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The butterfly garden was originally established in 1998 by the Garden Guild of Winnetka as a living gift to the community of Winnetka. Garden Guild members continue to regularly maintain the garden. In conjunction with the redevelopment of Dwyer Park in 2018, Garden Guild collaborated with the Winnetka Park District to redesign and refresh the garden. It is a beautiful landmark in our community and a crucial habitat for butterflies and bees.

We encourage visitor to enjoy this garden gem throughout the seasons! Stop by to read a book, have a morning coffee, or to find ideas for your own pollinator garden at home. Check out photos of garden plants below and download a complete bloom guide.


Please direct any questions to Meg O’Gara at

The Dwyer Park Butterfly Garden

The Smithsonian Institute's Archives of American Gardens recognizes GGW's Butterfly Garden!
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In 2023, the Dwyer Park Butterfly Garden was added to the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens! This accomplishment was made possible by the hard work and dedication of the Winnetka Garden Guild. The process of submitting a garden to the Archives can span over several years due to the paperwork, obtaining photographic images during the four seasons, and more.

The Winnetka Park District sat down with Winnetka Garden Guild members Meg O'Gara and Pam Benz to celebrate their documentation into the Archives, and discuss what the Guild does for the Dwyer Park Butterfly Garden. View the video by clicking above.

Why A Butterfly Garden?

Butterflies are beautiful creatures and are important for many reasons.  They pollinate

flowering plants and also serve as food for birds and other animals. Their larvae eat leaves and are, in turn, eaten by birds, reptiles and amphibians.  With growing environmental awareness, people are realizing the need to create natural habitats for butterflies.  Many butterfly species are endangered and others have seen a large decrease in numbers.  As all things in nature are connected, the population of butterflies serves as a litmus test as to the state of our environment.


Butterflies are threatened for the same reasons as many other plants and animals.  The loss of habitat is the primary reason. Our prairies, wetlands, and woodlands are losing ground to farms, urban sprawl, and industry.  Also, the increasing demand for the manicured lawn and garden has reduced the amount of natural garden available to these beautiful creatures.  Pesticides used in farming, the mosquito abatement programs, and the philosophy of “clean gardening” have all led to the decrease in caterpillars, butterflies, and moths.


The Garden Guild of Winnetka and the Winnetka Park District built the Butterfly Garden in the center of town to educate and demonstrate how to conserve our butterflies. In addition to benefiting the Village, the 1,700 square foot Butterfly Garden at Dwyer Park has served as a wonderful garden club project involving the Winnetka Garden Guild’s Conservation, Horticulture, and Civic committees working together.

Facts About Butterflies

Butterflies and moths are both insects of the order Lepidoptera, which encompasses approximately 200,000 species worldwide.  A few of the features that distinguish butterflies from moths are:


  • smooth and slender bodies

  • tendency to fly during the day

  • knobbed antennae

  • wings resting in an upright position

  • most colorful of the Lepidoptera order


The life cycle of the butterfly begins as an egg. Individual female butterflies lay up to 1,600 eggs and it is remarkable to think that most lay their eggs singly.  In 5-10 days, the egg hatches and the tiny caterpillar begins its period of eating.  During this larvae period, the caterpillar will shed its skin between 4 and 6 times as it grows larger.  At the end of this stage (2-4 weeks), the fully-grown caterpillar transforms into a chrysalis, it’s pupal case.  During the next 10-15 days, the body structure changes and the adult butterfly takes its final form.  It should be noted that combining larval food with nectar plants, when planning your butterfly garden, is critical in supporting all four stages of the butterfly’s life.


Butterflies are creatures of the sun and, accordingly, feed on plants that require primarily full sun.  The sun also keeps the butterflies’ body temperature warm enough to fly.  Only when the temperature is between 85-100 degrees Fahrenheit will a butterfly navigate well.  Furthermore, studies have proven that warm habitats enable butterflies to develop faster by as much as 50%. On cooler days, they will perch on rocks or bask in the sun to absorb heat, which in turn, increases their metabolism.  For these reasons, a sunny garden will attract more butterflies, as well as provide an ideal environment for their eggs and the caterpillars.


Adult butterflies do not eat; they only drink.  They have coiled tubular tongues that take in liquid from flowers, rotten fruit, and water from small pools.  Butterflies’ antennae provide their sense of smell, and their legs provide their taste sensation.  Using this unique characteristic, they will brush a plant with their legs as they fly by, to sense if it is a potential host plant for their eggs.


The Monarch butterfly, the most familiar to us, migrates thousands of miles between Canada and Mexico.   A single generation makes the trip south.  The returning Monarchs may reproduce several times on the trip north.  The caterpillar of the Monarch feeds on the Asclepias (milkweed) plant, which makes the adult butterfly poisonous to most birds.  Planting Asclepias in your yard may offer you the opportunity to create a rest stop for the monarchs on their migration.


Click here for the plant list for our Butterfly Garden at Dwyer Park.  All the plants are selected for USDA Hardiness Zone 5 and almost all require full sun.  We hope this will inspire many of you to create a place in your yard that is friendly to these beautiful insects.



-- Stokes, Donald et al. Stokes Butterfly Book: The Complete Guide to Butterfly Gardening, Identification, and Behavior. 1991.

-- “Living Colors, A Butterfly Garden” The Field Museum, 1998.

Plant List

All the plants in the garden serve as nurseries for caterpillars and/or nectar sources for butterflies. The garden features two different species of milkweed — the only feeding source for monarch caterpillars and the only plant that monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on. Below is a full list of plants in our garden.

Blooms start in spring, with white daffodils and purple grape hyacinth. Summer exhibits intense color from orange and yellow yarrow, purple coneflower, and magenta blazing star. Fall brings the jewel tones of asters, goldenrod, and ornamental grasses. Take some time to smell the fragrance of butterfly bush, garden phlox, and sweet pepperbush. Nearly 30 botanical plant markers are on-site to aid in identification, and the Life Cycle of the Butterfly sign at the west corner of the garden is great for children.

Download a complete flower and bloom list here!

Plant List
Butterfly Facts
Why A Butterfly Garden
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