To see butterflies flying around your garden and sipping nectar from the flowers is not an impossible dream. You will have to make a little effort, but you will be rewarded sooner than you expect. The answer lies in planting certain types of flowers and providing a place for the butterflies to drink. I came across this article by Sarah Raven published in the Telegraph which is related to conditions in England, but does contain plenty of useful advice.
Walking through the hay meadows in Transylvania this summer felt like a visit to a perfect place, not just for the wildflowers ? the salvias, aquilegias and orchids ? but for the butterflies you kick up with every step. It?s not, I have to admit, quite as miraculous as the story a friend of mine told me about driving along the road in Bhutan. There, the butterflies were so thick he had to use the windscreen wipers to see where he was going, but in the Transylvanian mountain meadows there is a frothy, dancing upper-storey to the long grass, extending it into a third dimension, flecks of colour moving continually a few feet in the air.The grass is also alive with caterpillars. I sat in one place and counted how many I could reach in the circle around me. There were 13; brown and black-spotted hairy ones, some shiny green and some grey with yellow flecks.It was a whole new world I?d hardly thought of before that day, but it gave me a new resolution, not just to learn all our native butterflies, but what their caterpillars look like and feed on. The safest time to sow wildflowers and plant shrubs is in the next couple of months. The shrubs will have time to get their roots well established without the need for watering and many wildflowers need cold to encourage germination. Sow now and you?ll have the best results.Wall-to-wall wildflowersThe hay meadows around us in East Sussex have had most of their wildflowers stripped from them by the widespread use of nitrogen fertiliser over decades.
This boosts the grass, which in turn out-competes the wildflowers, but they are still full of wild sorrel, so thick that the grass turns rusty red in May and June, with the more delicate, but dock-like flowers mixed in with buttercups.
Sorrel is the food plant of the small copper butterfly, which flutter up when you walk through the meadows before they?re cut. If you don?t already have plenty of sorrel surrounding you, this is a quick and easy plant to grow. Sow it from February and it germinates well and you?ll soon find small coppers landing on the leaves and laying their eggs. You can grow the wild form, Rumex acetosa, which is edible, with a tangy lemon flavour (a few leaves transform a salad), but the larger-leaved, French domestic sorrel will give us ? and the small coppers ? a bigger meal.