Posted on 30.05.2020 |
Added in Tales From My Wildlife Allotment

After a mild and sunny March and April we had several frosty nights in mid May with the temperature going down to -4C which caused some damage. Due to the mild winter and warm spring many plants were a lot more advanced than usual with fresh growth and flower buds developing. I lost most of my Eremurus flowers which is a shame as this never happened before even with late frosts in previous years. Some perennials such as and a few of the warm-season grasses such as Miscanthus got their leaves damaged and I lost most of the fruit on my ‘Morello' cherry. I had covered my small Morus nigra tree with several layers of fleece but still most of the leaves have turned brown now. I have to rethink if it is really worthwhile trying to grow a mulberry tree in an area which gets late frosts.

Still the allotment looks really green now with pockets of flowers emerging in many areas. Now with the frosts over my attention returns to keeping everything watered. Since mid-March we've had just two days of rain and with sunshine nearly every day and occasional windy days the soil is really getting quite dry. Grass has stopped growing and is turning brown in some areas and some of my perennials are starting to suffer. I have also seen a few mature trees losing their leaves already and we don't even have summer yet! I think in the long-term I will have to adapt my planting as here in South Oxfordshire we will eventually get a Mediterranean climate with long dry summers and wet winters. Judging by the last 2 years it has already started. I will see which plants cope well with these new conditions and grow more of them such as Eryngium and Dianthus, other plants which continue to suffer and only survive with frequent watering such as some Rudbeckia, Helenium and Physostegia have to go.

The allotment still looking fresh and green
but without any rain plants will start to suffer

Many flowers are still to come but
Euphorbia is already providing splashes of colour

The new allotment with red Geum and blue lupins

Coping really well with the dry weather are all the many different Aquilegias I have planted over the years. My favourite Aquilegia this year is Aquilegia alpina which I grew from seed I got from the HPS seed distribution scheme. The large blue flowers are spectacular and the plants are sturdy and healthy, happy in sunshine or dappled shade. ‘Mongolian Bells', a very pretty herbaceous Clematis, is flowering on the allotment at the moment. I grew the plants from seed several years ago and after 2 years I got the first flowers. This year they have grown even larger with numerous pretty blue flowers. I tried to grow climbing Clematis on my allotment but they never survived, but Clematis integrifolia seems to be very happy.

Aquilegia alpina has large blue flowers

Clematis integrifolia ‘Mongolian Bells'

This Clematis integrifolia has slightly different petals

In the South Africa garden the first Berkheya (most likely B. multijuga, the seeds were just named “yellow Berkheya” when I got them from the HPS seed distribution scheme) has opened its large sunshine-yellow flowers. I really like these large daisy flowers. I also have Berkheya purpurea and B. cirsiifolia but both flower much later. has the most incredible blue flowers which look spectacular if grown en masse. They are very easygoing and only need cutting back after flowering has finished. The plants are very drought resistant and do not need watering, even without rain for weeks on end as we have at the moment. Splashes of red and pink come from the flowers of Armeria pseudarmeria which copes well with dry soil as well and likes to be planted at the front of the flower border. The plants are very easy to grow from seed and self-seed modestly.

I really like the large yellow daisy flowers
of this Berkheya

contrasting nicely
with yellow Euphorbia

Armeria pseudarmeria

Like many of my plants this year, rambler rose ‘Albertine' is early as well. Normally flowering in June many of the large pink scented flowers are open already. Last year, when we also had a very dry spring, this rose suffered a lot, losing most of its leaves in summer, so this year I have started watering in April and so far ‘Albertine' looks happy and healthy. Poppies seem to be very drought-resistant, especially the oriental poppies () of which I have several different ones with flowers in either orange-red or pink. I used to have a white-flowered Papaver orientale but this seemed not very vigorous and has disappeared now. I always eagerly anticipate the opening of the huge flowers with their satin-like petals, which are adored by bees. Poppies do not produce nectar but have copious amounts of protein-rich pollen which bumblebees collect using something called buzz-pollination. The bees vibrate their flight muscles to dislodge the pollen which they collect on their legs. If you stand close to the flowers you can hear them buzzing loudly inside. Only bumblebees are able to do buzz-pollination, all other bees are collecting the poppy pollen by frequently brushing past the anthers.

Rambler rose ‘Albertine'

One of my pink-flowered Papaver orientale

Bumblebees love Papaver flowers

I have two other very pretty but much smaller poppies growing on the allotment. Papaver hybridum and P. argemone are rare native wildflowers only found in a few places in the UK. They like to grow on arable fields and margins but cannot cope with herbicide spraying so have nearly disappeared now. The beautiful red flowers open only for a day but the plants normally have numerous flowers following in succession. These are annual poppies but come back from seed every year. Coping less well with the dry soil is Astrantia major ‘Roma' but I like the flowers so much that I keep watering the plants. I will see how long they will survive on my increasingly dry allotment.

Papaver hybridum

Astranthia major ‘Roma'

The pond is looking really pretty now with Lychnis flos-cuculi flowering around the edge and adding some splashes of blue in the adjacent bog garden. I already have a white pygmy water lily in the pond which will soon start flowering, but as there was a bit of a bare area left I have now ordered a yellow water lily (Nymphaea ‘Aurora') which will hopefully arrive soon and fill the space. Small red damselflies and Common blue damselflies have arrived at the pond and can be seen mating and chasing each other on warm sunny days. Soon the dragonflies will arrive as well. I found some little newtlets in the pond while clearing algae out, but there do not seem to be many tadpoles left. I wonder if they got eaten by the dragonfly larvae and large water beetles which also live in the pond.

My pond is surrounded by
Lychnis flos-cuculi at the moment

Common blue damselflies

Small red damselfly resting on

Other wildlife out and about are numerous bees which like the poached-egg plants (), mullein moth caterpillars which are eating my Verbascum plants and crab spiders lurking on and other flowers to wait for careless prey such as flies and small bees.

Bumblebees like Limnanthes douglasii

Mullein moth caterpillars eat my Verbascum plants

Crab spiders are lurking on flowers

Let's hope we will get some rain soon but at the moment it looks like it will stay dry for the foreseeable future which means I have to keep watering. I will be back with more tales from my allotment in July.

Nadine Mitschunas