Demise of the butterfly

THE freshest of all the late summer flowers must surely be white phlox, beloved by virtually every cottage gardener and many more besides.

Phlox will also bloom in various shades of lavender, pink, red and purple, each shade possessing its own distinctly rich, old fashioned perfume, like something from a bottle dabbed behind a favourite aunt’s ear.

And if you are ever lucky enough to stand in a well-planted cottage garden you’ll find it rather like a little flowery meadow; a square of coloured tablecloth thrown down on a hillside.

Summer profusion reigns and flowers spill and tumble over beds and borders so that not an inch of soil is visible.

This year there will be few, if any, butterflies supping from cottage garden blooms. It begs the question “where have all the butterflies gone?” I don’t know about you, but apart from some Cabbage White butterflies looking at clumps of untidy nasturtiums, I haven’t seen a ‘traditional’ Irish butterfly this summer.

The varieties I miss most are those encountered in their hundreds during my youth; Peacocks, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshell and Commas.

I am told that as many as 60 butterfly species visit this country, but only a dozen or so are willing to visit decorative gardens for the nectar-rich flowers which give them fuel for flight and egglaying.

Some, like the Red Admiral and Painted Lady are natives of North Africa and migrate here each summer, but even these have been in decline for the past decade or so. Peacocks, Brimstones, and a handful more hibernate here, but cold winters, wet springs (and ever wetter summers) don’t help increase their numbers.

I have also been watching for butterflies in the countryside as many species insist on specific types of plant on which to lay eggs. Some of the best nectar providers in the garden may include Buddleia, golden rod, Michelmas daisies, phlox, and aubrieta, but it’s to nettles, thistles, and ivy that many turn to for egg-laying.

If you can set aside a wild corner in the garden (or if you can tend a secret, ‘wild corner’ in the countryside near you) allowing stinging nettles to thrive then these will provide an excellent food source for the caterpillars of the Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Peacock and Comma.

Nettles should be cut twice during the year; once in spring to bring about a flush of new leaves favoured for egg-laying, and again in early winter. Thistles are the favoured food of that summer migrant the Painted Lady, while the Holly Blue lays its eggs on ivy.

Some admirers of the butterfly are not aware that they have natural enemies, including birds which attack feeding caterpillars and butterflies on the wing.

However, the disappearance of their favoured hedgerow habitats is surely the main cause of their demise.

The usual argument by the anti-pesticide lobby also runs true so it is incumbent upon the gardener to find space for as many plants as possible with which to sustain these beautiful insects.

GARDEN NOTES

¦ An Garden Open event takes place tomorrow Sunday from 11am to 6pm at ‘Step-a-Side Garden’ Ahaliskey, Ballinscarthy, courtesy of Larry and Bernadette O’Leary. Watch for signposts on main Bandon to Clonakilty road. Proceeds will aid Co-Action Clonakilty.

¦ Susan and Michael Cobley of Ravens’ Oak Garden, Trawlebane, (near Bantry) will be open to visitors on tomorrow from 11am to 6pm. Admission is €5 which includes light refreshments. Plants will be for sale and all proceeds will be donated to Medecines sans Frontieres. Full details from 027-53809 or www.ravens-oak.com

¦ A free illustrated lecture by Conor Kelleher of Bat Conservation Ireland entitled Bats, myth and reality will take place in Millstreet Country Park on Monday next at 7.30pm. The lecture will be followed by a walk in the park with detectors listening to bats communicate.

¦ Ladysbridge and District Flower Club will host Dermot O’Neill at Garryvoe Hotel on Sept 10 at 8pm. Dermot will give an illustrated presentation on his Secret Garden at Clondeglas as featured on RTE. Tickets €15, contact Joan Aherne 086-3174175 or Rosalie Dunne 087-6505959. All welcome.

¦ Cork’s First Free Bulb Day for Kids takes place at Griffins Garden Centre on Saturday next.

¦ National Feral Cat Awareness Week continues at Hosfords Enniskeane today. An information stand outlining the work in progress and latest solutions will be open and visitors are welcome.

¦ The garden trade continues to battle against the recession and many new ventures are being undertaken. The latest is the opening of a specialist nursery ‘Just Roses’ in Kilfinane, Co. Limerick. Displaying nothing but Irish grown speciality roses this new approach is a welcome addition to the gardeners’ choice.

¦ A new batch of unusual clematis has arrived at the well-known Potting Shed, Camolin, Co. Wexford some of which are not even mentioned in the RHS Plantfinder! These will be available in the forthcoming seminar at Fota, Co. Cork in late September.


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