a butterfly colony.
Churchill would sit and wait for the butterflies to emerge from their chrysalides within his Butterfly House before opening the doors so they could enjoy his beautiful garden.
Today, we continue to encourage the butterflies to Chartwell, with the long path between the pet cemetery and the house, called the Butterfly Border, recently redone with salvias, geranium and lavender to attract and support butterflies.
Orange-tip butterflies can be seen feeding on the delicate pink flowers of Lady’s Smock above the croquet lawn. Ivy-covered walls offer shelter for over wintering brimstones and the early flowers are perfect for the tiny holly blue.
You can also still see the original butterfly house on a visit to Chartwell, found at the top of the gardens, just past the house. All of the brickwork and wooden benches have been preserved throughout the decades, although we don’t currently breed butterflies there at the moment.
Inspired by Churchill’s love for butterflies? Help encourage them into your own garden back home with a few easy changes.
Why not try leaving areas of rough undisturbed grass and weeds to help make your garden more butterfly-friendly? Nettles are particularly important - the brightly coloured painted lady, red admiral and peacock butterflies all lay their eggs on nettle leaves.
You can also add plants and flowers for them to feed from. Buddleia, lavender, valerian, geranium and many more are great sources of nectar to soon have the butterflies fluttering around, just like they are and always have been at Chartwell, all thanks to Churchill’s love of the colourful little creatures.