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Buddleia is well-known by wildlife gardeners everywhere, and by it's other name - 'the Butterfly Bush,' as when the flowers come in summer, it's an important food plant for adult butterflies. On still, summer days large numbers of butterflies can be attracted to the plant. Buddleia is extremely easy to grow, being able to flourish in almost any soil conditions - including waste ground, and it frequently colonises large areas eg. in quarries and building sites. It does seem to favour open, sunny areas, and would be unlikely to cope well with a lot of shade.
You might think there must be some drawback to this useful, easy-growing, flowering plant - and unfortunately there is, which is that it's not brilliant to look at. Even the 'ornamental' varieties - there's a type with round, pom-pom-like orange flowers for example - aren't exactly stunningly attractive garden plants by any standards.
Buddleia grows as an upright shrub up to a couple of metres high. It has arching woody stems covered with pale-coloured, fibrous-looking bark. The stems show at the base of the plant as the foliage tends to be borne higher up the plant. The leaves are long and pointed, white on the base and dusty, dark green above. The actual flowers are usually coloured some shade of lilac or purple, although there are white-flowered cultivars. The tiny, yellow-centred blossoms are tubular, and are each only a few millimetres long - but many hundreds of them grow all together, in clusters on pointed, sausage-shaped flower spikes, each one up to six or seven inches long. The shrub produces abundant flower spikes all over the upper surface of the plant, which are the nectar source for butterflies, in the summer.
The flowers open up from the bottom of the flower spike to the tip, but the ones at the base don't last as long as it takes for the ones at the far end of the spike to open, and begin turning brown and going to seed. This gives the larger flower spikes something of a dried-up, scurfy look, but leads to the abundant seeds, that give the plant its competitive edge when it comes to colonizing new areas.
For all its wildlife value I wouldn't grow Buddleia in my garden myself as it takes up a lot of space, and I don't find it brilliant-looking. However if I had a lot of space, or a 'difficult' area where nothing else would grow I would certainly consider it.
As I have mentioned in previous reviews, me and the hubby both have a City and Guilds qualification in Horticulture, and hubby worked as a gardener for a couple of years. Despite this, our garden somewhat resembles the Somme, due to the fact that it is predominantly a kiddie play area/ football pitch, and also receives quite a bit of abuse from our bunny rabbit too. The housing estate where we live was built on top of a landfill site (honestly, this is not a joke!), and perhaps this is the reason that nothing but the hardiest plants will grow in our (probably radioactive!) soil. Luckily for us, one plant that thrives in our borders is the Buddleia, or butterfly bush.
The variety that we have in our garden, and the one that most people recognise, is Buddleia davidii, whiich has long, usually purple spikes of flowers, which appear in late summer. The flowers also come in white and red varieties, and they have what is described as a "honey" scent, although they are not particularly fragrant, and I am not a big fan of the way they small, although it is not overpowering.
The bush is very easy to grow and can easily grow to heights of 8ft or more if left unpruned. You can always see examples of this on derelict sites, where these shrubs run rampant, and indeed, these plants covered bomb sites in London after World War 2.
The fact that they are easy to grow needs to be balanced with the fact that they need pruning right back every year, so they are not great plants for elderly or infirm people, as they can easily overwhelm a garden and won't look great if you don't prune them every year. This is because the stems lignify and turn woody, and flowers will only come from green growth. Therefore, and unpruned plant will be tall and leggy with thick woody branches and a few flowers very high up.
It is not hard to cut the plants back though, and we do this every year after flowering in September. We have three butterfly bushes in our garden, and we cut the growth right back as hard as we can. The plants do not suffer for this, as they are so tough and can withstand most abuse. The green stems are easy to cut through with secateurs or shears, and we either cut them up and compost them or put them in our brown bin, which the council takes to make compost.
