All of a Flutter, Flap, and Buzz – Vanessa, Cynthia, Poly and David; Lining up, and Tripping Out.

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August 5th saw us pass the annual ‘Welsh fifteen moment’, when more than 15 butterflies simultaneously appear around our multiple Buddleja davidii bushes. B. davidii is named after the Basque missionary and explorer in China, Father Armand David. As happened last year, and before Storm Bertha’s tail swept in cooler and windier weather with frequent showers, there were closer to a hundred butterflies in attendance at this annual nectar fest. OK, they were mainly the common Peacock, Inachis io, Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae, and Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, but it was still a delightful scene. So far though no Painted Ladies, Cynthia cardui.

Where are you Cynthia when needed to justify a fun post title?SDIM8758 (2)

Many of them even beat us to it, basking on the warm blue stone seat placed for our benefit to take a few moments out.S1060018 (2)Pausing to enjoy a cup of tea, by just watching this leisurely Lepidopteran lunch. Often, they would momentarily land on one or other of us, checking us out.

Were we friend or foe?

Were our white T shirts significant?

Or maybe they could smell the now drying sweat from our efforts in the lower meadow (more next time), and viewed us as potential mineral licks?SDIM8757 (2)

This was doubly pleasing, since there has been a recent thread of communications on the wildlife garden forum, which I’m party to, about the questionable suitability of planting Buddleja davidii in gardens, owing to its propensity for being a ruderal invasive species.

I have to admit to no knowledge of what ruderal meant, though it’s an ‘in’ word for ecologists. Evidently it refers to areas of landscape which are unmanaged or neglected – think brown field sites, railway lines, etc. Several contributors to the on-line discussion from around the UK, also questioned whether B. davidii was even a good butterfly nectar source, since they never seemed to see any butterflies on bushes near them. Why is this?S1060015 (2) A number of alternative Buddleja species or hybrids were suggested as being more appropriate, since they don’t possess the apparent fecundity of B. davidii. But I wonder what other gardeners’ experience of this plant is?

Is it invasive? Does it attract butterflies?

For us, planted alongside marjoram, oregano and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, it seems to reliably attract the late summer butterflies in profusion, and whilst we find the very occasional seedling Buddleja growing in the yard, we’ve never found them to be ‘invasive’ in our climate and environment. But around the world, in some combinations of climate and environmental conditions, it certainly can morph into a vigorous invasive species.SDIM8746 (2)

If you click here, you can read a discussion on the role of B. davidii as an invasive species in Oregon, U.S.A. in a research paper by Julie Ream. Part of my enjoyment of this piece came from its discussion of the semantics of non-indigenous species (NIS), and their categorisation. Ecologists have come up with a descriptive analysis of 5 levels of naturalisation or ‘invasion’. The five stages are casual alien plants, naturalized plants, invasive plants, noxious plants, and transformers.

Another interesting insight was the so-called ‘ten’s rule.’ The ‘ten’s rule’ states that one in ten imported plants will appear in the wild. Of those that appear in the wild, one in ten become well established, and of those plants established, one in ten becomes a pest.SDIM8671 (2)

Have any of the hundreds of different plants in our garden made it into the wild nearby? Not as far as I know, though perhaps Geranium procurrens, and G. macrorrhizum might be absconding contenders, given their fecundity, speed of spread (in the case of G. procurrens) and transformer like properties (in the case of G. macrorrhizum) of blanketing out many smaller, less vigorous plants.SDIM3241 (2)


Of even more interest was the episode of the excellent BBC Radio 4 ‘Plants : From Roots To Riches’, broadcast the day of this year’s Welsh fifteen moment. You can listen to this episode titled ‘Multiple Genes’, by clicking here. This excellent programme presented by Kathy Willis, opened my eyes to the subject of polyploidy in plants. As you will know, we all have 2 pairs of chromosomes, one of each chromosome passed down from each parent. This makes us ‘diploid’. Our sex cells, ovum and sperm, are produced to contain just a single set of chromosomes, ‘haploid’, thus ensuring that when the sperm fertilises and joins with the egg or ovum, we’re back up to diploid status for the new embryo.

Apparently, plants are nothing like as predictable, and it’s even estimated that between 30 to 80% of plant species have more than these 2 sets of chromosomes. Many of today’s current vital food plants have multiple sets of chromosomes, for example many wheat cultivars are hexaploid, with 6 sets. Often such polyploids are bigger, or more vigorous, than simpler forms of the parent species, though the switch to polyploidy usually precludes them ever being capable of back crossing with the parent successfully. This tendency leads to increasing species diversity, and eventually new species. There are indeed even some cases of polyploidy in animals. Click here for a much better discussion of polyploidy if interested.SDIM8895 (2)

But what caught my ear in Professor Willis’ radio programme were the ideas that firstly insects seem to prefer polyploid forms of flowers in many cases – perhaps they have a richer nectar supply? And that secondly Buddleja is one of those plants in which polyploidy is common.S1060016 (2)It also maybe explains why our Rosa moyesii, which is hexaploid, is so popular with many different insects of all types in our garden, for the brief time that the flowers open. And in spite of only producing pollen and not nectar.SDIM2758 (2)This presents a dilemma for a gardener. Any flower like Rosa moyesii with such brilliant and diverse insect flower appeal rarely lasts for long in the garden, since its very purpose of attracting pollinators is so quickly fulfilled. Much better for the gardener to have a flower with limited pollen, or nectar, appeal.

