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.

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A nice place to sit and relax
2 many flowers are 13
Many flowers are starting to open now
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The new allotment with
, Geum and Thalictrum flavum

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.

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, Digitalis lutea and
look good with grasses
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The South Africa garden with
Kniphofia, Osteospermum and Berkheya
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Penstemon strictus, Dianthus carthusianorum,
D. deltoides and Geranium sanguineum

I grow several Digitalis species, with normally the earliest to flower in May, followed by D. lanata and D. lutea in June, and later in July D. davisiana, D. grandiflora and D. ferruginea. Of these only D. lutea, D. davisiana, D. grandiflora and D. ferruginea are true perennials which come back every year on my allotment. All Digitalis species are good plants for attracting long-tongued bumblebees such as the garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) which only visits such deep-throated flowers. Many plants such as the countless species from the Asteraceae family mainly cater for short-tongued bees such as most solitary bees, honeybees and many of the bumblebees so it pays to plant more deep-throated flowers to attract some of the long-tongued bumblebees. If you are lucky you will even see the all black melanic form of the ruderal bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus var. perniger), another long-tongued bumblebee which is less common than the garden bumblebee.

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Digitalis lutea is looking good
with Dianthus carthusianorum
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Bumblebees love Digitalis lutea flowers
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Digitalis lutea surrounding the wildlife pond

I planted pretty a few years ago after I saw this plant in the orange and yellow garden at Sissinghurst Castle. It also reminds me of sea-side visits where related often grows on shingle beaches. with its delightful nodding purple flowers grows in the borders behind the wildlife pond, together with Nassella tenuissima and Scutellaria baicalensis. Bumblebees love the flowers and frequently come for a visit on sunny days. I really like Thalictrum flavum with its glaucous leaves and pale yellow flowers held high on stiff upright stems. It looks good with Lychnis chalcedonica which has vivid red flowers, often difficult to place in a garden but fitting very well with the pale-yellow of the Thalictrum.

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Glaucium corniculatum
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Allium cernuum
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Thalictrum flavum with Lychnis chalcedonica

I grow several Anthemis on the allotment, one of them orange-flowered Anthemis sancti-johannis. It is not very long-lived and individual plants only survive for about 2 years, but it self-sows. This year I have, beside the usual orange flowered true species, quite an unusual type with pale yellow petals and a large orange centre. I quite like it and will collect seeds to see if this unusual variety comes true from seed. Also quite short-lived, but freely self-seeding, is with pretty flowers and soft downy stems. This Digitalis does not like soil which dries out too much in summer and looks much happier this year compared to the last years when we had frequent spring and summer droughts.

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An interesting self-sown variety of Anthemis
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Anthemis sancti-johannis
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Pretty Digitalis lanata

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 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.

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Penstemon serrulatus
is happy growing at the side of the pond
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Stachys byzantina and Achillea ‘Moonshine'
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Kniphofia hirsuta

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 , 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.

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A pretty damselfly
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Narcissus bulb fly
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Tiny harebell carpenter bee

After a difficult start to the growing season it will be interesting to see what the rest of the summer will bring. I will be back with more tales from the allotment in August.

Nadine Mitschunas