There’s a tinge of Autumn in the air: horsechestnut trees (always the first) have already begun to change colour, and a small ash in the Riverside Gardens is so lavishly bedecked with bundles of ripe keys that it looks like a laburnum in full flower. However, late summer has its own colours. A few days ago I spotted a newcomer to my garden: a small butterfly was fluttering over the sun-warmed marjoram and it was blue – the pure blue of summer skies. I was able to see its under-wings too – a creamy surface freckled with tiny dots. It was a holly blue, a butterfly with a fascinating life cycle. If it found a mate, this insect’s young would overwinter as eggs laid on ivy, the food plant of its caterpillars. After pupating, they will emerge in Spring as butterflies. These will mate and lay their eggs on holly, food for the second generation of caterpillars which, after pupation, will emerge in late summer like the one I observed. Both holly and ivy are necessary and are, luckily, both abundant in my garden.
Seeing this tiny shred of colour against the tired foliage made me particularly aware of the enlivening effect of a dash of blue. A clump of hydrangeas in a dark corner, blue geraniums in a drab border – they really give my garden a lift. It’s the same in the countryside. Meadow cranesbill, with its large blue flowers, is still brightening roadsides, and its less common relative, the wood cranesbill, can be found in Strid Woods. Then there are the campanulas – giant bellflowers with their spires of glistening blue-mauve bells, towering over the grasses beside roads and along the edges of woods. My favourite among the campanulas, the harebell, as pure blue as my butterfly, decorates dry grassy banks and high pastures.
It was in a very positive “blue” mood, then, that I wandered out to fill up the bird feeders and there, lying on the grass, was a small feather. It was a drab brownish-black but along the outside edge was a slender strip of colour – delicate diagonal stripes of black and different shades and intensities of blue. I recognised it at once – only a jay had such elegant patterning – part of the blue flash along the edge of each wing. Jays are exotic looking birds with their pink-brown bodies trimmed with black and white, but the blue flash adds a special extra something!
Photo by Solipsist – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons