RICHARD WILLIAMSON: A thrilling visit and the way to a woman’s heart

The joy of gardening for wildlife is that all kinds of beautiful strangers will visit you.

Friday, 30th August 2013, 12:50 pm

Take this example for instance. It looks like a humming bird. But it was taken in a Sussex garden.

It is a moth: the humming-bird hawk-moth. I get them every year in my garden, but only because I have buddleia, and this year they have come onto the salvia and the French lavender flowers, too.

These last two I bought in growing pots from a local garden centre for my wife’s birthday.

For years I have struggled manfully to find something sensible for her birthday, the days of tea towels and aprons having passed into the distance of deep space.

Every girl likes flowers, so that’s all you have to do. If they are alive, her gratitude will stay alive, too. Three years ago I bought her a small rosemary bush. Like Ophelia, she has remembered me for that, too. Being high up here in woodland on the Downs, it has not grown as well as, say, the rosemary bushes in the Bishop’s Palace garden at Chichester cathedral. But it’s the thought that counts.

Then I cheated slightly by bringing her a pot of hardheads I had nurtured after harvesting the seeds from waste ground.

She forgave me because when the plant flowered, it was a fantastic success.

A dozen painted lady butterflies nectared on the thistle-like blooms. I recommend this so-called weed for your garden. The seeds can be obtained from tracksides or the edges of farm fields.

Women love butterflies, too. So you get double Brownie points when the flowers begin to fly, as it were, rather than the fur.

She loves intricate, delicate things in life, so the appearance of hoverflies, which are like Faberge jewels with their glistening golden bodies and shiny gauze wings swarming into the garden to sip gratefully on the miniature tub roses gives her a sense of serenity and joy.

She likes mysterious things, too, so the moths at night excite her wonderfully. They hum in the darkness to the fragrance of the flowers. Privet hawk-moths are like lost birds as they strum the skies under the summer moon, laying their eggs in the darkness.

We don’t go in for neat border plants which often have the scents of summer bred out of them.

Nor do we like bare ground between the plants as this wastes potential growing space.We agree on that.

We do have a slight disagreement over brambles. These take wilderness too far for her. For me all those little mauve roses, for that’s the family they are in, are undervalued. They give nectar to hungry insects and fruit for ourselves and wild birds. But like an octopus, they grope among her plants and flowers, and sometimes herself.

We have recorded 42 species of birds in and around the garden, 26 different butterflies and 300 species of moths have been recorded here, too, with the humming-bird hawk-moth the most thrilling of all our visitors.