Posts tagged ‘Meadow Brown’

October 22, 2013

October Butterflies – 2

22 October 2013

Well, the weather seems to have turned. It’s still very mild, but a lot of rain and fairly windy, so the only butterfly around now is a Red Admiral, who appears when I disturb him as I walk round the garden. So let’s go back and look at some more of the species I saw on 5th and 6th of this month to brighten us up.

Small Tortoiseshell on Aster Frikartii 'Monch', with Comma in the background.

Small Tortoiseshell on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’, with Comma in the background.

I’ve now got five clumps of this aster round the garden – it’s one of my favourite plants, and the butterflies and other insects seem to like it too.

Meadow Brown on Aster Frikartii 'Monch'.

Meadow Brown on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’.

It’s unusual to see a Meadow Brown as late as October, and this one has obviously been out for a while, given the tattered state of his hindwing.

Comma on Rudbekia 'Goldsturm'.

Comma on Rudbekia ‘Goldsturm’.

I like this shot – if you see a Comma with its wings closed like this, usually all you see is a very dark background with the while “comma”; here, the sun is shining through the wings, so you can pick up more of the colouring, and it did pose itself beautifully on the rudbekia.

Red Admirals on pink Michaelmas Daisy

Red Admirals on pink Michaelmas Daisy


This shot shows four Red Admirals – in fact, there were ten, but it wasn’t possible to get them all in the same shot. It was interesting that they seemed to stay faithful to this bright pink Michaelmas Daisy, even when it got quite shady, although there were other butterflies on other plants elsewhere in the garden. I suppose they had found a good nectar source and were happy to stick with it, rather than waste energy flying around in search of alternative supplies. They all looked to be in quite good condition, so it is possible they were on a reverse migration: that is, they had been born here, but with winter approaching, were heading south – how sensible!

July 21, 2013

Eryngium for butterflies and bees

21 July 2013

Apologies again – another four-day instead of two-day gap in posts. I’m still feeling a bit under the weather, which also means I’m not getting out in the garden to see things to talk about – and it’s VERY hot out there at the moment, too!

I’m a plantaholic. I firmly believe in the mantra that you should find out what grows in your garden and grow lots of it, but it’s an endless journey finding out what will grow here, and there are always more plants to try, which is wonderful. Occasionally, I see a plant somewhere and get that “must have” feeling, and one such plant was Eryngium ‘Oliveranium’.

Eryngium 'Oliveranium' with bee

Eryngium ‘Oliveranium’ with bee

I can’t actually now remember whether I saw it in the flesh (if plants can be described that way) or in a catalogue, but I was really taken by it. It is one of the bluest of the erynguims (also called Sea Hollies) and not only has blue flowers, but the stems go blue as they age, too. The flowers are actually multiple ones in the lump in the middle – the outside bits are bracts, and jolly nice they are too, if a bit prickly.

 I’ve had three goes at growing it, undeterred by two failures partly because the plant should suit my soil and partly because the problem was probably largely down to me not keeping other stuff from smothering it and possibly to not giving it good enough drainage. Third time, with a very robust plant from Elizabeth MacGregor nurseries, was lucky, and I’ve now added two more plants to get a good show. It is said to be one of the easier ones to keep going over winter, the key, as with so many plants, being very good drainage – it can take the cold, but not having wet roots.

I knew these sea hollies were good for bees, but I am delighted to see that they are also attracting butterflies: I wandered out with the camera today and caught both a Meadow Brown and a Small Tortoiseshell on them.

Eryngium 'Oliveranium' with Meadow Brown (left) and Small Tortoiseshell (right)

Eryngium ‘Oliveranium’ with Meadow Brown (left) and Small Tortoiseshell (right)

So it seems you can have your Eryngium and your wildlife too – give it a go.

July 12, 2013

How to identify your butterfly – time of year

12 July 2013

Apologies I missed a blog – have had a virus which drained me of all energy.

One of the things you don’t realise when you are new to looking at butterflies is that each species only flies for a certain length of time each year, and the months in which they fly each year are fairly consistent. A few butterflies may be seen almost throughout the year, notably the Brimstone, which is only absent in the very depths of winter. Others are very limited in the time they spend in the adult stage: each Silver-studded Blue, for example (not a butterfly which you will find in your garden) only lives for 4-5 days.

Male Silver-studded Blue. Photo by Ken Dolbear.

Male Silver-studded Blue. Photo by Ken Dolbear.

