a french garden


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Mid January in the garden

The constant rain that was the garden’s lot before Christmas has eased up.  The temperatures have only teased around zero from time to time and the sunny days are rare but something that brings cheer.

When the sun does shine it is not the flowers but the willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) that light up the garden.  I planted them in January 2014.

I was so optimistic about the effect my Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox) would have in the garden when I planted it in February of 2015.  I planted it not too far from the back door so that I could enjoy the perfume.  It took util last year to flower and whereas the perfume is striking sampled from close, I do not find it wifts any distance as do my other perfumed shrubs.

It did not start flowering until last year and I find at this time of year the flowers become damaged in the rain.

Perhaps it is not happy.  I admit it is in a fairly shady spot in the summer and if any one has any ideas how I can improve its performance, I would love to hear.

The Winter Sweet cannot compete with the density of flowers on the Viburnum tinus which started opening in December.

All these flowers attract the bees and provide very valuable pollen.

Quantity is important when attracting pollinators and although the Anisodontea is still producing flowers of a very good quality, they are not attracting the number of insects they do in the summer.

This large clump of heather (Erica darleyensis) is always well visited but I have several other newer and smaller clumps around the garden but they do not receive the same attention – just yet!

Only the tips of the Mahonia are in flower now and the berries are beginning to set.

I thought the Japanese Medlar (Eriobotrya japonica) would have finished by now but I could still smell the perfume and found several still flowering bunches in the more sheltered areas of the tree.  It has been flowering all December and is worth its place in any garden solely for the perfume.

As one plant finishes its flowering season another one starts.  This primula is a bit quick off the mark.

But the prize for precocity (or stupidity) goes to the apricot tree – already in flower.  We planted our fruit trees as soon as we bought the house, with little knowledge but great enthusiasm.  I wish we had had the knowledge at that time to look for fruit trees more suited to this area.  We bought them tempted by the pretty pictures on their labels.

Our plum tree, we inherited, although it was very small and it flowers very early, it usually provides a great source of pollen and nectar for the pollinators and very good eating and cooking little plums.  It seems as determined this year to get going as soon as possible.

The winter flowering honeysuckle will keep the pollinators happy until the early fruit trees are in flower.

The bushes are not too high and so provide lots of entertainment watching the bees gather pollen.  The honeysuckle roots fairly easily and we have taken cuttings to give us now five bushes around the garden.

At the moment there is a lot of blue Speedwell (Veronica spp.) in the grass and the bees visit these tiny flowers.  They must have good nectar as this bee looked quite comical pushing its way into a flower that was not completely open.

I was surprised to see this wild bee on the Speedwell.  You can see how small she is as she fits comfortably into the little flower head.  I tried to see what she might be as I had managed to catch sight of the slit at the end of her thorax so I suspected the Halictidae family.  Steven Falk writes that bees in this group often nest underground and some have communual nests and even primitive eusocial communities.  So she could possibly be a fertilised queen getting ready to start her new brood.  Or are they like the bumble bee queens that come out of their shelters during the favourable days of winter to restock on fresh nectar?


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El Parque del Oeste

I am taking a side step here away from gardening and following Kourosh’s lead on the artwork we saw in Malaga.

The Parque del Oeste leads down to the sea to bisect the coastline at right angles.

 

Being so close to the sea it is not surprising that the statuary often has a nautical theme.

Mermaids…

or sirenes can be found in the long pools.

But often the statues can be difficult to classify.  To me this is a female with a pigeon’s head and a pelican tucked under her arm.

Normally, rather stand-offish about art, I found that the statues were very amusing and their appeal grows with familiarity.

In addition, the statues are not confined to the pools but you come upon them as you pass through the park.  The llama is very appealing and a favourite mount for young visitors while proud grand parents take their pictures.

The little donkey is close by under an olive tree and I feel all the local children must have a photograph of them beaming astride the donkey.

Some of the statues are of a more mythical flavour and I would call this one the winged Minotaur.

This is clearly a snail and it appears to have attracted a drove of adoring turtles.

Some of the statues take you be surprise like this pig’s head poking out of a porthole in a cement wall.

This shadow scene has no problem in using a plain wall to make an impact.

What I see is the fun that the sculpter wished us to enjoy in the park with his statues of his musicians.

Is this an anteater with a lobster claw snout?

Is this a winged sewing machine?

I could go on but I’ll leave you with my favourite.  The Audiobook Reader.

Not all the statues are attributed but all the ones I saw were attributed to Stefan von Reiswitz.

I have not found out much about this artist apart that he was German but chose Malaga as his home and died in May 2019 at the age of 87.

