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My Wildlife Allotment August 2022

July has been exceptionally dry again with just 0.3mm of rain in the whole month. This comes after already 3 very dry months and a heatwave with nearly 40C in mid-July which left the soil parched and damaged some of my plants. Gardening is very challenging now with most of my time spent trying to keep everything alive. I am lucky that I have planted so many drought-resistant and drought-tolerant plants such as Eryngium, Echinops, Verbascum and Digitalis ferruginea which don’t need much watering. Most of the grasses are also still doing ok, but I have to water the less-drought tolerant plants such as Veronicastrum, Rudbeckia and some of the Inula regularly, otherwise they start to look very sad. I also water the trees as many of them are quite young and are still getting their roots down deep into the ground. The vegetables need the most of the water as it is so dry now that without watering I would not be able to harvest anything.


The grasses are looking good now

Echinops ritro still looking good despite the drought

The Eryngium planum and
other drought resistant planting
don't need much watering

Doing well without much watering is Malva alcea 'Fastigiata' which has pretty pink flowers which last a long time. The plant is not long-lived but self-seeds well and seems to like sunny and quite dry conditions as it is doing much better this year compared to last year which was much wetter. Echinacea purpurea is struggling this year, especially in the drier areas of the allotment, so I have to water the plants if I don’t want to lose them. It is a bit of a myth that Echinacea purpurea is drought-resistant which it is definitely not, at least not on my well-drained allotment. But in garden magazines and books this Echinacea is still recommended for drought-resistant plantings which is a bit misleading. Veronicastrum virginicum needs quite a lot of water as well and this is one of the first of the perennials which I have to give additional water in longer periods without rain. In the long-term, with hot summers and long periods of drought, I have to rethink my planting choices. I already removed a lot of the tall Rudbeckia laciniata which needed too much water. My mini-prairie is looking good now with Echinacea purpurea, E. pallida, Liatris spicata and Coreopsis verticillata flowering. Even with regular watering the plants are all much shorter than last year but the area is still looking nice.


Malva, Echinacea and Veronicastrum
are looking good with the grasses

Malva alcea 'Fastigiata' with Melica ciliata

The mini-prairie is looking good now

I have seen many butterflies on my allotment recently, especially many peacock butterflies which love the Echinacea flowers, and brimstones which like the early-flowering Aster x frickartii ‘Mönch’ and the flowers of Dianthus carthusianorum. It is nice to see so many butterflies and hopefully some of them will also use my allotment for laying their eggs. I already found some small tortoiseshell caterpillars in my nettle patch.


Eryngium planum, Echinacea purpureum
and Lysimachia ephemerum

Peacock butterflies love the Echinacea flowers

A brimstone butterfly is visiting
Aster x frickartii 'Mönch'

Eryngium planum is one of the best plants for a dry summer as it has a deep tap root and does not need any additional watering. The blue spiky flowers attract a lot of pollinators, especially bumblebees, solitary bees and solitary wasps. Another drought-resistant plant is Catananche caerulea which loves sunshine and dry soil. It looks much better and less floppy than last year when we had a wet summer which this plant did not like very much. I love the purple drumstick flowers of Allium sphaerocephalon. The flowers look good between grasses and perennials which keep the flowers from bending over too much as sometimes the flower heads can get too heavy for the flower stalk to stay upright on their own. Bumblebees and honeybees love the flowers and on a sunny day there is a constant coming and going.


Eryngium planum is very drought-resistant

Catananche caerulea
loves the sunny and dry weather

Allium sphaerocephalon
attracts a lot of bumblebees

Last year I planted Echinops sphaerocephalus 'Arctic Glow' which was just a small rosette of leaves then. This year the plant has grown sturdy red-tinged flower stems topped with pretty globe-shaped white flowers. The plant has so far coped very well with the hot and dry summer weather and is a nice change to the more commonly-grown blue-flowered Echinops ritro. Grown from seed years ago, Allium flavum has erupted into little fireworks of yellow flowers again. This plant is very undemanding, growing quietly between other low-growing perennials in a sunny position, until it is starting to flower which is the time when it really becomes visible. It also self-seeds and I have clumps of this plant in several areas now. Inula oculus-christi has started flowering and is looking good with Eryngium variifolium and Allium sphaerocephalon. This Inula seem to be more drought-resistant than the taller members of this genus such as Inula orientalis which needs additional watering in dry years to do well.


Echinops sphaerocephalus 'Arctic Glow'

The flowers of Allium flavum look like little fireworks

Eryngium variifolium with Allium sphaerocephalon
and Inula oculus-christi

Until the heatwave in mid-July with nearly 40C my Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ was doing well. I love the pretty heart-shaped dark-red leaves which really stand out. Unfortunately this tree is one of the casualties of the heatwave on my allotment as it has lost most of its leaves now. I think what happened was that, unbeknown to me, a mole had dug under the tree and disturbed the roots to an extent which made it too difficult for the tree to draw enough water from the ground to support the leaves in the heat. So they have mostly dropped now. Quite sad but I hope the tree recovers and will be growing new leaves again in spring next year. The pond I built at Christmas last year is looking quite nice now with plants having grown well around the edge. One of my favourite plants growing near the pond is Berkeya purpurea which has large purple flowers which really stand out. I often get questions from visitors about this plant when it is in flower. If you love scented flowers you have to grow Clematis x triternata 'Rubromarginata'. The small pretty flowers, which appear in great numbers from early summer onwards, have the most amazing scent, like almonds with a fruity note. On calm days the scent permeates all the surrounding area and I cannot get enough of smelling it. It is just so nice, the best scent of all the plants I grow.


Pretty Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'

Berkheya purpurea and Kniphofia 'Mango Popsicle'
growing next to the new pond

Clematis x triternata 'Rubromarginata'
has the most amazing scent

Leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.) are active at the moment and even if you don’t spot the bees themselves you can often see signs that they have been in your garden. In order to build their nests they cut out round pieces from the edge of leaves of various plants such as roses, honeysuckles and many different trees such as birch trees and ash trees. On my allotment they really like the Quercus rubra and Nyssa sylvatica trees I have planted. The females build their nests in hollow stems and they also use bee hotels. They are quite easy to spot when they visit flowers as the females collect pollen under their abdomen which often makes the underside look orange or yellow, they also often hold their abdomen quite upright while collecting pollen which none of the other solitary bees do. Another visitor to my allotment is the impressive-looking hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) which is out largest hoverfly in the UK. They like to visit buddleia, eryngium and wild marjoram for nectar and lay their eggs into wasp and hornet nests where the larvae feed on debris and rubbish which actually helps the wasps and hornets to keep their nest clean. I have also discovered the first wasp spiders on my allotment, well-hidden in the vegetation. The females are much larger than the male which is tiny, which probably helps the male to escape the hungry female after mating. Last year I had about 15 female wasp spiders on my allotment, it will be interesting to see how many I can find this year.


A leaf-cutter bee visiting a Silphium mohrii flower

Hornet hoverflies are out and about now

A wasp spider hiding in the vegetation

With no rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future it will get more and more challenging to keep all my plants alive but fingers crossed there will eventually be some rain to relieve the drought. 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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