This can be a great help in identification. If you see a blue butterfly in March or April it has to be a Holly Blue – none of the other blues are on the wing at this time. If you see a white butterfly in April, it is more likely to be a Green-veined White or an Orange Tip than a Large or Small White – the latter may be on the wing, but are much less numerous, judging from my experience in my garden. With the most common butterflies in the brown family, the Meadow Brown is out before the Gatekeeper – this year, the first Meadow Brown reported to the Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation’s website was 19 June, but the Gatekeeper didn’t turn up until 11 July. Most identification guides will show you the flight period of the adult, so use this information when you are trying to identify a butterfly you have seen.

Don’t forget size is important too – see my article on the subject. The Silver-studded Blue above is tiny, with a wingspan of about 30mm, wheras the Meadow Brown’s wingspan is around 50mm.

I’ve just had the first Meadow Browns in the garden; I haven’t got a photo of them yet, but the shot below is one of my favourite ones from several years ago.

Two Meadow Browns on an echinacea flower

Meadow Browns on an echinacea flower

June 22, 2013

Growing Herbs for Bees and Butterflies

22 June 2013

This year in the garden is amazing. Maybe it was last year’s copious rain, maybe it was a reasonably normal winter (whatever normal is these days), maybe it was a late Spring, but the speed at which plants are growing is incredible. I’ll swear our potoatoes are growing visibly every day: I just hope they are busy below ground as well, given they were very late getting going and we usually get hit by pototo blight.

I just came across a photo I took of our herb bed back in April – 24th to be precise, so that’s not quite two months ago, and look at the difference:

Herb bed: left on 24 April; right on 20 June

Herb bed: left on 24 April; right on 20 June

It’s a bed just outside the back door, and we dug it right out and re-started it this year, as the mint had rampaged and nearly flattened everything else. Now the mint is (hopefully) limited to either end of the bed, and in the middle we’ve got sage, lemon balm, marjoram and buckler leaf sorrel. For this year there is also a bit of thyme and some flat-leaved parsley, but they will both be gone by next year; I might re-plant some flat-leaved parsley, as I like it in salads, but the main parsley crop will be in the veg beds – we always aim to freeze a load to get us through the winter. If you haven’t tried buckler-leaf sorrel, by the way, do: it’s got a lovely lemony zing, and though it’s a bit too strong by itself, it peps up salads a treat.

Many herbs are good for insects; they are often native or long-established plants, so the insects have developed to use them. It can be a problem growing for both culinary use and wildlife, as the former calls for flowers to be cut off so the leaves develop best, while the latter means letting the flowers develop. I generally go with the latter – I find there are still enough leaves to give us what we need. Sage has a beautiful flower, and the blue of the flower looks lovely against the leaves if you have the purple-leaved sage; it is also very good for bees: I spend many a contented few minutes watching them buzz from flower to flower. Marjoram flowers are good for butterflies to nectar on, especially those within the family of Browns such as the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper. One of the butterflies I wish I saw more in my garden – the Small Copper – uses sorrel as its caterpillar food plant, but I’m not sure it uses this type of sorrel – but I live in hope.

Small Copper on Aster Frikartii 'Monch'

Small Copper on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’

So – pep up your diet by growing some herbs, and let them flower for the wildlife.

February 26, 2013

Gardening for butterfly caterpillars – Grass

26 February 2013

The foodplant used by more butterflies (and moths) than any other is grass. The families of butteflies that use it are the skippers – not so likely to be found in gardens unless you live near suitable habitiat – and the browns, including butterflies you might see in your garden: Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown.

Left to right: Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown

Left to right: Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown

“Well, that’s easy, we’ve got lots of that” I can hear you say – well, yes and no. If you are the type of gardener who likes a close-cut lawn with stripes, this is no good, and even the standard lawn isn’t likely to be ideal – the majority of lawns are mainly made up of rye grass, which is tough to withstand use, but no good for insects.

Annual meadow grass (photo: internet)

Annual meadow grass (photo: internet)

What you need are British native grasses, and I’d guess you need to let them grow, not mow them short, though my knowledge in this area is limited. Looking in the book “Foodplant List for Caterpillars” by Tim Crafer, the single grass which is eaten by the most butterfly and moth caterpillars is annnual meadow grass (Poa annua). I suspect you might have this inyour garden anyway, so it could be a good excuse to leave it if you are bored with weeding….

Other grasses used by butterflies include cocksfoot, couch, tor, yorkshire fog, tufted hair, dog’s tail,  and the fescue and bent families. Couch is one which really tests my butterfly-friendliness: my husband and I have spent two years digging through an herebaceous bed, removing couch and bindweed, so I’d have to say be careful with it – it forms the most amazing root mass, which forces other plants out: I found one piece which only showed about 2″ (5cm) above ground, but the root went on for over 6′ (2m).

Native grass seed/mixes are becoming a lot more easily available these days, sometimes with native wild flowers mixed in. Keeping the grasses, and flowers, you want from becoming swamped by the stronger-growing species is another challenge….