It has not been an easy year for butterflies. The cold April, followed by a wet May has not been ideal for flying or for the raising of caterpillars but the past week of hot weather has seen larger numbers of adults in our gardens. There are lots of flowers we can plant to provide nectar for butterflies and these include: statice, zinnia, verbena, dahlia and marigolds. But the most famous of all are buddleias, often called just butterfly bushes.
It is a surprise to many that Buddleia davidii, the parent of most butterfly bushes, is not native and was not introduced, from China, until 1908. Since that time it has been developed into the wonderful, vibrant, fragrant shrub we now all know so well.
Although buddleias attract the adult butterflies it is important to remember that to really help butterflies we also need to provide food for their larvae. Leave a patch of long grass and wild flowers, nettles, brambles and ivy to feed a wide range of species.
Buddleias are generally easy to please and they thrive in chalky soils and are very resistant to drought once established. In fact, the light seeds often land in gutters and old brickwork and plants can be seen growing in virtually no soil. This seeding around is an issue and modern varieties have been bred to be sterile so they do not seed everywhere. They also make better garden plants because they tend to bloom for longer too.
Left unpruned, buddleias can become large shrubs but most modern kinds have been developed to be smaller. One of the early developments was ‘Bluechip’ (above) which is very compact but can be late to bloom. More recently the ‘Buzz’ series were introduced, in several colours. which make low, spreading plants about 90cm high and rather more in spread. They can be grown in large pots on the patio.
If your plot is well-drained and sunny look for ‘Silver Anniversary’, a compact buddleia that is worth growing for the furry, silver leaves. The clusters of creamy flowers are sweetly scented and are produced in late summer and autumn. Just a word of warning though- it does not like wet clay.
The most exciting development is the Monarch series, which are compact and about 1.2m high. There are seven colours in the series, including the remarkable ‘Prince Charming’ which is a deep, raspberry pink never seen in buddleias before.
Buddleias like hot, sunny spots and thrive in this kind of weather. But if planting now, make sure they are well watered, every day, till they are established and have their roots in the soil. They are easy to look after too. Prune them hard every spring to keep them neat and packed with large flowers. Deadhead the plants as the flower clusters turn brown to keep them looking good and promote more flowers.
Low-growing buddleias can be grown in patio pots but use John Innes No 3 compost and make sure you water and feed them regularly.
Buying a buddleia is the perfect way to attract butterflies to the garden and to bring some instant colour to your garden.
With the current hot weather it can be tricky to keep pots and baskets healthy. To help you water effectively and make the job easier, try these tips.
Move pots together. If they are close together they will shade neighbouring plants and pots and reduce drying out. It is also easier to water plants if they are together.
Stand pots in saucers or on trays so you can keep them soaked.
Move pots into shade
Take down hanging baskets and place in shade to reduce water loss.
Water early in the morning and/or in the evening. This way water is less likely to evaporate from the compost and will soak in.
Stand baskets in buckets if they are moss-lined.
If you need to water borders, do this in the evening and give a good soak once a week rather than a sprinkle every day. Frequent, light watering encourages roots to grow up to the surface, making the plant MORE vulnerable to drought.
Lawns may look awful but they quickly recover when it rains again so try to save water and do not water your lawn unless absolutely necessary. Raise the height of the mower blades and cut off less grass when you ow to reduce the stress on the lawn.