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My Wildlife Allotment November 2020

We've had a lot of rain here again, and luckily no frost so far. Many plants are still growing albeit slowly due to the lack of light. I have sown some seeds of hardy perennials in the greenhouse to give them some winter chilling which often helps with germination. A few seeds, such as Berkheya cirsiifolia, Aconitum carmichaelii and Scutellaria baicalensis, have germinated already and are now growing slowly but steadily. It still gets quite warm inside the greenhouse when the sun is shining but the days are now too short to promote a lot of growth. But luckily the seedlings have all winter to grow into small plants ready to plant out in spring.

Seed heads are dominating on the allotment now, but there is still colour from late flowering perennials such as the many asters, Rudbeckia laciniata and Coreopsis ‘Full Moon’. Looking good at the moment are the seed heads of Monarda fistulosa which last for a very long time. I also really like the seed heads of Echinacea species and of course all the grasses, especially the various cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis.


Asters and Solidago
are providing colour on the allotment

Monarda fistulosa has pretty seed heads

Asters look great mingling with grasses

A few years ago I planted a couple of Symphyotrichum ‘Little Carlow’ which have developed into sizeable clumps. I always look forward to the hundreds of small flowers opening in early autumn as they always look spectacular. The only downside of this aster is that the plants carry so many flowers that they get quite top-heavy which is not a problem in dry weather, but without staking the plants flop quite badly in wet and windy weather. I do not stake many plants on the allotment as I like the more natural look plants have without rigid staking but Symphyotrichum ‘Little Carlow’ needs to be supported either by surrounding plants (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' works quite well I find) or by subtle staking without destroying the natural shape of the plant. A very pretty species aster I grow is Aster oblongifolius, also called aromatic aster as it has aromatic leaves which release their scent when crushed. The plants start flowering in October and keep going until late November; the flowers even survive light frosts. I have already written about the numerous seed-raised and self-sown New York asters (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii) I grow on the allotment in previous blogs but I have to mention my favourite variety which is flowering at the moment. This plant has large light-purple flowers with quite large yellow centres which looks very pretty. They are also loved by bumblebees.


Symphyotrichum 'Little Carlow'
provides lots of colour

Aster oblongifolius

My favourite self-seeded New York aster
(Symphyotrichum novi-belgii)

A few red hot pokers are still flowering with the prettiest and most impressive one of them Kniphofia rooperi. I had grown my plants from seed several years ago and despite the well-known promiscuity of the Kniphofia genus (species hybridise very easily) my plants look very much as they should look, which is nice as I find this species very pretty. Another Kniphofia which has started flowering is Kniphofia pauciflora 'Limelight' with acid-yellow flowers emerging from a neat clump of arching narrow leaves. This poker seems to be relatively weak-growing and often disappears completely in winter, only growing back new leaves in mid-spring. The first year this happened I thought I had lost the plant as all my other pokers keep their leaves over winter. But luckily the leaves grew back in spring and all was well. The flowers sometimes get hit by an early frost but most years I can enjoy them as we normally do not get a proper frost before November. Another yellow-flowered plant, Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstsonne’, has a few flowers left, providing some nice splashes of colour which look good with the purple of the asters.


Kniphofia rooperi
always looks spectacular in autumn

Kniphofia pauciflora 'Limelight'
has started flowering on the allotment

Rudbeckia laciniata 'Herbstsonne'
is still adding colour to the allotment

The mini-prairie is still looking colourful despite having mostly seed heads and grasses left now with not many flowers apart from a few asters. The colour comes mainly from the grass Sorghastrum nutans which has developed pretty orange-coloured leaves. This contrasts well with the dark seed heads of Echinacea purpurea and the buff-coloured grass Panicum virgatum. While taking some photos of the mini-prairie I even spotted a small white butterfly sitting on one of the aster flowers. I have not seen any butterflies recently so this came as a bit of a surprise.


