May 2022: Val Bourne on ‘Butterflies in Gardens’

CABAHS welcomed Val Bourne to speak at our May meeting, sharing her photographs, experience and knowledge of butterflies in the garden. She emphasised that she is not a butterfly expert (but she knows one!), she’s an organic gardener who has spent a lot of time observing butterflies, their habits and preferences – and, sadly, their decline in recent years.

Photograph of the FSC's Butterfly ID chart

As a starting point, Val recommended a book and a tool: ‘The Philips Guide to Butterflies’ and the Field Studies Council’s butterfly identification chart. Butterfly Conservation also provide a range of identification guides online. Photographs of a wide range of species – 24 different ones have been spotted in the Spring Cottage garden – showed us the beauty of even the smallest, brownest examples!

Val explained how useful even a small meadow area is for many species, how some species rely on quite a narrow range of plants for nectar, and how the timing of a butterfly lifecycle is intrinsically linked to the lifecycle of their food plants. She stated that climate change – causing plants to flower at different times – is demonstrably messing up this synchronisation, so as gardeners it’s important to grow a wide range of butterfly-friendly plants to try to mitigate that situation.

Some examples of butterfly-friendly plants, and the butterflies that particularly need or enjoy them:

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  • Buddleja davidii – known as the ‘butterfly bush’ for good reason! It can attract up to 22 different species
  • Origanum majorana aka marjoram – its nectar is particularly sugar-rich
  • Urtica dioica aka stinging nettle – this plant is especially good for five butterfly species (the Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Red Admiral, Peacock and Painted Lady)
  • Scabious – this group of plants, including the field scabious (Knautia arvensis), have a long flowering season and are rich in nectar
  • Sweet pea – especially the perennial sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius) for Brimstone butterflies
  • Cardamine pratensis aka cuckoo flower or lady’s smock – for Orange Tip butterflies (also garlic mustard, wallflowers, sweet rocket)
  • Ilex aquifolium (holly) – for Holly Blue butterflies (also Hedera – ivy – for later in their lifecycle)

Long grass is especially important for the ‘brown group’ of butterflies (which are not all brown!) because they lay their eggs on native grasses. Examples of these are Gatekeepers, Graylings, Small Heath and Marbled White butterflies. This is a group that tends to be smaller and less noticed, but it is worth paying attention as they are as beautiful as the showier, higher flying butterflies on closer inspection.

Val took a number of questions at the end of her interesting talk, and heard about plans for leaving some long grass in Charlton House Gardens and a suggestion from the floor to visit Ladywell Cemetery, which is actively managed with butterfly conservation in mind and occasionally holds butterfly identification walks through Big City Butterflies.

A full house for Val Bourne’s butterfly talk!

Ali


Val Bourne gardens at Spring Cottage in Cold Aston, Gloucestershire and is an award-winning garden writer, organic gardener and lecturer. Her writing appears regularly in the press, and her most recent book is ‘The Living Jigsaw’.

Harrogate Flower Show and Harlow Carr

Late April is a great time to remind yourself that spring happens outside of London, and I had the joy of meeting a group of friends in Yorkshire for the Harrogate Flower Show.  This is quite a major show, running over 4 days, but it’s not run by the RHS and it has quite different emphases.  It does, though, have lots of exhibitors and we enjoyed a full day there, in brilliant sunshine.

First off, we looked at the flower arranging, clearly a major component with several training colleges nearby.  There were lots of competition categories, from big set pieces to carefully chosen themes.  We admired long-horned cows fashioned from garlands of flowers, and saw a heavy emphasis on arum lilies, which featured on the Best In Show winner, for instance. 

By contrast, the show gardens were a very minor element of the event.  They were small, commercially-sponsored but not carefully themed, and quite underwhelming.  And they had very few people looking at them. 

The area for various Societies was dominated by the Daffodil Society Northern Group, where competitors were vying for prizes in nearly 100 categories.  The variety of blooms was extraordinary, with a strong emphasis on precision and newly-developed cultivars.  Among others, the Yorkshire Bonsai Society was also showing beautiful specimens, as were the National Auricula and Primula Society, the National Dahlia Society, and the West Yorkshire Hardy Plant Society, which won a Premier Gold award for its spectacular display. 

Continue reading Harrogate Flower Show and Harlow Carr

Plant Sale and Community Day

We are very pleased to be running our Plant Sale and Community Day again, on Sunday May 22nd from 11 am. This year, we will be part of the Charlton House event Sustainability Sunday, so lots of other exciting things will be going on too. Put it in your diary now! More details to come, but as well as plants and cakes for sale there will be lots of children’s activities including our popular Discovery Trail around the grounds and crafts to make. As well as the Horticultural Society, you can find out what lots of other local groups are up to. Look forward to seeing you there!

Advert for Plant Sale and Community Day

Keukenhof

The gardens at Keukenhof in April are quite remarkable. Great rivers of tulips are everywhere. Small exhibitions in the Juliana house give background information to the history and also to the planting practices of this huge venture: 7 million tulips (and other flowering bulbs) are planted each year and each year, at the end of flowering, these are all taken up and crushed to be used as compost around the trees in the garden and made into pulp for the paper which covers the guides to the estate.

