a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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July finishes

As July finishes the weather forecast predicts clouds, rain and lower than usual temperatures for the beginning of August.

This is not our usual August weather but no one is surprised as “normal” becomes a word to put behind you and take each day as it comes.

The baby birds in the garden at the moment keep us amused.

They seem to have adolescent bad hair days.

The young blackbird will soon change and become an elegant bird with sleek black feathers but the feathers on the head have stayed brown and mottled.

There are another two occupants of the front garden that have lived with us for six years now but never made it into the blog.

These are our two tortoises, Pegah in the front and Posht behind him. They were born in a friend’s garden in the nearby town of Saintes. Originally from North Africa their forebears were brought over as pets for children long since become adults.

There are always plenty of tasty green leaves to tempt the tortoises. They nibble and go and eat a wide variety of plants. I have noticed my sedum leaves being consumed.

In the spring the poppies are in high demand.

It is not only leaves that they eat but the flowers too. Given the opioids in all parts of the poppy, I imagine that they pass a very happy, contented springtime in the garden.

In the summer we cannot help but give them the odd treat of banana or watermelon but I have read that they should not be given an excess of fruit so I limit our treats to tomatoes.

I am not sure quite how the nutritional requirements are derived because they seem to have similar habits to goats and will browse on anything that takes their fancy. I feel they would eat any fallen ripe fruit that might come their way.

In fact, although these tortoises are reputed to be completely vegetarian, they very happily eat snails – shells and all!

Perhaps it is because these are French tortoises.


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The summer garden

We don’t have a big vegetable garden. I like to have plenty of tomatoes for eating and also for freezing as sauce. This year they are very behind. It is the same tomatoes that I have been growing for some years but they are about a month behind their usual growth but it is the same for everybody else nearby. Instead, we have plenty of lettuce this year – just one cucumber plant grown from seed but you can’t win them all.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have sown parsley without success, so far (any hints gratefully received). I have planted my leeks for the winter as I am already thinking of winter soups.

It looks as if we are going to have at least one butternut.

I also grew some Uchiki Kuri plants from seed as I thought they were the same as the French Potimarron. I was also in search of the fragrant pumpkin flowers I raised in the garden one year. So far, I have not noticed any perfume from these flowers but it is very fleeting and maybe I was not around at a propitious time. I’ll keep sniffing them as the season advances.

Kourosh has always fancied a climbing grape vine. A friend brought us this vine and assured us it was a type that would climb. It looks as if we may get our first grapes from it this year.

The vegetable garden is hard work. I would rather be watching the Megachile bees building their nests in the bee house. These are leaf cutter bees and they seal off each cache of egg and pollen with either a piece of leaf or chewed bits of leaf. You may see some suspicious circles on your plant leaves as if someone has been at them with a little hole punch. I hope you don’t grudge them these little bits of leaf as it does not harm the plant.

Actually, it is tough to have favourites as I love finding the Tetralonia bees still asleep in the summer mornings tucked inside the flower of a Hollyhock.


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Green grows the grass

I had to take this photograph from upstairs to show the grass still green in the middle of July. Usually this space is more brown than green at this time of year, certainly last year we had had no rain for a long time and the grass was brown. This year the grass has been so wet that it could not be cut.

So many plants had made their home in the grass. The wild mint and Achillea make it perfumed to walk on but it has all been cut now to let me move in the garden without wearing wellington boots. The plants are doing well outside in the wild spaces and the side of the roads.

The bees are spoiled by the abundance of clover and other flowers that are blooming just now. The rain has stopped here and we are promised sunshine. At the moment the clouds are still plentiful but they are white ones and they let the blue sky through.

With the grass cut and fair weather in sight it is time to get to work in the garden again. That often means weeding and of course the weeds have been growing too.

I’ll be looking for places for some of the new plants that I have started off in patio pots. I have only the one colour of Fuschia in the garden and although it has done very well and we have split and replanted it throughout the garden, I am hoping this “Blue Sarah” Fuschia will prove as hardy.

