The magic of butterflies…

The Peacock’s spectacular pattern of eyespots evolved to startle or confuse predators, make it one of our most easily recognised and best-known species.

As a child, the very name ‘butterfly’ sounded magical, while the beautiful insects themselves seemed too bright and too delicate to be real. I can remember standing in our garden and being mesmerised by their fluttery flight and marvelling at how many there were flitting around on a big purple bush, the colours all so vivid. With hindsight, I think I was probably looking at a buddleia, which, as we all know, is a real magnet for butterflies.

I can remember looking for Red Admirals, Peacocks and Painted Ladies, these were the three types that loomed large in my childhood repertoire… those plus the dreaded Cabbage White that my Mother was not at all keen to see near her vegetables! This year, I haven’t seen many butterflies around and I assume it’s due to the late wet Spring followed by this amazingly hot Summer. Sadly, like bees, butterflies are struggling.

Butterflies are the equivalent of the ‘canary in a coal mine’, an indicator of the health

The Painted Lady – a long-distance migrant, which causes the most spectacular butterfly migrations observed in Britain and Ireland.

of our environment. The most familiar British butterflies such as the Small Tortoiseshell are becoming increasingly uncommon. Sadly, this is as a result of habitat loss and many other species are declining at an alarming rate as well. None of this bodes well for other wildlife as butterflies are part of a complex food chain upon which we humans ultimately rely for our own survival.

But all is not lost and there’s plenty we can do to help butterflies and there are some excellent informative websites giving advice on how to garden for butterflies. The Butterfly Conservation website is particularly good. Butterflies will visit any garden, however small if they can feed on suitable nectar plants and a well thought out garden can attract many species of butterfly. Nectar provides butterflies and moths with energy to fly and find a mate. In spring, it helps butterflies refuel after winter hibernation or a gruelling journey to Britain from southern Europe or Africa. In autumn nectar helps them to build up their energy reserves so they have the best chance of surviving hibernation or the journey back to warmer climes. Another way to help butterflies is to allow them to breed in your garden – only with the right food plants can they lay the eggs of the next generation.

Tips on how to attract butterflies:

Swallowtail butterfly – today, it flies only in the major river valleys of the Norfolk Broads, where it breeds on milk parsley, a scarce wetland plant.

  • Butterflies like warmth so choose sunny, sheltered spots when planting nectar plants.
  • Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plant together in blocks.
  • Try to provide flowers right through the butterfly season.
  • Prolong flowering by deadheading flowers and mulching with organic compost
  • Don’t use insecticides and pesticides – they kill butterflies and many pollinating insects as well as ladybirds, ground beetles and spiders.

I wrote a blog a couple of months ago extolling the virtues of butterflies in crafting – so useful for covering up any little slips – and stunning in their own right taking centre stage on a card, especially when used in 3D. Just type ‘butterfly’ into the search box on my craft website and you’ll see lots and lots of gorgeous butterfly dies and papers to inspire you!

Butterfly facts:

  • The pretty frilly edged Comma is the ‘come back kid’ of butterflies. In severe decline in the twentieth century, it is now widespread in southern Britain and its range is expanding northwards.

    Where does the name ‘butterfly come from? The Oxford English Dictionary says it is from Old English butorflēoge, butter-fly. Another possible source of the name is the bright yellow male of the Brimstone, another is that butterflies were on the wing in meadows during the spring and summer butter season while the grass was growing. I think I like the last one best!

  • Butterfly or moth? Nearly all butterflies fly during the daytime, have relatively bright colours, and hold their wings vertically above their bodies when at rest. The majority of moths fly by night, are often well camouflaged and either hold their wings flat or fold them closely over their bodies.
  • You will find butterflies right across the world – except Antarctica – and there are some 18,500 species.
  • Many butterflies migrate for long distances. It has recently been shown that the British Painted Lady undertakes a 9,000-mile round trip in a series of steps by up to six successive generations, from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle.
  • Butterflies navigate using a time-compensated sun compass. They can see polarized light and can navigate even in cloudy conditions.
  • Butterflies in their adult stage can live from a week to nearly a year depending on the species.
  • Adult butterflies consume only liquids, ingested through the proboscis. They sip water from damp patches for hydration and feed on nectar from flowers, from which they obtain sugars for energy, and sodium and other minerals vital for reproduction. Several species of butterflies need more sodium than that provided by nectar and are attracted by sodium in salt and that’s why they sometimes land on people, attracted by the salt in human sweat.

