Derek – Friday 27th August 2021

We segue into autumn. The garden knows it, with the seeds and the beginning of leaf fall. Though autumn has two definitions, and you may take your pick. There’s meteorological autumn which breaks the year into four sections of three months. September, October and November are autumn. And there’s astronomical autumn, with autumn beginning at the equinox, this year on September 22 and continuing to the winter solstice on December 21. The beginning is spider time, blackberry and apple days, seed heads and crinkled leaves. I shan’t try to compete with Keats:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees

Buddleia is known as the butterfly bush with its surfeit of purple blooms. I have seen holly blues, painted ladies and plenty of cabbage whites hopping from flower to flower for nectar. Today, I spot a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta). It’s come a long way. Or rather, its parents have. Some red admirals hibernate in the UK but most arrive in the spring from Europe or North Africa. I wonder at them crossing the channel as they are so fragile. There are no service stations mid way. Once you are off, across the wide sea, it’s anyone’s guess whether you’ll ever hit landfall. The butterfly cannot possibly know how far it has to go. It just keeps going. Gulls attack the swarm, and there’s wild weather that could blow them to Scotland or Scandinavia. Or blow them lost and frozen over the wild Atlantic on the way to Greenland. They fly high, where the winds are swifter but more dangerous.

The survivors arrive in March. They lay their eggs in nettles. In the summer, the eggs hatch and the caterpillars develop so that by August we have our homegrown red admirals. This probably explains our garden visitor, though if it’s going to survive longer term it will need to head south as winter will most likely kill it. If the winter is a mild one, it will survive to mate in the spring. And that will be that, as their lifespan, barring predation, weather and accident, is around 10 months.

The name appears to be a homage to the Soviet navy. A spy perhaps, out to seduce a painted lady for her secrets. No such fancy: the name is a corruption from the 18th century name ‘red admirable’. Yes, they favour stinging nettles but buddleia is fine.

The wildflower bed is still colourful, the best of previous years. Assisted by a late summer and all the rain we had in July, which keeps the annuals germinating. The grass around it is very green, another clue to a wet summer. The sycamore leaves are dark green and as big as hands. Very soon, they’ll begin browning at the edges, slipping into dun old age. We have no home for them, bar the compost heap.

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