Jobs For July In Your Wild Space

The Secret Gardener

“Plant it and they will come” is one of the mantras of the wildlife gardener – whether you’re gardening on a balcony or in a big plot. It’s a wonderful feeling when the plant you have grown finally attracts the butterflies or moths you hoped it would, especially when you then find the eggs or caterpillars. I experienced this recently when a Holly bush I planted several years ago was finally visited by Holly Blue butterflies. I watched them lay their tiny round eggs on the flower buds, then later saw the caterpillars grow in size. I even saw them being tended by ants, which look after the caterpillars in return for a sugary substance excreted by the caterpillars. It was a sheer delight.

Elsewhere in my Wild Space I still have Orange-tip caterpillars feeding on the seed pods of Garlic Mustard and Sweet Rocket, and soon they will crawl off somewhere to make their chrysalis, inside which they will spend the next ten months or so. I have also found a Campion Moth in my Wild Space for the first time. Young caterpillars of this moth feed on the seed capsules of plants like Red Campion, which I grow in the garden and allow to seed all over the place. Butterflies and moths feed on the nectar-rich flowers too, so Red Campion is now a highly-rated plant for me.

Moments like these are a great reminder of the importance of planting the right things, then looking after them properly. If I had been a conventional gardener who hadn’t paid attention to the caterpillars on my plants, I possibly would have chopped the Holly back now to make it a bit neater. The Garlic Mustard would have had the same treatment; it’s long and leggy, and flops over other plants now. True, it doesn’t look great to other gardeners, but other parts of my Wild Space do look nice. Nature doesn’t need ‘neat’, and neither do I!

However, cutting things back can bring some benefit. You can really extend the flowering of some plants with nectar-rich flowers for months by dead-heading. I mostly do this for plants which I don’t think are eaten much by caterpillars. So, in my Wild Space I have been busy dead-heading the Cirsium x rivulare, hardy geraniums, roses and anything else which isn’t a native plant. These non-native plants are less likely to be eaten by caterpillars so dead-heading them shouldn’t harm many pre-adult butterflies or moths.

This is a great way to attract more butterflies to your garden for the Big Butterfly Count, which runs from Friday 12 July until Sunday 4 August. Having nectar-rich plants in your Wild Space, no matter how big or small it is, can help attract strong-flying butterflies like Peacock, Red Admiral, Large White and others as they can hone in on the nectar and aren’t so tied to being around the plants they lay their eggs on. If you’re buying nectar-rich plants to help butterflies, my other recommendations are Verbena bonariensis, Sedum, Sea Holly, open-flowered Dahlias, Echinacea and Helenium. Having a range of plants flowering at different times, with different shapes of flowers, will help a wider range of butterflies too.

To find out more about the Big Butterfly Count 2024 and to take part, visit Big Butterfly Count (