Peonies and butterflies

Judith Adam

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Mourning cloak butterfly. (Photo by Joanne Young)

The past week of heat and sun has made the garden dry, and last night I let the sprinkler run for an hour. This morning I found the heavily budded peonies (those without ring supports) splat on the ground, victims of overhead irrigation. Well, I should have known better. Staking them up individually this morning, I realized this is a perfect time to remove the two smaller buds on either side of the largest flower buds at the top of each stem. Removing the smaller buds will allow energy to flow to the remaining big bud, creating a considerably larger flower. Of course, they may be so large that bamboo stakes won’t be sufficient to keep them up! I did disbud a few stems, and will be interested to see how much larger the remaining flowers become.

Then I planted a powder blue ‘Blue Fortune’ giant hyssop (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, Zone 3) that been sitting on the hot driveway since I purchased it a month ago (blogging is a form of confession). Hyssop is a forgiving plant and likes heat, and this one certainly deserves a reward for good behaviour. It has already sent up stems 18 inches (45 cm) tall, so I planted it in a generous hole where it will get lots of sun, and nipped off the stem tops to delay bloom and force side shoots.

Hyssop attracts pollinating bees and small wasps (non-stingers) and is also a favourite with butterflies. This week the garden was visited by a mourning cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa). In Britain it’s known as the Camberwell Beauty or petticoat butterfly. I would provide just about anything to keep this lovely thing around. It’s particularly attracted to black willow (Salix nigra), and may also be interested in my river birch tree. Unlike so many other butterflies, the mourning cloak has little appetite for flower nectar, preferring to feed on tree sap. I’m not sure how to provide a continuous source of birch sap, but I wonder if the sugar syrup in the hummingbird feeder might be an acceptable substitute. I never anticipated menu planning for butterflies, but now it occupies my thoughts.

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1 thought on “Peonies and butterflies”

  1. in my garden, butterflies (and bees galore) can’t get enough of a clump of purply-pink Scabiosa growing in gay profusion by my potting shed… a recent visitor spent many happy hours admiring them


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