Posted on 05.12.2020 |
Added in Tales From My Wildlife Allotment

After a mostly mild autumn it has now turned quite cold with several overnight frosts already and low day-time temperatures. I really like cold sunny days and frosty mornings but at the moment it is mostly grey, cold and sometimes wet, not really encouraging to spend time outside but I have managed to go to the allotment nearly every day so far, even sometimes just for filling up the bird feeders and having a quick look around. Most allotments are now looking quite bare with a lot of soil showing but there is no chance my allotment will look like this any time soon as there are so many grasses and other plants with nice seed heads still standing. They look especially good on a frosty morning. I will soon start to gradually cut back plants which don't look nice anymore but will leave most seed heads in place until February when I will need to make space for the spring bulbs. I've notice that many spring bulbs come out earlier and earlier each year, I have even seen some of the crocuses and daffodils coming out already, so I might have to cut back some plants earlier next year. I planted a few new bulbs such as Narcissus poeticus, Gladiolus byzantinus, Tulipa orphanidea, T. aximensis and T. polychroma in autumn and I am very much looking forward to seeing them flower early next year.

1 the allotment wil 19
The allotment will not be looking bare anytime soon
2 seed heads and gr 60
Seed heads and grasses look great
on a frosty morning
3 grasses especial 52
Grasses, especially Achnatherum calamagrostis,
are still looking great

As flowers are mostly absent the focus is now on the many seed heads which grace the allotment. I quite like the seed heads of Telekia speciosa which look like large buttons on a stick, similar to the seed heads of Inula magnifica. They last for quite a long time, normally at least until mid-winter. is another with nice long-lasting seed heads. I tried to grow as well but it did not survive the summer droughts we are now getting here quite frequently with which M. fistulosa does not seem to have a problem. The prickly cone-like seed heads of Echinacea purpurea turn very dark in late autumn and stand out brilliantly against buff-coloured grasses. They last a long time and also provide a nice meal for goldfinches which like to eat the seeds.

4 telekia speciosa 47
Telekia speciosa has finished flowering
but the pretty seed heads remain
5 symphyotrichum ob 69
Symphyotrichum oblongifolius and Monarda fistulosa
6 seed heads of ech 84
Seed heads of Echinacea purpurea and grasses
in the mini-prairie

Not strictly a perennial plant but worth mentioning for its pretty seed heads is Lunaria annua. The large papery pods turn nearly translucent in winter before flying a short distance away to spread the seeds. Most of my asters, apart from which is still going strong, have finished flowering now but many also have nice seed heads such as . One quite wet and cold morning I came to the allotment and discovered that, what I originally thought were just normal water droplets on all the plants, were actually all frozen water droplets as it had just turned cold enough for everything to freeze. This looked quite magical and for a change I did not get wet trousers while walking between the plants.

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Lunnaria annua seed heads
8 aster amellus is 39
Aster amellus is still looking good
even after it has finished flowering
9 eragrostis elliot 3
with frozen water droplets

The few flowers which still endure the cold and wet weather look great when covered in frost after a cold night. Symphyotrichum oblongifolium still has a few flowers left but will soon finish. In contrast Aster tataricus is still going strong but with the colder weather I am not hopeful it will continue much beyond the middle of December. I really like the flowers of (harebell) which is in flower most of the year on my allotment with the main flush of flowers in June and July. I have planted it in a raised bed together with Dianthus carthusianorum, Pulsatilla vulgaris and Festuca glauca, with lots of sunshine and well-drained soil, and it seems to be very happy and gently self-seeds into adjacent areas.

10 the last flowers 22
The last flowers of Symphyotrichum oblongifolius
11 aster tataricus 90
Aster tataricus is still going strong
12 campanula rotund 37
Campanula rotundifolia is in flower most of the year

With all the pretty seed heads and grasses we should not forget about all the nice foliage plants which stay green throughout winter. The many winter-green Euphorbia for example, such as , which will soon be flowering, and E. amygdaloides with its handsome rosettes of leaves, look beautiful at the moment. I also grow E. myrsinites which looks like a prostrate version of E. rigida and flowers at a similar time. After it has finished flowering, Cyclamen hederifolium delights us with its pretty patterned leaves, slightly different from each other and with more marked variations between different plants. In contrast, leaves come out before the flowers appear, but they are smaller and rounder with a less pronounced pattern.

13 euphorbia rigida 43
Euphorbia rigida will be flowering soon
14 euphorbia amygda 29
Euphorbia amygdaloides looks good all year
15 cyclamen hederif 12
Cyclamen hederifolium has pretty leaf patterns

The bottlebrush-like flower heads of Pennisetum alopecuroides are very effective in attracting moisture from the air and look especially good on a cold humid morning. I recently learned that several plants formerly known as Pennisetum have now changed into the genus name Cenchrus, so Pennisetum alopecuroides is now Cenchrus alopecuroides. This will certainly take some time getting used to and I will most likely still use the old name for a while as most gardeners in the UK will probably not know what I am talking about if I use the new name Cenchrus. Luckily not affected by any name changes yet is Rudbeckia triloba with its sunshine-yellow flowers which open quite late in the year. The plants are short-lived and most do not survive more than 2 years but luckily they self-seed, not abundantly but enough that I always have a few plants flowering each year. Easily over-looked are the dainty flowers of which I grew from seed obtained from the HPS seed distribution scheme. I have two plants which seem to be quite happy and have flowered for the first time this year. Hopefully the plants will thrive and delight me with flowers year after year.

16 pennisetum alope 36
Pennisetum alopecuroides with water droplets
17 rudbeckia trilob 16
Rudbeckia triloba
18 the dainty flowe 85
The dainty flowers of Borago pygmaea

Once the weather turned colder I started feeding the birds again. The first bird at the feeders was my little allotment robin which I had not seen much of for most of the summer and autumn. Nice he is back and enjoying the food I offer, he even gets some mealworms now and again. The starlings are back as well now, behaving like a gang of raucous teenagers with all their squabbling and screaming but they are a joy to watch as they are so lively. They like to take a bath in the pond which looks funny as the water is splashing everywhere. I also seem to have quite a lot of ladybirds on the allotment, most of them our native 7-spot. The little beetles like to huddle together on dry leaves when the sun is shining. I've now got a new wildlife camera, an early Christmas present from my mom. I have already seen the usual cats (which is a bit boring) and a fox (which was nice) but was surprised to find a muntjac deer visiting my allotment to take a drink from the pond. So far I have never seen one there so hopefully I will get a glimpse of him again soon.

19 the allotment ro 81
The allotment robin likes the fat balls
20 little 7 spot la 63
Little 7-spot ladybirds enjoy the sunshine
21 a surprise visit 50
A surprise visitor, a muntjac deer

At this point I would like to take the opportunity to wish all my readers a Happy Christmas and hopefully a better 2021 with more normality coming back. We are all quite lucky that as gardeners we could find some peace and respite in our gardens, occupying ourselves with growing and planting, as nature just keeps going even when a pandemic is gripping the world. I will be back with more tales from my allotment in January next year.

Nadine Mitschunas