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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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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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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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Hail king cauliflower!

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that seem to be back in vogue all of a sudden due, in part, to some bad publicity. It recently hit the headlines when a supermarket received criticism for selling ‘cauliflower steaks’ (thick slices to you and me!) for more than the cost of buying a whole cauliflower! A case of ‘clever’ marketing – and the need for the consumer to shop sensibly, if ever there was one.

In these days of trying to eat more healthily and to consume less meat, the cauliflower has got quite a lot to offer. In my youth, I was not a fan. It was usually served soggy and grey having been overcooked or slathered in a tasteless cheese sauce. It’s only recently that the dear old cauli has been recognised as having a lot more potential.

I think its texture has much to do with its resurgence – it is substantial and can stand up to pickling, pan frying, roasting and even barbecuing. You can marinade it whole and roast it for a rather impressive looking vegetarian meal, or go completely the other way and break up the florets into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles couscous to create cauliflower ‘rice’. This is a really clever option as it creates a low calorie, healthy, low-carb meal or side dish and has only about a quarter of the carbohydrates of traditional rice.

While cauliflower has a distinctive taste, it also takes up other flavours well. I particularly like it in a curry as the florets stay firm and it tastes great with curry spices. The idea of steaks is a clever one – cutting big slabs of cauliflower and then cooking them in oil and herbs creates a lovely main course. Cauliflower cheese, when made properly – pre-cooked cauli mixed into a rich cheese sauce and then sprinkled with extra cheese and browned under the grill – is a super comfort food.

Cauliflowers are available pretty much all year round, which makes it extra useful when so many other veg have given up for the winter. Predictably, supermarkets demand their cauliflowers white and pristine but look out for cheaper creamier coloured ones from a greengrocer or farmers’ market. As long as they are clean and firm, they are perfectly fine. Of course, cauliflowers don’t only come in white… there are purple and orange varieties and the stunning looking Romanesco with its lime green pointy florets that look like some clever architectural design. It’s not strictly a cauliflower but is closely related.

Sadly, growing them yourself is not that easy and you need to be a pretty dedicated veg grower to succeed. They need plenty of space, a rich soil and then a cage or netting to try and keep cabbage white butterflies and greedy pigeons away! It’s one of those veg, like sweet corn and asparagus, that I find it easier to just buy when I fancy them. But if you want to have a go at growing them, you’ve still got a few weeks to get them planted. You’ll find lots of advice on how to grow them online, as ever the RHS website has it covered.

 

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