Or to be sterile and not produce seeds at all – the chances are that it will then keep flowering for ages.

Or is this what we really want as gardeners?

Long lasting floral displays with not an insect in sight – something still subliminally promoted in much of the gardening press’s use of images devoid of insects visiting the glorious flowers.

SDIM6823 (2)This is the theme of my film based talk, ‘The Botany Of Desire’. Are we gardening to appeal to just a single species – Man, (as with the Tulipa ‘Flaming Purissima’ above. Tulips are one of the 4 plant groups discussed by Michael Pollen in his excellent ‘Botany of Desire’ book). Hopefully most gardeners now want to appeal to a much more diverse and numerous array of garden visitor species.

At least in the case of the brief flowering Rosa moyesii, there is the bonus of wonderful flagon shaped hips, which are just starting to colour up now.SDIM8879 (2)

But all this polyploidy and insect floral appeal is almost certainly what drove the huge adaptive evolutionary explosion, that has driven angiosperms (flowering plants, which produce seed within a fruit) and insects into their numerically dominant species positions within the plant and animal kingdoms, over the last 130 million years.

Or is it?

This is a BIG, and very recently developing evolutionary topic, which I’m sure I’ll return to in due course. I struggled to find a succinct review article of current ideas on this, which was written in lay person’s language. So many reviews are directed at the relatively narrow readership familiar with scientific botanical terminology – which rules me out!

Whilst the butterflies fluttered, our second batch of turkey poults have been brightening up our time inside, flapping their developing wings and feathers. But how different to the first brood. (Click here). 11 out of 15 eggs hatched on their own, and started pipping 36 hours before their due 28 days. S1060011 (2)None developed splay legs, and none have died (yet). They all refused live meal worms, and have grown faster and been incessantly noisier, with the very pleasant whistling range of sounds that turkeys make, only silenced briefly, when I play the piano in the room next door.S1060012 (2) And particularly when their favourite food supplement of chopped hard boiled egg, apple, and leek leaves are served.S1050023 (2)S1060020 (2)I’m not keen on ‘selfies’, but thought this inquisitive poult deserved a moment of relative fame. We also introduced perching bars after 10 days, which encourage early exercise, and establish good habits for later.S1050072 (2)But why such a difference from batch one?

Perhaps simply the time of year the eggs were laid – Fiona noticed that the inner membranes of the eggs laid later in the year were noticeably less tough, when using them for cooking.

Or maybe that for much of their incubation period they were raised at higher humidity levels? High humidity (over 60%) is meant to increase the risks of infections developing, but after our experiences with these 2 broods, I’ll aim to have higher humidity levels throughout the incubation period for next spring’s poults.

Meanwhile, batch one have grown to the point where they are nearly adult size. I shan’t dwell on the end-of-life dilemma for the small scale turkey rearer, in a news week dominated by IS/ISIS/ISIL atrocities, but having bonded poults, does seem to reduce the stress of the procedure significantly, as far as the bird is concerned. For a non vegetarian, at least one has an awareness and a degree of ‘control’ over the whole life/period/process. (Choose your own most appropriate word).

And leaves the opportunity for creating a Jake (‘Na’vi’) Sully like reverence, at the appointed final moment.

Meanwhile, the adult turkey hens continue to lay almost an egg every other day, as we reach the fag end of August. Which is almost as prolific as our laying hens.

With wonderfully good timing, Fiona gave me a couple of books to read a fortnight ago. I rarely have, or should I say make, time to read, but the first book ‘A Sting In the Tail’ by Dave Goulson (DG), is a brilliant insight into the ecology and habits of bumblebees, with a bit of biographical background explaining how DG became one of the UK’s foremost academics studying bumblebees, leading to him setting up the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Click here for more.SDIM8727 (3) It was an apt choice since we’d already booked into a member’s coffee morning and lecture on bumblebees at the National Botanic Garden of Wales (NBGW). The Gardens looked beautiful as always, and the lecture reinforced some of the information I’d already gleaned from DG’s book.S1050025 (2)

I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone, and not just because it transpires that DG grew up in Shropshire, and like me attended Adam’s Grammar School, Newport.(Click here for the school’s other more illustrious alumni). Nor even because at a similar stage of his career to me, he bought a run down small holding (but in France, not Wales), where he is re-establishing a traditional wild flower meadow to help with his bee investigations.

