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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Another day trip suggestion – a safari park!

A stunning giraffe!

I heard from many of you when I did the Peppa Pig report and so I thought it might be fun if I did another write up about a family day out – this time we all went to West Midlands Safari Park. It was a fabulous day – I always love spending time with all the family – but I think this was, even more, up my street than Peppa Pig – the animals are amazing!!

But let’s start at the beginning. There’s a safari route through the park, not unlike Longleat but without the monkeys, which pleased Richard no end as his car would be safe! At West Midlands, there are more animals and some amazing opportunities for close up viewing – as you can see from the pictures. The highlight of the trip for me will always be feeding the giraffes – such gorgeous creatures and very gentle.

A rude antelope type thing, just before it butted me on the chin!

The same cannot be said for the antelope type things (yep sorry I forgot all the different names, there were so many), they were rude! I bought animal feed as I knew I wanted to feed the giraffes but the antelope things were far more food aware than you would believe. They had mastered the ‘staggered highwayman’ approach with one standing in the centre of the road every 20 yards or so. I wondered if they had a specific patch that each controlled, a bit like drug dealers.

Anyway they pushed and shoved, gobbled food at the speed of light and one even biffed me on the chin when I leant back into the car to stop it grabbing all the food, I wanted it to feed a giraffe! There were lions and tigers – just look at the photos! – and then, much to Grace’s delight, roller coasters and watery rides to go on! There’s also a sea lion show and penguins and a chance to interact with nasty slimy giant snails that Grace loved – ugh!

Ugh!!!!! Grace thought these were wonderful – Granny did not!

We definitely have a Disney pal for Richard with Grace’s enthusiasm for nasty fling-you-about-fast rides. As usual, I spent my time sitting on a bench looking after the bags – ooh I hate roller coasters! If you have smaller people to amuse for the day I highly recommend it and even if you need to amuse older people like me it’s a fabulous day out. And as I mentioned them in my last report, the facilities here were also excellent and spotless.

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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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Peppa Pig World!

Peppa Pig was never meant to be this big!

I thought it would be fun to post a little story about our recent trip to Peppa Pig World. Richard and I went with my daughter Pippa (no not Peppa!), her husband Dave and of course little Grace – who at 4 was, I felt, at a perfect age to try some gentle rides and meet Peppa Pig ‘in person’!

Well, let’s start with the initial greeting from the star herself – a giant Peppa Pig standing poised on a balcony to meet the children as they arrived. She was very big and, of course, being up high made her even bigger. I introduced Grace whose lip quivered and she wailed: “She’s too big I’m scared”… so that wasn’t such a good start!

A nice little tame ride with Mummy and Daddy…

There were several little rides (VERY tame) with 20+ minute queues and, it has to be said, it was a very hot day, Grace got quieter and quieter and then said she had a tummy ache. I translated this as anxiety developing and was sad that our day didn’t seem to be working out as planned. So, we wandered away from the safe rides and over to a VERY tall and (to my eyes) scary looking wavy slide where you got nice and wet and Richard asked her if she was brave enough to go on. Overprotective Granny here wouldn’t have suggested it for the world but yup, apparently Grandpa knows best and she trusts him.

Standing at the bottom with her parents I waited anxiously – 50% of the children leaving the slide were screaming and scared. I had now given up on anything working out that day. HOWEVER… Grace was beaming from ear to ear as she left the slide and could only say “Again, again!”

This was a bit more exciting as it involved water!

This was the start of a very smiley little girl’s day – we ventured into the main park and, all pretence at keeping to the small safe rides having gone – she was extremely happy. The highlight of the day was a ride on a fearsome looking roller coaster – you know the kind where you are strapped in and your feet dangle? Again Granny sat at the base and quivered, counting the seconds until all the rest of the family got off the ride and worrying about Grace… “Again, again!” she said and went on the ride with Grandpa!

It seems at age 4 ¾ we have a budding roller coaster junkie – bodes well for a trip to Disney in the future – and Richard is very happy to have company on scary rides. I am such a wuss, the teacups make me feel queasy, tall rides, fast rides – whatever it is I am just rubbish!

This Granny-scary roller coaster was deemed the most exciting hing ever!

So I was delighted that it turned out to be the happiest of days! I will also add that if you are going with extremely small children, the toilet facilities, feeding and changing rooms were amazing. I have never seen such a clean place – well done Peppa Pig World!

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