Top image: Adonis Blue – this beautiful species of butterfly is found on southern chalk downland.

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Healthy, easy and delicious!

Richard has resorted to netting his carrots… and suggesting the rabbits might like to try next door instead!!

Phew, hasn’t it been hot? I can’t remember such a continuous spell of hot weather for years, perhaps as far back as 1976. Richard has been working hard on our vegetable beds and is turning into a bit of a Percy Thrower… or should I say, Monty Don? Showing my age again! Besides a forest of tomatoes, we also have beans, potatoes, lettuce, courgette, cucumber, radish, carrot and parsnip… and probably several other things I have overlooked. As long as he can keep the badgers, deer and rabbits at bay it should be a good harvest!

I enjoy cooking but while it’s as hot as this, I tend to live on salads, as standing over a hot hob is not a lot of fun. Shoving a pan into the oven and leaving it to cook isn’t so bad and, what with all the vegetables we have growing, my eyes lit up when I read a review of this fab book ‘The Green Roasting Tin’. I was straight onto Amazon to buy it!

The book contains 75 one tin recipes, all vegetarian or vegan and, from what I’ve seen so far, all delicious. As it says on the cover ‘You simply pop your ingredients in a tin and let the oven do the work… this book is for anyone who wants to eat easy veg-based meals that fit around their busy lives’. See why it appealed?! If you, or anyone else in your family, really like a portion of meat and fish with their meal – well that’s fine! Simply prepare it as normal and serve alongside these delicious veggies.

I am determined that after all Richard’s hard work I am going to make the most of all our home-grown produce – it really does taste so much better than shop bought. Having said that, I know a lot of you don’t have the space to grow much yourself, but of course, these recipes are not fussy about where your veg comes from! The recipes are so delicious even our most common veg such as cabbage, carrots and potatoes can all be turned into really tasty dishes.

Just one of the many delicious recipes in this book.

I think we quite often tend to just eat salad for a healthy option (guilty!) and fear that cooking something vegetarian that’s delicious (rather than bland) is going to be a lot of faff. Well, this book dispels that myth once and for all.

Apart from gorgeous photography, the book also includes a clever section in the middle that shows you, in a really simple picture format, how to assemble the dishes. It also divides up the dishes into ‘quick’, ‘medium’ and ‘slow’ recipes that are also very useful. While a few of the recipes include more exotic ingredients, such as spicy pastes and unusual cheeses, the majority are straightforward.

I haven’t come across the author, Rukmini Iyer, before, but this is her second recipe book. The first ‘The Roasting Tin’ was very successful and includes meat and fish recipes… and I suspect that one may well end up on the kitchen shelves too!

Mouthwatering images from Rukmini’s first recipe book ‘The Roasting Tin‘.

 

 

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Where has the year gone?

A summer’s day on Dartmoor.

I am sure I say this every year… but where has the year gone? I am writing this on 21st June, the Summer Solstice, the longest day. As of tomorrow, the days will start getting shorter.

When I woke up this morning (it gets light so early) I almost felt like jumping out of bed and yelling: “STOP!” I am just not ready for July to arrive. I feel as if the year has only just got going and we are already at the halfway point. I know it is ridiculous but, as you get older, time does seem to fly. I can remember my school summer holidays feeling endless whereas now, Spring has passed in the blink of an eye and Summer seems over before it’s begun. Ah well… it was ever thus, and I must make the most of the good weather and find some time to appreciate my garden.

June 24th is Midsummer Day; traditionally the midpoint of the growing season – halfway between planting and harvesting – and my garden is certainly looking blousy and full. My roses are looking fabulous, so it will be no surprise to know that the rose is the birth flower for June. Actually, there are TWO flowers for June – the rose and the honeysuckle. A rose generally indicates love or desire. Specific roses may relate other messages, for example, a white rose may mean ‘new beginnings,’ while a yellow rose signifies ‘jealousy.’ The honeysuckle denotes the bonds of love or generous and devoted affection. All in all, June is a luscious and loving month and very popular for weddings!

