Asclepias curassavica

New to me in 2013 from a newly discovered garden centre this fascinating, colourful plant is a 'weed' in the USA and southern America but adds great yellows and reds to my hot bed in late summer. It is beloved of butterflies and bees and each seed has its own silky parachute, which I have yet to witness. Apparently this one won't be hardy here but its partner, Asclepias tuberosa (orange), which I have also bought, will be. They are said to be drought tolerant and love sun so what could be better? Interestingly the butterflies haven't found them yet, but the bees have. The Buddleja and Verbena bonariensis are still the main butterfly targets.

JTM is back

So I said goodbye last weekend to the Jersey Tiger moth but today he's back, where the sweet peas were (I've taken them down now) but with a damaged end to his right top wing as you can see in the photo. I sort of assume it's the same moth - I don't know if they all look exactly the same or have subtley different markings.

I wonder what has happened to him? I had supposed they had few predators because they feed during the day and are badly camouflaged but clearly his wing has been torn by something. A fight? A rose bush? Who knows.

Apparently butterfly and moth wings don't mend naturally. I've just watched an amazing video on how to mend a butterfly wing. You can see it here. It is really worth watching as the guy mends wings on live monarch butterflies.

It suggests that if the damage is minor, you clip the corresponding wing to the same shape so flight is not affected. If the wing is broken but still existing, it shows you how to add a tiny cardboard splint to repair it. And, if much of the wing is gone it shows how to mend it - but assumes you have spare butterfly or moth wings around with which to do this. I am very proud of my well stocked tool box. My first aid kit is pretty extensive too. But spare animal and insect limbs and wings are not something I have handy, so I am now feeling wholly inadequate as a Moth mender.

However, I watched the JTM fly about 3m in my garden in what I think is a fairly normal way but I've only had three days' introduction to him so I am no expert. So now I am worrying about whether I should try to catch him and clip his other wing too to make him equal - or not.

The chances are I shan't see him again but, if I do, he will be easy to catch. So what to do for the best?

Later note: He was around the garden for over a week. My last sighting was at my front door. He was inside when I got back from work. I tried to catch him to put him back into the garden but he flew out the front into the road. Oh I hope he found wild Buddleja or another garden and not someone's car windscreen.

Even later note: And on 27 August a new one, with perfect wings, arrived so now I am not sure whether I have had two or three visiting. There must be a little colony around here - or even hiding somewhere in my garden. It was preceded that day by a Speckled Wood butterfly which I've not seen here before either.

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Wow! A Jersey Tiger moth visits

This time last year I was wondering whether to get rid of the Leonotis leonorus and Buddleja or keep them both because the former turned out to be a manky nettle with few flowers and the latter was covered in butterflies and I thought these two facts might be related. The Buddleja survived, the Leonotis didn’t.

This year I have so far seen Comma, Red Admiral, large and small white, and small blue butterflies but no Peacocks yet.

However, on Friday 9th August there was a large, colourful flutter just by the kitchen garden doors. I watched this creature in flight, all orange and black and pale yellow and couldn’t think what it was but assumed it was a butterfly of some sort because it was midday and bright sunshine. Thankfully it settled on a new Buddleja (yes I’ve got a new one – well three – ie tricoloured in a big pot near the herbs).

It was something I had never seen before and I have now identified it as a Jersey Tiger moth, Euplagia quadripunctaria. And wow it’s beautiful - as you’ll see in the video. It stayed on the Buddleja for about 30 minutes allowing me to change lenses to a macro lens, make a cup of coffee and search through my butterflies and moths book to try and identify it, while it happily fed on the nectar and I filmed it. Identification finally happened online as ever.

When it is feeding all you can see from above are the black and pale yellow markings ie none of the wonderful orange it flashes when it’s in flight. But, if you watch the video, you’ll see that all this orange is hidden in the underwings and undercarriage.

According to Wikipedia and various Moth sites, the Jersey Tiger Moth is widely distributed in Europe from Estonia to Latvia in the North and to the Mediterranean coast in the South. Aside from being frequent in the Channel Islands (whence its common name), this species was rarely seen in the British Isles in Victorian times. Since then, however, it has spread more widely in Devon and Cornwall, and has recently been seen more frequently in southern England, especially in the Isle of Wight, northern Kent, and south London. They have been seen regularly and in numbers every year in London since 2004, so it is probable that they have established a breeding colony - hence it popping in here to feed in SW12.

And it flies during the day which is why we can see it on my Buddleja - filming at night is not my speciality!

Anyway, it was a very welcome visitor to the garden. At one point it made a silly decision to fly into the kitchen so I had to open both doors and hope it would leave. About 20 minutes later an orange and black flutter came past me on the terrace so I presume it had sensibly decided to find nectar outside. There’s none in the kitchen. Indoor plants are not something I’m good at. Basil for cooking and Aloe for cooking burns is basically all there is.

So I said farewell and assumed I would never see one again because they are pretty rare around here. Then at about mid-day on the next day it arrived again and stayed until about 6.00pm in various places. I therefore have hours of footage but have boiled them down to two and a half minutes for you! A couple of times when I disturbed it, it flew at me and even landed on me twice and came into the kitchen on my trouser leg but mostly it sucked at Buddleja and rested. I feel enormously privileged to have been witness and host to it. It was all very exciting and I hope you enjoy the video. It's an amazing creature.

Gardeners' Question Time

Yesterday I attended a recording of Gardener’s Question Time held in the Kensington Roof Gardens. It is an amazing location and I haven’t been for about a gazillion years – shame on me - and it’s almost just round the corner.  I think the last time I was there was for someone’s 21st birthday party and in those days my focus wasn’t gardens or plants(!) so I failed to appreciate quite how wonderful they are.