The mini-prairie is still looking pretty
with seed heads and colourful grasses

A small white butterfly
likes the asters in the mini-prairie

Asters and Echinacea purpurea
seed heads in the mini-prairie

While the Panicum virgatum plants in the mini-prairie, which I grew from seed, have plain buff-coloured leaves in autumn, other Panicum virgatum plants which I bought as named varieties develop nice yellow leaves with reddish tips which look very pretty at this time of year. Panicum virgatum does quite well in parts of my allotment with good moisture-retentive soil but dislikes summer drought which is a shame as we seem to get really dry summers every year now. Another grass with pretty autumn colour at the moment is Miscanthus 'Flammenmeer', which I am growing with different asters (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii and S. novae-angliae), Rudbeckia laciniata and Coreopsis ‘Full Moon’ which all flower in late summer and autumn. Also flowering at the moment is Pennisetum alopecuroides with its distinctive bottlebrush-like flowers. I have several different P. alopecuroides plants, some raised from seed, others bought as named variety, and not all flower reliably every year so it is probably best to stick to proven cultivars which are known for reliable flowering. This grass is also susceptible to late spring frosts which damages the young leaves and also does not like summer drought, so not the easiest plant to look after.


Panicum virgatum develops lovely autumn colours

Miscanthus 'Flammenmeer' is looking great
with asters, Rudbeckia and Coreopsis

Pennisetum alopecuroides has pretty seed heads

The latest aster to come into flower on my allotment is Aster tataricus. The stiff upright stems adorned with fresh-green leaves carry pale-purple flowers which open at the end of October, and often keep on flowering until December in the absence of harsh winter weather so they are best for milder areas of the country. Also looking good at the moment is the grass Hystrix patula which has intriguing seed heads which stay intact until well into winter. When showing people around my allotment I am often asked the name of this grass which shows that you do not have to be large and colourful to make an impression. I have grown Hystrix patula from seed acquired via the HPS seed distribution scheme and it is very easy to look after. It likes semi-shaded positions on well-drained soil and self-seeds a bit but is easy to remove if growing in the wrong place. My Asian pear tree (Pyrus pyrifolia) has lovely autumn colour, again with flaming red and orange leaves. I just managed to take a few photos before strong wind blew most of the leaves from the tree the next night.


Miscanthus sinensis and Sorghastrum nutans
with late-flowering Aster tataricus

Hystrix patula is an interesting-looking grass

My Asian pear has brilliant autumn colours

I am in the process of redeveloping my little South Africa garden. I have removed some of the plants which took up too much space and planted some new ones such as Dierama dracomontanum ‘Wisley Princess Group’, D. 'Pink Rocket', Kniphofia 'Rich Echoes' and Agapanthus ‘Northern Star’ which is flowering at the moment. I would like to plant some more Agapanthus as they provide useful colour in late summer; if anyone has a recommendation of a good winter-hardy Agapanthus please let me know. I am also planning to plant a few Eucomis bulbs in spring and I am especially interested in E. pallidiflora and E. comosa ‘Pink Gin’ but any recommendations are welcome as well.

My shade-loving plants have mostly finished flowering but Tricyrtis formosana is still going strong with numerous pretty star-shaped, lily-like flowers stealing the show under the cherry plum tree. This is a plant which is biding its time, easily overlooked between all the other plants in spring and summer but coming into its own at this time of year when all its plant neighbours have given up already.

The pond surroundings are clad in autumn colours with the colourful leaves of Mentha aquatica, Lythrum salicaria and especially Comarum palustre, our native marsh quinquefoil, as the most colourful of all.


Agapanthus 'Northern Star' is still flowering

Tricyrtis formosana
is happy under the cherry plum tree

Comarum palustre
looks very colourful at the moment

Often I still see a few frogs in the pond getting ready now for overwintering. Male frogs often overwinter in the mud at the bottom of the pond while female frogs overwinter outside under log piles, stones or in compost heaps. It is important that the pond is deep enough so it does not freeze completely in winter as otherwise the frogs and other overwintering pond creatures would not survive. My pond is 80cm at the deepest point which is plenty as we normally do not get a lot of prolonged hard frosts here in South Oxfordshire. A few bumblebees are still out and about, mainly common carder bumblebees (Bombus pascuorum) and a few buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) which often stay active through winter. Wasps are also still on the wing, often basking on leaves in the sunshine as they do not have much to do anymore after a busy summer. Wasps are very useful insects to have in a garden or on the allotment as they spend all summer hunting smaller insects such as aphids and caterpillars to feed to their larvae which makes them very efficient pest controllers. The adult wasps visit flowers to drink nectar so are good pollinators as well. Wasps are normally not aggressive when left alone and only become a nuisance sometimes in late summer and autumn when they do not have to raise any young anymore.


The pond surroundings are clad in autumn colours

This little frog is enjoying the sunshine,
can you see the second frog as well?

Wasps are still out and about

Let’s hope the relatively mild weather continues for a while longer so we can still enjoy all the autumn colours around us. I will be back with more tales from my allotment in December.

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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