Ten years.... but maybe now... thistle be the year?

July 20, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

What do you remember of the summer of 2009?


Well... I had been married for almost a year and my wife and I were at that time without children and that summer moved into a rented house in south Reading, a house we called "Swift Half", on account of the swifts nesting there (which in 2010 and 2011 I filmed).

I also remember a huge influx (or "irruption" (no... not an "eruption", an "irruption", like an implosion rather than an explosion)) of great numbers of the very pretty "Painted lady" butterflies.

I was doing a lot of "work" in our new, rented garden all summer - improving the land for wildlife etc, and I remember LOADS of painted lady butterflies that summer.

Both the photos below were taken by me during that summer, on our garden path, with my first bridge camera  - a Panasonic FZ20. I was just getting into (insect) photography at the time and looking at the photo directly below this sentence, might I say, rather successfully too!


Painted Ladies have the scientific name of Vanessa cardui (literally meaning lit-up like a torch (Vanessa), of the thistles (cardui)). Well... Painted ladies ARE almost iridescent in certain light (and therefore 'shining') and one of their favourite food plants IS indeed nectar from the carduus (thistles) genus of plants, so I guess that sort-of fits. Another "Vanessa" butterfly, the Red Admiral, has a much more romantic scientific name though. Click here to read about that!

Anyway, so impressed was I by these stunning butterflies, that I vowed that when I bought my own (our own) house, which we did two years later, in the summer of 2011, I'd plant plants specifically for butterflies and moths, (plants such as red valerian, buddleia etc) and leave wild areas of any garden we had bought for nettles and thistles to grow (nettles for the small tortoiseshells and thistles for the painted ladies).

Like I said, in 2011 we bought our current "Swift Half" house, complete with the biggest garden we could afford (for my hens as well as my wildlifey-wellbeing) and I set about planting red valerian and buddleia and leaving thistles to grow etc.

Don't get me wrong - we've done marvels for wildlife in our garden and all our efforts have resulted in lots of lovely lepidoptera - including hummingbird hawkmoths, poplar hawkmoths, elephant hawkmoths, small elephant hawkmoths, red-belted clearwing moths, hornet moths , common blue butterflies, small coppers, holly blues, orange tip, red admirals, peacocks, commas and ringlets to name just a few - but NO Painted Ladies.

Not one.

Even though my beautiful big buddleia was pretty-well planted JUST FOR THEM.

And I grow my thistles each year JUST FOR THEM.


But now.


A full TEN YEARS on from that last (most recent) Painted Lady year of 2009, and eight years after we took out a mortgage on our current house ten miles east (ish) of the first "Swift Half" house, and I keep hearing that, finally..... we may be about to experience our next big Painted Lady year.

This summer!

I say I keep hearing that it's gonnae happen again this year (that is to say millions and millions of Painted Lady butterflies are gonnae flutter over here from the Med) as I first heard this a few times about a month ago, but I've only seen one Painted Lady butterfly so far this summer.  Now even the national news is cottoning on.


I've just dead-headed my big, blossoming Black Knight Buddleia, and checked on my thistles, (photos taken today with my phone, below) as I hear that this week is gonnae produce a 'totally-tropical' (you need to say those words in a certain way, or should I say with a certain 'lilt' *cough*) southerly wind, pushing temperatures up to the mid-thirties in this neck of the woods... and I would assume facilitate the passage across the Med and Europe and then The Channel, of all those millions of Painted Ladies I keep hearing about.

Fingers crossed, grapple fans, that my ten years of preparation and patience, and religiously-dead-heading my buddleia and encouraging my thistles, finally... FINALLY... pays dividends.

Ten years.

That's all.








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