The gardens are celebrating their 75th year this year. Mature trees, shrubs and flowers galore thrive in just 1.5 metres of soil high above the streets of London. Water abounds, four flamingos call it their home and yesterday it was full of garden enthusiasts from London and the Home Counties for the recording.

There must have been about 250 of us and amazingly, Debbie Scott-Anderson, my garden blogging friend (who had been allocated two tickets and kindly invited me) and I, were both selected to come up front to ask our questions. There were at least ten questioners and, as an avid GQT listener, I know they will cull about half of us so we’ll hear on 30th August whether one or both of us make the cut.

But, whatever, it was a fantastic event. The questions were varied and the panel of Anne Swithinbank, Bunny Guinness and Matthew Wilson was great. They were relaxed and fun and Matthew especially created a lot of laughs with his down-to-earth, slightly irreverent answers. He also gardens on London clay and is as useless as I am with house plants so I suppose I empathised most with him.

As ever, it was also really interesting. Even though I was a little nervous about being a questioner, I still became absorbed in the questions and their answers, at least as much as (or possibly even more than) I do when I hear it on the radio. However, when I listen on radio I find I am normally answering the questions myself out loud, commenting on others’ suggestions and seeing if the panellists agree with me. This time I had to shut up and could only nod, shake my head and laugh as appropriate. Quite an unusual “holding of tongue” was done - my grandmother would have been proud of me. But, as an old hand at radio and now video, I know how difficult the edits are when someone speaks out of turn. This obviously didn’t faze some of the questioners who chatted on about their subject willy-nilly.

And one major question I have always had about GQT was answered. We were told and I believe now that the panellists don’t have a preview of the questions – only the Chairman and the director/producer see the questions in advance and decide which will be asked. This makes the panellists’ responses even more impressive.

So from now, I shall listen with an even greater respect ………. but I don’t think it’ll stop me trying to answer them first out loud in the freedom of my car or at my computer!

Videos and photos of the roof gardens can be seen here.

Tragedies and triumphs

The male blackbird who has starred in a couple of my movies loves this garden. He built a nest this year with his mate in the ivy in the side passage: very sensible – well hidden and close to a permanent food and water source. For weeks I watched him and his mate dive in and out of the ivy. Then, a couple of weeks ago, the side passage was full of the cries of newly hatched blackbirds screaming for food.

Sitting at the table on the terrace was almost dangerous – we were in the flight path – as Mr and Mrs Blackbird flew tirelessly in with worms and grubs to feed their young. The noise from the ivy was glorious and exciting. A new brood of little blackbirds was in progress.

Last Friday I was out at the opera and the dogs were thus locked in the house. Saturday morning the nest was silent. I listened to the silence for a few hours and then, with a heavy heart, investigated. I found a dead blackbird chick on the ground – almost fully fledged. It broke my heart. I can’t see the remains of a nest or his other fledglings (maybe they are in my neighbours’ garden) but the nest and family are clearly gone. It must have been a magpie or a cat. Magpies check the garden out and I have caught cats stalking across the fence there, despite the thorny roses and dogs.

It has happened before. Last year a cat attacked when the nest was just eggs and Mr Blackbird and his wife recovered and built a new nest in the roses above the gated arch where they successfully raised a brood. This time I know he put up a fight, albeit unsuccessfully and I don’t think he has built a new nest.

He is now back on the feeder, bruised and battered, with his feathers all messed up and looking like he has been in a cat – or magpie -fight. He can fly and feed so I suppose he’s OK but gosh, every time I see him, I want to weep for his dead family and the fight he obviously put up to try and save it. His before and after can be seen below.


A few days later I found what looked like a dead bee in the pond. As we all know we need every bee we have for pollination purposes, so I fished it out and put it on the edge hoping it might recover. I filmed it too. As you will see it lay looking dead for some time and then miraculously came to life, started to move and clean itself. But then the struggle seemed too much and it appeared to give up and die. However some moments later it recovered its strength and went through the process again. This happened about five times and every time I thought he had given up the ghost. But he hadn’t. 20 minutes later it had recovered sufficiently to fly off – and of course I missed the take-off. However, on the positive side, we have one more bee in this world even if we have four or five fewer blackbirds. I am still in mourning for them.

Well the roses are loving it

I don’t know about you but the terrible weather we have had has been fantastic for my roses. They are more floriferous than they have ever been and each flower is simply enormous. They seem to have been less confused by the weather than the earlier plants. Everything was late and then all the others seemed to rush into flower at the same time.

The Daphne flowered until April (which it has never done before – a full sixth months since November!). I had tulips flowering with daffodils and now have roses flowering with tulips – in June! Even the new standard roses in my North facing front garden (1 x ‘Champagne Moment’ and 2 x ‘Cream Abundance’– which is actually very pink on the outside as you’ll see in the video and has a stronger scent than advertised)  have put on a spectacular display – much better than I could ever have dreamed of from roses in their first year. Roses are notoriously slow starters and normally take about three years to really look their best. But these three look like old hands already.
I thought you’d enjoy to see them so watch the short video.

Iris Ensata Hybrid

Smaller flowered than Iris laevigata but very floriferous and with yellow throat and stripes so very attractive.

Astrantia major

There are so many Astrantia and I love them all. This one is the commonest I think (and I know it can grow wild) but it's also possibly the most beautiful with its deep pink centre, pink tips to the stamens and green fringed, white petals. It is surrounded by roses in my pink bed but doesn't seem to care and is a very reliable flowerer.

Camelia williamsii

I've had this Camelia for many years in a pot and it is flourishing and flowering better than ever. It is now about 1m x 80cms and in 2013 was covered in its deep pink blooms with dark yellow stamens. It has lovely shiny green leaves and, like all Williamsiis drops its flowers so I don't even have to dead-head it - just sweep up after it.