Old Bugwoman’s Almanac – September

Dear Readers, September is probably my favourite month of the year – it feels much more like the start of something than January does, probably because it’s the start of the school year, and because both I and my parents got married in September. It’s that point of the year upon which everything starts to turn, as we move past the Equinox and into autumn proper. And as the clamour of spring and the relative peace of summer pass, there’s a sense of gathering in and of preparation that suits my character somehow.

Things to Do

  • The Open House Festival is from Wednesday 6th to Sunday 17th September 2023, and while this might not appear to have much to do with nature, it’s a chance to look at some of the most interesting buildings in London, and there are lots of examples of sustainable development, in both new buildings and old ones. Open City run tours throughout the year too, which are well worth attending if you’re interested in the architecture of London.
  • The British Science Association will be holding its festival from Thursday 7th to Sunday 10th September 2023, and is at the University of Exeter this year. It’s Europe’s longest running science festival, and sounds like a lot of fun, for science nerds and the mildly-interested alike.
  • RHS’s Rosemoor Gardens at Torrington in Devon have a course on ‘Late Summer Evening Light – Flower and Close-up Photography‘ on Friday 8th September, which sounds really interesting. It’s all happening in the West Country this year!
  • And here’s a shout-out for the London Natural History Society library, housed at the Natural History Museum, and open multiple times every month – members can browse the books, borrow them, explore the Natural History Museum’s wildlife garden, and socialise with others who are interested in natural history. If you’re in London, joining the LNHS really is a no-brainer – there’s so much knowledge, so much going on, and so much help at hand for the amateur naturalist. The library timetable for September (and the rest of the year) is here, and details of how to join are here.

Plants for Pollinators

  • For bees, the RHS is recommending salvia, especially Amistad with its velvety purple flowers – the deep tubular shape of the blooms is best suited to long-tongued bumblebees such as the garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) but many cheeky bees from other species will bite a hole in the base of the flower to get to the nectar.

Salvia ‘Amistad’ – Photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz

  • Other flowers recommended for bees include our old friend Verbena bonariensis (also good for butterflies as we know), single-flowered dahlias (a bit ‘hit-and-miss’ in my garden) and Ceratostigma plumaginoides, otherwise known as blue-flowered leadwort, and a very striking plant with bright blue flowers against foliage that goes red as it matures.

Blue-flowered leadwood (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides). Photo by Wouter Hagens

  • I am a bit surprised to find no mention of sedum (or Hylotelephium as some species are now known). In my experience it’s a great plant for hoverflies, butterflies, moths and bees during September when other plants are on the wane. Those prairie specialists Rudbeckia and Echinacea are also popular with our six-legged friends right into the autumn.
  • Michaelmas daisies are also coming into flower now, and again are popular with hoverflies and all manner of other small pollinators.

  • And this is about the earliest time that you can get stuck into the bulb planting. Every year I do some, and every year I forget what on earth I’ve planted until it comes up, which is a lovely surprise.

Bird Behaviour

  • There should be a bit more activity in the garden now, as moulting adult birds start to move about again, and everyone realises that winter is on the way.
  • The first of the birds moving south may turn up in the garden – willow warblers are often seen briefly at this time of year, along with any blackcaps who have decided to migrate rather than stay put. Chiffchaffs will also be leaving, but good luck with telling the difference between them and the willow warblers, unless they call and tell you their name.
  • You may see swallows and house martins massing and chattering, getting ready to leave for Africa. By the end of the month, only the most tardy of our summer visitors will remain.
  • Robins may well be the only birds singing, as they hold territories for the whole year – a pair of robins might combine their territory during the breeding season but will knock ten bells out of one another once that truce is over.
  • September is a peak time for little rodents, and so it’s also a peak time for the birds that prey on them, such as kestrels and owls. Kestrels hold a territory for the whole year too, but young birds will be trying to find a patch for themselves, and can often be seen close to the coast.

Kestrel in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  • Jays are beginning to gather acorns and cache them for the winter – they can be exceptionally noisy and feisty with one another at this time of year.

Jay, also in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Plants in Flower

  • All the pollinator plants mentioned above plus canna lilies, autumn crocuses, crocosmia (or montbretia as my Dad used to call them), cyclamen, white bryony, bittersweet, our old friends Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed, yarrow and red, white and henbit deadnettle, hops and vervain and evening primrose.

Canna lily

Other Things to Watch/Listen Out For

  • Wasps! Their nests are breaking up and the workers, having provided protein for the larvae all summer are now drawn to sugar. You’ll find them all over the windfall apples and the ivy flowers in a month’s time, but for now they can be seen foraging like any normal pollinator.
  • Spiders! A healthy garden should be full of webs as the orb web spiders get big enough to notice.
  • Harvestmen and craneflies – harvestmen are likely to be minding their own business on walls everywhere, while craneflies are starting to emerge from lawns everywhere, providing a late summer bonanza for birds and bats
  • September can be surprisingly good for dragonflies too – the common darter in the photo below turned up in the middle of September 2020. The males are red, the females are golden, and they are completely unperturbed by humans – I remember one using my arm as a perch for about twenty minutes a few years ago. I have rarely felt so useful.

Common darter

  • While there are still dragonflies about, keep your eyes open for the hobby (Falco subbuteo) – it is a summer migrant but it specialises in catching dragonflies on the wing. I caught the slightest glimpse of one in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in autumn 2020, and have been watching out for them ever since.

Hobby (Falco subbuteo) Photo by Rodrigo de Almeida

  • This is probably the noisiest time for foxes, surpassing even the carry-on of the breeding season – in my garden it regularly sounds as if the young adults, just leaving their home territories and trying to establish their own, are murdering one another.
  • The first of the autumn fungi will be putting in an appearance – I have made it my personal mission to see if I can see a parrot waxcap this year. Let’s see how I get on!

Parrot waxcap (Photo by Stu’s Images)

  • The full moon is on 29th September, and is known as the Harvest Moon – this year it will also be a supermoon (i.e. appearing especially large and bright)

Holidays and Celebrations

  • 7th September – Krishna Janmashtami (Krishna’s birthday) (Hindu)
  • 15th September – Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year – begins at sundown
  • 18th September – Ganesh Chaturthi (Ganesh’s birthday) (Hindu)
  • 23rd September – Autumn Equinox (day and night is of equal length) and the Pagan festival of Mabon
  • 24th September – Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement (Jewish) begins at sundown
  • 27th September – Prophet Muhammad’s birthday begins on sighting of the crescent moon
  • 29th September – Michaelmas Day (Christian/Pagan). It’s one of the quarter days of the Christian church, and also the day when harvest needed by tradition to be completed. Old Michaelmas Day isn’t until October, but traditionally that’s the day when the devil spits on the blackberries, making them inedible. You have been warned.

Blackberries at Walthamstow Wetlands


1 thought on “Old Bugwoman’s Almanac – September

  1. Liz Norbury

    September is probably my favourite month, too – I love the abundance, brightness, warmth and energy. It’s also a time when I seem to feel particularly well and happy, partly because it’s my birthday month, and also, like you, we have our wedding anniversary in September.


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