The plant looks really gorgeous when in full bloom from late July, as it becomes a frothy mass of purple blooms. This is especially beautiful when you see what sort of butterflies it attracts. In our small garden here in the Midlands, we have had Peacocks, Red Admirals, Whites, Commas, Speckled Woods, Small Tortoishell, Blues, Gatekeepers, and many other butterflies, moths, bees and other insects which are attracted by the colour and scent of the bush. Strangely though, the bush seems to only appeal to the adult insects, as I have never seen caterpillars on the bush. Unfortunately, the bush looks really boring and plain when not in flower, as the foliage is nothing special to look at.
I also wanted to mention other forms of Buddleia that challenge the preconceptions that people have about this plant. There is a form called Buddleia globosa, or "orange ball tree", which has small orange flowers which form in May. It is a straggly shrub which looks nothing like a typical Buddleia plant. There is also a beautiful shrub called the Buddleia alternifolia, which is also known as the Fountain Buddleia. This is a weeping plant that bears small lilac flowers on its stems in June, and unlike B.davidii, looks beautiful even when not in flower. It looks very similar to a weeping willow tree. You can also get a variegated form of the normal butterfly bush, which is called "Harlequin".
I love our butterfly bushes and I think they make our small garden more interesting and colourful, as well as more attractive to wildlife. As we live on an end house, which unfortunately has been subject to some graffiti, I was considering planting a row of these bushes as a natural barrier between the path and the wall, as they grow quickly and make a good hedge if pruned hard and regularly.
I'm not the world's keenest gardener but I am trying to get into the habit of nurturing my garden and helping it on it's way a little. One of the main features at the side of our lawn is a giant Buddleia plant, better known by the common name of "butterfly bush". This is a large leafy bush that produces chunky heads of flowers that are made up of many, many tiny buds. Our butterfly bush is a lovely deep shade of violet, although they range from pure white, to pink, to blue as well. Most of these plants in our local area have blue or lilac colour flowers so I feel quite lucky to have a royal purple one!
The bush itself is a self-sufficient hardy individual. It was already well settled in its place when I moved into my house a few years back. It has a thick trunk that branches off into many smaller but long branches. The whole thing must be at least 8' tall, and it grows at an extremely rapid rate. The plant requires little care, and other than some essential pruning I do not touch it at all throughout the year. It is a newbie gardener's dream, as you are given a display of lovely bright coloured long lasting flowers and no effort required at all on your part.
Because of the speed with which this plant can grow, it can quickly take over your garden if you are not very attentive with the pruning shears. The branches are thick but lightweight and are very easy to cut through. The plant should flower all through the summer and autumn months, but after that you should take control of it. The best way to treat it is to wait until the flowers have died off, and then really hack it back. Last year I cut it down to about 3' tall, chopped off branches here there and everywhere, and this year it has grown back strongly and shot up another 5' high! I will not be quite so timid when pruning it again this year, and I think it will benefit from a good cutting back to remove dead wood and promote flowers next year. Apparently the flowers will only stem from new growth, so it will enable you to get the best floral display if you are harsh when it needs cutting.
Aside from the pretty delicate flowers, the best thing about this plant is that it attracts butterflies, hence the name of butterfly bush. We are trying to encourage wildlife into our garden, and have made a few simple changes like planting flowers that will attract bees and other insects. We have also stopped mowing the edge of the lawn so that longer grass can continue to grow there, which has had an instant effect and we have spotted beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers over the summer. Butterflies are drawn to this plant and we often see them fluttering around the garden, then landing to feed upon the nectar from the flowers. This creates a wonderful atmosphere and we are happy to encourage a bit of bio-diversity in our tiny patch of land.
The negative side of this plant is that it can seed itself easily. I have had buddleias sprouting up in my lawn, my flower beds, and one was even growing through the roof into my attic requiring some building work to be done to repair it! Catch them when they're small and they are easy to pull up, but they can grow out of control very quickly and this can cause problems if it's now grown where you want it to.
The butterfly bush is a gorgeous plant with beautiful flowers that is wonderful for people with little time who still want to enjoy an attractive garden. As long as you ensure to give it a good cropping every year and keep the size in check you should not have any problems.