Dig it – October tips from the Secret Gardener

Orange-tip on Forget-me-not

With the ground still warm before the real onset of winter, don’t forget that October it is an ideal time to plant spring-flowering displays. These will provide important nectar sources for emerging spring butterflies such as the Brimstone, Orange-tip, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Comma.

Wallflowers are an easy-to-find example of spring nectar sources that are on sale in garden centres now. The evergreen perennial Wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’ will have deep purple flowers from spring through to autumn. Wallflowers are in the Brassica (cabbage) family so are popular with Large and Small White butterflies. Additionally, Flame Carpet and Garden Carpet moth caterpillars can use them as a foodplant.

The hardy biennial Sweet William Dianthus barbatus will also provide early spring nectar from pretty pink or white flowers. Additionally, many butterflies are drawn to the tiny blue flowers of Forget-me-nots Myosotis spp. Once you have them in the garden they will self-seed.

One spring bulb you can plant for Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone is the Grape Hyacinth Muscari armeniacum which gets its name from the distinctive flowers which look like tiny bunches of grapes.

Comma on HawthornWinter-flowering heathers will bring much-needed winter colour of white, pink and purple and will keep going through to spring. Erica carnea can be grown in any garden as it doesn’t require acid soil like other heathers.

October is also a good time to plant trees and hedges. Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Holly can be planted singly or to create a dense hedge, providing food and shelter for wildlife. Common Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna has fragrant white flowers from late spring to early summer and then red berries in the autumn for the birds.

The foliage will be consumed by caterpillars of the Brimstone Moth and Swallow-tailed Moth.

Holly Ilex aquifolium is the foodplant of Holly Blue butterfly caterpillars in spring. Almost all hollies are unisexual, so for fruits to appear on the female bush in autumn, a male also needs to be grown nearby. 

Happy Gardening
The BC Towers ‘Secret Gardener’