I visited an open gardens event in a nearby village last weekend, it was inspiring to see all these different gardens so lovingly tended. You cannot fail to pick up at least one design idea or spot a plant that you absolutely must have… if only you could think of the name of it! The colour and scent of the roses in bloom in these gardens were fabulous. From climbers making beautiful arches to rambling roses draped over old sheds and barns, to a stunning standard rose, the like of which I haven’t seen since I was a child. Roses seemed to go out of fashion for a while, but they certainly seem to be back with a vengeance now.

Roses feature a lot in my cards, in artwork as well as dies, and they must surely be one of, if not THE, most popular flower in this country – we talk about a beautiful woman as being an ‘English rose’ after all. So, make the most of flaming June while you still can and let’s keep our fingers crossed that the remainder of the Summer is mild and gentle too.

 

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Perfect drying weather!

We have been enjoying some terrific weather down here in Devon, and I think most of the rest of the country has too. It has been what my Mother would have called ‘perfect drying weather’ – warm and sunny but with just enough breeze to move the washing about on the line.

There are lots of positives to working from home (although quite a few minuses too!) and being able to hang washing out – and being around to take it in if it starts raining – is most definitely a positive. I always find it an immensely uplifting chore, in fact hardly a chore at all. The smell of fresh line-dried bed linen is definitely high on my list of ‘top smells’! It is also, of course, a very great deal better than drying them in a cash-guzzling tumble drier. If it does start to rain, don’t despair, it is claimed that rainwater acts as a fabric conditioner.

I was thinking about washing lines the other weekend (yes, I know, I am a sad person…) when I was at a lovely local garden event. Alongside plant stalls and garden ornaments were lots of stalls selling upcycled, recycled and traditional products, including one that was selling the old-fashioned ‘wooden dolly’ clothes pegs. Instant nostalgia trip for me! I can remember my Mother using these pegs and having a dolly made from one of them – such a simple toy, a little headscarf, painted face and bit of cloth for a dress wrapped around the peg. I’m not sure granddaughter Grace would thank me for one of them, but hey, we enjoyed our simple pleasures back then!

Another stall at the event was run by a young lady who had very cleverly recycled some old metal garden chairs into unusual planters. She had planted Sempervivum, or house leeks, within the decorative metalwork. Sempervivums are survivors by nature and originate in mountainous and arid regions of southern Europe and North. Their succulent leaves arranged in rosettes enable them to survive for long periods without water as they store it in their thick leathery leaves. This makes them useful plants for containers that get only occasional water, to fill crevices in the rock garden and to create imaginative arrangements with very little soil. Perfect for this unusual and very pretty planting idea – very clever I thought!

What a clever and attractive idea!

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The merry merry month of May!

Forgive me if I am repeating myself… but I LOVE May! It is the month when spring reaches its zenith and summer just starts to sneak in with (hopefully!) some extra warmth…

This year has been very odd with a horribly cold and wet early spring meaning the poor trees and plants seem to have gone into overdrive to get established and then produce their blossom over a very short period of time in an attempt to catch up. Not only does this show the adaptability of Mother Nature, it has also resulted in some spectacular amounts of blossom. As the saintly Monty Don said on Gardener’s World last week, he has never seen so much blossom in his lifetime – and he is in his early 60s. Amazing – the blossom I mean, not his age!

Wisterias are looking as if they will swamp entire buildings and the scent is just amazing! Fruit trees burst into a great froth of blooms – and then seemed over in a flash. All sorts of wildflowers have been flowering together, resulting in some gorgeous colour mixes and amazing vistas. Bluebells, while prolific this year, have run into the emergence of the ferns. The new bright green ferns shooting up among them are diluting their magnificent purple/blue colour somewhat. Different – but no less stunning.

Not knowing much about it, I can only assume the effect on insects and wildlife will be equally ‘rearranged’ by this topsy-turvy weather. I’ve heard more cuckoos this year than I have before and there seem to be a great many swallows about… which I guess must mean more insects thanks to the masses of blossom! And so it goes around.

As long as mankind doesn’t interfere too much with its chemicals and denuding of the countryside, we can rely on Mother Nature to sort it all out for herself. If only other problems in the world could be managed in the same way

PS. Just had to add that I thought the flowers at the royal wedding were absolutely stunning! The entrance to St George’s Chapel was fantastic! What did you think?

 

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