The Butterfly Garden is working

A Peacock and Red Admiral
Peacock with both wings and sets of eyes showing

It’s not quite the green open space that I’d dreamed of but my little town garden has seen many more butterfly visitors this year…

May was too cold, June was quiet but July!

In July when the Buddleias finally came into flower, they were covered daily with 4 or 5 Peacocks and Red Admirals.

Were they the same 5 Peacocks and Red Admirals every day? I don’t know. But I did find out recently from a blog by the wonderful Chris Packham that when it rains, or gets cold and overcast, butterflies ‘snuggle down’ into the long grasses (if you have any) and this solved a mystery for me – I’d been wondering where do they appear from so quickly when the sun comes out again…?

Butterflies hiding in the long grasses?

But the best success has been this August – 3 Comma Caterpillars, which have now turned into 3 Comma chrysalises on the 3 nettles in the shady corner! To the lady from the RHS I can say it is definitely worth having a small patch of nettles not even in the full sun! I’ve been checking these nettles all summer and finally,after spotting some telltale black curled up leaves, holes and poops, saw this caterpillar which I needed help to ID:

Comma caterpillar
Comma caterpillar chrysallising

Comma chrysalis

Because as ButterflyConservation will tell you, it’s not just about encouraging butterflies with food sources they need, it’s also about growing the food that their caterpillars will enjoy/survive on. Very often different plant species altogether as butterflies need nectar but caterpillars need green stuff – and are very particular about which sort (down to only eating one or two certain species of plants.) Lucky for me Commas like nettles, as well as hops, I’ve just found out from the wonderful local branch.

Now I’d planted the nettles right next to the shed, along with some Michaelmas daisies for the last Peacocks of the season to feed off before laying their eggs on the nettles and then taking shelter in the shed right next to them – as per Butterfly Conservations suggestion. But it’s been Commas who arrived and nested there – and I didn’t even see them.

A Red Admiral instead

For next year, I’ve planted more Cuckoo flower – this time in amongst the long grasses and Teasels to try and attract more Orange Tips to nest here, as their young need brassica type plants, of which cuckoo grass is one…

Only saw one Orange Tip here this year. There aren’t many species around here but they are fabulous. Down the road in the new local park (so new it hasn’t been opened for the last three years) there is a thriving colony of Meadow Browns. I’ve seen skippers and Gatekeepers – and one or two have made it here too. Now at last the whites are laying on the few cabbages I grow especially for them . It’s taken the all summer – numbers must be down.

There’s a growing body of research which states that noticing the wildlife around us helps us humans connect with Nature. And the more people connect with Nature the better they feel, in themselves.. And the better we feel, the more interested we might become in preserving and encouraging wildlife and helping it to survive. Ironically, in our gardens this means surviving all the pesticides, insecticides and poisons we gardeners have traditionally thrown at it, in order to ‘garden’ – NOOOOO! It’s got to stop.

When I first moved here, 3 years ago, the whole space was covered in weed inhibiting black plastic. Having removed all of that, the small space is thrumming with insects (so that black stuff wasn’t just suppressing the weeds, but all manner of life.) Insects can recover from the 70% decline over the last 60 years, and quite quickly, if given the space to do so. Butterflies are just one of those declining species, but arguably for me at least the most beautiful. It’s such a pleasure and a privilege to have a few visit this small enclosed space.

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