Posted on 30.01.2022 |
Added in Tales From My Wildlife Allotment

There were a couple of newspaper articles recently which talked about a milder than usual winter so far with many spring bulbs coming into flower early. I don't know which area of the UK these articles talked about but it was certainly not South Oxfordshire as we have had cold and often frosty weather for most of the winter now with only a brief spell of warmer weather over the Christmas and New Year period. We even had -8C overnight last week which is quite cold for our area. Snowdrops are well behind compared to last year with the first plants just showing above ground. Crocuses are also only just showing their leaves above ground, last year they were flowering already at this time of year. But good to have some cold winter weather now to give the plants a proper rest and hopefully also help with the slug problem I had last year. Also, frost transforms everything into a magical winter wonderland. Luckily there are still many grasses and some seed heads standing; the dry, cold and mostly calm weather helped with keeping them from falling over.

A frosty January morning

Many grasses and a few other plants are still standing

The wildlife pond is frozen but newts are already active

Despite the cold frosty weather there is already a tiny bit of colour appearing from early spring bulbs. The winter aconites have come out but have had no chance of opening their flowers yet as it has been too cold. Snowdrops are just showing a bit of white at the top and the little are soldiering on come rain or shine and don't mind at all if the temperature drops well below freezing.

The first snowdrops coming out

Winter aconites are starting to flower

Little Cyclamen coum look very pretty

Most of the hellebores still have tightly closed flower buds but it will not be long now until the flowers open. One hellebore, Helleborus × ericsmithii ‘Winter Moonbeam', has one flower open already which is a pretty creamy white colour fading to pink later. It does look very pretty, especially in combination with the mottled leaves. Other hellebores such as Helleborus x hybridus ‘Angel Glow' are just showing their closed flower buds at the moment. I do grow , the Christmas rose, as well but it never seems to flower at Christmas! The plant is doing well growing under the greengage tree, but the large white flowers normally open in February, not in December, so I don't really know why it is called Christmas rose. Maybe it flowers earlier in a warmer climate.

Helleborus × ericsmithii ‘Winter Moonbeam'

Helleborus x hybridus

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Angel Glow'

Looking good at the moment are the various varieties I am growing which have pretty glaucous and quite velvety leaves. I have planted E. characias ‘Portuguese Velvet' in the new seaside garden where it seems to be quite happy. The Mediterranean garden has two different euphorbias. One is the robust and sturdy E. characias subsp. wulfenii ‘BQ' which I bought from Cotswold Garden Flowers. The cultivar is named after the B&Q car park it was found growing in. Apparently it stood out because of its neat sturdy habit and showy flowers. So far it has not disappointed. The other euphorbia in the Mediterranean garden is E. characias subsp. wulfenii ‘Shorty', a very compact and neat looking euphorbia which produces pretty reddish leaves at the top of the new stems.

Euphorbia characias ‘Portuguese Velvet'

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii ‘BQ'

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii ‘Shorty'

I added some more carnivorous plants to my little collection. My favourite so far of the North American pitcher plants is Sarracenia leucophylla which has reddish-purple veins on a white background on its pitcher-like leaves which looks really stunning. The plant is mostly dormant now and has just one pitcher leaf left. It will wake up in early spring and first produce its large reddish flowers before growing new pitcher leaves. I also added Sarracenia purpurea to my collection which is one of the hardiest North American pitcher plants; it even grows in Canada. There is also an introduced population of Sarracenia purpurea growing in Scotland. I grow some subtropical Drosera species such as D. capensis and D. aliciae in a large pot inside the greenhouse. I normally cover them with newspaper when a frosty night is forecast but forgot one night. The temperature in the morning was -2C inside the greenhouse and the pot with my Drosera plants was frozen. I was quite upset as I thought I had killed my sundews. But the next day when I checked on them with some trepidation, expecting so see lots of black mushy leaves, all was well. I was so relieved, the little sundews looked happy and healthy as if nothing has happened. Apparently some of the subtropical Drosera species seem to survive light frosts which is good to know.

Beautiful Sarracenia leucophylla

Sarracenia purpurea

Drosera aliciae after a frosty night in the greenhouse

There is not much wildlife activity on the allotment at the moment. The little wood mice come out every night to eat the seeds under the bird feeders which have been dropped by the birds, the foxes sometimes pay a visit as well. I have seen about 10 newts in the pond which are already busy with courtship and a few mostly inactive frogs as well. On warmer days the honeybees from the nearby hive visit my plot to look for winter flowers and to drink from the pond. Most activity at the moment comes from the birds which are very visible now with not much else going on. I fill my bird feeders several times a week and enjoy all the comings and goings. Blue and great tits are the most commonly seen birds, followed by robins, sparrows, starlings, dunnocks, long-tailed tits and chaffinches. Sometimes I see a great spotted woodpecker and goldfinches. I love feeding my little allotment robin who has his own feeding bowl which I fill up every morning with a robin food mix. Normally, when I arrive in the early morning, he is already waiting in the cherry plum tree and watches me filling up his bowl. He then swoops down from the branch above me and immediately starts feeding, often not even waiting for me to finish filling up the other bird feeders close by. When I am on the allotment at weekends he also loves following me around, waiting for me to unearth some worms or larvae when I do some planting or weeding. He is such a lovely little companion on the allotment.

A great tit waiting for me to fill up the bird feeder

My allotment robin has his own feeding bowl

The robin is always following me around

Life is stirring on the allotment, not long now and everything will start to burst into activity and growth again. I will be back with more tales from my allotment in March.

Nadine Mitschunas