all aflutter

A couple of days ago we took part in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count.

small tortoiseshell on verbena rigida, cottage garden, gardening blog

small tortoiseshell on verbena rigida

You spend 15 minutes in a sunny spot, count how many butterflies you see, and submit your sightings online.

I knew the buddleia outside the kitchen would be teeming with nectar-lovers desperate for a late afternoon fix. But I couldn’t face spending quarter of an hour breathing its sickly scent. Instead, I set my almost-four-year-old up with her identification sheet between two borders stuffed with rudbeckia, dahlias, gaura lindheimeri and verbena.

green-veined white on verbena rigida, cottage garden, gardening blog

green-veined white on verbena rigida

Last year’s verbena bonariensis survived the winter and has come back as tall and willowy as ever. We’ve also grown verbena rigida for the first time. What it lacks in height (ours is about a foot tall) it makes up for with an intense, almost glowing purple haze of flowers. Both varieties are popular with butterflies. After watching closely for 15 minutes, you notice how they are repeatedly drawn to the same plants.

M thinks she counted 23, but there was a bit of doubling up as she’d count them twice if they fluttered off and back again. The true total (I think) was 10: 1 green-veined white, 1 peacock, 1 painted lady, 2 commas and 5 small tortoiseshells.

peacock butterfly on dahlia, cottage garden, gardening blog

peacock butterfly on dahlia

Her enthusiasm, and the fact that she completed the full 15 minutes without flitting off herself, made me think M might be ready to have a go at raising a butterfly from a caterpillar. We’re probably too late this year, but perhaps we’ll try next summer.

Plugging the hungry-gap

It was good to take some time out to look at the garden. The dahlias and verbena have been in full swing for a couple of weeks now, and seem to have plenty of life in them yet. There are lots of other nectar-rich flowers around the place too: cleome, cosmos, eryngium and sedum are all blooming – or about to. We’ve managed to close the hungry-gap between early and late summer.

If you live in the UK and want to take part in the Big Butterfly Count, it’s running until Sunday (10th August). Find out more here: .


butterflies and bees

We’re making a deliberate attempt to provide non-stop fodder for bees and butterflies right through to autumn this year.

bee verbena, cottage garden, gardening blog

Spring and early summer are easy enough. The bulbs and blossoms overlap with the catmint and hardy geraniums. Then, before you know it, the nigella and larkspur are coming on full force. But last year we had a bit of a hungry gap at the end of July into August. The earlier flowers were getting tired or going to seed, but the rudbekia and verbena bonariensis weren’t quite ready, and nor was the angelica gigas that proved so popular with insects.

gardening blog verbena butterfly 2

So at the moment I’m busy sowing half-packets of nectar-rich flower seed under cover, with a view to sowing the rest direct into the ground mid-May. My hope is that this will spread out the flowering and ensure the two ends of the season meet in the middle. Although if it’s anything like my attempts to stagger our veg production, the ones I sow later will simply catch up.

seedlings, cottage garden, gardening blog I think the fact that we’re growing a wider variety this year – all favourites of our six-legged friends – has got to be an improvement though. New additions to our seed list include cleome, corncockle, borage, calendula, ammi majus, didiscus, cornflower and lots of different poppies. The echinacea Steve grew from seed last year are springing back to life in the greenhouse too, along with eryngium and some single dahlias (single flower varieties are better for bees and butterflies).

I can’t wait to see how all these plants turn out. And since our three year old is well and truly hooked on mini beasts at the moment we should have a lot of fun watching any garden visitors they attract.


Untitled-3If you want to attract more butterflies to your garden, this is a good month to join Butterfly Conservation.

All new members receive a gardening booklet in their welcome pack, authored by my favourite wildlife gardening writer Kate Bradbury.

Membership is half price until 30 April if you use the code GARDEN50, and the first 100 new members also get a free pack of flower seeds known to be attractive to butterflies and moths.


My sister Lucy shared this with me the other day. It’s from a Canadian Firm called Victory Gardens that encourages community veg growing – what a fab idea.