July is the month when we see the more understated butterflies like the Meadow Brown and the Ringlet. Both are brown in colour and can be seen flying about seeking nectar even when the weather is dull and dreary rather than many other butterfly species that traditionally prefer the sunshine.
Meadow Brown butterfly: Ernie Janes (rspb-images.com)
Grassland butterflies such as these need long, undisturbed grasses to lay eggs where they will hatch and feed and hibernate as caterpillars. In the spring, the caterpillars resume feeding on fresh growth and when fully grown, will transform into a chrysalis for 3-4 weeks, emerging anytime from June – September as a butterfly that lives a short life for just a few days.
Long grassy areas can add an invaluable area to many wildlife species in the garden and can be very low maintenance only requiring a mow once a year, but for many caterpillars and other tiny wildlife species, you are doing them a favour if it's left all winter too.
We cut the long grasses at the Flatford Wildlife Garden only once a year in July, when the ancient hay meadows would have been cut. This allows the seed heads to form, and then seed the ground again before the arisings are taken away. We always leave about a third of the grass uncut, to leave overwintering butterfly larvae and other invertebrates in peace.
Although it may be too late in the year to establish a new wild grasses area from seed, there is still time to allow an area of already growing grass to get long and see what happens and what it may attract. You could try a "pop-up" meadow in a suitable area of the garden if you fancy trying an experiment.
There are also many grasses that can be bought from garden centres as established plants, some with beautiful grassy seed heads that can be planted to establish a small, long grass area or mixed into the borders.
The RHS also has a list of it’s top 10 Autumn grasses for the garden.
Crikey, I’ve mentioned the “A” word already, I don’t think we’re quite ready for it yet!
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