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My Wildlife Allotment May 2020

April was a really dry month with endless sunshine and weeks and weeks without a drop of rain. What happened to the famous April showers? I remember last year we had a dry spring as well, but one not as warm as this year. Many plants are much more advanced this year with most trees in full leaf already and some plants flowering several weeks earlier than usual. I just hope that we don’t get a late frost this year so I don’t have to rush to the allotment and try to protect tender new growth. Some plants seem to be especially susceptible to late spring frosts. The emerging leaves of my black mulberry do not stand any kind of frost as well as the young leaves of my Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum simulans). The kiwi berry plant (Actinidia arguta) is in full leaf already which needs to be protected from any late frost too. Luckily most of the perennials seem to be much tougher and shrug off any below-zero temperatures with ease.

Various Euphorbias are flowering already but the bright yellow Euphorbia epithymoides is stealing the show. I first tried to grow it from seed but even with cold stratification nothing happened. So I bought 3 plants which I planted in the steppe planting with quite poor dry soil and lots of sunshine which seems to suit them well. Many of the fruit trees have burst into flower. The apple tree ‘Sunset’ looks especially beautiful this year with so many flowers that the branches are hardly visible. I hope for a good harvest this year. Many years ago I collected some seeds from Lunaria annua which was growing at the edge of a garden. I sprinkled them over the soil under the greengage tree and forgot about them. I was delighted when the seeds germinated and flowered a year later. Since then I have several plants flowering every year which have colonised the adjacent fruit bush area as well. The flowers seem to be a favourite with orange tip butterflies and bee flies, and in autumn the silvery seed heads look beautiful.


Euphorbia provides welcome splashes of yellow

Apple tree 'Sunset' is full of flowers this year

Lunaria annua and other woodland plants
are enjoying the shade under the greengage tree

The pond is looking much greener now with many of the marginal plants starting to grow and some such as Caltha palustris and Primula rosea flowering already. It always takes a long time until the Pygmy water lily (Nymphaea tetragona) starts to unfold its leaves. It probably depends on the water temperature which is not high enough in early spring for any growth to start. Two years ago I grew some Geum spp. plants from the HPS seed distribution scheme mystery seed mix. I planted them next to the pond where they thrived. The plants are now flowering and look like Geum rivale but with larger and more colourful flowers. I am very pleased with them. I have also planted out many of the plants grown from last year’s seed distribution such as Nepeta tuberosa and Borago pygmea. So far they seem to be happy and I am looking forward to seeing them flower either later this year or next year.

Years ago I planted some blue-flowered Camassia quamash bulbs which flower every year now and slowly spread out from the place I planted them. Despite the last years being quite dry in summer the plants are still happy. I also planted some white-flowered Camassia leichtlinii bulbs a few years ago which look quite spectacular when they flower. They flower later than C. quamash, in May, with taller flowers, and seem to be happy as well as I found lots of seedlings this year.


The pond looking much greener now

An improved Geum rivale
grown from the HPS mystery seed mix

Camassia quamash is flowering on the allotment,
adding a splash of colour

My friend gave me some young Angelica sylvestris plants last year which quickly grew several enormous leaves. This year they grew some spectacular flowers which are visited by many pollinators such as solitary bees and hoverflies. Pasque flowers (Pulsatilla vulgaris) have finished flowering now but they still look beautiful with their fluffy seed heads. The many hairs trap rain droplets after a shower which lets the whole seed head sparkle in the sunshine. Another rather curious-looking plant is the welsh onion (Allium fistulosum). It came from the HPS mystery seed mix as well and reminds me a bit of candelabras with their stiff upright stems. The white flowers attract many pollinators.


Angelica sylvestris is looking really impressive

I really like the beautiful seed heads
of pasque flowers

Allium fistulosum looks quite ornamental

I was delighted to find the two-coloured mason bee (Osmia bicolor) nesting on my allotment again. This bee is more commonly found on calcareous grassland and uses empty snail shells as nests. There is no shortage of these on my allotment and there are even several pasque flowers for which this little bee is the main pollinator. The two-coloured mason bee is quite a small but very pretty bee with the female having a black head and a red abdomen (hence the name), the male is mainly buff and brown-coloured. Once the female bee has found a suitable empty snail shell she moves it with her body in the right position (opening facing downwards) and starts filling the shell with one to several nest chambers (depending on the size of the snail shell), each with pollen and one egg. After she has finished she seals the nest with chewed leaves, mud and stones, and sometimes even covers the outside of the snail shell with these. To disguise the snail shell further the little bee now starts to gather little pieces of grass, plant stalks or pine needles from the surrounding area and deposits them onto the snail shell. The bees can do this for several hours until the shell has completely disappeared under a pile of debris. I watched several of my bees do this and it was amazing what they could carry. Often the pieces were larger than the bee and they still managed to fly with them. If you live in the South and South-east of England and have a dry sunny garden with plenty of empty snail shells have a look if you can find this little bee. The females are active on warm sunny days from April to June.

I have not seen many of the large frogs recently but the smaller frogs seem to like one of my small ponds which is very sheltered and surrounded by plants. They often sit around the edge in the sunshine and don’t seem to be bothered by me walking past. As the rain has finally returned with a few wet days this week, the frogs must be much happier now. I have also seen the foxes regularly on my wildlife camera. They often visit the larger wildlife pond to drink, and did so especially when it was so dry. I have also seen my allotment hedgehog again; glad he seems to be alive and well.


A two-coloured mason bee is busy covering her nest

A little frog in the small pond

Foxes come to the pond in the night to drink

One good thing which has come from the lockdown we are having at the moment is that I never had such a lot of time for my allotment before at this time of year. Normally I would be fully occupied with fieldwork, rushing around the country, doing plant and insect surveys. Now with the flexible working times of my home office I have several hours each day to enjoy the allotment. I have time to just sit and watch the wildlife, let my mind wander and take photographs.

I hope you can enjoy your garden as well and hope you stay safe. I will be back with more tales from my allotment next month.

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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