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My Wildlife Allotment August 2019

One of my favourite flowers, Echinacea purpurea, starts to flower in the middle of July each year. I planted lots of them as they are so easy to grow from seed. If sown early they even flower in the same year. The seeds germinate easily in a greenhouse and don't need any special treatment. The seedlings hate sitting in cold wet soil so I normally delay sowing until spring when the greenhouse is warming up and the light is better. The plants grow quickly and can often be planted out in spring. Echinacea purpurea does not like soil which dries out too much in summer and always appreciates some additional watering in a dry spell. Echinacea pallida, another pretty plant, is more robust and can cope much better with drier soil. The plants are also very long-lived. Echinacea paradoxa, which has yellow flowers, is a more difficult plant to grow as the leaves and flowers are often eaten by slugs. I have planted this plant in the mini-prairie which seems to be nearly slug-free and finally got some flowers. I have another very slug-damaged plant on my old allotment which I will move to the prairie in autumn.

Echinacea purpurea growing with
Eryngium planum, Euphorbia epithymoides and grasses

I have planted lots of Echinacea purpurea
on the allotment

Alliums, Heliopsis helianthoides and
Echinacea purpurea give a colourful picture

All Echinacea prefer a more continental climate with cold dry winters and warm wet summers and will probably be difficult to grow in the wet climate of most of the UK apart from the South East. I am lucky as my allotment seems to suit them. There are lots of hybrid Echinacea for sale in garden centres with orange, yellow and red flowers but I find they are more difficult to grow and often die in winter. I now stick to the straight species or varieties of the straight species such as Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’. Echinacea are good pollinator plants and often attract numerous butterflies and bumblebees. Also the occasional hoverfly or solitary bee finds the flowers irresistible.

Bees love Echinacea

Echinacea pallida and E. purpurea in the praerie

Eristalis tenax, a drone fly, is visiting an Echinacea flower

I planted so many different Kniphofia on the allotment that I have at least one species or variety in flower each month from April to October. Flowering at the moment are Kniphofia ‘Royal Standard’, K. ‘Tawny King’, K. ‘Mango Popsicle’, K. ‘Dorset Sentry’, K. ‘Star of Baden-Baden’ and K. ‘Fiery Fred’. Kniphofia like full sunshine and are very drought-resistant. I hardly have to water my plants. Another very easy-going plant which does not need any watering is Allium sphaerocephalon. It normally flowers in July and August and adds some interesting shapes to a border. Even after it finishes flowering it continues to look good. This Allium self-seeds on my allotment and I now have lots of little patches everywhere between the other plants.

Kniphofia 'Royal Standard'
growing in the South Africa garden

Kniphofia 'Tawny King'

Allium sphaerocephalon and Achillea millefolium

Another Allium, A. flavum, is flowering now as well. The flowers look like little fireworks and are yellow, quite an unusual colour for an allium. I got the seeds from the HPS seed distribution scheme and sowed them only last year. The resulting plants looked tiny, like very thin blades of grass. After planting in early spring this year I forgot all about them. Imagine my surprise when I suddenly saw all the pretty yellow flowers popping up everywhere. The plants seem to like an open sunny position and well-drained soil. Also flowering at the moment is Digitalis ferruginea which normally survives for several years until the plants disappear. Luckily it self-seeds. Veronicastrum virginicum is flowering and always grows to quite an impressive size. My allotment is a bit too dry for this plant so I have to water a lot.

Allium flavum has flowers which look like little fireworks

Digitalis ferrugineum is a short-lived perennial

Veronicastrum virginicum and Stipa gigantea

Still going strong is Anthemis tinctoria which is now joined by various other dry-loving plants such as Eryngium planum and Achillea millefolium.

Anthemis tinctoria is still going strong

An explosion of colour with
Anthemis, Dianthus, Achillea and Adenophora

Eryngium planum and Anthemis tinctoria

I am glad I have planted so many drought-resistant plants as after last year`s scorching summer we seem to have another very dry year. A few days ago we had around 36ºC on the allotment which some of my plants such as Rudbeckia laciniata and Eupatorium purpureum did not like at all. But I never have to worry about all my dry-loving plants; they just soldier on come heat or drought.

Achillea millefolium and Oenothera biennis
both cope well with dry soil

Dry-loving grasses such as Stipa and Eragrostis
are coming into their own now

Despite not much rain the allotment is still looking good

The warm and dry weather has brought many butterflies to the allotment. I am seeing lots of peacocks, some gatekeepers, meadow browns, small tortoiseshells, commas, skippers and the occasional blue and marbled white. They especially like the wild marjoram which is flowering at the moment. This is a wild plant of calcareous grassland and very easy to grow if they get sunshine and well-drained soil. It self-seeds a bit too much on my allotment so I have to remove quite a lot of the seedlings. But when it flowers it is very pretty. Another plant which attracts a lot of butterflies and other insects is the buddleia. I always have a look which insects I can find on the flowers and a few days ago I spotted a hornet hoverfly which is quite an impressive insect. The hoverfly mimics hornets (but is completely harmless) and likes to visit nectar-rich flowers for nectar. The larvae live in hornet nests. I once watched a female hornet hoverfly walk into a large hornet nest with the hornets completely ignoring her. Asclepias incarnata is also attracting quite an array of pollinators, mainly beetles, flies, wasps and ants which are after the sweet nectar. The plants are easy to grow and tolerate wet soil as well as dry soil.

Butterflies love wild marjoram

Hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria)

Asclepias incarnata attracts many different pollinators

Will we get some more rain soon or will summer continue on a dry note? I will be back with more tales from my wildlife allotment in September.

Nadine Mitschunas

Nadine Mitschunas Posted by Nadine Mitschunas

Nadine developed an interest for wildlife from an early age, and discovered gardening as hobby when she was twenty years old. As a trained ecologist, she moved with her partner from Germany to England in 2008, and is now working at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. Much of her spare time is spent on her two-and-a-half allotment plots. These contain a wide range of ornamental plants, attracting many insects and other wildlife. She also grows some produce. Her other hobbies include photography and reading.

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2 Comments To "My Wildlife Allotment August 2019"

Hilary-Fay Mellor On 12.08.2019
Very interesting....l garden in North Norfolk for a living, which is dry under normal circumstances! I am trying to steer all my clients towards having more grasses and dry loving plants....using Beth Chatto's advice "right plant, right place"....happy gardening Reply to this comment
Nadine Mitschunas On 30.08.2019
Thank you for your comment. We live in a very dry area here as well (rain shadow of the Chilterns) which seems to be getting even drier now with climate change. Grasses and drought-resistant plants are the way forward as it is not sustainable to use lots of water. I mainly water the vegetables which really need it and leave most perennial plants to fend for themselves. I am also planting more woody plants now such as fruit trees as they cope quite well with drier soil and the occasional watering.
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