Flutter with a butterfly bush

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I have always loved butterflies. And bees, and, well, what many would call ‘bugs’ of all shapes and forms.

I would spend hours searching for, collecting and observing the bewildering array of invertebrates to be found in our garden and the countryside beyond.

I remember the ‘telling off’ when my primary school rang my mother, concerned that I had not arrived at school that day (I used to bike around three miles to get there), and mum set off to look for me. She didn’t have to look far. I had an old meat safe in which I kept and observed caterpillars. Needless to say I had to check on them before getting my bike out of the shed. Well, on that day one of the pupae (chrysalis) had started to ‘hatch’. The wonders of a butterfly emerging from this little ‘shell’, the colours of the wings dazzling in the sunshine as they unfold to dry….well, if you have ever watched this miracle of nature, you will understand!

So it was out of my love of our native fauna that I developed, as a natural progression, a love of plants. I have to confess that I would rather have worked with insects – but careers advice was limited (my suggestion of wanting to be a nature reserve warden was met with either a gasp of horror or a stony silence). Apparently not a suitable vocation for an educated young lady of the 1970s!

Somehow I ended up training in commercial horticulture where the aim of growing most crops, at that time, necessitated an endless spray programme to eliminate any ‘pest’ that dared to loiter near the said plant. These so-called pests often being the same wonderful creatures I nurtured and observed in my earlier years.

Fortunately we are now far more aware of the environment; many of the pesticides are now banned, and use of them is far more selective.

Plant Health is a major unit in the RHS courses we teach here, but we emphasise correct selection of plants, suitable growing techniques and sustainable methods of prevention or control – with ‘chemical controls’ almost a thing of the past. At last.

Why have I just given you my life history? Observing, in this morning’s sunshine, the array of butterflies on a buddleja, or butterfly bush.

Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, Red Admiral, various Whites, Comas (no Painted Ladies yet this year) and at least seven different types of bee. The colourful panicles acting as a magnet with their promise of nectar at the end of the long tubular florets.

I could write for hours about these wonderful shrubs. And considering they are not native, I find it quite surprising how invaluable they are to our nectar seekers at this time of year.

The genus buddleja is endemic to four continents – but not Europe. There are over 100 species endemic to the Americas, Africa and Asia, mostly evergreen or deciduous shrubs, with some reaching tree-like 30m in height! However, most of the cultivars we grow in our gardens are forms of the Chinese Buddleja davidii, or hybrids of various species. And every garden should have one!

• Manea School of Gardening, a Royal Horticultural Society Approved Centre, has a range of RHS courses at all levels commencing in September. For more information visit: www.maneaschoolofgardening.com or email Mary at: msog@btinternet.com