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My Wildlife Allotment January 2022

A new year has started which will hopefully be a good one for us gardeners with benign weather, enough rain and lots of sunshine. It is the middle of winter but the weather has been quite odd recently with temperatures around 15C and no frosts for a while. The sun has come out again after a long spell of wet and gloomy weather, which has been a relief. Everything feels more positive when the sun is shining. The allotment is slowly ticking over, there is not much happening with most plants and wildlife dormant, sleeping or hiding away. Some seed heads have survived the frequent rain and wind and are still looking good such as the structural seed heads of Morina longifolia. We even had a day of snow which turned the allotment into a magical winter wonderland.


The allotment basking in winter sunshine

Morina longifolia seed heads

A snowy day on the allotment

Some plant life is stirring with Cyclamen coum opening its first flowers. These pretty little flowers are a sign of hope that winter will not last forever and soon warmer longer days are returning. The primroses (Primula vulgaris) have started flowering as well with a few flowers here and there which slugs really seem to like as they all have nibbled petals. I have also seen the first crocuses pushing through the soil, not long now and the first flowers will be open. Snowdrops will join these early flowers at the end of January which is always a delight.


The first Cyclamen coum are flowering

Primula vulgaris has opened the first flowers

Crocuses are already pushing through the soil

I have used all the time off work to build some new habitats on the allotment which is my favourite pastime. After watching a German gardening program which was showcasing hardy carnivorous plants for gardens I thought I build my own carnivorous plant habitat. I had done a similar thing in one of the gardens I had in Germany so kind of knew what I was doing. First I selected two sturdy plastic containers which I then dug into the soil. The bottom of the containers I filled with upside-down plastic plant pots which will form a water reservoir as the space under the pots will fill up with water. Next I filled the two containers with a mix of sharp sand and peat. Unfortunately there is not really an alternative to peat yet for growing most carnivorous plants as many are very sensitive to any kind of fertiliser or lime in the substrate and need the specific structure peat provides for growing. Once the containers were filled I started planting. I have already planted a few Sarracenia plants such as S. flava and two hybrids, also several sundews such as Drosera filiformis and Drosera rotundifolia, and three Venus fly trap plants (Dionea muscipula). Venus fly trap is quite hardy, at least down to -5C, so should be fine in a normal winter. These plants mostly die by being kept too warm, not too cold. I will add a few more Sarracenia species such as S. leucophylla, S.minor and S. purpurea to my collection soon as well. As part of the holiday to South Carolina I have won as the winner of the Gardener’s World Garden of the Year 2021 competition I will even have the chance to see these plants in their native habitat as several Sarracenia species, Drosera species and also Dionea muscipula grow in wet pine woodlands and bogs in South Carolina.


The new area for carnivorous plants

Venus fly trap is already planted

A pretty Sarracenia hybrid

I have also created a little heathland garden next to the wildlife pond. This area was formerly a small bog but which had started to lose its appeal as an invasive sedge (Carex flacca) had started to take over. Also the Miscanthus sinensis planted nearby had grown too large and was overshadowing everything. So it was time for a complete overhaul. I removed every last bit of the sedge which had already started to creep into adjacent areas, removed the Miscanthus and filled the area with ericaceous compost. I planted several Erica x darleyensis and Erica carnea which flower in winter and provide nectar and pollen for early bees. I have also planted Calluna vulgaris, Festuca amethystina, Vaccinium vitis-idea and Cornus canadensis, and also a tree, Stewartia pseudocamellia, which I will try to keep small.


The new little heathland garden

Cornus canadensis

Erica x darleyensis is flowering in winter

One of my Christmas presents has been a book about moss gardening. I found it quite intriguing and nearly immediately started reading it. What a new wonderful world of gardening ideas was suddenly opening up, especially for dreary mid-winter days when most other gardening is on hold. Mosses are actually quite fascinating plants when you look closer, but unfortunately they are often overlooked or seen as a nuisance invading pristine lawns. In contrast to higher plants mosses don’t have a vascular system and absorb water and nutrients directly through their leaves which are often very thin. Mosses don’t have roots but attach themselves to the underlying substrate with rhizoids. They always grow close together in colonies to stay moist and preserve water. Mosses don’t shut down in winter like most higher plants but many are actively growing thanks to a natural anti-freeze (phenolic compounds) in their leaves. These phenolic compounds also protect mosses from most pests and diseases. Mosses don’t have flowers and produce no seeds but instead have sporophytes which produce spores. Wind and rain will help with dispersing the spores over a wide area.


My new little moss bonsai gardens

The Mediterranean moss bonsai garden

Detail with small Cyclamen coum plants

Mosses look very pretty when seen close-up and are very diverse, even in a small area you can often find several species which all look different. Some look like soft carpets while others look like little trees or ferns. They are very tactile and once you got the moss bug you want to touch them all the time as they feel so soft. They are also not all the same moss-green colour but some are more of a yellow green or grey-green.


A diverse mix of moss species

Moss gardens look like miniature landscapes

English hillside moss bonsai garden with yew tree

I now made several little moss gardens, all in containers. I had a lot of fun creating these as it is a very creative process, a bit like being a moss artist. I combined my new-found love of mosses with my already existing love of bonsai trees and created little moss landscapes for some of my little trees. I made a Mediterranean moss landscape which I planted with Pinus pinea, Quercus suber and Punica granatum. I have also created an English hillside with a yew tree and a field maple. Another moss garden has holly and hawthorn growing. I found a hollow tree piece during a walk in the park and thought this would be ideal for a little moss garden for more dry-loving mosses. I planted a birch tree sapling in the middle. I had some oak saplings in pots which I had found growing on the allotment in autumn so I thought I can create a bonsai oak woodland as well, complete with mosses of course. All the mosses I found around the allotment site and on walks around Wallingford. They were growing on pavements, on walls, at the edge of lawns, on dead wood or on bare soil. They are all common mosses but all really beautiful. All I have to do now is to water my bonsai moss gardens regularly as most mosses like to stay moist. I also have to prune and form the sapling trees into real bonsai trees which will take some years but which will be very rewarding.


Moss garden in a hollow tree piece

Detail of the hollow tree moss garden

The new pond

My last project in December has been building a new pond. This pond is a bit smaller than the larger wildlife pond and less deep so will hopefully warm up earlier in spring which frogs will like. The larger pond is quite deep and stays cold for longer in spring so hopefully the frogs will like the new pond which I have created especially for them. I have already spotted some water beetles in the new pond so the first inhabitants have arrived which is exciting.

It will be nice to see all these new habitats and projects develop over time and I will keep you updated on the progress. 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

 

2 Comments To "My Wildlife Allotment January 2022"

Joy On 15.01.2022
I look after a wildlife plot on our allotment site and am constantly amazed at the plants flowering now. The primroses aren't out yet but Erysimum Bowles mauve is as are the heathers which are covered in bees on sunny days. I love the moss garden. Reply to this comment
Nadine On 26.01.2022
Thank you for your comment. Great you have plants flowering as well. Many spring bulbs are late here because we had such cold weather for weeks now but slowly more patches of colour appear everywhere. Nice you like the moss gardens, I love them as well and looking forward to see them developing including the little bonsai trees included in each moss garden.
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