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My Wildlife Allotment August 2021

July started quite wet but then turned increasingly dry with even a small heat wave thrown into the mix. We had around six days of temperatures of around 30C and sunshine from morning to evening. After a few days of this hot weather I found it quite difficult to cope with the heat and humidity; the same was probably true for my plants. Luckily I now have quite a lot of drought-resistant plants which don’t need any additional watering which saves me carrying watering cans around everywhere. I only watered early in the morning and concentrated my efforts on just the vegetable areas and newly planted fruit trees. Luckily rain in the form of heavy showers has returned now and the temperature is back to normal again. The allotment is looking very colourful now and luckily has not suffered any plant losses in the heat wave. One useful genus of drought resistant plants is Verbascum with many species adapted to dry soil and lots of sunshine. I have several species now and one of my favourite is Verbascum nigrum. I have the normal yellow-flowered version and now also pretty white-flowered Verbascum nigrum var. album. Both self-seed readily and give some useful height between the other lower-growing plants. Bumblebees love the flowers which are only open from early morning to mid-afternoon and then start to close.


The allotment looks very colourful now

Most of the planting is drought-resistant
and does not need additional watering

Verbascum nigrum is flowering at the moment

Another plant which gives some useful height is Digitalis ferruginea. I planted only a few plants years ago which have now self-seeded in several places which looks quite good. The plants are quite drought resistant and like sunshine. Interestingly most of the self-seeded Digitalis ferruginea are at the edge of the borders and the paths which indicates that this plant likes a bit of space to grow and does not want to be crowded by other plants. The same is probably true for Echinacea purpurea which likes more open habitats without tall neighbours shading the leaves. My Echinacea plants are doing quite well this year as we had a bit more rain which they prefer to summer drought. Allium sphaerocephalon seems to increase in number every year and I now have several big clusters with many flowers and lots of smaller areas with just a few flowers. This allium is always welcome as it fits so well with my naturalistic plantings. The flowers are also loved by bumblebees. I rarely see the sun rising in July as it means I have to be on the allotment at 5 in the morning, but watering the allotment in the heat wave before going to work meant some early mornings for me which I really enjoyed. Being there on my own, with everything just waking up and the sun rising on the horizon is pure bliss.


Digitalis ferruginea
has self-seeded in many places now

Echinacea purpurea
looks good with Allium sphaerocephalon

Sunrise on the allotment

One of the best Kniphofia on my allotment is K. ‘Rich Echoes’. The vivid orange and yellow flowers keep appearing for a long time. This plant is growing well in the South Africa garden together with Berkheya multijuga and several Osteospermum. Another stunning and reliable Kniphofia is K. ‘Tawny King’ with its rich orange flowers and dark stems. My plant is increasing in size every year with numerous flowers opening over many weeks. A bit of a curiosity on my allotment is the pink-flowered dandelion Taraxacum pseudoroseum. I got the seeds from the HPS seed distribution scheme which I sowed in spring this year. Three seeds germinated and the seedlings have now grown into good-sized plants, and two of them are flowering. I like plants which are out of the ordinary and it is always funny to point out my pink-flowered dandelion to allotment visitors and see the surprise in their faces.


Kniphofia 'Rich Echoes' and
Berkheya multijuga in the South Africa garden

Kniphofia 'Tawny King'

Taraxacum pseudoroseum
has pink flowers with a yellow centre

The area near the shed on the old allotment looks really colourful at the moment. This planting area has evolved into something more meadow-style over time as many of the plants I originally planted there have self-seeded now. The main plants in this area are Anthemis tinctoria, Centaurea nigra, Achillea millefolium, Allium sphaerocephalon, Digitalis ferruginea, Adenophora sp., Origanum vulgare and some Echinacea purpurea, E. pallida, Festuca glauca, F. amethystina and Nassella tenuissima. The area is very low maintenance and does not need any additional watering or fertilizer. I mainly cut everything down in late winter and otherwise just enjoy the flowers.


Colourful planting with
Centaurea, Allium, Anthemis and Achillea

Digitalis ferruginea with
Allium sphaerocephalon

Centaurea, Achillea, Allium and Adenophora

The mini-prairie is starting to look good again with Echinacea pallida, Liatris spicata and Coreopsis verticillata flowering now. Echinacea purpurea is also just opening the first flowers. The prairie grasses such as Sporobolus heterolepis and Panicum virgatum look best in August and September when Helianthus mollis and several different asters also flower. Also from the North American prairies hails Veronicastrum virginicum which likes rich moist soil and needs additional watering in a dry summer. I love the tall erect stems topped with slender pale purple flowers which stay upright even after rain and in windy weather. The plant dies down gracefully and still looks good in early winter. Doing especially well in a dry summer is Catananche caerulea which tends to grow a bit floppy and needs staking in a wetter summer such as we have this year. The blue flowers are quite stunning and attract many bees, hoverflies and other pollinators. Always attracting comments from allotment visitors are the pretty flowers of Dierama, especially D. pulcherrimum which flowered spectacularly again this year. Even after they have finished flowering the plants still look nice with the silvery paper-like bracts dangling in the wind on long stems.


The mini-prairie with Echinacea pallida and
Coreopsis verticillata flowering

Veronicastrum virginicum looks good with
Inula magnifica

Catananche caerulea

I grew Asphodeline lutea from seed several years ago and this year both plants started flowering for the first time. As I mainly come to the allotment in the morning I was quite disappointed with the flowers as they never really seemed to open and always looked limp and sad. Until one day I came to the allotment in the afternoon and what a surprise: the flowers were open properly and looked really pretty. So lesson learned, there are not only plants which just open their flowers in the morning but also plants which only flower in the afternoon. I love growing Digitalis and have collected several different species now. Some plants grown from seed which I got from the HPS seed distribution scheme are flowering now and look very pretty and quite different from my other Digitalis. The seeds were labelled as D. davisiana but on the internet the pictures look all a bit different so I am not sure anymore what species I have. Maybe one of my blog readers will recognises the plant in the picture below and can tell me what it is.


Dierama pulcherrimum

The flowers of Aspodeline lutea
only open in the afternoon

Digitalis davisiana or maybe something else

Eryngium giganteum self-seeds happily on my allotment. I normally let plants grow if they don’t interfere with other plants as the flowers are very pretty and attract a lot of pollinators, especially bumblebees. Once it has flowered the plant dies but not without spreading its numerous seeds everywhere. I love caterpillars and I am always on the lookout for new species I have not seen before on the allotment. A few weeks ago I found a chamomile shark caterpillar (Cucullia chamomillae) for the first time on my allotment, feeding on some Anthemis flowers. They like feeding on the centre of the flower which leaves a tell-tale hole which, when spotted, often indicates that the caterpillars are present. They will also eat other daisy flowers such as Leucanthemum and Matricaria. Later in the year the caterpillar will pupate and emerge next spring as a greyish-white quite non distinctive looking moth. I waited for a long time but have finally found my first wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) on the allotment. The male was fiercely guarding a patch of Digitalis ferruginea flowers, waiting for a mate to appear, chasing away any other insects daring to come close, even large bumblebees. Females look similar to males but are smaller and less hairy. They collect wool fibres from various plants and can be seen transporting silvery clumps of these fibres to their nesting cavities which are in existing holes or cavities, including hollow stems, dead wood and human-made structures.


Bumblebees love Eryngium giganteum flowers

Chamomile shark caterpillar feeding on Anthemis

Wool carder bee

Hopefully next month will bring some more interesting wildlife encounters. I will be back with more tales from my allotment in September.

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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