Ysella Sims

Freelance writer & Creative Communications Specialist


July’s blustery sunshine brought the hedgerows and nectar-rich plants in the garden fluttering to life. While heat waves named after devils wrung the life from people and wildlife in Spain and Italy, in the UK we enjoyed billowy clouded blue skies, a gentle breeze and temperatures in the low to mid 20’s.

One evening I stopped on Furlongs to watch meadow browns, peacocks, red admirals and comma butterflies on the bramble, honey bees skittering between the nectar rich pink flowers. A metallic green fly balanced on a bramble leaf, lifting his legs in turn, thin and dainty as eyelashes, to clean. A ladybird busied up the stem of a meadowsweet, clambering crossly through the frothy cloud of creamy cymes as if she was surprised to find them there, despite their heady, giveaway scent. 

Gardening for wildlife

Gardening for wildlife means that the grass is long and plants that are traditionally thought of as weeds are given ground in my garden. As July progressed, I watched Cinnabar moth caterpillars munch their way through yellow spires of ragwort and frilly-leaved groundsels. Named after Cinnebar, the bright scarlet form of mercury, the adult is a vampy red and black glossy moth. In June the adult emerges from the soil to lay its eggs, hatching into Pippi Longstocking-style caterpillars, warning predators off with their bright stripes. The caterpillars slow-race each other to the top of plants, swelling in size until they can’t eat any more, or, when food is scarce, cannibalising each other. When their bellies are full, they burrow into the ground to pupate over winter, emerging in the summer for the next turn of the wheel. In European countries where they are plentiful, their appearance and toxicity lead to associations with black magic and witchcraft. They seem like magic to me.

Bees, beetles and butterflies

By July my approach to gardening saw the straight green flush of spring and vibrant whirl of early summer replaced by dessicating flower heads and leggy stems. I thought of friends’ gardens, colour-schemed and smart, and began to feel as if I might have got it wrong. But as I sat on the bench to drink my coffee I noticed three types of bees on the maroon heads of the sagging bullet alliums. I remembered learning that bees are terrible fliers, don’t have waists, (wasps do, hence ‘waspish waist’) and can sense oily traces on a flower announcing that another bee has got to the nectar already. As I drank my coffee I really looked at the garden, noticing the hoverflies and zebra-striped flies crowding the heads of the wild yarrow that I’d left to flower in the lawn; the peacocks and admirals sipping at the orange-centred flowers of the ecclesiastical purple buddleia. A pair of large whites skipped over the lavender and a comma rested on the bench, his wings fanned wide in the sun. I thought of how at dusk when I came up to shut the hens I saw little white moths dancing along the borders, a bat swooping overhead funnelling midges and moths; how I’ve uncovered stag beetles in the wood pile and under pots and how Calum had wrestled a slow worm from the hens when he visited. Investigating a rustling in the courtyard one evening I saw a toad hopping behind a chimney pot. My garden, I realised, was beautiful in its own, and perhaps, most important way. 

Swallows circling

It’s not just the hedgerows and borders that are fluttering. For the third year in a row the swallows have returned to nest in our shed. By July they had fledged one brood and were busy gathering nesting material to start another. They were back to burbling at dawn, forgetting their crossness with me and the cat now that the fleglings had found their wings and they were taken up with the rush of starting again. At dusk we watched them usher the fledglings back to the shed after a day spent circling Sandford skies, skimming flies from cow pats. It was as if they were putting them to bed after a day out at the seaside, tired but still excited, charged by the vastness of life. They swooped and dived and circled, a black chittering cloud, like the Wicked Witch of the West, until they dissolved into the shed, flighty and chirrupy, darting in and out until the chattering softened and quietened.

Preserving precious insect populations

With reports of the climate emergency and global governmental failure to take action to meet targets to reduce emissions, it can feel as though we have no control over the climate or our environment, that nothing we do matters; whereas in truth, everything does. Each micro action that we take, or do not take, has an effect; it’s just physics. Recently I read the advice from Steve McCulloch, a traditional Devon Hedge layer, to cut long grass in stages, because to remove whole areas at a time, like mowing or harvesting, removes the food source for every insect that lives there, decimating precious populations.

It all matters, whether we can see it or not. I feel that the invisible things, the unquantifiable things, are the most valuable – things like love, and connection. I often think of the closing line of Snow by Louis MacNiece; ‘There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses’. When I look at my untidy garden vibrating with life; beetles, butterflies and bugs it makes my heart glad, it makes me feel that I can make a difference, that we all can.


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