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My Wildlife Allotment October 2020

Some rain and lots of sunshine have enticed many of my plants such as Helenium, Nepeta and Geranium to start flowering again. But the small heatwave we had a few weeks ago brought its own challenges as the hot sunshine and south-westerly wind dried out the ground so much that some of my plants started to suffer and I had to water again. Luckily cooler weather soon arrived with a good amount of rain which brought some relief. The many self-seeded Verbena bonariensis which are growing on the allotment provide welcome colour at this time of year. The plants are short-lived but as they are very good at producing seed I am never without new seedlings, sometimes so many that I have to remove some. The flowers of Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstsonne’ provide a splash of yellow and a nectar source for bumblebees. A couple of years ago I moved a few plants from the old to the new allotment which seems to have more moisture-retentive soil as the plants have grown very tall, over 2m. They never grew as tall as this on the old allotment even in years with good rain. Autumn time is spider time with large webs, mainly from garden spiders, appearing everywhere on the allotment. One particularly large garden spider likes to have her web over the path so I have to be careful not to walk into it in the morning which happened a few times. Luckily I am not afraid of spiders.


Many different asters
are flowering on the allotment now

Verbena bonariensis and Rudbeckia laciniata
provide some late colour

Autumn time is spider time

Many of the grasses I planted look at their best now, especially in the early morning light and sparkling with dew after a cold night. Achnatherum calamagrostis does very well on my allotment as it likes dry soil and lots of sunshine. It needs an open position to grow well and does not like being crowded by taller plants. Calamagrostis brachytricha only starts flowering in September with pretty feathery plumes which sparkle in the early morning sunshine. This grass needs a bit more moisture in the soil and to keep it happy I water it occasionally in dry spells.


Many grasses look their best in autumn
such as Achnatherum calamagrostis

Calamagrostis brachytricha
has feathery plumes as flowers

Grasses look great
when backlit by the early morning sunshine

Miscanthus nepalensis is one of my favourite grasses and has airy plumes of yellowish drooping flower heads in September. This grass needs a bit of space around it and looks best when grown in a small group. I have read that M. nepalensis might not be completely winter hardy but so far it has survived on my cold and windy allotment even in temperatures as low as -8C. I am growing a lot of different Miscanthus sinensis, some bought as named cultivars and some grown from seed. My favourite is M. sinensis ‘Red Chief’ which has wonderful red flowers, fading to silver later in autumn. Miscanthus does need good moisture-retentive soil and does not do so well on my old allotment which is too dry. The same is true for many of the different Pennisetum I am growing, such as P. macrourum which does much better on the new allotment which has better soil. I love the long narrow, cat-tail-like flower heads of this grass which look great when backlit, and luckily I also found some young self-seeded plants this year which I have moved to a more suitable place.


Miscanthus nepalensis

Silphium mohrii growing in front of
the red flowers of a Miscanthus sinensis 'Red Chief'

Pennisetum macrourum looks brilliant in autumn

Another pretty Pennisetum which is doing really well is P. thunbergii which also develops pretty autumn colour with red-tipped leaves. Sorghastrum nutans hails from the prairies of North America and is also part of the grass community which I planted in my mini-prairie. This is a really pretty grass with glaucous leaves and copper-coloured flowers whose yellow stamens protrude prominently providing a nice contrast. A shame it is not very often seen in gardens. Another prairie grass is Andropogon gerardii with graceful arching leaves and interesting purplish tassel-like flowers. It likes an open sunny position in soil which is not too dry in summer. Most grasses are very easy to grow from seed as they don't need any special treatment and often germinate readily after only a few weeks. The seedlings grow fast and plants often flower in the first or second year after sowing.


Pennisetum thunbergii
self-seeds gently on the allotment

Sorghastrum nutans starts flowering in September

Andropogon gerardii
hails from the prairies of North America

Lots of late colour comes from the many different asters I am growing which give me a lot of pleasure. I also keep adding new asters either grown from seed or bought as plants, my newest acquisition being Aster ageratoides 'Ezo Murasaki' with lovely pink flowers. One of the prettiest asters on my allotment is Aster amellus 'Violet Queen' with deep violet flowers on a compact plant. The plants need lots of sunshine and don't grow well in rich soil; my plant is growing in one of the steppe plantings which has poor sandy soil. Aster × frikartii 'Mönch' is still in full flower, it seems to go on and on, an amazing plant. There are some late bumblebees out and about on the allotment which love visiting the asters for pollen and nectar. They especially like the dark-purple flowers of an unknown Symphyotrichum novae-angliae variety which I bought at a plant sale a few years ago.


Aster amellus 'Violet Queen'

Aster × frikartii 'Mönch' is still in full flower

Bumblebees love the flowers
of this dark purple Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Since another allotment holder acquired some honeybee hives I seem to be inundated with honeybees visiting my flowers. At the moment they are all over the flowers of the many different Symphyotrichum novi-belgii plants I grow. Maybe I should request a jar of honey as most of the honey produced by the bees probably comes from my allotment, at least at the moment with not many flowers left in the countryside. Last year I grew some Solidago rigida plants from seed which are flowering this year. The brilliant yellow flowers on stiff stems with glaucous leaves really stand out and fit well into my naturalistic planting. I grow several other Solidago species such as S. speciosa as they all provide some nice colour for the autumn garden and cope well with dry soil. A few late Kniphofia are flowering now such as K. rooperi and K. caulescens. The latter has pretty glaucous leaves which look good all year and tall, orange and yellow flowers in September which are not the prettiest Kniphofia flowers but still make quite a statement.


One of the many different
Symphyotrichum novi-belgii plants, all loved by bees

Solidago rigida has brilliant yellow flowers in autumn

Kniphofia caulescens

Recently I have not seen many of the larger frogs, which are probably hiding in the borders, but a few young frogs like to sit in the sunshine at the edge of the two smaller ponds. They are normally quite tolerant of my gardening activities nearby and if I am careful I can also take a picture with my camera. I have also seen some dragonflies laying eggs in the large pond. A large hawker dragonfly female was laying her eggs in some moss at the edge of the pond and a bit later a couple of common darters arrived with the female laying her eggs directly in the water. Now in autumn there is not so much gardening to do anymore apart from a bit of weeding, planting and harvesting so I have more time to just sit and watch the wildlife. The pond is the most interesting habitat on the allotment with many comings and goings. Sometimes I even see birds having a bath which is always quite a special moment.


A little frog enjoying the sunshine

The pond still attracting a lot of wildlife in autumn

A dragonfly laying eggs at the edge of the pond

Autumn has shown us its friendly face so far, but what will the next month bring? I will be back with more tales from my 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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