Posts tagged ‘Ivy’

October 31, 2013

Ivy flowers attract wildlife

31 October 2013

I’ve extolled the virtues of ivy as a wildlife plant elsewhere in this blog, and it was good to see a confirmation of it’s value the other day. Despite the gales and rain of the night of 27/28 October, the next day the sun shone, and up the top of the garden, on ivy flowers in the sunshine, I was amazed to see six Red Admirals.

Two Red Admirals on ivy flowers

Red Admirals on ivy flowers

I could only get two at any one time in the photo, but here’s a close-up of one of them – isn’t he gorgeous!

Red Admiral on ivy flower.

Red Admiral on ivy flower.

There were also numerous flies and what I think were small wasps (difficult to tell, as they were constantly on the move) enjoying the nectar. Once the flowers finish, the berries will develop, turning black when ripe, and attracting various birds to eat them: I’ve particularly noticed blackbirds and pigeons eating them. Yet another reason for leaving the garden be now – better to clip the ivy back where necessary after the berries have gone, than deprive wildlife of a good source of food.

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March 15, 2013

Treat your wildlife to some ivy

15 March 2013

I hate to see a wall where well-grown ivy has obviously removed. I appreciate this sometimes cannot be avoided, but if at all possible, please keep your ivy: it is such a good plant for wildlife. The Holly Blue butterfly lays its eggs on ivy, so the caterpillars can feed on the flower buds, and sixteen species of moth are also known to use it as a caterpillar food plant. The flowers then provide nectar for late butterflies – the photo at the foot of this article only shows four Red Admirals, but there were twelve at one point, feeding on a patch of ivy about half the size of a door. Many other insects will also throng round the flowers, and when the sun is out, even if you do not know the ivy flowers are there, you will hear the humming of the insects on it and pick up a deep, honey scent. After flowering, the ivy sets seed, and the resulting black berries are food for hungry birds in late winter – I sometimes become aware of a blackbird or pigeon because the ivy appears to shudder, as the bird pulls the berries from their stems.

Left: Speckled Wood. Centre: Holly Blue. Right: an insect. All on ivy.

Left: Speckled Wood. Centre: Holly Blue. Right: an insect. All on ivy.

That’s not all, either. The tangle of ivy growth also provides a hidey-hole for all sorts of creatures. I have gone outside on warm summer nights and been able to hear the snails moving around in the cover: better they haunt the ivy than my prize plants, though they are probably on their way to do just that. Butterflies may also use it for shelter, and the Brimstone is known to hibernate in ivy. Birds also find it important cover, and will nest in it. We deliberately leave the ivy on our garage to grow very thick, and we may have blackbirds starting to nest in it this year: we’ve seen two dive into the greenery several times recently. Ivy, although everygreen, needs to renew its leaves periodically, so there will be a lot of leaf litter at the foot of the plant, and this can again be good cover: we’ve had a hedgehog make a day nest in the leaves at the foot of our ivy, and we could hear him “snoring” as we walked past – you felt you had to be very quiet!

For the human, ivy serves as an excellent evergreen in the garden – one of the few native evergreens we have. The native ivy is striking enough, with its glossy green leaves, but there are many varieties if you want different colours and leaf shapes – www.fibrex.co.uk is a nursery which has a wonderful collection of ivies to set your imagination going.

I’ve been asked why the ivy on somebody’s wall does not flower. The answer is to do with the stages the plant goes through: while it is in its juvenile stage it only develops soft growth, it flowers when it creates adult, woody, growth, and I presume it cannot do this if you keep chopping it back and forcing it to put on more soft growth. There is concern about the damage ivy can do, but I think you just need to be sensible: you can’t have it blocking your gutters or lifting your roof tiles, but just growing up a solid wall is probably not going to damage the structure.

Four Red Admirals on ivy

Four Red Admirals on ivy

If you can identify the insect at the right of the panel of three, please let me know what it is.

February 25, 2013

Gardening for butterflies – adults v caterpillars

25 February 2013

When people say they want to attract more butterflies to their garden, they are nearly always talking about the adult stage of the insect – the one we see flying around in the sunshine (remember sunshine?). In a small garden, attracting the adults may be all you can sensibly aim at, providing them with nectar-rich flowers to give them energy to fly around and mate, which is very well worth doing.

Painted Lady on Sweet Rocket

Painted Lady on Sweet Rocket

It is good if you can, though, to also provide some plants which will serve as foodplants for caterpillars. I can hear you all groaning at the idea of having to have a garden full of nettles – quieten down! Nettles are good if you can accommodate them, but the butterflies are quite fussy about the nettles they use, which need to be in a sheltered, sunny position, so it’s not as easy as leaving a few behind the shed: do it if you can, but don’t worry about it if you can’t.

What you do have to do, though, is accept that the holes left in the leaves by the munching caterpillars will be visible – but what are a few holes when you’ve had the fun of watching the munching?

The most practical plants to grow to encourage butterflies to breed include:

Sweet rocket/honesty/lady’s smock for the Orange Tip and Green-veined White.  Sweet rocket is very easy, comes in white or purple, and lasts for 2-3 years. You could also grow garlic mustard,  a native wild flower which blooms early and has disappeared by the middle of summer – I’ve got some in the garden, and I can find caterpillars on it or my sweet rocket most years.

Orange tips- left to right: mating pair on sweet rocket, caterpillar on sweet rocket and adult on bluebell

Orange tips- left to right: mating pair on sweet rocket, caterpillar on sweet rocket and adult on bluebell

Holly and ivy for the Holly Blue, which uses both, at different times of year, for it’s egg-laying. You will struggle to see the egg or the caterpillar, though, so look out for the female flying around the bush.

Buckthorn for the Brimstone: this is a shrub and not very exciting to look at, but it does provide nectar in its flowers and berries for the birds, as well as leaves for the Brimstone butterfly, which is said to be able to find buckthorn from a considerable distance. There are two types of buckthorn, and you need to use the one which is good for your soil: purging buckthorn for chalky soils and alder buckthorn for acid soils.

British native grasses are also good – I’ll cover them in more detail in another post, as well as plants for moth caterpillars.

I’ll give the latin names of the flower plants I’ve mentioned here, in case you have difficulty identifying them by the common names, which tend to be different in different parts of the country: Sweet rocket – hesperis matronalis. Honesty – lunaria annua. Lady’s smock – cardamine pratensis. Garlic Mustard (also often called Jack-by-the-hedge) – Alliaria petiolata.

February 7, 2013

More seeds started

7 February 2013

My antirrhinum seeds are coming up in the propagator, and past experience has shown me that it is best to grow them “hard” – i.e. with as little heat as possible, as doing this helps to avoid the seeds damping off (dying of a fungal disease). So, having taken them out of the propagator, I had some space to sow more seed – whoopee!

So I’ve sowed some home-saved seeds of  cerinthe major pupurescens and penstemon ‘Husker’s Red” and some bought seeds of a yellow cosmos. The first two should be good for bees, and if I end up with more than I need for my garden, I can sell them in aid of Butterfly Conservation.

Flower of cerinthe

Flower of cerinthe

We’ve got very thick ivy on our garage wall – it’s an excellent wildlife plant, providing shelter and food – the early Holly Blue caterpillars eat the buds, and the birds eat the berries. Today, there was a male blackbird up there singing very gently – more of a burble than a song, which I see is called “sub song”;  it’s a lovely sound, very tranquil.

Holly Blue top and underside

Holly Blue top and underside