this afternoon the sun came out and it was possible to sit outside on the bench in the wild garden, and read my new inspirational book Second Skin by India Flint, Australian textile artist. butterflies which have not been very visible in the cold and windy weather are starting to appear.
as I read I became aware that a red admiral was sunning itself on the thuja hedge nearby; then suddenly there were four large stunning butterflies spreading their wings as the sun went in and out behind clouds; as the sun came out they closed them, and when it went in they opened them.
this one has suffered a severe accident – its underwing is split nearly in half – I suppose a collision with a thorny hedge or dog rose. in the sunshine the hard keratin shell underneath the fur becomes visible – shiny dark iridescent green.
I have been reading the out of print book The Butterfly Gardener by Miriam Rothschild and Clive Farrell, published in 1983 (plenty of cheap second hand copies available on Amazon). although the second half, on raising butterflies indoors, or in a greenhouse, is not of great interest to me, the first half is a lovely description of her garden and the butterflies one can attract and encourage by planting and restricted use of chemicals. her garden consisted of three areas, a typical walled kitchen garden, with the use of an absolute minimum of sprays and insecticides, the house and courtyard, with a “fine profusion of garden flowers and wild species where stone and soil meet around the foundations, in a sort of grassy border. A visitor looked round at the untamed creepers and broom and the mauve and blue haze of candytuft and flax growing out of the gravel, and remarked uneasily: ‘I don’t believe anyone can LIVE here …’” just my sort of gardener. the third area consisted of an acre of flowering hayfield (I wish) divided from the house by a strip of closely cut lawn. she has a little rant about modern agricultural methods being lethal to both wild flowers and butterflies, “But with time and trouble and experimentation one can get wild flowers to grow in profusion in the grass or mixed in with the good old cultivated varieties” .
my garden, full of wildflowers, certainly entertains a good variety of insects, and I get very good pollination on my young apple trees, which bow down under the weight of fruit.
red campion continues to flower as the regular drenchings this summer have reinvigorated growth
self heal likes the shorter grasses
a big clump of tufted vetch visited by wild bees
poppies courtesy of the moles who turn over the soil in their molehills
honeysuckle, which attracts moths, and the berries bring bullfinches in the autumn
roses are not of interest to butterflies but a few old roses are essential for beauty and scent, and plenty of wild looping dog roses provide shelter and bright hips in the autumn. I know the field mice and squirrels eat them, I am not sure if they benefit birds.
guelder rose berries and rowan are eaten by blackbirds
the buddleia is the main attraction – here a comma
and a peacock sip from the heavily scented flowers. as the sun slanted lower and the wind died, I sat trying to draw the patterns made by knapweed and poppy heads, with butterflies whirring and flapping past my head. they were attracted by the white paper of my sketch book, and landed on it, opening their wings and enjoying the heat and light until a sudden movement or a competing butterfly drove them away. several red admirals, the peacock – who sat there combing out his long tongue with his feet – and a surprising painted lady (the first I have seen this year) came and sat with me.
although the buddleia is the favourite, yarrow seems to be good for this gatekeeper. the long grass is full of the reeling song of grasshoppers, and quite a few ladybirds climb up stems.
I am going to look for scabious at my local wildflower centre; they always seem to be attracting butterflies where I come across them in hedgerows. I have a little valerian started in my cultivar garden; this is very good for butterflies. tobacco plants are essential for attracting moths … and of course, one should always have a patch of nettles, several butterflies, including peacocks, red admirals and small tortoiseshell need them to feed their larva. Painted ladies need thistles, which in a small garden is a bit of a sacrifice, and they need clearing away before they seed – as much as the goldfinches would like it.
I have to try the recommendation of a gravel path, seeded with lavender, candytuft, red valerian, white clover, field pansy and creeping cinque-foil. this is a lure for butterflies, and would make rather more of my untidy gravel drive. a holly tree would encourage the holly blue. but I wish I had Miriam Rothschild’s acre of hay meadow “enchanted with the covey of baby partridges calling somewhere in the middle of it .. the mixture of mauve field scabious and purple knapweeds, the almost white seed heads of quaking grass. On warm evenings I walk through it after dark and imagine it stretches away for thirty acres or more on all sides. In the half light the ghost moth swings among the drying stems. It is John Clare country come back to life.”
…. To see the meadows so divinely lye
Beneath the quiet of the evening sky