This year’s biennials were very late to flower, but they’ve now set seed, which all thrifty gardeners will want to collect. Of course, if your aquilegias or foxgloves were f1 hybrids, they won’t come from seed, but ordinary garden plants could produce some interesting seedlings. Many of the biennials in my garden are self-sown, including the stunning aquilegia in the photo above.
Allium Purple Sensation attended by grateful bee.
So I am collecting what I can and sowing now for next spring. The bees and butterflies will love me for it, judging my the numbers of them feeding on the nectar this year. I’ve also collected seed of some allium purple sensation, which I planted last autumn and took pride of place in the border while in flower. I want more of them so have saved seed for sowing in spring. They may take two or three years to come into flower, but I’ll have raised them myself for nothing. That’s a pretty healthy budget!
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly feeding on Allium Drumstick
As butterflies and moths are in serious trouble due to wet summers and massive declines in natural habitat due to intensive farming and the loss of meadows, This year conservationists are appealing to us all to help. So, here are my favourite top ten butterfly plants, based on observation of the insect life in my garden.
- The best nectar plant anyone can grow is buddleia. They are now available in dwarf form for the patio, so you don’t need a large garden or space to grow one. If you have room, grow several together, giving the butterflies a better chance of seeing them and lots more food.
- Verbena bonariensis. A gorgeous, delicate annual that is easily grown and can be left to self seed through your borders
- Nettles. Yep, nettles. If you live near waste ground and there are plenty of nettles around, you probably don’t need to have a nettle patch, but it is the food plant for many species of butterfly larvae, so worth having.
- Hawthorn, which is the home and food plant for many moths. It gives them somewhere, too to pupate in peace. My hedge comprises mainly of hawthorn. I see and am trying to identify lots of beautiful moths.
- Marjoram and oregano. I went out this morning to find these have just come into flower, and are smothered in small white butterflies eagerly feeding.
- Allium. Our Small tortoiseshell is feeding on drumstick, but all the alliums I have seem to attract plenty of butterflies when they’re around. Bees adore them, too. They happily move from flower to flower gorging themselves. As they are easy bulbs to grow and suffer no pest problems that I’ve encountered you too could have some. They will increase their own numbers in time and take up little space as they can be planted among other plants, covering their bare legs.
- Sedums. These are great plants that need little attention as they are drought tolerant. Just give them full sun and good drainage. Many are perfect for pots and alpine troughs. You can even grow them in a window box. The butterflies won’t mind!
- Cosmos. Easy annuals, bright and colourful, grow from seed or get young plug plants, often sold cheaply on your local market.
- Vetches. Native wild flowers that grow on verges and in hedgerows. Seed of many are now available through seed companies and young plants from specialist nurseries. They are food plants for larvae and adults.
- Scabious. These pretty nectar rich flowers seem to be a magnet for any butterflies around, and they spend ages on each flower head, dipping into a rich meal.Small White Butterfly Feeding On Marjoram
There is a lot more we can do. The BBC are running the Summer of Wildlife, where you can help increase the knowledge of scientists so they can further understand the needs of our precious butterflies. Their page How to Help Wildlife can start you off with all the information you need to join the growing crowd of people giving vital information to the scientists, plus TONS more information on how to help our declining wildlife in general. Their page Worrying Declines will tell you much more.
What can you do to help? What have you planted or plan to grow? I’d love to hear from you.
If you’re going to grow your own, it makes sense to grow the foods that are expensive in the shops. We purchased khol rabi for £1.50 each when we wanted to try it last year. We liked it, so I bought a packet of seed for about £2. This is one of the results. We’ve been eating khol rabi raw on salad and used as a steamed vegetable similar to turnip. It tastes something like a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, so a nice new flavour for me to enjoy, and I have to say they are very easy to grow! They don’t seem to suffer from pests, save for one being attacked by a mouse, and slugs seem to leave them alone, preferring more tender snacks. Aren’t they attractive, too?
As we’ve eaten about six so far and I’ve more coming, (you sow in succession) I believe we are making substantial savings as well as increasing our choice of vegetables. What do you grow and how are you saving money?
The Garden Being Cleared
What a difference a year makes! Last year, when the monsoon summer threatened to wash gardens away, we were just beginning to clear a neglected-for-several-years plot. This bed was a tangle of brambles, nettles and neglected shrubs.
But look at it now! Still not perfect, still not as I want it, but a huge improvement, and buzzing with bees and butterflies.
