Brian contacted us recently with this question. He is planning a nature garden and wants to attract pollinating insects. That means attracting, not just the adults, but providing food for the larvae too.
The best advice is to to include a range of plants in your garden and to avoid using pesticides. This will attract a range of different insects to your garden. While many adult insects are generalists, feeding on a range of flowers, their larvae are often adapted to a specific species. An example is the Small Tortoiseshell butterfly, Aglais urticae. While the adult butterflies feed on nectar from many different flowers, the caterpillars feed only on the common nettle. The problem is that many gardeners are happy to grow lots of pretty flowers but sometimes less keen to give space to ‘weeds’ like nettles.
Our friends at the Charity Butterfly Conservation have produced a great list of food plants, which you can find here: https://butterfly-conservation.org/sites/default/files/butterflyfoodplants.pdf
We hope that helps Brian and everyone else spending chilly winter days planning their garden. If you have made a garden to attract insects, we’d love to share photos in our Gallery.