A Butterfly Allotment


by David McPhie ..


The ‘trigger’ that reminded me of my ‘gardening days’,  the only time in my life that I have, successfully, embarked upon and ‘seen through’ a practical project of any kind ( as in , working with one’s hands to mend, build or fashion any kind of repair )  was a recent Monty Don gardening programme, where he was tending his vegetable patch. It was in the early years of moving to Riber Terrace, I was possibly seven or eight years old and prior to starting my ‘further afield adventuring’.

We had a concrete yard and outside toilet to the front, facing Minimum Terrace, but at the back was a slightly larger space, possibly about 40 feet by 20 feet, leading to the line of tall poplar trees that separated Riber Terrace from Boythorpe Avenue, and thence to the William Rhodes School and grounds beyond. Planting this patch of ground to my own design became my ‘project’, fired primarily by an early enthusiasm and fascination for butterflies and their caterpillar ‘offspring’, and it was here that I produced my own version of the currently very fashionable ‘Butterfly Garden’; funded in no small part by the sale of muli-coloured mice ( more of elsewhere ) to Morris’s pet shop in the Shambles, the proceeds of which would be immediately invested in packets of seeds and spring bulbs.

As a concession to my mother and grandmother for allowing me carte blanche with the garden policy, I grew potatoes, carrots, garden peas, etc. to furnish the family dinner table; these in addition to my ‘pride of place’ caterpillar blooms, and the versatile cabbage plants which covered both bases, being wonderful for caterpillars and edible too of course. But as I wasn’t too keen on cabbage on my dinner plate I of course encouraged the caterpillars in their voracious endeavours until there were more holes in the plants than actual plant matter remaining. Amongst the flowers and plants that I grew and encouraged were nasturtiums, sweet peas, wallflowers, hollyhocks, asters, michaelmas daisies, chrysanthemums, mint, forget-me-not, primulas, runner beans, marigolds, sunflowers, london pride and of course a buddleia bush. But far and away the most prolific for caterpillar occupation were the cabbages and nasturtiums, and the butterflies that I attracted via these various blooms were to include Large and Small Whites, Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Peacock, Brimstone, Comma, Painted Lady, and numerous day-flying Moths as a bonus. I gained almost as much pleasure from purchasing, shaking the contents, ripping open the packet and spreading the seeds in carefully drilled and excavated holes in the worm rich soil as I did from checking their progress every day and viewing the end product. The pictures on the packets themselves were so enticing, alluring and wondrous to behold, foretelling of the ongoing adventure ( with no certainty of a successful conclusion ) of observing the progress from seed to colourful bloom. This in very much the same way that the cigarette packets of the time were so vivid and collectable ( so much so that one would risk dreadful terminal infections by picking discarded ones up off the floor ), and the cardboard boxes that contained one’s very first set of Meccano, or the exciting initiation into the world of Hornby Dublo Train Sets, with the iconic A4 or Duchess, so pleasing to the eye of an already experienced trainspotter.

I was also keen to attract birds to my Allotment / Nature Reserve, but of course the myriad assortment of bird seeds, fats and feeders were not yet available in the shops and garden centres as they are today, and so I had to be content with scattering bread and hanging the odd coconut to the back door crab apple tree. The only birds that I can remember attracting at the time were House Sparrows, Dunnocks, Starlings, Magpies, Greenfinches, Blue Tits and Great Tits. House Sparrows and Starlings were still, in the Forties and Fifties, common in urban areas due to a general lack of public cleanliness and the consequent availability of uncleared waste food ( compared to today’s tidy but somewhat sterile environment ). The attitude to these then prolific, and primarily urban, birds was also somewhat more tolerant regarding their nesting habits on and around the eaves of our dwelling places. Despite my memory beginning to fail me regarding many of my past experiences I still have excellent recall for this period of my childhood, and I can explicitly remember digging up the ‘King Edwards’ and dining on them on Sundays, feasting my eyes on the riot of colour produced by the sweet peas, and nurturing the green caterpillars through to maturity as Small or Large Whites ( or ‘Cabbage Whites’ as they were ubiquitously known at the time ); thus proving the veracity of my memory and confirmation of the sweat and toil that I must have invested in the project. Not to mention the assistance of the seven days a week sunshine that was permanently ‘on tap’ in those long lost summer days, wasn’t it ?

imageThe garden now, 2015

Copyright 2015 David McPhie All Rights Reserved

P.s. .. The above is a pre-amble to the next instalment of ‘A boy’s Own Life’ , which moves on to my Riber Terrace days, and which will  appear shortly ..       DMcP