Posted on 01.11.2022 |
Added in Tales From My Wildlife Allotment

After a cold start to October with one frosty night with -2C it has since then turned quite mild with temperatures reaching 20C during the day and night temperatures around 10C. Some plants have started growing again and the allotment looks quite lush in places. I did not have to cut the grass most of the summer but now need to get the mower out of the shed every weekend! The last weekend of October has been particularly warm, very unusual for this time of year and I am sure are clear signs of a changing climate. I have now planted a lot more woody plants which hopefully don't need to be watered once they are established and will cope much better in the frequent droughts we are getting now. Another advantage of small trees and shrubs is that they cast welcome shade in summer which helps smaller plants growing nearby to cope with hot days. Most of the grasses I have planted are also very drought-resistant and did not need to be watered at all this summer.

A frosty morning on the allotment

Grasses are looking glorious in the autumn sunshine

There are still some late flowers such as
asters and cosmos

There are still some flowers such as asters, cosmos, salvias and providing some welcome splashes of colour. I particularly like the New England asters (Symphyotrichum novi-angliae) which are sturdy and upright, and never get mildew on their leaves. The magenta flowers look particularly good in the early morning sunshine and are loved by late pollinators. Another late aster flowering now is Symphyotrichum ‘Little Carlow' which has small purple flowers which are so numerous that they look like great billowing clouds in the flower borders. Aromatic aster () is one of the latest-flowering asters on my allotment, only starting to flower in mid-October. The flowers have a brilliant bluish-purple colour and last well into November.

Pretty New England asters
(Symphyotrichum novi-angliae)

Symphyotrichum ‘Little Carlow'

Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

I love to sit in my small 6×6 greenhouse when I find some time, which is now home to a little fern collection. After discovering that ferns love the moist environment in the greenhouse I have added several more species, some of them very special ones such as the Chinese bamboo fern (Coniogramme emeiensis) and the carrot fern (). I had already planted in the greenhouse 2 years ago which is doing well and casting some light shade. There is also a peach tree at the back wall and a grapevine growing under the roof, all helping to create the shady moist environment ferns love. There is still space to plant 4 cucumbers in summer which will not need much ground space as they are growing upwards. They also like similar conditions to the ferns, humid and not too sunny.

My fern collection in the greenhouse

Many ferns love the moist and warm conditions
in the greenhouse

growing under the Acacia tree

I find Adiantum ferns very pretty but don't think they would like to grow outside on my exposed and windy allotment. The greenhouse provides just the right conditions for them, moist and sheltered, so I have planted 3 species, Adiantum pedatum and A. venustum which are both hardy, and A. microphyllum which is only half-hardy, but should be fine inside the greenhouse with some protection on very cold nights. I like colourful ferns so have planted two varieties of Athyrium niponicum, one with more reddish leaves, the other more silvery. Apparently they are not easy to keep happy despite being sold in most garden centres. I will see how I get on, so far they look fine. Athyrium otophorum is another pretty fern with delicate leaves which have dark-burgundy stipes. It comes from woodlands in Japan, Korea and China where many garden-worthy ferns originate.

Athyrium niponicum

Athyrium otophorum

One of the special ferns I planted is Coniogramme emeiensis, the Chinese bamboo fern. It is a unique-looking fern with handsomely variegated fronds which have a laddered herringbone pattern. The fern is not difficult to grow and just needs moist humus-rich soil in shade or half-shade with shelter from cold winds. For a bit of spring colour I have planted Blechnum penna-marina which has brilliant russet tones on newly-emerging leaves. This ferns also copes well with sunshine as long as it is protected from hot mid-day sun. Dryopteris erytrosora, also called the autumn fern, is a very colourful fern as well which has remarkable red-foliaged fronds in spring which slowly fade to green in summer. Occasionally there are more red fronds produced in summer and autumn as well. This is a very adaptable fern which can also cope with dry shade once established. I planted two D. erythrosora in the greenhouse and another one outside in a new woodland border under the cherry-plum tree. In this new woodland border, which I have enriched with leaf mould and well-rotted manure, I have also planted , and Polystichum setiferum which should be fine outside. Hopefully I could inspire you to plant more ferns in your garden as they are rewarding and easy-going plants as long as their requirements of shade, shelter and sufficient moisture are met.

Coniogramme emeiensis

Blechnum penna-marina

Dryopteris erythrosora

My carnivorous plants are doing well and all have spent the summer outside. The half-hardy plants will return to the cold greenhouse soon. One of the more curious-looking of my carnivorous plants is the Australian pitcher plant (Cephalotus follicularis) which has numerous small pitchers and some non-insectivorous evergreen leaves. The plant is partial to ants which are attracted to the pitcher traps by nectar which is produced by the smooth, ridged, red coloured lining of the mouth. The plants are happy outside in summer and cope well with being in an unheated greenhouse in winter. One thing to be aware of is that Cephalotus needs to be kept moist at all times without being water-logged as they are prone to root-rot otherwise, so the pot should not be standing in a tray with water as with most other carnivorous plants. In winter they also don't like to be watered from above but in summer they are completely fine with rain when they are outside.

The last bumblebees are still out and about. I still see common carder bumblebees and have also seen a few buff-tailed bumblebees which often establish winter colonies especially in the south of England where they find enough winter-flowering plants in gardens. These late bumblebees love to visit aster flowers so make sure you grow at least a few plants in your garden to help late pollinators.

I keep the greenhouse door open most of the year apart from when the weather turns frosty. It helps with air-flow and prevents the build-up of mould and keeps the plants happy. As a result the greenhouse now hosts a little community of spiders and other small animals, and sometimes even a frog who probably takes advantage of the rich bounty of food the greenhouse provides.

Australian pitcher plant (Cephalotus follicularis)

Common carder bumblebees are normally the
last bumblebees to be out and about

A welcome visitor in my greenhouse

I will be back with more tales from my allotment for the last time next month as I have decided to take a break from blog writing.

Nadine Mitschunas