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’.

February 2022: Melanie Aspey on the Rothschild Legacy in Horticulture

The talk was given by Melanie Aspey, a CABAHS member who has been the Rothschild archivist for 28 years. Providing photographs and documentation from the Rothschild archives, she said the Rothschilds are best known for banking, their art collections, philanthropy and wine, but many of them have also had  a keen  interest in horticulture reaching back to Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), the founder of the dynasty, who lived in the Frankfurt Jewish Ghetto.

After the defeat of Napoleon, thanks to their support for the allies, the Rothschild family was able to lobby for the retention of the right for the Jewish Community to buy real estate outside the ghetto. Mayer Amschel’s son, Amschel, considered that building a house would be too ostentatious, but a garden would better serve their needs. Instead he established a garden which he subsequently opened to visitors and for charitable purposes. He spent vast sums on plants, some of which (and Melanie showed one of the plant sale receipts from the archives) he imported from England. Later taken over by the Nazis and bombed by the allies, the garden fell into disrepair but parts have recently been renovated.

Continue reading February 2022: Melanie Aspey on the Rothschild Legacy in Horticulture

May 2021 – Joe Beale on the Changing management of Blackheath, Greenwich & Charlton

Our May talk on Zoom was presented by local naturalist Joe Beale. He discussed the changing management of the local area, including Charlton Park, Greenwich and Blackheath and the impact this is having on local plants as well as lichens and animals.

He discussed the approach to take to habitat management – that there were lots of things worth fighting for. He discussed the need to carry out research and ecological surveys, the need for a conservation action plan and to take conservation action appropriate to the conservation site. Also the necessity to work in collaboration with local residents, communities, landowners, specialists and the local council. He commended the support given by Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces and its willingness to assist.

Joe began by showing a photograph  of the Vanbrugh Pits in 1983 when vegetation there was scarce, but rich in bio-diversity, and now, when it is  dense with brambles and Holm Oak which are killing off the flora and fauna. He  pointed to the need for  pursuing in management a middle path there, including getting rid of the Holm Oak, Cherry and Turkey Oak (as well as the dogs mess!).

Key diverse wild life plants in this area he suggested  were species that needed low nutrient soil e.g. blackthorn plantain and  lichens such as Cetraria aculeata and Chaldonia furcata. He said 29 types of butterfly had been found on the Greenwich Park side of Blackheath in 2010 which was about half of the UK total and 173 species of bees and wasps.

Also found in acid grassland and sandy soil are sheeps sorrel (Rumex acetosella), birds foot (Ornithopus perpusillus), spurry (Spergularia rubra ) and lichen (Cetraria aculeata).

Blackheath and the Greenwich Park side of it is well known for plants and clovers which thrive on soil of of low nutrient value.   Such as hare’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense),  knotted clover (Trifolium striatum), woolly clover (Trifolium tomentosum,)  and clustered clover ( Trifolium glomeratum).

Wildlife included gorse( Ulex europaeus) for the whinchat birds,  ragwort visited by 43 bees and wasps, the  burnet and  cinnabar moths and  small copper butterflies.

Joe said sympathetic mowing was crucial in particular the need to remove the hay to promote biodiversity as it was nutrient rich.  Always have wildness at heart.  Leave the edges of sites, leave verges and banks and mow in rotation.  Expose earth and  deadwood. Consider the food, plants, shelter, nesting and breeding needs of key wildlife.

He described the increase in biodiversity in verges in Blackheath since it has had relaxed mowing as well as Charlton’s Maryon Park. He also referred  to the Wildlife Meadow which is being constructed in Charlton  Park. The policy there of not sowing wild flowers, just digging the area over and seeing  what grows. He  pointed out the value of cemeteries in promoting biodiversity. He mentioned that cemeteries such as Charlton cemetery are expected to be neat and tidy, but, in fact are bustling with wild life and like Charlton they should have an area left to encourage biodiversity.

To help promote and encourage more biodiversity Greenwich Park has also taken a more relaxed approach to mowing and is allowing grass to grow in some areas as well as setting up biodiversity friendly habitats.  This policy has been incorporated into its  multimillion pound Heritage funded renovation programme.  Many CABAHS members are already keen promoters of biodiversity and wildlife. Hopefully Joe’s  enthusiastic talk  will encourage the rest to consider  the needs of biodiversity and wildlife in their own gardens.

Angela


Joe Beale is a naturalist who, in addition to carrying out surveys of local wildlife, giving talks and writing, also offers guided walks. He is across social media platforms with an active Twitter account, updating people on what to see in our area.

Humanising our plants

Many of us anthropomorphise plants. It is often a winning combination when writing about them. Anna Pavord, a particular favourite of mine, writes about Symphytum grandiflorum as being ‘thuggish in its attitude to neighbours’.[1] Violas are described as ‘well drilled miniature rent-a crowds, all gazing in the same direction, each bloom well-mannered enough not to get in the way of the one behind’[2].

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I have a pretty little Fittonia sitting on a table indoors and bought one for my daughter a while ago, as they seem fairly bullet proof. I tend to under water my houseplants and have noted this Fittonia in particular suddenly looking terribly limp; its leaves really hang down and it looks very miserable. However, a spot of water revives it swiftly and it looks complete sprightly again. My daughter commented that her plant ‘fainted’ – this is such an apt description it made me smile.

Of course, attributing human characteristics to plants may be another way of expressing the care we have for them. There are many keen gardeners who talk to their plants. I apologise profusely if I accidentally dig up and damage a bulb and it is often said that gardening is a form of nurturing.

Although anthropomorphisation has long been regarded as something of a lovable quirk, recent studies suggest it promotes a view of the object as prosocial, intelligent and able to suffer, all of which are important aspects in conservation. If this is not limited to species which we view as somehow ‘being like us’, the empathy intrinsic to anthropomorphisation can be a useful tool to conserve threatened biodiversity. Of course, this is a huge debate, but it does highlight the relationship between private attitudes and public approaches.

Vija


[1] Pavord, A. (1991) The Flowering Year Chatto and Windus, p. 56

[2] Pavord, A. (2001) Plant Partners Doring Kindersley, P 106.