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My Wildlife Allotment October 2019

After weeks and weeks of no rain, grass turning brown, soil looking like dust, and endless lugging of watering cans, the rains have now returned. And they have returned with a vengeance. There is hardly a day without rain now, the water butts are full and the pond is filled to the rim. You can nearly hear plants breathing a sigh of relief, grass has turned green again and the soil is nice and moist and easy to work with. The only downside is that seeds are germinating everywhere, and not all of them are welcome. I am fighting an endless battle with Nigella damascena, which is a pretty annual but self-seeds a bit too much on my allotment. I constantly remove seedlings and they are still popping up everywhere.

Seed heads are starting to dominate now and look especially pretty when covered in dew and back lit by the early morning sunshine. I normally leave all perennial seeds heads and only cut back plants which don’t look good anymore. Birds like to eat the seeds and insects use the seeds heads for hibernating in winter.


Seed heads of Eryngium and Phlomis with Panicum
and asters giving some colour

Seed heads give strucure and
provide food and shelter for birds and insects

Eryngium planum seed heads last a long time

Yellow daisies such as Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii and R. triloba are still in full flower and attract many late pollinators such as bumblebees and hoverflies. Rudbeckia fulgida needed a lot of watering this summer but R. triloba fared a bit better and seems more drought-resistant. The plants are short-lived but self-seed prolifically on my allotment. I have to remove seedlings from the vegetable areas but normally leave them to grow in the flower beds.


Verbascum seed heads and grasses
with Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii

Rudbeckia triloba flowers for a long time

The mini-prairie with Echinacea seed heads
and Sorghastrum nutans

On sunny warm days bumblebees are still out and about. They are mainly common carder bumblebees which are normally still flying in October and a few buff-tailed bumblebees which often keep going through winter in warmer areas. Any very large bumblebees will be new queens who will overwinter somewhere dry and sheltered, often underground, to emerge in spring to establish new colonies. Smaller bumblebees are workers or males but will be seen less and less now as most will die before winter and only the workers of winter-active colonies survive for longer. On my allotment the bees like to visit the late asters, Cosmos and Dahlia flowers. Other daisy flowers such as Rudbeckia and Coreopsis are also well-visited.


Buff-tail bumblebee male visiting a Dahlia flower

Common carder bumblebees like the aster flowers

Cosmos is a great flower for late bumblebees

Autumn is the time when grasses reach their peak, either with showy seed heads or with pretty flowers. I have many different varieties of Miscanthus sinensis and most started flowering at the beginning of September. This summer was a bit too dry for many of them so I had to water a lot. Another Miscanthus which is flowering now is the very pretty M. nepalensis. It has more delicate and less upright flower heads and is easy to grow from seed. It is supposed to be slightly tender but has survived winter so far on my allotment. Another very pretty warm-season grass, which started flowering a few weeks ago, is Sorghastrum nutans. The grass hails from the prairies of North America and has glaucous leaves and showy golden-brown flower heads with yellow stamens. I love it and have planted it not only in my mini-prairie but also in many other places on the new allotment as it is so easy to grow from seed. One of the most drought-resistant grasses on my allotment is Stipa calamagrostis which has very showy buff-coloured seed heads which look good most of the winter. It needs a bit of space and does not like to be overshadowed by tall perennials. If planted at the front of borders or between low-growing perennials the graceful arching growth habit can be admired. The grass favours dry soil and full sunshine so is ideally suited to my allotment.


Sorghastrum nutans, a beautiful grass

The graceful flowers of Miscanthus nepalensis

Stipa calamagrostis with
Symphyotrichum 'Little Carlow'

Other plants still flowering are Heliopsis helianthoides which has large yellow daisy flowers and seems to be quite drought-resistant. In the dappled shade under my cherry plum tree Tricyrtis hirta with its delicate and unusual-looking flowers is thriving. This is a very valuable plant for shady spots as there are not many other plants flowering there at this time of year. A very good plant for dry and sunny areas flowering in autumn is Aster amellus ‘Veilchenkoenigin’. This is, in my opinion, the prettiest of the different varieties of Aster amellus, but the plants need very well-drained soil, especially in winter. My plant is growing in one of my steppe areas in quite poor sandy soil and it is thriving. In winter I will divide the plant which has now made quite a large clump and plant the divisions in some of the other steppe areas.


Heliopsis helianthoides
provides colour in late summer and autumn

Tricyrtis hirta, a valuable plant for shade

Aster amellus ‘Veilchenkoenigin’

Gaura lindheimeri is still flowering and does not show any signs of slowing down. I love the small butterfly-like flowers which dance in the slightest wind. Let’s hope that frosts and autumn storms will not show their face too soon and that we can enjoy some balmy autumn days for a while longer.


Gaura lindheimeri flowers for weeks on end

Warm autumn sunshine lets the colours of
Rudbeckia, Coreopsis, Symphyotrichum
and Cosmos shine

I will be back with more tales from my wildlife allotment in November.

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.

Nadine's blog: https://mywildlifeallotment.blogspot.com/
Nadine on twitter: https://twitter.com/Nadinemi13
Nadine's You Tube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/MyWildlifeAllotment

 

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