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My Wildlife Allotment October 2021

September is my favourite month of the year. The year is winding down, plants have mostly stopped growing so there is less watering and cutting back to do and more time for pottering around and just enjoying the late flowers and wildlife coming into the garden. Normally the weather is still warm and sunny which was certainly the case this year. It is also the time when I take 2 weeks off work after a stressful summer of fieldwork to enjoy the allotment. Grasses look at their best now. I especially like Stipa gigantea and Cortaderia richardii which both stand tall above the other plants. Stipa calamagrostis grows well on my allotment and has masses of fluffy seed heads. Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ has a great presence in the border with tall upright stems and narrow seed heads, standing firm without support or damage throughout winter. Pennisetum macrourum and P. flaccidum have both long narrow, cat-tail-like flower heads which look beautiful when lit from behind by the early morning sun. An interesting-looking grass is Hystrix patula which has bottle brush like flowers which look good between other perennials.


Grasses combine well with late-flowering perennials

Grasses are looking good now

My shed is hidden among the flowers

The allotment is still very colourful with a large number of autumn asters flowering. There are lots of self-seeded Symphyotrichum novi-belgii, all with subtle differences in flower colour with shades from pale pink to dark purple. I even found a plant with pure white flowers now, the first white-flowered New York aster I have seen so far on my allotment. Hopefully the plant will grow well so I am able to divide it next winter. I also have several other asters such as Aster amellus ‘Violet Queen’, Symphyotrichum lateriflorum 'Lady in Black' and Aster pyrenaeus. One of my favourite asters is Sympyotrichum ‘Little Carlow’ which has masses of small pale purple flowers which glow in the autumn sunshine. The only danger is heavy rain which often causes the whole plant to collapse and they seldom look as good afterwards as they looked before the rain. Luckily September has been very dry here so far with only a little bit of rain so my plants are still looking good.


Autumn asters are flowering everywhere now

Aster amellus with Symphyotrichum novi-belgii

Symphyotrichum 'Little Carlow' with
Solidago, Persicaria and Calamagrostis

Seed heads are appearing everywhere now, a sign that autumn is truly here. I especially like the seed heads of Echinacea which keep their shape for a long time. I also like Digitalis ferruginea and Verbascum nigrum seed heads which both have a similar shape, tall and upright. These two plants seed themselves around quite a lot but there are worse things than having lots of seedlings which are easily removed if growing in the wrong place. Several people told me they try to grow Digitalis ferruginea for years and the plants never survive more than a year, so I am happy that my plants are growing so well and even self-seed. When plants do self-seed it is interesting to see where the seedlings actually grow as this will tell us what conditions the plant really likes compared to just being plonked in a border where the gardener wants it to grow. Digitalis ferruginea for example choses open sunny areas, often next to the path, on well-drained soil which dries out quite a lot in summer. The plants do not seem to like competition as they slowly disappear from well-planted borders where I originally planted them.


The greenhouse surrounded by
grasses, seed heads and asters

Seed heads are appearing
between the flowers and grasses

The allotment is still very colourful

The South Africa garden is looking quite colourful now with many plants in flower such as Agapanthus, Osteospermum, Kniphofia rooperi, Diascia ‘Hopleys’, Kniphofia rooperi, Schizostylis coccinea 'Zeal Salmon' and Berkheya cirsiifolia. Quite spectacular are also my two large Eucomis, white-flowered Eucomis pole-evansii and pink-flowered Eucomis ‘Pink Gin’. I do have Eucomis bicolour as well which I planted 2 years ago. It survives well outside but the plants are quite small and easily overlooked compared to the larger Eucomis. I have planted a few more hardy Agapanthus including Agapanthus ‘Twister’. So far all the previously planted Agapanthus have survived winter well so hopefully all my new plants will be fine too. Maybe I will even manage to travel to South Africa sometime in the near future to see all these plants growing in their native habitats which would be really nice.


