Here is comes, the clocks going back (at 2am this Sunday), and with it the realisation that summer has truly been left far behind.
But I like to cling to its coat-tails for as long as possible, and there are certain garden creatures that help me do that.
It is possible that next week, given some still, sunny days and a bit of warmth coming through that a final Speckled Wood butterfly will put in a final appearance. Here was one in my garden recently still looking very fresh.
This is a butterfly whose caterpillars will feed on scraggy bits of long grass growing in semi-shady positions. Any egg laid now will need to quickly hatch, and it will then survive the winter as a small caterpillar, whereas Speckled Wood caterpillars that hatched earlier in the season will by now have pupated into a beautiful green chrysalis, making this an unusual butterfly that can survive the winter in two different life forms.
Perhaps the butterfly that helps prolong the sense of warmer times longer than any other is the Red Admiral, and there is a good chance you will see one in your garden if you either have Ivy in flower or these: Michaelmas daisies.
If you want to add a Michaelmas daisy to your garden, there are a bewildering array of cultivars to choose from, but the critical thing is to choose what are called 'singles' - those with a single whorl of petals like those in my photos above that I took at the National Collection in Malvern a few weeks back. It is these that retain their nectar and pollen in abundance.
The photo above is a cultivar of Aster amellus, which is a European Michaelmas daisy. They tend to have a larger yellow centre than the American Michaelmas daisies, which these days are called the Symphyotrichums (phew! I have to concentrate when typing that!). I find that Aster amellus cultivars are some of the best for butterflies so well worth hunting down in your local garden centre or nursery.
But if there is one group of garden wildlife that I find really help me pretend that summer is still with us, it is the dragonflies. Several species have long since run out of steam, but two in particular keep going well into the golden days of late autumn.
One is the Common Darter:
Pairs of this relatively small dragonfly continue to join up around midday at my pond, the red males clasping the amber females by the back of the head, and together they dip down to the pond surface in flight, the female laying eggs each time her abdomen tickles the water surface.
And the other dragonfly of autumn is this, which I photographed last week.
The male is above, again clinging onto his mate behind her eyes in a lover's clinch, and she is coiled round to receive his sperm. His abdomen is black dotted with blue; hers more chocolate brown dotted with daffodil yellow. Perhaps the best identification feature is the top of the thorax, effectively the shoulders, which are plain brown with just a hint of a yellow stripe across them. The rather similar Southern Hawker has a big bold shoulder stripe.
For autumn dragonflies, this really is their swansong. Mating must be quickly followed by egg laying, for the adults will then succumb to the gathering cold.
But that's where it is also a season of great hope. Winter may be on its way, but life survives, as eggs, as caterpillars, as pupae, to fill our gardens again next year when the days lengthen. The cycle of life is a beautiful thing, and it needs its ups and downs, its light and dark, its summer and its winter, to give it its beautiful rhythm.
So, let's wallow in the wistfulness of the season, especially after the year we've all had. But make sure you hold onto the inner glow of knowing that the seeds of next year are already sown.
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