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My Wildlife Allotment August 2020

The weather continues on the dry side but luckily not with many very hot days. We had a bit of rain which gave some relief but the soil is still very dry, even further down. Interestingly, now I only find snails on the allotment which I've never really had in great numbers before; slugs seem to have disappeared as it is probably too dry for them. I have stopped watering most of the perennials and only water plants if they show signs of wilting. Some of the plants which need additional watering are Eupatorium maculatum, Rudbeckia laciniata and some of the asters. Also, Echinacea purpurea is not as drought resistant as often said and does not grow very well on soil which dries out in summer without additional watering. But thanks to the many drought resistant plants I am growing the allotment looks very colourful at the moment with Eryngium planum, Allium sphaerocephalum, Nepeta sibirica, Echinops ritro, Verbena bonariensis and many others in full flower, joined by the many ornamental grasses such as Stipa arundinacea and Nassella tenuissima. Many of the cold-season grasses have finished flowering and are now followed by the warm-season grasses such as Panicum virgatum and Bouteloua curtipendula.

Echinacea and Alliums flowering on the allotment

The new allotment
looking very colourful at the moment

Echinops ritro is starting to flower

One of my favourite plants at the moment is Eryngium planum which has self-seeded on the allotment and luckily does not need any additional watering. What makes it extra special is the brilliant blue colour of the spiky flowers as true blue is quite a rare flower colour in plants. Many different pollinators such as bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, butterflies and wasps like to visit the flowers. Another spiky plant on my allotment is Berkheya cirsiifolia. The leaves could be mistaken for thistle leaves but the large white daisy flowers are unmistakable. Happy in sunshine and well-drained soil it also survives winter well on my allotment which can be quite cold.

The pretty blue flowers of Eryngium planum

Pollinators love Eryngium flowers

Berkheya cirsiifolia

I love yellow daisy flowers and have now collected quite a lot of different species. One of the most impressive plants is Telekia speciosa. I have seen this plant growing in the wild in Germany, in a narrow wooded valley beside a stream in Saxony. Quite a moist and shady place so I was not sure if this plant would like my allotment which is dry and sunny. But I should not have worried as Telekia speciosa seems to be quite adaptable and has grown into a large plant with an abundance of flowers every year. Another very pretty yellow daisy is Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra 'Summer Nights'. I have grown the plants from seed but only a few have survived as the others succumbed to slug damage when they were young. But the few plants remaining look quite stunning with their yellow daisy flowers and dark foliage. Rarely seen in gardens nowadays but really easy to grow is Centaurea macrocephala. I rescued my plant from a supermarket plant sale years ago, it looked quite dismal then but perked up pretty quickly and has grown into a large plant now.

Telekia speciosa has grown into a large plant

Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra

Pretty Centaurea macrocephala

I have several species of Dierama on the allotment, all grown from seed. Dierama igneum looked especially beautiful this year with many flowers hanging gracefully from long arching flower stalks. Of the many different Kniphofia I am growing Kniphofia ‘Tawny King’ is probably one of the best. The tall flowers look like they are on fire with the dark flower stems giving a nice contrast. I am very fond of Kniphofia and have collected quite a few species and varieties now. Luckily the plants seem to like my allotment and most are growing well. I also grow quite a lot of different Digitalis, mainly the perennial species as biennial Digitalis purpurea seems to find my allotment too dry for its liking with plants often turning brown and crisp in late spring. The perennial species seem to do much better and one of the best is Digitalis ferruginea with tall upright flower spikes with numerous flowers liked by bumblebees.

Dierama igneum is looking beautiful this year

Kniphofia 'Tawny King' never disappoints

Digitalis ferruginea

I had already given up on growing Helenium autumnale on my allotment; the few plants I had all died a couple of years ago when we started to have really dry summers. When I came across Helenium ‘Sahin's Early Flowerer’ which is said to be quite drought resistant I thought I'd give it another try. So far it has worked and my plant is thriving, flowering from late June until autumn. It also seems to be happy with only the occasional watering. The mini-prairie I planted two years ago on the new allotment is looking really good this year. The prairie grasses such as Panicum virgatum, Sorghastrum nutans, Sporobolus heterolepis, Bouteloua gracilis and B. curtipendula have established well and give the whole planting a naturalistic look. Apart from the grasses, flowering at the moment are Echinacea purpurea, E. pallida, Coreopsis verticillata, Liatris spicata, Engelmannia peristenia, Helanthus mollis and Solidago ptarmicoides. I am also growing white-flowered Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ which I grew from seed a few years ago. The seedlings were much more difficult than ordinary Echinacea purpurea seedlings to keep alive as they were quite weak growers and only one plant has survived and established well now.

Helenium 'Sahin's Early Flowerer'

The mini-prairie is doing well

White-flowered Echinacea purpurea

I am finding a lot more peacock butterflies on my allotment at the moment, they seem to have done really well this year. Generally they had declined quite a lot in recent years so it is good they have bounced back. I have also found some clusters of small tortoiseshell caterpillars in my nettle patch and a few weeks ago I also found another caterpillar of a very special moth, the Striped Lychnis. This moth is very rare and only found in a few areas in the South of England so I am very lucky having it on my allotment. The only plant the caterpillars eat is Verbascum nigrum which I have in abundance as it self-seeds everywhere. I had to remove some plants from my vegetable beds but tend to leave them in other areas as the flowers are pretty and the plant is very drought resistant. It also attracts the Mullein moth caterpillars earlier in the year which is a much more common moth but with equally pretty caterpillars. I also found several hornet hoverflies (Volucella zonaria) feeding on the buddleia flowers. This hoverfly is our largest native hoverfly and has quite a convincing resemblance to actual hornets, it even sounds like a hornet! Looking like a hornet not only protects these hoverflies from being eaten but is also a necessary disguise as the females lay their eggs inside wasp and hornet nests. I once watched a female hornet hoverfly flying towards the entrance of a wasp nest and just walking past the guard wasps surrounding the entrance without being attacked. Nature is amazing!

Lots of peacock butterflies on the allotment this year

A rare visitor, a Striped Lychnis caterpillar

Hornet hoverflies are back

I will be back with more tales from my allotment next month, hopefully we will have had some more rain by then.

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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