The South Africa garden

Eucomis pole-evansii
flowering in the South Africa garden

Schizostylis coccinea 'Zeal Salmon'

The pond is attracting quite a lot of dragonflies at the moment. Most frequently I have seen common darter dragonflies, mainly one male which seems to see my pond as his territory. As soon as another male approaches a fight is starting with the resident male driving off the intruder. Females get a much nicer welcome with the male trying to convince the female to mate with him, not always successful. I have also seen more frogs around, some smaller frogs around the pond and a few large frogs in the borders. I hope they eat some of the slugs which seem to be abundant this year.


A nice place to sit and relax

The wildlife pond is attracting lots of dragonflies

A common darter dragonfly

Another late-flowering Kniphofia, beside Kniphofia rooperi which is flowering in the South Africa garden at the moment, is K. caulescens. The glaucous leaves look nice all year and the tall flowers make quite a statement. Echinops ritro was still flowering at the beginning of September but has mostly finished now. This is a plant which has nice seed heads as well, tall and upright, and looking especially good when illuminated by low morning sunshine from behind. The glowing yellow flowers of Rudbeckia triloba are always welcome at his time of year, just a shame that the plants don’t live very long, only 1-2 years on my allotment. So far I always have a few seedlings each year which keep the population going.


Kniphofia caulescens

Echinops ritro looks good with asters and grasses

Rudbeckia triloba

The last Echinacea are still flowering in the mini-prairie, but most show their pretty seed heads now. Helianthus mollis has nearly finished flowering as well but stealing the show now are the autumn asters (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii and S. oblongifolium). Also flowering now are the prairie grasses such as Panicum virgatum, Sorghastrum nutans, Bouteloua curtipendula, B. gracilis and Sporobolus heterolepis. Did you know that Sporobolus flowers have a very distinctive and quite strong scent? I did not know this until a few weeks ago when I was standing near the prairie on a sunny warm day and wondered where the strong spicy vanilla scent was coming from. When trying to locate the source of the scent I ended up near the Sporobolus plants and realised that the scent was coming from the flowers! The only grass I know of which has such a strong scent. Another wonderful grass on my allotment is Stipa ichu. The grass has long gracefully arching silvery plumes which look really pretty. Stipa ichu needs full sun and quite poor well-drained soil with no competing larger perennials nearby. Still flowering is Clematis tangutica ‘Golden Tiara’. I love the small yellow lantern-like flowers which are followed by large, fluffy seed heads. I also have Clematis tangutica ‘Golden Harvest’ which is scrambling through the rambler rose ‘Albertine’. The flowers are smaller and have less purple stamens but are equally pretty.


The mini-prairie is still quite colourful

The beautiful grass Stipa ichu

Clematis tangutica 'Golden Tiara'

I have re-designed a small area of my allotment which had some overgrown plants which looked quite tired. I have taken most of the plants out and created a little seaside garden now. I mixed a lot of sand into the soil and planted a selection of seaside plants and plants which look like they could grow near the sea such as Eryngium, Armeria, Limonium, small Dianthus, Glaucium, Erigeron and the grass Helictotrichon sempervirens. I already had sea buckthorn planted at the back which will fit well. There are still some late butterflies out and about such as brimstones and small whites. The brimstone butterflies seem to really like Dianthus carthusianorum flowers of which there were still a few flowers open at the beginning of September. Small white butterflies like Verbena bonariensis, and after sipping nectar from the flowers growing on my allotment they fly to my plot neighbours cabbage patch and lay their eggs. For them the allotment site is a little paradise! Many people are now also growing sunflowers for the bees and birds. Bees might get the pollen and nectar but the birds will never get any seeds as the rats are quicker. I have watched two young rats climbing nimbly up the sunflower stalks, sitting on the seed heads and eating the seeds. They actually looked really cute.


My new seaside garden

Brimstone butterflies love
Dianthus carthusianorum flowers

A little rat is eating the sunflower seeds

As we are slowly moving deeper into autumn it will be interesting to see how the weather develops. Will we get an Indian summer or the first frosty nights? 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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