Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Butterfly Bushes in the Memory Garden

A wispy breeze washes over me as I step into the Memory Garden to check the butterfly bushes. It is early morning, that magical time before summer heat pushes down like a hand. My rubber boots sink into the fresh mulch as I check the bushes for spent blossoms. As I snip, I observe the bushes' general health. The lacy Buddleia davidii aren't just shrubs, they are symbolic. They mark the resting places of my Yorkies, Mister and Zap.

Here in these little patches of earth, you will find pieces of my heart.
 “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in. ” 
– Mark Twain
 Last year, Mister's Buddleia had been taller, loaded with booms, but Zap's bush had struggled. When winter arrived, I worried and worried. 
The worry continued until spring, when neither bush sprouted leaves. I checked them each day, looking for growth, but I saw nothing until the end of April. First, a tentative leaf, small and trembly as a whispered prayer. Then another and another. By the end of May, after three hard rains, everything was growing like crazy. Along the fence, ornamental grasses were pushing into the butterfly bushes.

The ornamental grass crept up behind Mister's bush.

Zapper's bush was engulfed. The grass was competing for sun, blocking any breeze. Despite the hostile takeover, the purple blossoms bloomed defiantly.

I had no sympathy for the tall, skinny grasses. (On the off-chance that you aren't acquainted with them, read about their virtues HERE.) In another part of the yard, they would have been welcome, say, along the back fence.
But not here, not in the memory garden. 

 Luckily, my ornamental grasses are easy to trim. First, I spread newspapers on the ground so I wouldn't litter the mulch. Then I trimmed them with ordinary kitchen shears. I do have long clippers, but I needed to make sure I was cutting the grasses, not the butterfly bushes. By the way, if you ever need to trim ornamental grass, be sure to wear goggles, and you might want to cover your ears, too. These leaves are knife-like. They've been known to scratch eyes and to even puncture eardrums. Confession: Though I knew better, I wore no protection, and I received a minor corneal abrasion, which was quickly healed by prescription eye drops. But it was worth it. Sunlight and air can reach those precious butterfly bushes. 

Snip, snip, snip.

While I work, I am visited by the angels. Bees fly in lazy circles, looking for plump blossoms.

Butterflies drift from heaven, wings beating together like clapped hands, cheering me on.

One visitor appears to be a Pieris Rapae or Cabbage White  butterfly. 

Did you know that butterfly bushes have earned criticism as noxious weeds by some garden professionals? These shrubs can be invasive, which seems like a small crime compared to my ornamental grasses, but that's just my opinion. The Buddleia will naturalize, too, when seeds are carried by birds.

There are apparently 100 species, maybe more, of this deciduous shrub. They come in many colors and sizes. If you deadhead the spent blossoms (and put them in a plastic bag for safe disposal), you might curb the dispersal of seeds. If you've given up on Buddleia because it is taking over your garden, you might want to look into the new cultivars. Lo and Behold's "Purple Haze" is non-invasive and doesn't require deadheading. You can also buy dwarf bushes.

Some butterfly bushes can grow to 8 or 10 feet tall. They like sun but will tolerate part shade (as Zap and Mister's bushes have shown). These bushes need well-drained soil to prevent root rot. They're hardy to minus 20 degrees F. But it's always a good idea to tuck them in for winter, spreading mulch around the base.

I still have more trimming to do, but now, at least, I've made a gap between the butterfly bush and the ornamental grasses. I can see where to trim and won't accidentally lop off a Buddleia branch. And I will be sure to wear protective gear. 

When a butterfly rests on a blossom, my heart fills.

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Wow Us Wednesdays


  1. Your yard is so Bea as for the flowers and butterflies! :)

  2. Beautiful words, thoughts and photos ML, you are a master gardener-

  3. I didn't realize why this is your memory garden. We buried our little Nanette at the last house and she is still there. But she is always in my heart, as I know your fur babies are too. Thanks for the heads up about the grasses. We actually lost a butterfly bush last winter:( Have to replace it in the fall since we missed doing it in the spring. Have a beautiful holiday weekend. XO

  4. It all looks beautiful
    I planted a butterfly plant in my garden this year.
    I would rather work in my yard and flower beds than in my house any day

  5. Hi M.L., I was going thru ur blog enjoying bits n pieces and discovered no Herb Series. That was such good reading, pure enjoyment. Hope u bring it back.

    1. I have been working on my blog design and layout; I'll put the herbs back. I have been developing some recipes, actually. Thank you for your kind words!

  6. Beautiful, heartfelt words brought tears to my eyes. I am sure you still miss Mister and Zap daily. You were so kind to leave the grass--I would have re-located it.

    1. I'd love to move them in the Fall. I'll bet their roots go to the center of the Earth. This morning, I planted lavender and Russian sage, and I noticed the grasses were taking over again (in just a few days, too). I'm going out when it cools off and hack more grass.

  7. I did not know the tidbit about cutting ornamental grasses. Even though I have none, I'll be sure to retain that for family & friends. I love my butterfly bushes. Even when hard, tornadic thunderstorms broke branches on my taller species, they've still thrived. I added 3 dwarf versions a few years ago. Memory gardens are very special. <3

    1. Rita, I'm not sure I was supposed to cut the grasses, or even if they should be trimmed in summer (they say not to trim when trees and bushes are budding or leaves are falling--an old wives' tale), and the grasses were doing neither, just making me upset. It was me vs. them. :-) I would recommend asking a professional just to be safe.

  8. Nature always works its magic in helping to soothe our souls. My neighbors planted the grasses around the outside perimeter of their pool fence and, yowza, they are sharp! Happy to hear that the mishap with your eye will easily heal. Take care!

  9. Michael Lee, We regret letting a landscaper talk us in to planting several clumps of that ornamental grass about 10 years ago. It's a constant battle keeping the size in bounds. Even if you divide it's back to its previous size the following season. So glad both your butterfly bushes are growing and blooming. I keep deadheading my spent blooms and tossing them by the edge of the field in hopes something will volunteer besides poison ivy :)

  10. What a beautiful post! Your memory garden is beautiful and such a sweet tribute.

  11. Michael Lee, Your memorial garden is beautiful with the butterfly bushes and the bees buzzing through! I must say that I will never, ever plant any ornamental grasses again. I am always trying to pull it out, dig it out, spray it, but it comes back in another spot, and it gets brown and messy. Maybe there is a place in another border for yours, but it will take over that bed soon if you don't attack it now. Your hydrangea are doing great! This is a sweet place to spend time with memories. Linda

  12. Hi again, I wanted to comment on your spot for your sweet pets Mister and Zap. That's a special place and the grasses are too overwhelming. Love the butterfly bush. Wonderful area for your memory garden.🐾

  13. Lovely post, nearly made me cry! It's heartbreaking to lose a beloved pet, and I'm glad you find some peace in your memory garden.

  14. Michael Lee, I love your last quote, "When a butterfly rests on a blossom, my heart fills." I'll think of it from now on when I see a butterfly. I've enjoyed learning names of butterflies lately. I haven't seen a cabbage white in my garden yet.
    Your memory garden is lovely. Such a soothing place to remember Mister and Zap!
    I enjoy your expertise in gardening and all the knowledge you share.
    Have a blessed week.

  15. I can feel the joy your hill has given you..