The Carpenter bee has already given it her seal of approval even if she is “stealing” the nectar by boring into the source rather than bothering to go in by the conventional entrance. The hole she has opened will stay and be used by smaller, short-tongued bees, like some of the bumbles and honey bees, to give them easy access to the nectar.


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First baby toad emerges

Yesterday we saw our first baby toad – almost adult, without a tail.

Taking a picture was non too easy as he was quite frisky.

Today I realised he was not alone and a group of them were becoming more adventuresome and coming right out of the water to use their newly developed lungs.

I went to get a little bit of netting to help them climb out the plastic pond more easily but I need not have bothered as they were already on the stones surrounding the pond and in the grass.

Now we are frightened to go near the pond in case we stand on them!

They still like to keep together and there are plenty of damp places around the pool under the stones. In fact, all around the pool you can see baby toads, despite there still being tadpoles in the pool.

We first noticed the eggs on 21 May 2021. However, it is possible there were other spawning events before or after that date. The other tadpoles may just be late developers. Seemingly, once the toads leave the water they only return eventually to breed. They have chosen a good time to enter the garden because it is warm and damp, which sounds perfect for baby toads.

I do not expect to find any slugs in the garden now!


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Self seeders

I often think that the plants that just decide to settle down and flower in my garden do better than the ones I seed and coddle and fret over.

I have a lot of Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) flowering in the garden at the moment (I must admit that I have moved some of the sef-seeders when they were small). I love the colour of the flowers and the height of the plant.

The pollen is a valuable source of pollen for the bees at this time of year. As the pollen is bright orange it is easy to see the bees bringing it into the hives. It is a biennial so it gives you plenty of time to pull out any unwanted plants and they lift out easily.

The tomatoes are way behind this year. I have no fruit on my main crop yet and only a few tiny green ones on the cherry tomatoes. After high temperatures at the beginning of June we have had cooler, cloudier weather with thunderstorms. One night 100 mm. of rain fell which is unheard-of in this area.

On the other side of the vegetable garden we have another small patch that is mainly for herbs.

This patch is at risk of being over powered by the Echium vulgare that has self-seeded and I have not had the heart to remove.

It is very difficult to remove plants that you know the bumble bees love so much.

In amongst all the Echium vulgare is Echium amoenum. If you look very carefully, you will be able to see one pink petal. My intention was to grow Echium amoenum for their flowers for a herbal tea. The Echium vulgare was in the same seed catalogue so I thought I would grow that for the bees. The plants are very similar but the E. vulgare is much taller and more robust but it is very difficult to tell the difference between them at the seedling stage when they self seed. So far this year the bees are doing much better than I am as I have not had enough flowers yet to make even a small cup of tea.

My geraniums that self seed everywhere have been a blessing. They have filled in a lot of difficult places in the shade and cover a multitude of sins.

This poppy is a self seeder from poppy seeds we brought from Barcelona over six years ago. They are usually a dark pink, but this one is a delicate pink and white mix. I must try to remember to pick a seed pod, it would be interesting to see what happens to these next year.

Another surprise comes from our wildlife pond where the water lily is spreading and should help to control over growth of algae. We had noticed another creature in the pond so Kourosh decided to have a closer look at it.

This little creature is about 4.5 mm. long and swims around like a little fish amongst the tadpoles. With the help of Google we have made a tentative ID as a damsel fly larva. I would be thrilled if we had damsel flies. We have often seen damsel flies and dragon flies in the garden in the summer.

Elsewhere in the pond the toad tadpoles are doing well. There are some now with four legs. Some have two rear legs with the front legs still budding from the body. Sorry about the quality of the photos but it is very difficult to get tadpoles to pose for the camera.

We discovered the eggs on the 21 May 2021 so it could be still another month until we finally see little toads emerging.

I do sometimes photograph other things in the garden apart from bees and beasties. This is a Painted Lady butterfly.

