Places Where You Can Get Up Close and Personal with a Butterfly
By Kurt Jacobson
If ever there was a magical creature that enthralls young and old, the butterfly is it. Butterfly lovers believe monarch butterflies have super powers.
They overwinter in Mexico, then in summer, subsequent generations fly up the eastern half of the US dodging cars, pesticides, and predators on their way.
Butterflies live throughout North America and much of the world. Some dedicated butterfly lovers will travel great distances to observe species that call the US home.
On the East Coast, I’ve found some excellent places to learn about these stunning pollinators.
Public Butterfly Gardens in Maryland and Delaware
Near Jarrettsville, MD is Ladew Topiary Gardens. Starting in 1887, Ladew has been awarded many honors like top 5 gardens in North America and other worthy awards.
But for our visit, this is about their Butterfly House that operates from July 5th through late September.
Once you arrive and pay the $10-15 admission fee, head to the Butterfly House, where only native butterflies and moths are flying about, waiting to thrill you. During your visit, docents can answer questions on the pollinators’ life cycle from the egg- to-caterpillar-to-chrysalis then stunning wing creations.
While at Ladew, I encourage you to walk the native meadow and gardens to witness bees, butterflies, and birds in the open air.
Ladew has an excellent café serving light meals. They have a new cafe operator, Eats and Sweets, and I found the food to be very good.
The scones and chocolate cake were made in-house and rival some of the best bakeries in Maryland.
Ladew’s butterfly house is another ADA-compliant attraction. Ladew Gardens and cafe close on Wednesdays for maintenance.
To see pollinators in a natural setting, butterfly lovers will enjoy Mt Cuba Nature Center, open from April through November.
Formally the home of the Copelands, what started as a cornfield restoration for nature has become one of the most authentic nature preserves in the Mid-Atlantic.
Upon arrival and paying $15 for adults, and $8 for children 8-17, grab a map and head towards the main house. By July, the garden is buzzing with many pollinators subsisting on the native plants needed to survive and thrive.
Over two miles of trails offer a look at nature as it should be on this 1,083-acre property. Consider taking a Welcome Walk at 11 am or 3 pm to learn about Mt Cuba’s highlights and mission.
For lodging and meals, Kennett Square, 15 minutes drive away, has what you need. Two excellent B&Bs, Kennett House and Bancroft Manor offer comfortable rooms in historic homes.
If you’re hungry, don’t miss Portabellos on 108 E State Street in Kennett Square or Solvana Bistro just up the road in Unionville.
Both restaurants serve lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Talula’s Table in Kennett Square is a good place to buy deluxe picnic goods for lunch.
James Farm was once a working farm, but when the heir to the farm died in an automobile accident, owner Mary Lighthipe decided to donate the property to Sussex County as a nature center.
Delaware Center for the Inland Bays has managed the farm and its three miles of trails. This free park is a great place to see what the land might have looked like before the coming of Europeans.
Birds, butterflies, and other local wildlife thrive at James Farm.
Admission is free, and parking is near the trailheads. I saw bluebirds and pollinators on the warm June day while walking the park.
Follow the trail to the water and see sea birds and other wildlife. The town of Bethany Beach is nearby.
Delaware Botanic Gardens, like James Farm, seeks to restore the land and plant native species.
They have an impressive collection of holly trees, thanks to a donation from a collector. I had no idea the holly tree was the Delaware State tree.
For a nominal fee, Delaware Botanic Gardens is worth a stop. Check out their butterfly tours on Thursday starting July, 21, 2022 through August 28th.
Enjoy seeing 30,000 plus bulbs in the Folly Garden in the spring. I hit the tail end of bulb season but enjoyed my walk towards Pepper Creek to the water’s edge making my way through a fern-cover understory.
You can reach both of these wild places easily from Bethany Beach. Bethany Beach Ocean Suites is my favorite to stay. Their large and well-appointed suites are in excellent condition, and many overlook the beach and ocean.
