Spirituality Urban Wilderness

Buddleja davidii

Buddleja, pronounced “buddly-ah” is an interesting plant. Sometimes called “Summer Lilac” it has grown in my awareness this season a great deal. That learning process itself has been interesting in the way it has emerged slowly from a zone of semantic indifference. A few months ago I was totally ignorant about it as I imagine most people who aren’t gardeners are.

It is native to the Sichuan and Hubei provinces in central China, and also Japan. The plant’s name was given to it by none other than Linnaeus, “the father of modern taxonomy” who named it after the English Botanist the Reverend Adam Buddle. With these oriental and religious overtones it is ripe material for this blog.

However, in the UK it was classed as an invasive species in 1922. It’s a weed. It’s simply too damn successful in our temperate region. Its long frondlike arms which wave around in our constant Atlantic winds spread their seeds like nobody’s business. And the plant itself seems capable of growing on next to no soil. I had to remove a Buddleja from the masonry of our back wall, and a huge plant a metre tall had been sustained by no more than a thimble of earth.

My roof garden.

This Buddleja is in my roof garden. I had found it growing alongside another plant and planted it in this swanky grey pot without knowing what it was. I’ve encouraged many weeds in this way, the Dandelions I’ve written about before, my Ash tree etc.

Its flowers.

And the bees and bugs love it. It’s also known as a Butterfly bush for this reason. It looks very pretty I think!

Round the back of Wormwood Scrubs.

However, once you start noticing the Buddleja, you begin to see it everywhere. I would by lying if I claimed that it did not change my rosy perception of it. Although this runs counter to my avowed impulse to embrace weeds – that contradicts another desire to see diversity. You don’t want to see the same plants everywhere.


Notwithstanding that it is fascinating to see situations where, I don’t know for what reasons, these plants have grown to stupendous scale in the gardens of London. It may be that they were planted there but I think it’s more likely that they grew there, people thought they looked pretty, and that they were allowed to thrive. I think if the owners knew they were weeds (whatever your philosophy is there) they would cut them down. Leaving aside for the moment all questions of what the right or wrong thing to do in that situation is.

Taking the photo above two elderly women noticed me. It turned out that this was one of their houses. They greeted me a little quizzically. I did give a friendly hello as I scooted off on my bike, but it was still a not entirely comfortable situation. Perfectly legal to take photos of anything on the street of course…

Belsize Park.

Here is a huge bush in the garden of a very grand house in Belsize Park…

Chalk Farm.

Growing out of the back of a block of flats’ shared garden…

Primrose Hill.

In the railway sidings at the back of Primrose Hill…

Old Street.
Old Street.

Around Old Street which is the arse end of Islington – Bunhill being the most densely populated ward in the UK apparently – I’m less surprised to see the Buddleja being cultivated in the parks around here. There’s a sense that no-one (least of all the council) gives a shit about the public space.

In Croydon with its natural ally graffiti.

It is now often seen there along railway lines and on the sites of derelict factories and other buildings. The plant frequently grew on urban bomb sites during the aftermath of World War II, earning it the nickname of “the bomb site plant”.

Wikipedia entry on the Buddleja davidii.

And finally even at the Findhorn Foundation, the garden of Eden itself. Its violet flowers now dead as the season is likely to be shorter outside Inverness.