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BUTTERFLIES, VERBASCUM, FLORENCE FENNEL
WILD WAY DIARY: 23/06/23
I hadn’t set out for our garden to be a showcase of plants from Wild about Weeds, it’s as if the plants have been drawn here themselves. Take the purple toadflax, Linaria purpurea, above growing alongside Ox-eye daisies, Leucanthemum vulgare. Both planted themselves. Everything in this picture except the Alliums have grown from seed, from the wild collected Deschampsia cespitosa on the right to the Astrantia on the left.
This week saw the midpoint of summer come and go, the solstice. Many probably still don’t know or appreciate it is an important technical moment in the year for anyone growing plants, be they gardeners or farmers. It’s the point in the Earth’s orbit when the Northern hemisphere, because of the permanent tilt of the planet, is pointed most at the sun, giving us the longest day. As the planet continues to travel and the tilt drifts away, days will now shorten, so we have to begin to plan for that. Thankfully this is a slow procession at first and the warmest months are yet to come, I don’t see this as the end but the start of the kindest months outside.
On the solstice I did a little walk around the garden to find it alive with insects of all kinds, a relief after the quieter recent months. Above is a drone fly, a hoverfly, feeding on the nectar of our darkest Astrantia. It was early morning and lots of insects were on it, I suspect its darker colour absorbing the warmth before others.
Another plant that planted itself is this Verbascum, either the wild V. thapsus or ornamental V. bombyciferum. Whichever it is, it will almost certainly have been planted once in the past by someone because it doesn’t grow wild anywhere nearby that I’ve seen. An architectural surprise I’ve been enjoying teaching me about itself.
We have two butterflies on the farm in huge numbers right now, the large skipper, Ochlodes sylvanus, above being one. I love their fluffy thorax and BIG DOT eyes. You can see its thread-like proboscis, the feeding structure heading into the red clover for nectar. The caterpillars feed on cock’s foot grass, Dactylis glomerata, which is an easy grass to spot because of its chunky flower heads that do look a little like chicken claws.
The most prolific butterfly here right now is this - I think it’s a meadow brown, Maniola jurtina, due to the single spot markings and the dark to light shade of brown from the body to the outer wings. However, part of me did pause to think it may be a ringlet butterfly, Aphantopus hyperantus, with fewer ringed spots, which can happen. Both feed on different grasses we have around the farm, meadow brown love tufted hair grass, Deschampsia cespitosa, which I’ve been growing more of.
I love all butterflies but one I confess to really looking forward to seeing is the peacock butterfly, Aglais io. For these, you need a nettle patch for the shiny and hairy black caterpillars to feed on.
Elder is having a moment right now, I’m encouraging more of these small wild trees to grow. We’re lucky to have a few very old ones which are craggy with age.
We enjoyed our first Florence fennel this week, which seem to be having a good year. This is one vegetable I love but find a struggle to grow, it so often bolts before growing a big bulb (not a real bulb technically just chunky leaf bases). It’s one crop I’ve been generously watering regularly, which has helped.
The main garden is starting to really fill out now, two and a bit years into the five year start of the project. More colour will come not from new plants, but the existing plants growing larger in time. Thankfully we had a deluge of rain this week, after a month of no rain at all, which has seen the plants respond with grateful vigour.
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