For breakfast or lunch, I recommend Sunshine Crepes. They have a large selection of savory and sweet crepes that are the best I’ve had outside of Europe.
Leakin Park has a lovely pollinator garden that is free to visit. This Baltimore City park has over 1,200 acres making it one of the biggest urban parks in the US.
There are several ways to find their pollinator garden. I head for the Cardin Pavilion by the intersection of the Old Fort and Old Wagon trails. Over by the pavilion is the main pollinator garden.
Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts is the only US National Park dedicated to the performing arts. Big-name performers like Sting, The Gipsy Kings, Ziggy Marley, and Yoyo Ma are some hot shows to catch in 2022.
Butterfly lovers might notice a significant change in the flower gardens over the last three years.
Thanks to Edgar Deskins, the Integrated Resource Program Manager, Wolf Trap has an abundance of native gardens that attract pollinators.
On a recent visit on my way to the main entrance to the Filene Center to see the Gipsy Kings perform, I noticed several concrete planters filled with native flowers.
The pathway to the Children’s Theater in the Woods is bordered by extensive planting of Black-eye Susans that color the hillside like a Monet painting.
Even the East parking lot has a vibrant garden where I saw mountain mint, coneflowers, yucca, and other native plants.
Admission to the park is free. Consider bringing a picnic to enjoy under the trees overlooking the expansive hilly lawn and forest. Another visitor-friendly aspect of Wolf Trap is the gardens are ADA accessible.
There are several choices listed on the Wolftrap.org website for hotels and dining options. I usually overnight at the Embassy Suites in McLean and pack a picnic if we are attending a concert.
Wine and Butterflies
A few wineries have become interested in supporting butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. Black Ankle is my favorite winery to take a grape escape as it’s only an hour from my Baltimore home.
Their wine is so good that they have amassed over 3,000 wine club members! Two years ago, Black Ankle added a pollinator garden just steps away from the courtyard tasting room near the parking lot.
The flowers were blooming on a recent visit, getting ready to feed the pollinators. Next to the garden, Niki, one of the managers, pointed out a nest of hungry bluebird chicks peeping for food. All this nature, beauty, and good wine make Black Ankle tops on my list for butterfly watching.
Sunset Hills in Loudoun County VA
Previous owners, Mike and Diane Canney recently sold Sunset Hills and 50 West. Both of these Loudoun County, VA wineries have pollinator gardens that are certified Monarch Waystations. My favorite of the two wineries is Sunset Hills, where the Canneys had restored an old farm from the 1870s.
One of the best ways to enjoy Sunset Hills is to find Jule’s Caribbean BBQ food truck. Currently, his food truck is parked on Highway 9 in Paonian Springs at the Shell gas station. Jules serves some of the best baby back ribs I’ve ever had and the BBQ chicken is also excellent.
Grab some delicious bbq and sides like mac-n-cheese, collard greens, and sauteed cabbage, then drive just seven minutes to Sunset Hills.
Paired with a Sunset Hills red blend, chardonnay, or petite Verdot, this is living large.
And Deerfield, Massachusetts
They’ve been open since 2000 and have an 8,000 sq. ft. conservatory with gobs of butterflies, moths, and caterpillars. Enjoy visiting throughout the year, especially in winter when it’s 80 degrees inside, keeping butterflies and humans comfortable. At Magic Wings, you might even get a chance to wear live butterflies!
The staff at the conservatory are referred to as “flight attendants.” They can answer questions about the 3,000 butterflies within the glass conservatory.
A gift shop on site has books, cards, posters, T-shirts, and more paraphernalia for the butterfly lover in your life.
This list is just a taste of the places you can find magical pollinator gardens on the East Coast. Visit my favorites or find your own butterfly gardens.
Once you learn more about butterflies, you too might join the ranks of us saving monarchs, swallowtails, and other gorgeous pollinators in our world.