Ooph! well, wedding planning for the autumn is getting *com-pli-cat-ed*, thanks to COVID19! So I thought I’d distract myself with a little blog post sharing some of the wildlife friendly plants and gardening efforts I have been making, that have helped attract all those lovely butterflies we looked at in my previous post.
If you’ll kindly imagine some wavy lines and swirly music, retro tv styley, we will rewind to spring and early summer!
Surely one of the most cheerful butterflies of the year, is Spring’s darling, the Orange Tip. Its usually the male of the species you notice first, bombing happily along a country lane, satsuma-orange wing tips blinking in the spring sun, like he’s left his hazard lights a-flashing. Orange tips usually emerge around the start of the blue bell season, or just a little earlier, but there are three other flowers I specifically associate with these small butterflies. Lady’s Smock (Cuckoo Flower, Milk Maids, or ‘Cardamine pratensis’), Garlic Mustard (Jack-By-The-Hedge, Hedge-Garlic, or ‘Alliaria petiolata’) and, that classic rockery flower Aubretia.
Lady’s Smock is found in ditches and damp meadows, and my chalky garden is simply too dry to grow it, but I have found a spot in the shaded bed under the pyracantha for a little bit of Garlic Mustard. This hedgerow edible, is a native wildflower common along roadsides. The Orange Tip caterpillar eats the seedpods of both these flowers. But it’s not just caterpillars which need to feed; all that territory patrolling the adults do demands regular refuelling stops, and aubretia is perfect for that. Blooming early in the spring, Aubretia loves to cascade down sunny walls and banks, and the purple or pink flowers are rich in nectar that is easy to access with the butterflys’ long proboscis. I didn’t actually see an Orange Tip on my Aubretia this spring (the plants are still quite young and small) I did see one on the same plant in my Mum’s garden.
My garden is really pretty tiny, so I have to squeeze plants in, and spaces almost always have multiple uses. Close to the base of my washing-line pole; the one square foot of the ‘lawn’ which doesn’t get walked on regularly for fear of banging our heads on the arms of the washing line itself, grows my Birds Foot Trefoil. A plant of many names… ‘Butter and Eggs’, ‘Granny’s Toenails’… this is possibly one of my favourite plants in my garden. It is a herbaceous plant of short grassland, and thrives on the poor soil and close grazed chalk turf of the Sussex Downs. It is also the food plant of own of our quintessential downland butterflies: the Common Blue, plus its flowers are loved by bees.
Many of the other flowers in my garden in mid-summer are also wild blooms (some self seeded, others deliberately planted), or cultivated relatives of them. Knapweeds, Vipers Buglos, Perrenial Mountain Cornflower, Knautia, Ox-eye Daisies, Veronica, Verbascum, Stachys, Wild Marjoram and Cranesbill Geraniums, all find a place and are loved by pollinators of all sorts. Foxgloves are a classicly famous bumblebee magnet and no wildlife garden of mine is complete without them.
The hot and dry spring brought some flowers on in a rush, and the strange mix of hot sun and early autumn weather of the past couple of weeks has sent some of the hedgerow type blooms hurrying towards seed production. There are still some gems in full flower however, notably the Mallow, Achillia (Yarrow), and Scabious. Two other all-time favourites have to be the Wild Carrot (Daucus), and the Teasel. The flat white umbels of the carrot are great for hoverflies, solitary bees, and beetles, before they dry and fold inwards to great ‘nests’ of seeds; a great place for small insects to shelter and hibernate. The tightly packed flower heads of Teasels are just turning from soft green to lilac-purple and will draw in bees and butterflies to feast. Their seed heads are also fantastic too, and I will leave them standing over the autumn and winter a natural feeders for the birds such as goldfinches.
Summer is not quite over yet, and the final flourish is just showing its first buds; Sedums. These fleshy, almost succulent-like perennials do well in my sunny, thin, dry soil, and are invaluable in bringing an extension to the late summer/early autumn season. I can guarantee that within a few weeks they will be covered in bees and butterflies.
A final note on the two thugs of the garden… brambles and bindweed. I have a kind of ‘love/hate/ relationship with these bullies. Both threaten regularly to take over the entire garden, and I have to continually cut back and control them to maintain a balance between total wilderness, and wildlife-yet-also-people-friendly. That being said, bramble flowers probably attract in far more butterflies than any of my carefully curated planting, and are a great initial advertisement at the top of the bank to any passing pollinators, that this garden may be a great place to drop into. The bindweed is even more of a challenge, as it actually threatens my precious plants by strangling the life out of them as it scrambles and twines. None-the-less, it is a natural part of my semi-wild garden, and was here long before me. Even though its white trumpet shaped flowers only each last a single day, they are produced in profusion to the delight of bumblebees and hoverflies, and glow in the evening light to draw in the moths.
There are of course many other plants growing in my garden I haven’t space to mention in detail here (Fennel, Phlomis, Aster, Alliums, Verbena, Sage, Cersium, Lemon Balm, Cyclamen, Cowslip, Pulmonaria, Iberis, Campanula, Ajuga, Euphobia….!) and the list alters and extends all the time. Not everything I have planted has survived. Some have surprised me, others have been demolished by slugs, a number have self seeded, and a few clearly haven’t read the rule books! But that is surely the joy of gardening, and when you see wildlife thriving on the very plants you yourself planted… well, there really is no feeling quite like that.