Feast for the senses

Buddleia davidii
Buddleia davidii
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Why did summer go quickly? Was it something that we said?

No, it’s just a normal year in England, and normal plants are getting on with what they normally do.

Which is why buddleia is still flowering (just) and why so many people grow it, even if they don’t really know how to look after it. Plant it, ignore it, and it will grow – a lot. Give them an inch and they will take a mile. They spread like wildfire, sprouting from the most peculiar places. That’s because they tolerate even poor soils; and they love a bit of lime around their roots, so they are quick to colonise anywhere where man has built and then abandoned.

But grown in a garden, and tended correctly, and buddleia are almost perfect, with lovely, fragrant flowers perfuming the air from August onwards, and attracting every butterfly in the neighbourhood.

Buddleia are named after a 17th-century amateur botanist, the Rev Adam Buddle, and most of the plants we grow in this country have their roots in China.

One reason for buddleia’s popularity is that it’s easy to grow and hard to kill. Buddleia davidii tolerates urban pollution and alkaline soil. It’s generally pest-free, except for spider mite infestations during drought or stress. It prefers a sunny spot with well-drained soil, but it seems to be able to hang on just about anywhere except where the soil is decidedly acidic.

Pruning can be a bit of a problem, but the majority are usually cut back hard in spring. They then produce masses of 
new growth and, hopefully, masses of blooms. Strangely, I know some 
gardeners who hack the whole lot in autumn – and get the same results. So, prune when you please, unless you’re growing B globosa, which blooms 
on last season’s wood, as does B alternifolia, which should be pruned in midsummer.

If you fancy growing a buddleia but don’t fancy paying hard cash, beg a few bits from a neighbour and try your hand at propagating hardwood cuttings. Do it now by choosing well-ripened shoots about the width of a pencil and eight inches long, and make a sharp, clean cut just above a bud.

Pop the cuttings in deep pots filled with gritty compost, water them and leave them in a frost-free spot in the garden (ideally, a cold frame) and most should root by next summer.