Dream Gardens: Grow top-flight flowers

Buddleja davidii is the key butterfly bush, best known for its violet and mauve flowers, though there’s a nice white variety, too. The drawback is that buddleja is a big, spreading shrub. Even the compact variety, Nanho Blue, can overwhelm a small garden. Perennials are more manageable.The ice plant, Sedum spectabile, is a butterfly magnet.

Apart from “Autumn Joy” with rusty-pink flowers in August and September, butterflies like Sedum telephium “matrona” which has pink flowers starting a month or so earlier. Grow both to extend the season.

For rockeries and tubs there are compact sedums, such as “Bertram Anderson”, which flowers from late summer into autumn.

Butterflies love flowering herbs, particularly marjoram, oregano and thyme. If you grow the plants mainly for cooking try to keep your hands off until after they finish flowering so butterflies can enjoy them too.

When it comes to conventional flower borders the star butterfly plant isn’t grown much now as it got itself a name for mildew and for flopping over, but today you’ll find plenty of compact, diseaseresistant perennial asters with just as much butterfly pulling power.

Look for Aster x frickartii “monch” (which starts flowering in midsummer instead of autumn) and New England asters (varieties of Aster novae-angliae).

There’s also an Edwardian flower that deserves a reprieve for its looks and butterfly appeal: scabious. Years ago large-flowered varieties were great favourites with flower arrangers for their enormous, rippled rosette flowers.

They weren’t the easiest flowers to grow well, making big untidy plants, but there are newer varieties that make dense compact plants carrying masses of smaller flowers right through the middle of summer. “Pink mist” and “Butterfly Blue” are especially brilliant. And butterflies love them.

If you have room, you might add valerian, Verbena bonariensis and mint. Horsemint or spearmint are insect-friendly when they’re allowed to flower but the ultimate butterfly variety is buddleja mint.

Every bit of space counts in a small garden so grow plants that earn their keep twice-over – and you’ll be doing your bit for wildlife as well as growing a glamorous garden.


Potted topiary animals, box balls in borders and tightly trimmed spires beside front doors have long been a strong gardening trend, but fashion comes at a price. If you don’t want to pay for a ready-made plant you can grow your own.

Box is one of the best plants for small, detailed topiary shapes, due to its tiny leaves and slow growth. It also roots easily from cuttings, which you can take any time now.

To get cuttings, look for short new side-shoots 2-3ins long, growing from an older stem. Strip them away from the main stem leaving a short “tongue” or “heel” of skin.

Gently remove the leaves from the bottom half of the shoot and with a sharp knife trim the “heel” of skin back so it’s just a “full stop” at the base of the stem. There’s your cutting, all ready to go.

Take a few more cuttings than you need as you can’t guarantee they’ll all root and become usable. If you want to improve your success rate, dip the base of each cutting into hormone rooting powder first.

Push the cuttings in round the sides of a pot filled with multi-purpose compost, roughly 1.5ins apart. Water them, and cover the pot with a large, loose plastic bag to trap in humid air – kept on a cool, shady windowsill indoors, this helps the stems take root.

They may need a little more water every week – don’t let them dry out but don’t leave them standing in water either. After six weeks, remove the bag and pull off any yellow or wilting shoots.

The rest of the roots will soon start to sprout. Once growing strongly, pot each one in a 3ins pot. Once growing in earnest, they are ready to start training into shape.

Or you can replant them in a bigger pot with a wire topiary training frame and simply snip the shoots to the shape.

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