As a not-for-profit organisation, in addition to the garden architects, the gardens rely on an army of volunteers. From May onwards the gardens are closed to allow time for the essential work of taking up the tulips and replanting, until reopening for the spring display. The bulbs in each garden area are given to Keukenhof by growers in the Netherlands and the name of the company appears as signage on the beds. For those wishing to make a note of their favourites, tulips are also discretely labelled, although it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormous range on display!

Vija

Members Gardens April

We’re always pleased to receive reports from our members’ gardens, particularly when accompanied by photos. This month Annie H wanted us to share her delight with the Rose Cottage ‘Garden Party’ tulips in her front garden.

Rose Cottage 'Garden Party' tulips in Annie H's front garden

Nicolas shared this photo with us showing his Daphne bholua in February.

Continue reading Members Gardens April

April blog Euphorbia 2

I know we have had posts on euphorbias already, but these plants are such a delight in the month of April that I am adding yet more. The little Euphorbia Chameleon, below, self -seeds happily, but in such a delicate and restrained way that it is welcome everywhere I find it. In addition to this, it politely dies back and allows summer flowering plants to take over.

 Euphorbia Chameleon

The Euphorbia below (amygdaloides purpurea) is a stunning contrast with the lime green flower head and the stems which are an intense dark red. It has seeded itself in the gravel path and I’m not entirely sure where it comes from.

 Euphorbia Amygdaloides Purpurea

In Euphorbia, flowers occur in a head, called the cyathium. Each male or female flower in the cyathium head has only its essential sexual part, in males the stamen and in females the pistil.  The flowers do not have sepals, petals or nectar to attract pollinators, although other nonflower parts of the plant have an appearance and nectar glands with similar roles. Euphorbias are the only plants known to have this kind of flower head. It should also be noted that, when the stems are cut, they exude a thick white substance which is extremely irritating to skin.

And, of course, there is the magnificent Euphorbia Mellifera (Honey Spurge) which rightfully deserves its common name and is a delight to be near at this time of year when the scent fills the air. Every garden should have one – it keeps its shape well or can be cut back. Mine originally came from the garden of Jillian Smith, CABAHS ex-Chair, who many remember fondly. Jillian, if you are reading this – thank you!

 Euphorbia Mellifera (Honey Spurge)

Vija

Spring Show 2022 Report

We held our first actual Spring Show on Monday 11th April in Charlton House Long Gallery, after two years of Online Shows. Everyone seemed pleased to be back but there was clearly a shortage of suitable material in some classes, with no entries in the Hellebore Class and only one in the Flowering Shrub Class. This seems to have been caused by recent weather conditions and their effect on flowering.

Vija and Pat judged the entries and because Vija’s was the only entry in Class 3, that class wasn’t judged! Vija announced the winners as:
Class 1 Daffodils/Narcissi – 3 stems: Maria B
Class 2 Tulips – 3 stems: Margaret M
Class 3 Flowering shrubs – 3 stems: (insufficient entries)
Class 4 Camellias, Rhododendrons, Azaleas or Magnolia – 1 stem of any: Maggie T
Class 5 Small vase of mixed Spring Flowers: Anna L
Class 6 Any pot-grown plant (indoor or outdoor): Kathy A
Class 7 A pot of Spring bulbs: Nicholas B
Class 8 Hellebores – 3 stems: (no entries)
Class 9 Tea cup floral display: Kay P

The Best in Show was selected by John King, a guest from Eltham & Avery Hill Gardens Society. He chose Sian T’s entry for the Tea Cup Floral display which she called “Teacup Fantasy”.

Vija reminded everyone of upcoming Events and Outings and encouraged everyone to check out our updated Website, Subscribe to receive an email whenever any new post is added and email CABAHS any feedback the website. Subscribing costs you nothing, keeps you up-to-date and you can Unsubscribe when you wish.

Did you ‘Follow the Carrots’ for Easter Bunnies, Plants and a Gorgeous Garden?

Thank you to everyone who came to last Sunday’s ‘Bunnies in the Beds’ and open garden at Charlton House. The ‘Follow the Carrots’ signs worked out a treat, and lots of small people arrived at the Peace Garden ready to find the Easter Bunnies and claim their prize. We gave it an International twist this year, after finding out how other countries celebrate Easter. So as well as Bunnies, the children had to find eg a Bilby from Australia, a Witch from Sweden, and some Willow sticks & feathers from Finland. No-one could really miss the kites (Bermuda) and we had a set of beautiful eggs from Ukraine to find too.

Here they come! Queues for the trail, and let the Hunt begin..

Ladies giving out Easter Egg prizes

The day included a successful plant sale too, and Blackheath Flower Arranging Club joined us for a bit of promotion. Not to mention the Producers Market and Frilly’s cafe open all day.

Thank you everyone, these are wonderful gardens in which to hold an event!