by Heather Elvidge
Butterflies have been in decline during the last 50 years, mainly because of habitat loss. None of us is ever likely to see an Adonis blue or a purple emperor. Yet some species are doing reasonably well, helped by those who garden with butterflies in mind.
So how do we encourage these colourful visitors? Ideally, butterflies like a sunny garden with scented flowers, water and a corner that has been left to go wild. But they’ll happily visit a tiny balcony if it has a pot of thrift, candytuft or heliotrope.
Native wild flowers are a draw, as are scabious, honeysuckle, herbs and michaelmas daisies. If there’s room, a buddleia bush is a proven butterfly magnet.
Colours attract them too, especially yellow, orange and red. Butterflies can also see ultraviolet that’s invisible to us; many flowers have ultraviolet marks to guide them to the nectar, ensuring pollination for the plant.
As well as feeding the adults we could help at an earlier stage. Leave a patch of nettles in a sunny spot and you may be rewarded with a flush of tortoiseshells, red admirals and peacocks, whose caterpillars munch on nettles. Thistles? Leave them too.
If weeding is a bore here’s the perfect excuse to give up altogether – dandelion, dock, ragwort and bramble all produce the nectar that butterflies need.
The last ingredient in butterfly paradise is a dry place for species that hibernate through the winter. A thick hedge or a sheltered wall covered in ivy is ideal.
There’s been some good news recently about painted ladies, the ones with pinky-orange wings marked with black and white. These are migrant butterflies, and we’ve haven’t seen so many in recent years. However, reports say that painted ladies on the continent are enjoying their best year since 2009. Their offspring should be heading our way in the next few weeks. And when it comes to food, painted ladies aren’t fussy — anything with nectar will do.
Despite long hours of daylight and even spells of brilliant sunshine, there’s been a nip in the air on the coast. It’s a bit grim, but not unusual for May.
While the sun is already warming the land, the oceans take longer to warm. At this point in the year the sea is at its coldest, chilling the wind as it sweeps towards us.
But really, we’re all wondering about the coming months, and folklore offers a clue on May 25. This is St Urban’s Day, when the weather is supposed to show the trend for summer, so there’s even more reason to hope for a fine bank holiday on Monday.
In May, the spring stars share the night sky with the summer constellations. But this month, a planet is dominating the heavens even as the sun is setting. Venus, far brighter than any star, is almost as bright as it ever gets.
The old weather lore is interested in the Evening Star. If Venus rides low in May, then it’s said the summer will be poor and the crops feeble. But if Venus is seen with the moon before dusk, then it’s a good omen.
So look to the west on Thursday the 21st, to see the Evening Star near the young crescent moon.