We were making one of our too infrequent trips out the other day. It was not to have a contentious meal, indoors or out, or to try to have a holiday, it was to the bottle bank and no, they were not wine bottles – a good proportion were mayonnaise jars as it happens – signs of good intentions eating salads but poor execution, covering them with fat!
Anyway, we did pop into the ‘local’ garden centre on the way back, the idea being to buy something to go in new beds at the back of the house that will tolerate shade and not look too dowdy (so no more Viburnum davidii then) – but more of that in a few days.
I know the garden centre well (it is Springmount at Ballycanew near Gorey after all) and knew where to look but, as I was wandering around, a flash of bright, raspberry pink caught my eye. It was on a large table of buddleias. Now I have planted some buddleias in the garden already but I am happy to plant more. They are, after all, the darlings of conservationists because of their ability to become alive with butterflies in late summer.
But a word of personal doubt first. Butterflies are strange insects because we all love them so much, despite the fact that their nocturnal cousins stop me sleeping at night when they bang around lights in the bedroom. And these colourful results of a fascinating life, which starts as an egg, then a caterpillar and a pupa, need more than just nectar to survive. It is not enough to plant a buddleia and smuggly sit back and think you are helping butterflies. You need to plant for their hungry larvae, or at least let a patch of brambles, ivy, nettles or long grass grow to feed them. And then there is the ‘alien’ plant problem with buddleias. Not all buddleias are invasive but the common Buddleia davidii certainly is. The light seeds spread by the wind and germinate in all manner of places. Who has not seen buddleias growing on chimney stacks and in gutters. Modern varieties are being bred that do not set seed, more out of necessity than civic responsibility since many US states ban their planting. I, for one, find it annoying when buddleia seedlings pop up in borders almost as frequently as elderberries and brambles.
But, as garden shrubs, I accept that they are beautiful, fragrant and they are quick to give results. So I am happy to add more, but I want something different. Too many buddleias for sale are old (boring) cultivars. Some of these are large shrubs so breeders have tried to make them smaller, suitable for patio pots or at least smaller gardens. The first of these I grew, and still do, having propagated it and brought it with me, was Bluechip and it is very compact. It is very slow to get going here each summer and barely worth its space. The Buzz series, bred by Thompson & Morgan are very popular but their low, spreading habit has never quite appealed to me – they have been very popular so I am almost alone in this.
But back to my ‘discovery’. There were many colours in the bunch on the table, all labelled as Monarch. And a few, the raspberry red ones, were labelled Prince Charming. This was enough to be able to solve the mystery when I got home. But before that I had to buy the red one and another with grey foliage and pale, lavender flowers. And WOW, am I glad I did.
Prince Charming is a colour I have never seen in Buddleia davidii before. It turns out that the Monarch series was bred by Walters Gardens, Michigan in the USA and were bred to be compact, most reaching only 1.2m high and wide. Lots of great buddleia breeding is being done in the UK, by Peter Moore, but these are hard to find. They include ‘Unique’ which is an ever-blooming B. alternifolia (which I have) and the bicolour ‘Berries and Cream’ (which I want). But the Monarchs, which have involved using other species and not just B. davidii, now comprise seven colours and bridge the gap between the Buzz series and larger kinds. Bearing in mind their origin they should be hardy.
Prince Charming is astounding. But I was gazing, lovingly, at it and suddenly the bubble burst and I suddenly realised it was the exact same colour as centranthus, that weed of walls! But I don’t care – it is such a wonderful colour that I am happy to have it, though finding a perfect partner for the colour may be tricky.
This is not going to be an issue with the other in the series that came home with me. Called Glass Slippers, it stands out for the grey leaves and the cool colour of the flowers.
Of the two, this has the strongest fragrance, the usual, sweet honey scent we expect of buddleias. Time will tell if these turn out to be good plants but they have been out a few years now and I suspect they will be. And I think, when the novelty wears off, Glass Slippers will be the one I keep returning to, but it will be a while before I get bored with the ‘prince’.
The names intrigued me. Monarch could refer to Royalty but I think it refers to the plants being popular with Monarch butterflies. But then the ‘cultivar’ names don’t quite make sense. I think they got their fairy tales mixed up. We have Prince Charming and Princess Pink. And there is ‘Glass Slippers’ which suggests a Cinderella theme going on. But then we delve into the world of Lewis Carroll with deep pink ‘Queen of Hearts’ and then things go completely awry. We conclude with Blue Knight, Crown Jewels and Dark Dynasty. Strange.
If you are in the south east (of Ireland) and want to get some of these buddleias, Springmount had a good number of them and they were bargains at 9.99 for large plants in bloom. But they will probably sell fast at that price. And if there are some left next week I may get more!
Oddly, as a footnote, I can’t discover whether these are sterile or not. I almost assume they are but, in this life, I have learned to assume nothing.