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Summer in an English country garden - butterflies, bees and flowers in pictures

Updated on June 30, 2013
Imogen French profile image

Imogen is from West Dorset, in the UK. She works in publishing and writes mainly about the environment, gardening, and vegetarian food.

A small tortoiseshell butterfly rests on a flowering Hebe shrub
A small tortoiseshell butterfly rests on a flowering Hebe shrub | Source

As the sun broke out from behind a cloud and shone on my garden this afternoon, I strolled around, marvelling at how beautiful everything suddenly was. Cottage garden plants and herbs were in full flower, insects abounded, and bumblebees and butterflies were everywhere - summer had arrived! I grabbed my camera and found myself zooming in on the smallest of details - a bee feeding on a tiny flower, a pair of butterflies landing on a shrub for a rest from their exotic mating dance.

Ultraviolet light from the sun seems to make the flowers glow, throwing the shadows into sharp contrast and providing a wonderful palate for outdoor photography. It also attracts the nectar feeding insects in more subtle ways, as they have eyes that are more receptive to ultraviolet light and can see patterns in flowers that are invisible to the human eye, drawing them to their food source.

A pair of courting small tortoiseshell butterflies rest on a flowering shrub
A pair of courting small tortoiseshell butterflies rest on a flowering shrub | Source

Small tortoiseshell butterflies

These pretty little butterflies were in fine form, pairing up and dancing around together, spiralling up into the air in a double helix formation, then plunging down to the flower beds and landing on the prettiest flowering shrubs to feed on nectar, get to know each other and get ready for mating.

Small tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae) are one of the commonest butterflies in the United Kingdom, but have apparently suffered a decline in recent years, possibly due to a parasitic fly that is extending its range into the British Isles [1]. They typically engage in an extended courtship ritual, including flying together, basking in the sunshine, feeding together and later mating, with the female laying her eggs on the underside of stinging nettle leaves.

The meadow brown butterfly

This flowering hebe (variety "Margret") was a haven for a multitude of buzzing bees and butterflies alike. In fact it sounded like the whole bush was buzzing. The meadow brown butterfly (Maniola jurtina) rested on the bush to warm its wings in the sun. The birdseye-like spot and coloration on the underside of the wings resembles, at first glance, the head and eye of a European robin. This mimicry is a clever device used by several species of butterfly to ward off would-be predators. Robins, I have noticed, are rather fond of eating butterflies.

A meadow brown butterfly rests with its wings together
A meadow brown butterfly rests with its wings together | Source

Do you grow flowers especially for insects or just for show

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A very small bee

Bees come in all shapes and sizes, from the giant bumblebees to the tiniest little creatures, like the one below. According to the Bumblebee conservation trust, there are around 250 species of bee in the UK, of which about 225 are solitary bees, 24 are bumblebees and only one species of honeybee [2]. I think this little fellow is one of the solitary bees, but I am not enough of an expert to say which type.

This tiny bee was busy burying its head in the cranesbill flowers (Geranium sanguineum).

A tiny bee in a cranesbill flower
A tiny bee in a cranesbill flower | Source

The honey bee

This was the most elusive type of bee to capture on film. The picture is of one of only three honey bees that I found all day. Sadly the honey bee population has taken a nosedive, partly because of known diseases and problems such as the virroa mite and pesticides, but also because we had such a long winter and a late spring this year in England.

A honey bee gathering nectar from the hebe flower
A honey bee gathering nectar from the hebe flower | Source

Bumblebees in the herb garden

The herb garden was another popular watering hole for the bumblebees. The sage bush was in full flower, with its fragrant, purple, tubular flowers tempting the bees in. The bush was alive with them. This picture is of a bumblebee with a white tail, which seemed to be the predominant species here, but again I am no expert, so couldn't say with any certainty which of the 24 species this is. Have a look at the identification guide on the Bumblebee conservation trust's website, and see if you can work it out!

A bumblebee enjoys the sage flowers
A bumblebee enjoys the sage flowers | Source

How to encourage bees and butterflies into your garden

Many types of both butterflies and bees are showing worrying signs of declining populations, so need all the help we can give them in our gardens. Here are some tips to help them out.

  • Grow the sorts of flowers that they love, include flowers from as early in the season as possible to help those that emerge early on, as well as some late flowering varieties that will help see them through hibernation in the winter months.
  • Avoid using any pesticides in your garden, Try hand picking slugs, snails and caterpillars, or using biological methods of control.
  • Have a source of water somewhere in your garden, a bird bath or a pond are both helpful, as insects need to drink too!

The herb garden - a haven for bees
The herb garden - a haven for bees | Source


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    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      Love photos of butterflies on beautiful flowers.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 3 years ago from Southwest England

      I agree aviannovice, we certainly depend on them.

      Mel Carriere, we get painted lady butterflies in the UK too, and they are very similar to tortoiseshells. I get them in my garden but haven't managed to get a decent photograph of them yet.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Great photos! I am a fan and ally of birds, bees, and butterflies! Your tortoiseshell butterfly looks suspiciously like the Painted Lady butterfly that we have here in Southern California. I wonder if they could be in the same genus or family. I'll have to look it up. Wonderful hub!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Excellent work. Butterflies and bees are such important pollinators. We cannot afford to lose any more of them.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      What a lovely hub. I enjoyed reading it and absolutely loved the photography. I grew up in England and have wonderful memories of our cottage garden and the butterflies particularly. Thanks for the memories...

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 4 years ago from West Virginia

      Stunning pictures Imogen French. It would make for a great butterfly tattoo. The pictures are amazing, well done. Great information. I've always wanted to visit England and surrounding areas. Amazing! Voted up, useful, beautiful, and shared on FB.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England

      What a shame about the gladioli, CraftytotheCore, they are beautiful flowers. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 4 years ago

      Absolutely stunning! My great-grandmother was originally from England. Before my time, I hear that she grew and sold the most beautiful gladiolas. I found some bulbs for a peach colored variety a few years ago and planted them out front. My grandfather drove by and stopped right there in the middle of the road. He couldn't believe his eyes. He said that they reminded him so much of his mother's. Of course I didn't heed his warning and failed to dig up the bulbs for winter so they never came back.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      What a lovely hub! I love to wander through my yard and take pictures of the flowers, butterflies and bees. The weather has been quite strange this year and many of my flowers are just now starting to bloom. Your pictures are beautiful and I really enjoyed your lovely hub this morning, thank you for sharing this with us! Voting up, beautiful and interesting. :)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Love the way you captured the wonders of nature. Just taking the time to stroll along and enjoy the magic that awaits us in our gardens...the bees and flutterbies (I used to call them)...make it a glorious adventure.

      Thank you for sharing this with us.

      Angels are on the way to you this afternoon. ps

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 4 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Absolutely stunning photos. I so enjoyed this!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      beautiful natural pictures. I love butterflies pictures not bees. My son was stung by a black bee, i think is hornet and it was a bad experience. Butterflies flying around the blooming flowers are calming scene. Voted up

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England

      thanks for your kind comments, msdora, sharkye, tobusiness and milleramanda - I appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to read and comment

    • milleramanda53 profile image

      milleramanda53 4 years ago from Florida

      Lovely, Great Job

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      I've managed to capture some great photos of bees in the garden. We must be doing something right, there's a lot more than last year.

      Loved your beautiful photos.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Beautiful flowers! I love the tiny bee. So far, not enough of my nectar plants have bloomed to attract many butterflies and bees. Glad you had the chance to enjoy them and catch some lovely photos!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      The pictures are just beautiful, as are your descriptive phrases. Bees, butterflies and flowers! What a wonderful view you're blessed with!