Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Wow! What a summer it is for butterflies. Last week I was planting a new border for a client; within minutes of planting some purple Verbena bonariensis, two Peacock butterflies had already started probing their flowers for nectar.
All over the country there have been reports that this has been in an especially good year for butterflies; see https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/painted-lady-butterflies-uk-influx-a9010656.html. In my own garden in Leeds we have been seeing clouds of Peacocks, Painted Ladies and Red Admirals, plus the occasional Comma – a real ‘rainbow of butterflies’ as the collective noun has it – on my neighbours’ buddleia bush.
There is something really special and joy-giving seeing these fluttering beauties going about their business. Many of them are beautifully coloured, with gracefully-shaped wings, so gorgeous to look at. But beyond that I think it is something in the way they move, seemingly carefree as they flit from flower to sunny flower.
Attracting butterflies to your garden
Most butterflies have a preference for a particular habitat; you won’t be surprised to hear that the Meadow Browns are generally found in grassy meadow areas and woodland edges.
But many, luckily including some of the showiest such as Red Admiral, Peacock and Painted Lady, scan easily be attracted into the garden if you plants nectar-rich flowers in warm sunny spots, preferably in groups.
Buddleia is probably the number one plant to choose if you want to see hosts of butterflies, but verbena, lavender, marjoram and the perennial wallflower ‘Bowles Mauve’ also attract plenty. For a wider range of nectar-rich plants go to https://butterfly-conservation.org/sites/default/files/butterflynectardownload.pdf.
Where to see butterflies
If you like a country walk then keep your eyes open for Small Tortoiseshells, Marbled Whites, and Skippers fluttering along verges that have been left as rough grassland.
In wooded areas you might see Orange Tips, Speckled Woods, Gatekeepers and the occasional yellow Brimstone or Red Admiral.
Painted Lady phenomenon
Particularly numerous this year is the Painted Lady, a migrant all the way from North Africa. Many of them stop off to breed along the way, meaning there are successive waves reaching Britain in July and August.
I marvel at the fragility of a small insect that yet has the stamina to come so far. If you’d like to know more about the travels of the Painted Lady, have a look for Martha Kearney’s TV documentary ‘The Great Butterfly Adventure’ from 2016.
“Fair Child of Sun and Summer! we behold
With eager eyes thy wings bedropp’d with gold;
The purple spots that o’er thy mantle spread,
The sapphire’s lively blue, the ruby’s red,
Ten thousand various blended tints surprise,
Beyond the rainbow’s hues or peacock’s eyes…”
– ‘Verses on a Butterfly’ by Joseph Warton
With thanks to George Turnbull for the use of some of these photos.