The butterfly even has a beautiful name, Vanessa cardui or La Belle Dame in French.


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Of Millepertuis and tadpoles

Hypericum perforatum owes its name to little transparent pockets in the leaves. These appear as holes if you look at a leaf against the light.

These flowers grow around where we live and they are just coming into flower just now and the will last until about mid August. In past times it was considered a magic plant with the ability to chase the devil away.

For the past couple of years I have collected the flowers to make a solarised oil. The flower heads are much smaller than the cultivated varieties. You can see the size of the flower compared to my hand and also the red staining of my index finger and thumb that I use to pull off the flower heads.

I stuff the flower heads into a glass jar and top up with sunflower oil and leave it in the sun. I have read you should not expose it to moonlight but I’ll leave that consideration to you.

Gradually the colour changes and after 22 days all the oil looked red.

All that has to be done is to decant the oil into a smaller container. I could not believe that it worked the first time I tried – it did seem like magic!

I love the gentle, soothing perfume, it makes a massage oil and also I use it to make body bars with our bees wax. The liquid is phototoxic and should never be applied to the skin that is going to be exposed to the sun. It would not surprise me if it could cause allergies and irritations in sensitive people.

Luckily, I have had no negative reactions to it but I would not recommend it generally. I do find the light perfume soothing and it is a pleasant memory of summer during the winter time.

I have got quite a lot of Hypericum bushes in the garden that are blooming at the moment. I am not sure of the variety as I grew them from seed given to me by a friend.

I have one bush of Hypericum inodorum whose flowers have longer stamens. The bees seem happy with both sorts. Notice the orange pollen on this bee. The bumblebees also collect quantities of this pollen. The flowers are not as attractive to the pollinators as Cotoneaster which is also blooming just now. However, the Hypericum flowers for a much longer time.

We discovered the toad spawn on the 17 May 21 and so exactly one month later our tadpoles are starting to look like little toads with tails.

It was only after I had taken the photograph that I noticed that the eyes had developed.

I have seen one or two with legs but this was the only one I could photograph.


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Rainbow sun

It was just over two weeks ago that we saw this beautiful cloud iridescence in our garden while we were having lunch.

Today was too hot for the garden so we took off to the beach and at 13.06 Kourosh noticed a rainbow around the sun.

He shot off a few snaps with his mobile phone, not expecting to capture anything but I think these photographs give you an idea of what it was like. Unfortunately, the colours are not as vivid as they were. In fact it appeared as a circular rainbow around the sun.

These photographs were taken at Meschers on the Gironde estuary at around 13.06. According to Wikipedia these are formed by ice crystals in cirrus clouds. Indeed, the sky was very blue but there were some very pretty wispy clouds around.

Now I am going to check out more frequently what is happening above me.


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More eggs

Some years ago I planted Allium cernuum bulbs and loved the flowers but larger plants grew over them and they perished.

A year ago I decided to plant seed and keep them in a pot. This is the result of the second year of my half packet of seeds. They came up so well that I decided to plant the other half of the seeds this spring – but I forgot to stratify them with a cold period. The second sowing has not germinated so I better look after these bulbs!

They are also called Nodding Onion and you can see the family resemblance in the papery covering of the flower bud.

Of course I grow them to watch the bumblebees that love them.

I love her heart-shaped pollen load!

The pot stays on the steps so that we can watch the bees from the living room.

I noticed that my blue geranium was not looking too happy and I decided to release her from the pot. The temperatures are shooting up this week to 35 degrees Centigrade (95 F) so I am starting to reduce my pots if possible.

It was a bit of a struggle to get the pot bound plant out of the small top of the pot (bad design!) but as I struggled I noticed things falling on the earth!

I think these are lizard eggs. A number of years ago I found similar eggs and kept them inside in moistened vermiculite until they hatched – and they were lizards. This time I have just covered them with soil and hoped for the best.

At the moment the Philadelphus and the Linden tree are competing for most perfumed plant in the garden.