I lifted the plants that were in the bed, removed tons of Spanish bluebells, added some organic matter, replanted some shrubs and plants after cutting them, quite harshly, back. Then I started adding my own plants, either grown from seed or bought from various places. As you know, I wanted to help wildlife as much as possible. I’ve used some wild plants, like the mullein (see last post) and some garden cultivars to fill the bed with colour and flowers for our bees, butterflies and moths. Achillea, foxlgloves, heuchera lambs ear and geranium have attracted lots of different bees, and the buddleia, just starting to flower, is a butterfly magnet. We’ve had a lot of Meadow Browns so far, but hope to see other kinds as they build their numbers back up following last year’s wash out. There is still a lot of work to do on our 120ft long plot, but it’s great to see some planting working out. I will, of course, be moving those plants that are in the wrong places, but not until the autumn.
Garden After a Year
Mullein Moth Caterpillars
Last year, when I went to a specialist herb centre in the Cotswolds, I bought a mullein plant. The plant was new to me, but I understood it would be great for bees to feed on, so home it came. The rosette of woolly leaves grew steadily, despite all last year’s rain, then withstood the icy winter. Up it came this spring and produced flower spikes. When I looked closely, I found caterpillars were gorging on it. I decided to share the plant with them and left them there. I discovered these pretty creatures were larvae of the mullein moth, which looks like a twig, and is no-where near as pretty as the juvenile form, but I don’t care. Diversity and keeping balance is what I’m about. I thought I was sacrificing the flower, but no. What a gorgeous display, and the bees can have their share now, too.
Posted in ecology, lifestyle
Tagged butterflies, caterpillars, conservation, ecology, environment, gardening, lifestyle, moths, nature, Wildlife
Dahlias Feed Bees
Back in March, using all my optimism, given the snowfall and cold I sowed some seed of dahlia Coltness Hybrids. These dahlias are single or double flowered, so still have plenty of pollen on offer, unlike the overblown, full petalled ones. Carefully nurtured, they are now in full flower and are attracting all kinds of bees. The orange ones seem to get more attention than the red ones which germinated. I will be saving the tubers which have no doubt formed, and taking cuttings next spring to increase the colours I want more of. What a delightfully cheap way to help save the bees, and I get to sit and watch them when having coffee on the patio. Wildlife needs our help and I need colour! What flower choices do you make for the bees? I’d love to hear your ideas.
Alpine Trough-insects have adored.
I’m not a DIY expert. I’ve only ever used a jigsaw twice, twenty years ago. But yesterday, in an hour, I was cutting straight lines and had made a nest box for robins. It was so easy I wonder why I haven’t done it before. We’ve been fencing the garden, building raised beds and had lots of scrap pieces of gravel board wood, 18mm thick and roughly 15 cm wide. Size is not critical, but the recommended floor area should be a minimum of 10cm x 10cm. The minimum thickness recommended by the RSPB is 15mm for insulation from heat and cold. So, determined to help the birds as much as I can and having been delighted to watch a Robin family being fed by their parents this year, I wanted to encourage them to move in. We have native hedgerow running down one side of the garden so as Robins like plenty of cover, that is where the box will live. Then it’s fingers crossed for next year.
Here are the dimensions I used if you want to make your own.
Back 500mm x 150mm
Lid 150mmx 265mm
Sides (cut two) 150mm x 265mm sloping to 312mm at the back
Front 150mm x 135mm
Base 150mm x 120mm
Cut all pieces with a jigsaw or handblade. To make sure you don’t make mistakes when putting the box together, as I nearly did, check at each stage that the box will sit on the base neatly as you go.
Start by attaching the sides to the back, then the front. secure to the base then the trickiest bit is the lid. I used some old car seat belt strapping to make a hinge so the lid can be opened for cleaning, though this isn’t absolutely necessary for an open box, it will make life easier when the time comes. A hook and eye latch at the side will stop predators lifting the lid.
Perfection, when making nest boxes is not required. some ventilation is needed and some way of rain escaping if it gets in. So don’t glue the box together or try to seal any slight gaps at the joins. This is the perfect project for a beginner! I painted mine on the outside only with the same colour fence paint so it will blend in with the hedge. I used non-toxic wax based fence paint. Do be careful that any paint you do use is safe for animals and birds! You could decorate your box and way you like, but don’t add any perches or paint the inside.
For lots more on birds, bird boxes and conservation try these links
BBC Springwatch website, which is loaded with links and information on birds and all other UK wildlife
BTO Nest Record Scheme
NTO Nest Box Challenge
Making and siting nest boxes, plus lots more information at the RSPB