SDIM8659 (2) But more because there are some hugely amusing episodes he recalls from childhood, as well as his work as an academic field biologist, and his explanations of bumblebee genetics, life stories, DNA sampling and their vital roles in our temperate ecosystems’ biodiversity in a brilliantly easy to read, non academic style.SDIM2557 (2)I should add that the book was shortlisted for last year’s Samuel Johnson prize for non fiction in the UK, so it’s not just this insect friendly blogger who was won over. An ideal Christmas present for anyone with an interest in ecology, the countryside or gardening. Click here for more reviews and comments about this brilliant book. (And just after writing this, I read a 5 star review in Saturday’s paper of his latest book – ‘A Buzz in the Meadow‘, which chronicles his experiences of life at his French property).

Whilst out at the NBGW, I happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture this image of the pineapple finial on top of the outside performance stage.S1050033 (2)

Just 5 days after similar good timing had me seeing the perigee super moon of August 10th line up with our Gelli weather vane, as the clouds parted – although it did take a bit of balancing of one tripod leg on the barn’s stone step to make it happen. And the eagle eyed will notice that this is not quite right, since it’s fractionally imperfect after being taken a day later on August 11th. This wedding anniversary date meant we’d returned home from a meal out in time to see the moon in its full, closer than normal, and so noticeably larger glory, rising over Pencarreg mountain as we drove up out of Llanybydder. By the time of the picture below it had lost a little of its horizon dominating size, but was still a special moment. Click here for more images from around the world of this super moon.  S1050019a (2)There was considerable relief when a permanently tripping out lighting circuit in the house turned out to be not kamikaze, cable biting rodents in the loft (which have caused us problems before), but simply a fused, and permanently shorting, light bulb. Thanks to Dave for tipping us off on this one, and suggesting removing all the bulbs and replacing them one by one.

Finally, I must recall the best trip out we’ve had in a long time, to visit Christina Shand’s beautiful garden at Dyffryn Fernant in Pembrokeshire. Created by her over the last 20 or so years, it was only whilst reviewing a few camcorder stills for the blog that I realised just why we liked it so much.

It’s so brilliantly and imaginatively inspired in design.S1050047 (2)

Not just its planting combinations, though some of these are superb.S1050067 (2)S1050051 (2)S1050053 (2) But more the use of sculpture, materials, space and the creation of so many vistas and vignettes, which excite you as you wander round. S1050059 (2)S1050041 (2)S1050039 (2)We were fortunate to have a quick chat with Christina, who explained that she thought the garden was at its best in August, but I’m guessing that there would still be lots to enjoy at other times of the year. And you can even buy a ‘season ticket’. Go and see it while you can!S1050057 (2)S1050063 (2)S1050055 (2) With a pre-visit lunch at Lou Lou’s cafe in Newport, it made a perfect day out for us and Fiona’s mother who visited for a couple of days. I hope that you enjoy these views, and for more details on visiting the garden, click here for the garden’s website pages.

Finally a few more images from our own garden, as this fabulous summer in West Wales begins to slip away into the autumnal mists of memory.SDIM8740 (2)SDIM8823 (2)SDIM8892 (2)SDIM8903 (2)SDIM8882 (2)SDIM8894 (2)SDIM8897 (2)SDIM8890 (2)S1050081 (2)S1050074 (2)


2 thoughts on “All of a Flutter, Flap, and Buzz – Vanessa, Cynthia, Poly and David; Lining up, and Tripping Out.

  1. The garden is looking beautiful. That is a lovely lilac hydrangea. Over here my buddeleia are not consistent attractors of butterflies but they are well past now so perhaps sometimes their seasons do not overlap so well. It was interesting about polypoidy in plants making them more attractive to insects. Are they also more fertile and produce more offspring because of this? I believe wheat is a polyploid of grasses and has a larger seed with more of a food store. This is not going to help me choose plants to attract the bees though. By the way, I heard about Goulson’s new book from a commentator and I’ve got it ordered. Amelia

    • Hello Amelia, Thanks for the comment. The big lilac Hydrangea you mention is H.villosa – it came from a cutting from our Bristol garden, so I guess it’s now over 15 years old, but keeps on growing, and never gets pruned, unlike most of the others – it’s also one of the last to flower, but is a stunner – well worth finding. I think you might have hit the nail on the head with the Buddleja issue – if they flower before the late summer butterflies emerge, which never happens in this part of the world, then you aren’t going to see butterflies on them! I still think there’s a shortage of reliably good guidance for the best flowers to grow for the various insect groups – and I’m surprised that no one ( nursey wise) seems to be selecting new cultivars for nectar or pollen appeal – rather than ever more outlandish colour combinations. Do let me know what you think of the new Goulson book, when you’ve got your hands on a copy … I suspect I’ll get it eventually,

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