September, 2013

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!
  • It's a 'white-out' in the cabbage patch

    It has been a funny old year for butterflies - after a very slow start in spring, we seemed to have a bumper summer, but species such as Red Admirals still seem to be in very short supply.

    One group that appears to have done very well is the whites. I don't know if you've experienced the same, but they seem to be fluttering everywhere this year.

    They tend to get lumped in the public's mind as 'cabbage whites', but there are actually three species. The males look a bit different to the females and those in early broods are marked differently to those coming later, so actually identifying them can be something of a challenge, but then we wildlife gardeners love challenges, don't we?

    Here are some photos I took last weekend to show some of the differences:

    This is a female Green -veined White. Note how the black on the forewing tips extends as little triangles down the outer edge of the wing, the wing veins are rather grey, and there are little grey 'apostrophes' around the outer edge of the hind wing. Underneath, her wing veins would be edged in grey, but only subtly.

    Then we have Small White, here a male with just one dark spot on the upper forewing, and the grey at the wing tip is confined to the tip itself.

    And finally we have the Large White, here a male which has no black spot on the upper forewing and a large (if slightly tatty on this individual) black wing tip.

    So, they're not easy, and I'd need to show you all the other males and females to give you the full picture.

    But in a garden context, all breed on plants in the cabbage family, but it is the Large that produces the masses of black and yellow caterpillars, Small White has secretive lone green caterpillars that don't do so much damage, and Green-veined much prefers wild crucifers such as Garlic Mustard.

    I know they can be a bit of a pain in the veggie patch, but I'd certainly rather have them than not. Where do you stand? Do you find them tolerable and even welcome them?

  • Bravo for insect-loving Parks' Authorities

    There are some very good and very imaginative Towns and Parks authorities out there who do the best they can with cash-strapped budgets and all the other pressures they are under to try and give wildlife a home at the same time as creating attractive looking bedding schemes.

    And I'm lucky enough to regularly see the efforts put in by Brighton & Hove. I give them my own little virtual 'Gold Medal' for what they have achieved in one of the busiest city centre open spaces this year.

    It is called The Steine and is an area heavily used by people at all hours of day - and night! =The gardeners have to cope with a myriad of discarded bottles flung in the beds and the aftermath of late night revelries in which some people seem to have taken the term 'bed' in flowerbed' quite literally.

    But undeterred the garden designers have gone for a bold bedding scheme this year which has been fantastic for a couple of species of bumblebee and for Honeybees.

    It is a fairly unabashed riot of colour, primarily composed of single-flowered dahlias, rudbeckias, single-flowered tagetes, plus Verbena bonariensis wafting away over the top.

    It is the dahlias and the Verbena that are the real bee magnets, but the tagetes has been playing its part for the insect communities too.

    I remain disappointed with the rudbeckias - I tried Rudbeckia 'Toto' a couple of years ago and not a single insect visited that I observed, and I suspect that some of the Rudbeckia cultivars have been pushed or hybridised so far that they've lost their nectar or pollen or both.

    But as a demonstration of growing a home for nature, I remain very impressed.

    Have you got some local council or community planting near you which has been a success for wildlife this year? I'd love to hear.

  • Watch out for the sunshine butterfly

    Here's a little test for you - how many different types of yellow can you name?

    I tried this on the bus, and came up with lemon, cadmium yellow, gold, mustard and saffron before I had to switch to flowers such as daffodil yellow.

    The thing is, we have one resident yellow butterfly, the Brimstone, the males of which are kind of a buttery yellow with an acid tinge. But each year a yellow butterfly from the Mediterranean pushes northwards, with a few - or sometimes thousands - reaching our shores: the Clouded Yellow

    And this year is a pretty good one, with quite a few Clouded Yellows wandering the fields and, if you're lucky, the larger gardens of the country. And I was fortunate enough to see and photograph one last weekend, although not in my garden.

    So which yellow is it? Well, the closest I can get in my mind is sunflower or sunshine yellow, because it is a deep, rich yellow with a hint of orange.

    But you'd never know when they settle because these are coy creatures that don't like to flash their attributes. Tightly closed, the underside is a kind of pale lime green, with a blob of white in the middle of the hind wing and green eyes.

    But in the photo at least you can get a hint of the sunshine they bring on the underside of the forewing.

    They breed all year round in the Mediterranean and North Africa, and then make a bid for Europe-wide domination as the season progresses, seeking out clover fields to lay their eggs. They caterpillars grow quickly if the weather is warm and new adults can be on the wing in only six weeks or so, bolstering the populations into the autumn before the winter damp strikes them all down.

    So if you have a good meadowy lawn, full of clover and in a sunny spot, keep your eyes peeled - you might just be visited by an extra little burst of sunshine in butterfly form.