Mrs McGregor and I have seen very few butterflies in the garden this summer. Even the Large and Small Whites (whose caterpillars I dread on my winter greens!) have been few and far between. With the lovely hot sun of last week, a few more made an appearance, hurrying around as if trying to make up for lost time! Thinking back to my childhood when everything (including the summers!) seemed better, I remember lots of butterflies especially on Buddleja flowers – drowsily feasting on the nectar. I have decided to put in more of their favourite food plants, to help what few are around and to plant in anticipation of better butterfly weather in years to come!
Butterflies seem to prefer blue, pink and red flowers as well as white, whereas bees will use these colours and yellow, which they are especially drawn to. Butterflies like a flat ‘landing pad’ that they can walk on, such as Verbena, Achillea (Yarrow) and Spiraea a beautiful shrub with flat, pink flowers in summer. Butterflies also like Asters, which happen to be a favourite with Mrs McGregor for her autumn flower arrangements, and Echinacea (Purple Rudbeckia) which I would not be without for their dramatic flowers with prominent brown centres that are full of nectar and have a sweet scent.
After a visit to my local garden centre, I came home with two new dwarf Asters, which will look great in the back garden, where the soil is not too dry. They are Aster ‘Bahamas’ with rich, cerise pink daisies and ‘Barbados’ with sky blue flowers. Both have a large yellow centre for butterfly feasting and flower over a long season from July to September. I couldn’t resist another Buddleja and chose ‘Adonis Blue’ a newer variety with striking deep blue flower spikes and a compact habit up to 150cm (5 feet). I will make sure that I prune it to a basic framework each spring to ensure plenty of new growth and flower spikes! As well as striking flowers ‘Adonis Blue’ has a beautiful sweet scent to guide the butterflies to it. In front of this, I will plant some more Echinacea but the white flowered variety ‘White Swan’, attractive to the bees as well as butterflies. Some more Verbena bonariensis will be useful to add height to this area and the flat mauve flowers that sit on the tall, leafless stems appear for months through the summer and autumn. I like to leave the seed heads on for the birds in the autumn. The local Sparrows stripped them last year!
The Privet hedge that we have at the back of our garden provides a good windbreak for us and shelter for the birds, as well as an irresistible feast for Red Admiral butterflies when it flowers, later in the summer. I also have an established plant of Ivy, which climbs up the side of our old wood shed – another favourite of these striking butterflies when it is in flower, as well as Mrs McGregor for her Christmas arrangements!