We have several Philadelphus in the garden, all very beautiful and all very perfumed but none of them attract the bees; strange.

The fledged Redstarts have flown the nest and we see them in the back garden but Kourosh noticed that a redstart was visiting the nest box again. On the first of June he tried for a photograph and found one newly laid egg!

On the fifth of June he tried to see if she had more eggs but – oops, she was in residence. On the eight June she has a clutch five eggs. They are a prolific pair as the last chicks had only left the nest a few days before she started laying again.

Our excitement this week was that our Melia azedarach tree has flowered for the first time. Kourosh planted seeds he had collected from beautiful trees we had seen flowering in Girona in Spain. We did not know what they were and it was only through help on this blog we found out what the tree was called.

There are not many flowers on the tree yet but it is a start.


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Roses and peonies

The roses are making their presence felt in the garden. This is the first rose Kourosh planted, Pierre de Ronsard.

It was a complete unknown to us as unfledged gardeners but it is a very popular rose. People here often think it is an old variety because it is named after the poet Pierred de Ronsard who lived four hundred years ago and wrote the famous poem “Mignonne, allons voir si la rose”. He looks at the fragility of the rose and encourages life to be taken while it can and be enjoyed – advice that holds good today.

In fact, this rose was created by the rose grower, Louisette Meilland in the 1980’s.

Phyllis Bede was created earlier by the rose grower Bede in 1923.

Despite the small size of the flowers, this rose charms her way into the hearts of her admirers.

The rose that is in its glory now is flowering well in a shady place under trees and also on a hedge in full sun. It is the oldest hybrid of all three previous roses, being created in 1909 by the German rose grower Schmidt. Veilchenblau means blue violet in German which is a clearly descriptive name.

The rose perfumes its surroundings.

It attracts the bees to gather its pollen so I can enjoy the perfume as I take my photographs.

This rose has no name but flowers continuously from now until the winter. It has a just perceptable fragrance but it the best rose to cut and has a beautiful shape of petals.

Kourosh has taken a cutting of this rose just in case of disasters.

If the rose flowers do not have a long life the peonies have an even shorter spell of glory. Mme Emile Debatene is an elegant, feminine peony.

My red peonies have no name and owe their existance to a moment of weakness in our local supermarket. I have no idea of the name but she is a blowsy, hot bloom that needs an exotic name.

I was glad to note that the peonies share their pollen with the bees too. This bumble bee had fallen asleep on the job and I took the photograph as she looked so cute.

Her nap was shortly disturbed by a curious hoverfly who could not be satisfied by one of the other peonies that were free.

Which all goes to show that even in the countryside, inside a peony flower – you are not free from unwanted disturbance.


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A rare event

We were sitting outside having lunch yesterday when we noticed beautiful colours in the sky above our olive tree.

We knocked on the door of our neighbours opposite and brought them outside to see the sky. I quickly took a photograph of the sky above our neighbour Annie’s house for her.

Kourosh took photographs on his phone too and sent them to Meteo France. Surprisingly, they sent us a beautiful reply explaining the phenomena. The general term is a  photométéore, which would include rainbows (I rather like this word, even if it is French and not English.) The phenomenon is rather rare and is associated with light being reflected by particles (water?) suspended on the surface of the clouds. So it is an iridescent cloud or irisation.

It was very beautiful and reminded me of watching the Northern Lights in Aberdeen.

Back in the garden I made a discovery that the clump of Oxalis, that I had planted years ago from some bulbs given free with a gardening magazine, was extremely attractive to the honeybees. I had never cared for it and it survived by finding a secluded spot here and there in the garden where it escaped being culled.

It is a strange flower and it will close in the middle of the day if there is not enough sunshine. It looks as if it is hiding (from me?) when it does that. When I looked closely the stamens held plenty of lovely yellow pollen.

Our wildlife pond continues to fascinate us. There are thousand of tadpoles now.

It is a great excuse to take a break and go and watch the tadpoles. Very relaxing. Have a look at this video and see what I mean.