Saturday, 18 July 2009
When we walked along the lane on the way home from school on Thursday afternoon it was an enchanting experience: all along the way the air was alive with butterflies dancing about our heads, and fluttering in and out of the hedgerows. We stopped on the bend in the road to test the ripeness of the corn, and were transfixed by two small brown butterflies locked in their own private dance, following each other up and down in some mysterious sequence.
And so when we arrived home I went straight to my own little, very little, butterfly meadow, hoping that I should have my own butterfly dance on my doorstep.
I was not disappointed. This very small meadow, a few feet square, is transformed at this time of year into a quite magical haven for butterflies and bees. It is sheltered on the north side by a row of rosemary, and to step through the gap in that aromatic hedge is to step into quite another world entirely. The meadow is on the front south-east corner of our garden, in front of the house, but hidden from the lane by a high beech hedge to the east, and a mixed flowering hedge on the south. To the west it is bounded by a row of lavender, which is alive all summer with the hum of bees. So this is a sheltered spot, invisible from the road, facing south, and warmed by the summer sun, an almost Mediterranean micro-climate in a garden which is quite open and windy.
The air here, too, was full of bees and hoverflies and butterflies dancing, then coming to rest, each on their favourite plant it seemed.
The tall white buddleia lived up to its designation as the butterfly bush: the Painted Ladies and Peacocks seemed to prefer to rest here, the intense luminosity of the Peacocks standing out against the whiteness of the buddleia flowers.
The Commas chose to pause on lupin stalks, black with seed pods. I heard a series of sharp cracks in the air, and suddenly realized that it was the lupin pods bursting in the heat, and scattering their seeds to the breeze.
This sound at once explained the slow but steady march of the lupin plants across the meadow grass, moving east with the westerly wind behind them.
And the Whites seemed to know that their delicate colouring and greyish tips to their wings would be set off beautifully by the greyish-purple and greyish-green of the lavenders – they seem to love the delicate lilac-blue of the small scabious, too, and dance delicately amongst the scabious flowers, which rise above the meadow grass in a pale lilac haze.
No wonder that in art the butterfly is a symbol of the soul – just like spirits, these butterflies appear from nowhere, and disappear just as quickly – wake up to a grey, wet day and they are gone.
Where do they hide when the sun doesn’t shine? All I can do is plant butterfly bushes and lavender to tempt them into my garden, then I just wait and hope that the butterflies will come and dance for me.