All of a flut­ter

As au­tumn ap­proaches, Sue Bradley is think­ing about next year’s gar­den and ways to at­tract some of na­ture’s most flam­boy­ant vis­i­tors

Living France - - À La Maison -

But­ter­flies have long in­spired poets and philoso­phers the world over, in­clud­ing many in France. Among those moved to put their feel­ings into verse in­clude the 18th-cen­tury lyric poet Ponce De­nis Écouchard Le­brun, who fa­mously wrote: “The but­ter­fly is a fly­ing flower, the flower a teth­ered but­ter­fly”.

Even those who aren’t of a lit­er­ary bent find their lives en­riched by vis­its from these colour­ful in­sects, which tend to spend longer in gardens that pro­vide them with plenty of nec­tar-rich blooms.

Septem­ber is a great time to take stock of the year’s but­ter­fly tally and make the most of the warmth that re­mains in the soil to put in plants that will en­cour­age greater num­bers in the months to come.

When think­ing about what to buy, choose flow­ers that bloom at dif­fer­ent times to en­sure there’s some­thing look­ing invit­ing through spring, sum­mer and au­tumn. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant when it comes to but­ter­flies that hi­ber­nate in win­ter and need plenty of nec­tar when they emerge early in the year, along with those that stock up ahead of their long win­ter sleep.

When plant­ing, choose a shel­tered spot that gets plenty of sun­shine as but­ter­flies like plenty of warmth, and don’t use in­sec­ti­cides or pes­ti­cides, which can kill the very crea­tures gar­den­ers want to at­tract.

In ad­di­tion, bear in mind that but­ter­flies lay their eggs on par­tic­u­lar ‘food plants’: comma, small tor­toise­shell, pea­cock and red ad­mi­ral are all drawn to sting­ing net­tles, which pro­vide sus­te­nance for their cater­pil­lars. Grasses and vi­o­lets are also pop­u­lar with cer­tain species.

But­ter­flies alight on a va­ri­ety of flow­ers, par­tic­u­larly sim­ple, open types. Among their top five is def­i­nitely laven­der, par­tic­u­larly the English type La­van­dula an­gus­ti­fo­lia, which thrives in sunny spots and free-drain­ing soils.

Se­dum, also known as ice plant, is a good source of au­tumn nec­tar, par­tic­u­larly for small tor­toise­shells.

Peren­ni­als such as Rud­beckia and Echi­nacea, also known as cone flower, put on long-last­ing dis­plays and re­ceive a good share of vis­its from winged vis­i­tors.

But per­haps the top plant of them all is the ‘but­ter­fly bush’, also known as bud­dleia, which is pop­u­lar with no fewer than 18 species.

This hardy shrub is now avail­able in dwarf and com­pact va­ri­eties, as well as larger spec­i­mens, and comes in a near spec­trum of colours, from white and pink to blue, laven­der, ma­genta and pur­ple.

Other plants to con­sider putting in, or sow­ing, at this time of the year in­clude cal­en­dula, day lily, peren­nial wall­flower, such as Erysi­mum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’, Inula, Cean­othus, sweet rocket Hes­peris ma­tronalis, and the herb mar­jo­ram.

Plant­ing a gar­den for but­ter­flies is a great way to add ex­tra beauty and move­ment to an out­side space, and brings ad­di­tional ben­e­fits in the shape of moths, bees and other use­ful in­sects.

Gar­den­ers who set out to make their plots friendly to wildlife help to pro­vide ‘step­ping stones’ be­tween dif­fer­ent nat­u­ral habi­tats, while en­joy­ing a feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion that they are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

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