Sunday, October 13, 2013

In praise of some non-natives

Wildlife gardening evangelists frequently exhort us to plant native species in our gardens - quite rightly, as there are indeed many native plants that are decorative and provide valuable resources for insects and their larvae. 

But when it gets to this point in autumn the choice of flowering natives is pretty narrow. There's ivy, which is certainly a terrific source of pollen and nectar for insects and also food plant for holly blue butterfly larvae, but that's about it  - other that a few late hogweed flowers and yarrow, which flower up until the first frosts but don't bring much colour to a garden.

So that's when Michaemas daisies Aster amellus, whose natural range extends across southern Europe into Asia, come into their own. Whenever the sun shines the Michlaelmas daisies in our garden attract a constant stream of visitors, including ....

.... hoverflies, like this Heliophilus pendulus

..........honeybees ......

.............. small tortoiseshells ............

.............and red admirals, all photographed in the space of a few minutes at the end of last week.

Marigold Calendula officinalis, which originated in southern Europe, provides similar services for butterflies throughout autumn.

Buddleia davidii, the famous butterfly bush from Central China and Japan, has - until recently - been a favourite amongst wildlife gardeners as a nectar source for butterflies, even though it usually finishes flowering long before the late autumn generation of small tortoiseshells, peacocks, red admirals and commas get into their stride. These days conservationists give B.davidii the thumbs down, on account of its invasive tendencies, but there is a much better Buddleia alternative - B x weyeriana, which is an interspecific hybrid between B.davidii and B.globosa and has very attractive pinkish-orange flowers and none of its parent's tendency to seed itself around prolifically. It's extremely hardy and continues to flower long after the first frosts, offering a 'last-chance saloon' for any insects that need to top up with nectar before going into hibernation.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Jan. The other plant in my garden that attracts a lot of bees in autumn is Eucryphia x nymansensis - my favourite tree. It flowers right up until the first frosts.

  2. Almost all I have left in my garden is some Phlox and roses and I am usure how useful the Phlox is. But then, my Wallflowers have just started to bloom again so something might be fed from them.

    1. Thanks for reminding me about Phlox Toffeeapple - I noticed some being visited by butterflies in a neighbour's garden recently - I made a mental note to plant some ..... and then forgot

  3. Beautiful photos! Here, in India, it is the Lantana from tropical America which attracts most butterflies and insects, and small birds. Unfortunately, Lantana is extremely invasive.

    1. I've grown Lantana camara as a conservatory plant a few times lotusleaf - I really like the way the inflorescence changes colour after the flowers are pollinated.

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