Posted on 05.07.2021 | Added in Tales From My Wildlife Allotment
“After a cold and wet May it was a relief to finally get some warm and dry weather at the beginning of June. Plants responded well and grew very fast, the allotment was changing almost on a daily basis with more and more flowers opening every day. Mid-June brought a change to the weather with more rain and cooler temperatures. Compared to the last few years we had a lot more rain this year and I’ve only had to bring out the watering cans a few times so far. Some plants such as Sanguisorba menziesii, some of the Rubeckia and Oenothera tetragona which had suffered a lot in the last years because of the lack of rain look green and healthy this year with the Oenothera just starting to flower. But all this rain also led to plants growing much more than usual with some starting to flop over the paths or neighbouring plants. I spent most of last weekend cutting back and staking plants growing too close to the paths. The other problem I have this year are slugs, lots of slugs, and to a lesser extent snails as well. As it has been so dry in previous years, slugs and snails have never really been a problem but this year they must have multiplied in the wet and cold May we had, and are now out and about in huge numbers most nights. And all are very hungry! Luckily most of my perennial plants are safe now as once they have grown a bit the slugs find them less tasty. They now target any newly planted young plants such as my new Rhodanthemum in the South Africa garden, and most of the young vegetable plants especially lettuce and cabbage. I do regular slug patrols, collecting any slugs I find, and also use organic slug pellets to protect the most precious plants including my vegetable seedlings…. …
Many of the Kniphofia have started flowering now. K. citrina is flowering in the mini-prairie on the new allotment, and in the South Africa garden the flowers of Kniphofia ‘Rich Echoes’ provide a splash of yellow and orange. I also planted several Agapanthus, Osteospermum ‘Tresco Purple’, Kniphofia pauciflora, Tritonia disticha subsp. rubrolucens, Dierama pulcherrimum and Diascia ‘Hopleys’, which is supposed to be winter hardy, in the South Africa garden. I am looking forward to see how it will all develop this year. Dianthus carthusianorum, one of my favourite wildflowers, is planted in several places on the allotment and looks especially good in a naturalistic setting together with grasses. The plant does not like too much competition and is happier with less vigorous plants and some space around it. I have seen Dianthus carthusianorum growing in the wild in Germany on sun-baked slopes with calcareous grassland which gives an indication of what growing conditions it likes… …”
… …”Penstemon species and varieties are pretty summer-flowering plants but many are quite short-lived and the only way to keep them for longer is to take cuttings regularly. Much more long-lived and very easy to care for is Penstemon serrulatus which I grew from seed I got from the HPS seed distribution scheme several years ago. The plants are happy growing in the half-shady borders around the pond and have grown into nice bushy plants which flower freely. They survive even cold winters without any problems. Achillea ‘Moonshine’ is another easy and rewarding plant which has very pretty bright yellow flowers which really stand out. The plant is also happy in relatively dry soil and does not need any additional watering. Good company for the Achillea is Stachys byzantina which likes the same conditions. I am still waiting for the wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) to visit my Stachys plants as the females like to collect the soft hairs which cover the furry leaves for their nests. Kniphofia hirsuta, one of several Kniphofia species I grow, is not the easiest plant to please. They like well-drained soil in a sunny position but can easily succumb to their leaves rotting at the base. I have nearly lost one of my plants but the other plant which grows only a short distance away looks happy and healthy with many flowers.
Damselflies have made an appearance, not only near the pond but occasionally I also find them in other areas of the allotment. Early mornings are good for photographing them as they are still cold from the night and reluctant to fly away. You might be forgiven if you think the insect on the yellow Berkheya flower is a bumblebee. It certainly has the round fluffy appearance of a bumblebee but if you look closer you can see that the antennae are short (bumblebees have much longer antennae) and if you could see the wings properly you would see that this insect has only one pair of wings, bumblebees have two. What you actually see in the picture is a hoverfly, also called narcissus bulb fly (Merodon equestris). It can attack garden bulbs such as daffodils. Usually however it can be found in the countryside where it breeds on bluebell bulbs. Also out and about on the allotment at the moment is the tiny harebell carpenter bee (Chelostoma campanlarum). The bees love bellflowers such as Campanula rotundifolia, C. persicifolia, C. glomerata and C. rapunculus. Both females and males can often be found inside the flowers, especially on dull days. On sunny days the bees will also fly around the flowers. Female bees collect the pollen from bellflowers to provision their nests which they build in old beetle holes or the exposed ends of thatch. The bees only occur in the South of England and the Midlands, if you live in these areas and grow lots of bellflowers in your garden have a look if you can find these interesting little bees.”
This blog post is an extract from the Hardy Plant Society’s blog 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.
The above extract is taken (with her permission) from the wonderful (NB this is high praise from writer to writer) series by Nadine on the website of the Hardy Plant Society. There are some botanists who are absorbed in their own work but are only haltingly (or boringly) able to transmit their preoccupation to others. There are some people who love flowers and are able to transmit their appreciation, but do not have the diligent scholarship to back it up. Nadine is one of very few whose self-evident botanical knowledge is married with an artist’s eye for colour and composition and a poet’s ability to translate her knowledge and enthusiasm onto paper so vividly that we see what she sees. And she is not just a botanist, a gardener and a photographer. I use those words because they are more precise than ‘ecologist’, which Nadine describes herself as. However, as the last paragraph here makes clear, Nadine sees the plants as part of the living world, in which each has a role, interacting with every other – if we must choose one word to describe this polymath, ‘ecologist’ must indeed be the one.
I have only taken a small extract from the blogpost so as to remain within copyright regulations. The photographs are from Shutterstock, not those used with her post, for the same reason. I do urge you to follow the links and read the post in its entirety to get the full effect. And then to consider joining The Hardy Plants Society, “a registered charity promoting hardy herbaceous plants, we grow and study these plants in our own gardens, and try to keep rarer varieties in cultivation. We share our knowledge and love of these plants with other gardeners whether they’re experts, beginners or somewhere in between.”