 


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A View of Andalusia

Happy New Year to you all.  I do hope that this new year and the new decade will bring much happiness to everyone.

Amelia and I spent the holidays visiting my son in Andalusia, Spain, at Malaga.  On first of January the sun was shining beautifully and the temperature in the shade was about 18 degree C (65F).

Malaga 01.01.2020

There were even a few hardy people (must have been British!) who swam in the sea.

Malaga (03) 01.01.2020

The public WCs along the beach have always caught my eye.  The imagination and the artistic inspiration of the Spaniards impresses me.

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The outside walls of the buildings were decorated with beach scenes.

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Why should such ordinary buildings not be decorated?

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The WCs were clean and clearly newly painted.

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I think they would amuse the children as well as the adults.

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It was not only the WCs, but many of the recycling bins near the beach were also decorated.

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One last memory for me was the sign on one pet grooming shop in Malaga which did make me laugh.

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Have a wonderful 2020.

    •  Kourosh


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What’s in a name?

The incessant rain has been keeping me indoors and I really felt I wanted to accomplish something useful.  So I decided to  polish my halo and go through my camera memory card, removing blurred shots and trying to get some order into the ones that I want to keep as records.  I also mean to find names for bees and plants that I have not recognised.

This was a photo I had taken on 11 September 2019.  Our Asters attracted so many pollinators this year.  I am not very good with butterflies and I supposed it would be one of the tailed blues we get around here.

Wrong!

When I checked my “Butterflies of Europe” book by Tristan Lafranchis I found it was a Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) butterfly.  The reason for its name is pretty obvious but that brought me to the “Do you mean Geranium or Pelargonium?” question.  I was rather hoping that its food of preference was Pelargoniums, as I do not have any of these very popular plants and as most people buy them every year from the Supermarket or nursery, I did not feel too selfish about this cynical thought.

However, it seems that the caterpillars can be content with geraniums or pelargoniums as food.  I have plenty perennial geraniums in the garden, as the bees adore them.

In addition, I had not realised that they can be serious pests for the growers who supply the supermarkets and nurseries with pelargoniums.

I have yet to see any damage to my perennial geraniums but I will keep an eye out this summer.  It may just have been our exceptionally warm summer that allowed it to mature on imported Pelargoniums.

Apart from finding out the name of this butterfly, I also discovered that many Pelargonium species originate from South Africa whereas geraniums are mainly a European species.  Pelargoniums have been with us for a long time, they were introduced into Europe from the beginning of the seventeenth century.  The roots of Pelargonium triste had a local reputation of treating dysentery which interested the apothecaries of the time.

Not bad for a rainy day :).


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Water, water everywhere

Since last week it has been raining more and the field behind the garden is covered in water.  You should just be able to see the hives in the background, of the photograph.

Looking in the exactly same direction but further back, a second field is also completely flooded.

Fields on the other side are much the same.  In fact, any low land the Seudre flows past in this area has been flooded.  A lot of the land in this area was marsh land so it is not so unusual.  It is just these areas have been much drier in the past forty years.

The rain has kept me out of the garden but the bees have always taken the opportunity of the mild temperatures and any sunshine to get out of their hives.

We had five hives at the end of the summer.  Pissenlit was the smallest and we reduced her to six frames, hoping she would thrive on the ivy in the autumn.  She seemed less and less active until at the beginning of December we opened her to find no bees.  The frames of honey were there but no bees and no signs of disease.  She was a large swarm that had come to our apricot tree in the front garden on 31 May this year.  She had built up quite well but did not keep up with her original energy.

Our next disappointment was when we opened the Poppy hive for the winter oxalic acid treatment on 16 December and found the hive empty.

This was a surprise as she had gone into winter as our largest and busiest hive.  We have had the Poppy hive from 2015 and she has swarmed and re-queened every year.  We had noticed in the past couple of weeks that she was not so busy but we were not too concerned.

Once again, there were no signs of disease and there were plenty of stores of honey and pollen.

I will add a close up of the same frame, so that you can see the different colour of pollen as well as honey that they had stored..

The few bees we found at the bottom of the hive were all perfect with no wing malformations.

There were never any large number of dead bees in front of the hive.  It was just empty and we feel that the emptying must have taken place relatively rapidly as we watch our hives regularly.

Moving onto a happier note, we have now three large bushes of winter flowering honeysuckle near the hives and they are soon popular with the bees when the rain stops.

The Mahonias, Charity and two Media, are all flowering and much appreciated by the bees.

The Eriobotrya japonica or Loquat has even more perfumed flowers and that attracts the bees too.  This tree would be hardy in most places in the UK but I do not recall seeing it.  You would be unlikely to get fruit in the UK but I highly recommend it for its perfume.

