From downtown , work your way down one of the sets of public steps to the lakefront. Main Street has become Huron Street here. Continue your walk east, passing smaller but no less appealing cottages and homes. Many are skirted with geraniums and lilacs, the island’s signature flowers. Behind Ste. Anne’s Catholic Church, seek out the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Insect World (www.originalbutterflyhouse.com , 906/847-3972, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. daily Memorial Day–Labor Day, $7.50 adults, $4 children 5–12), tucked away on McGulpin Street.
Owner Doug Beardsley used to use his greenhouses to grow thousands of geraniums for the Grand Hotel and others. He relied on biodynamic growing methods, releasing beneficial insects to care for his plants rather than chemical sprays. When economics made his small greenhouse less viable, he stuck with his insects. After hearing about a butterfly house in Europe, Beardsley added some different host plants and began ordering pupa from around the world. Now hundreds of butterflies fly freely in his greenhouse/atrium, some nearly six inches long. You can observe them up close on walls and plants, or sit still long enough and they’ll land on you.
The engaging Beardsley hopes his attraction will help convince gardeners to wean themselves off herbicides and pesticides. He sells helpful insects to control garden pests like aphids and will give you ideas for attracting butterflies to your own garden. (Host plants like milkweed and cabbage, where butterflies like to lay their eggs, will work best. “Think of it as planting a caterpillar garden, not a butterfly garden,” he says.)