NATURALIST Stewart Beer doesn't often get bemused over identifying four-legged and feathered friends. But when it comes to a stray seedling that popped up alongside a clematis in a large pot he confessed: "I'm stumped."
When the mystery plant matured, Stewart, who lives in Barnstaple, sent me pictures that showed its beautiful blue petals to advantage (above left) and asked: "What's its name?"
It's a Balloon Flower, aka Platycodon grandiflorus, a hardy perennial that grows to between 12in and 18in high and gets its name from the shape of the buds.
Stewart's is probably variety Mariesii, while others can be found in pink, deep purple and white. Plants will disappear completely in winter, so it is important to push a label into the soil where it grows in case it is forgotten or accidentally exhumed.
Balloon flowers also make attractive pot plants for the window sill or patio and seem to be free of pests and ills.
Stewart, meanwhile, is enjoying nature's positive contribution to the summer – a refreshing rise in the number of butterflies.
The gardener's foe, large and small white – popularly cabbage whites – are particularly abundant, he said.
One species suffering a "dramatic" decline in numbers is the small tortoiseshell, warned Stewart. Against that setback, however, he counted seven separate species on one butterfly bush, the familiar buddleia – painted lady, red admiral, peacock, large white, gatekeeper, wall brown and small tortoiseshell, as well as two moth species, the silver Y and six spot burnet.
It was during a visit to retired chrysanth grower Ken Peters' home at Chittlehampton that Stewart snapped this stunning portrait of a tiny hummingbird hawk moth (above right) feeding from a geranium. These delightful winged wonders are so named because they resemble the true humming bird in the way they hover while sucking nectar. "They are zippy individuals," said Stewart of his pictorial capture.
For this shot, Stewart had a Canon EOS 350D set at aperture 4.97 and shutter speed 1/1,250, using a 50-500 lens.