Dig It – August tips from the Secret Gardener

Echinacea and Helenium

In May, we asked you to join our Plant Pots For Pollinators campaign. We recommended ten nectar-rich plants that could be used to create beautiful and useful container displays, to fit into whatever space you have.

Your pots, window boxes or containers should be in flower and looking marvellous now and hopefully attracting butterflies so you can log them in the Big Butterfly Count. Sadly, we have been receiving reports that there has been a real lack of butterflies seen in gardens so far. Species being spotted include Large and Small Whites, Red Admiral and browns such as Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown but the Small Tortoiseshell seems to be very elusive. 

Most of the plants recommended for the campaign, including Shasta Daisy Leucanthemum x superbum, Catmint Nepeta racemosa and Cranesbill Geranium ‘Rozanne’ will keep flowering throughout August and beyond. The beautiful pink, carmine and white flowers of the annual Cosmos bipinnatus will keep going until the first frosts.

Small Tortoiseshell on EchinaceaIf you fancy one more go at tempting butterflies to your garden then head down to your local garden centre to stock up on some additional colourful perennials. You could create new pots providing late summer to autumn nectar or just fill sunny gaps in the flowerbeds.

Remember to mix flower shapes – for example the violet-blue spires of Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' with the large, daisy-like flowers of Coneflower Echinacea purpurea, which come in white and a range of warm colours.

There are two other plants with long, strong stems bearing daisy-like flowers with prominent centres. Sneezeweed Helenium autumnale and Rudbeckia have flowers in various tones of golden-yellow, rich red and mahogany brown with dark centres.

Tickseed Coreopsis grandiflora has vibrant yellow flowers that glow when bathed in sunlight. It also looks good alongside dark purple blooms.

Red Admiral on Rudbeckia

If you prefer a pink or lilac palette, then Scabious Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ has been very popular with butterflies and bees over the summer so far – it flowers profusely and the slugs tend to leave it alone. It goes well with the spires of Perennial Wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ which, astonishingly, just keeps on flowering for most of the year. 

The lovely pale violet-blue, bell-shaped flowers of Milky Bellflower Campanula lactifolia ‘Prichard’s Variety’ attracted Large Whites recently and it will keep flowering until September.

A well-known autumn bloom for pollinators is Michaelmas Daisy Aster x frikartii 'Mönch', which has masses of lavender-blue flowers with orange centres. Alternatively chose popular variety Aster 'Little Carlow'.

The succulent Ice Plant Sedum spectabile is another staple butterfly plant and the large, flat, flower heads, which start off green and turn pink, are usually popular with Red Admirals.

Finally, you could simply have a dwarf patio Buddleia in a pot. Buddleia davidii ‘Buzz Sky Blue’ should keep flowering until September or October. It has flowers the same size as usual Buddleia but only grows to 120cm.

Don’t forget to keep watering your containers or new plants and also to deadhead regularly in order to encourage further flowering.

Remember to tell us which butterflies you are seeing in your garden via www.bigbutterflycount.org

You could also submit your butterfly pictures to our photo competition on Flickr, sponsored by Waitrose. We would love to see them and you might win a prize too!

Happy Gardening!

The Secret Gardener

Images: Small Tortoiseshell on Echinacea (Charlie Jackson), Red Admiral on Helenium (Josie Latus).