Our Viburnum tinus on the fence is full of buds and the bees will not have long to wait until the flowers open.

In fact, some of the flowers lower down have already opened.

These plants are very easy to propagate if you cut off some roots from a large plant.  We are hoping to have a few more on the road side and we were very pleased to see these cuttings thrive and start to flower this year.

I finish this post marveling at the optimism of this white tailed bumble bee.  In the UK the bumble bee queens are supposed to snuggle down and rest/hibernate until the spring allows them fine enough weather to start making their nest and their colony.  This white tailed bumble bee has pollen on her hind legs so I can only assume she has started her nest and is raising her young.

The rain is against her but I hope she finds enough nectar and pollen in the garden to raise at least some worker bumble bees to help her find food and to keep them warm.


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The rain and gloom continues but I get a surprise

The rain continues and the sky is more often grey.

The Seudre is full and flowing, at the end of our garden.

More and more puddles are appearing in the low lying parts of fields.  That’s the gloom but…

My surprise arrived with the copy of my son’s new novel God of Thieves.  The actual arrival of the book was no surprise as we had ordered it with the intention of giving it pride of place in the book cabinet.

It was when I opened the book that I uncovered my surprise.   It had been dedicated to me.

To say I was touched is too simple, even glib.  In fact, the words of the dedication resounded in my head triggering off an explosion of emotion and memories.  It is true I have enjoyed discussing the characters with him enormously and I feel I know them all personally  and there is a definite female thread running through the book, or should I say books as this is the first in a Trilogy.

As a mother your pleasure comes from giving without any thoughts of recompense.

The recompenses can be very private and hidden from view from the rest of the world.  I talk of those boxes, you know the ones.  The ones with the carefully folded papers now growing brittle with age that contain the school magazine with a five year old’s published poem or a card with that special writing.  Not for the general public.

Here was a public acknowledgement as if it was being shouted to all the world.  But thankfully it is hidden graciously, tucked delicately into the book only to be read by those who actually care.

This is Diavosh and I in October, relaxing before his final push to publish God of Thieves.

If you are still interested to learn more you can check out this interview.

Of course, should you wish to purchase the book, it is available in Kindle and paper format on Amazon UK and Amazon USA

 


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The Season Starts or Finishes now?

The beekeepers, consider that after the honey harvest in autumn, the next season just begins.  There is so much to be done to tidy the equipment and make sure that the bees have enough provisions to last them through the winter. We been lucky this year.

Honeybee on winter honeysuckle (3)

Even these last days of November, the winter flowering honeysuckle provides both nectar and pollen for our bees.

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It is not just the honey bees that interest us.  The bumble bees are frequent visitors at this time on several mahonias in the garden.

Beehives near la Seudre

Our five hives are tucked away at the end of the garden, and the autumn so far has been mild.  This has not been the story across France, where the French Union of Beekeepers (UNAF) have named 2019 as a black year,  UNAF has applied to the French Government to take the necessary steps to indemnify the beekeepers in the worst affected regions,  The cold spring and exceptionally hot summer contributed to the loss of many bee colonies across France.

Here the summer was so dry that even the sunflowers did not have much nectar, so the bees could not produce as much honey as usual.  Normally one hive can produce 20 or even 30 kilograms of honey in autumn.  The average in this region was around 5 kilogram per hive.  As I said, we were lucky as around us there are forests of sweet chestnut trees, so we collected a fair amount of all flowers honey as well as forest honey which is mostly chestnut honey,  Certainly enough for us and our friends.

In total we also collected 11 bee swarms that came to our garden.  We housed them and kept them for a few weeks and then passed them to friends who had lost many colonies.

Beehives near la Seudre. 1. jpg

During the past month we have had a lot of rain and after 18 months that the river at the bottom of the garden was dry, now la Seudre is almost full of water.

So, Amelia and I are already looking forward to next year beekeeping life.

For me, apart from occasional visit to see how the bees are getting on, the pleasure is to watch the birds. coming to our front garden.

Robin

The robin, specially at this time of the year reminds us of Christmas cards.

She comes regularly bathing in front of the dinning room.

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So does the sungthrush.

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Sometimes I wonder if the birds like washing themselves or do they, like children, actually enjoy bathing.

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I think this one was washing his ears!

At this time of the year Amelia likes collecting the leaves for composting, but some of the trees have not totally lost their leaves, The liquidambar leaves, however, are so pretty even on the ground that Amelia does not have the heart to rake them.

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So I wish you a happy autumn and together we look forward to the start of another year of beekeeping as well as gardening.

Kourosh