Dig It - April Tips From The Secret Gardener

HBHM in garden

Nicotiana ‘Sensation Mixed’

You need to do some work in the garden soon if you want to take part in Moth Night 2015.

This year the annual celebration of moths and moth recording will take place on three nights from Thu 10 to Sat 12 Sep. The theme this time is migration, as autumn offers the best chance to encounter rare moths from overseas when the warm winds in September bring moths streaming to our shores from hotter parts of Europe and even Africa.

One of the things people are being asked to do for Moth Night is to Convolvulus Hawk-mothlook for the spectacular Convolvulus Hawk-moth, which is a large species with a wingspan of over 10cm. The moth is an annual migrant to the UK from southern Europe and North Africa with influxes peaking in September. It hovers in front of garden flowers to drink their nectar and can be spotted at dusk. The most effective plant to attract this moth is the Tobacco Plant Nicotiana ‘Sensation Mixed’. There are other species of Nicotiana which are attractive to UK moths but not to the Convolvulus Hawk-moth.

Nicotiana Sensation Mixed will make a lovely addition to your border as it is a tall (90cm), elegant plant. Its tube-shaped flowers have petals that form a star shape and the purple, white or pink blooms provide a sweet scent in the evening.

Nicotiana is a half hardy annual and you can start the seeds indoors this month then gradually accustom the young plants to outside conditions before planting out after the last frosts, in May or June. Plant 30cm apart, in well-drained soil, in full sun. Alternatively, Nicotiana seeds can be sown outdoors, when frosts are over, directly where the plants are to grow. Sow seeds thinly on the surface and water in lightly to prevent the tiny seeds from washing or blowing away. As they are so fine, it may help to mix them with sand before spreading over the ground. They will flower in about 10 weeks and last until October.

If you would like to join in then you can buy packets of seeds for £2 each (plus postage) from Atropos Books.

If you spot any Convolvulus Hawk-moths in September, you can send in sightings via the Moth Night website, where you can also find out further information about how to take part, public events and moth recording techniques.

Red Valerian

A plant popular with other immigrant moths, such as the Humming-bird HBHM on Red ValerianHawk-moth and Silver Y, is Red Valerian Centranthus ruber.

This hardy perennial has dense clusters of reddish-pink flowers from July to October. It is an ideal plant for sunny spots in poor, well-drained and shallow soil, especially chalky or limey. It self-seeds freely so you might be able to obtain a plant from a friend, otherwise you can sow seeds now.

Some Silver Y moths have been seen recently and they will be around until late autumn. Humming-bird Hawk-moths can be spotted at any time, but mainly in the summer, when they will be seen hovering in front of the flowers to take nectar. Red Valerian is also very attractive to many butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects.


You can share the enjoyment of these plants by bringing them into your home – both Nicotiana and Red Valerian can be used as cut flowers.

Happy Gardening!

The Secret Gardener