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RAB MCNEIL: Buddleias bring the butterflies to play

The butterflies love buddleia flowers
The butterflies love buddleia flowers.

Hey, bud, want to know a secret? No? Well, here it is: buddleias are the boys, buddy.

You know what buddleias are, right? Big bushes with colourful cones of flowers. And who likes buddleias even more than your Uncle Rab does? Correct, madam: butterflies do.

They love ’em. And so we come to that conundrum in which I seem to be living in a different, and frankly, better universe.

Lots of butterflies

As with bees and bluebells, I keep reading that butterflies are on the decline. Not round here they ain’t. Tons of them blunderin’ aboot.

There are many common or garden cabbage whites, of course, which I guess aren’t good for cabbages.

But, as I don’t have any of these, it’s not such a problem. I think they leave my other veg alone too.

Mystery food

No idea what they’re eating. Maybe they’re like I was when I was vegetarian (or pescatarian): they prefer quorn sausage rolls to actual vegetables.

Often, on seeing a cabbage white, I recite the only poem I know by heart.

It’s by Robert Graves: “The butterfly, the cabbage white/(His honest idiocy of flight)/Will never now, it is too late/Master the art of flying straight/Yet has  – who knows so well as I?/A just sense of how not to fly/He lurches here and here by guess/And God and hope and hopelessness/Even the aerobatic swift/Has not his flying-crooked gift.”


I remember reciting this to myself (having opted not to declaim it publicly) on a train between New York and Washington.

I didn’t want to be there. I dislike going abroad, as I often have difficulty adjusting to the different (often less brisk) walking styles. Also, I am frightened of anything new.

Although I was only there for two or three days, on a journalistic assignment, I was already homesick, but felt better on seeing the white butterfly, while the train had temporarily stopped.

This is America

I should explain that it wasn’t on the train, sitting there like me with its sandwiches. It was staggering aboot in the embankment greenery.

Still, it was good to know that the beasties were lurching here and here, by God and hope and hopelessness, even in America, which is a scary place.

Example: when timidly I’d approached the ticket office in New York and asked if I could possibly be allowed on a train to Washington, the woman bellowed: “’Course you can, mister! This is America!”

I was tempted to say, “America? But I’m supposed be in Largs!”, but desisted.

A flowering garden

Back to butterflies: many other varieties meander hither and yon on my demesne. Some are brown. Or is that moths?

At any rate, they all seem happy enough, because the joint is hoaching with buddleia. It was all planted by my predecessors, so I can’t take the credit.

I’ve planted very little that’s new in the garden, though I did recently dig out a circular flower bed, which is my pride and joy but apparently has an invisible sign saying “Public Lavatory”. At least that’s what the local cats tell me.

Ach well. All creatures great and small and all that. But I must say I’m particularly fond of those that flutter by in honest idiocy of flight.


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