a french garden


5 Comments

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.

bumble Bee 1

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.

Robin bathing 1 (2)

So does the sungthrush.

Song thrush bathing 1

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

Song thrush bathing 1 (3)

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.

IMG_0057

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

 


20 Comments

Grey Skies

We have had our first frost of the year.

The frost is supposed to give flavour to the brussel sprouts.

However, the heavy rain has flattened them.

The leeks are starting to rot in the sodden ground.

The river Seudre at the back of the garden has filled up and only usually reaches this level in the springtime.

The plants themselves are confused after the hot dry summer.  The bottle brush has decided it might like to flower again.

My tall dark sage is still in bud and I do not think will flower this year.  The Charente Maritime area is one of the sunniest in France but this autumn it has been clouds and rain and I have missed the garden.

The Cerinthe major has found it perfect for self-seeding and I have been able to pot up plenty of little plants without the need for sowing any seeds.

The olive tree has been harvested.  It has given us less than last year but enough for our own needs.  Actually it only gives olives on the half of the tree that gets most of the sun, the other side does not get sufficient sun to produce the fruit.

Part of the front garden was covered with these “weeds” which I thought were allium bulbs last year.  I thought I must have forgotten planting them but they are not decorative alliums as they produced no flowers (that I saw).  They smell strongly of onions and are very invasive.  The roots seem to be able to elongate and produce new nodules vegetatively.  Does any one have an idea of what they might be?

The future looks wet.  I must learn to relax and accept the weather like our little tree frogs.


5 Comments

What do gardeners do when it is raining?

Ever since our Barbastelle bat first came to visit us in 2014 we have been thinking of ways to provide shelter for bats in the garden.  See “A furry visitor

A bat box seemed the obvious choice, as did a web search for information and help because we do not know a lot about these fascinating creatures.

One of the good sites we came across was the Bat Conservation Trust

This site provides not only loads of information but also plans for building your own bat box.  Many more plans can be found by searching the web.

Kourosh tackled his bat box on a cold, wet day last February.  He had bought his untreated wood and cut it up to the required dimensions in the workshop.

I popped in from time to time to provide the much needed encouragement and I was pleased to see he had managed to assemble it.

The roof of the box was added and the holes to attach the box were drilled inside the house, where it was warmer to work.

The finished product looked the perfect new home for a bat!  (Well, we thought so.)

Kourosh was insistant that it should be painted to blend in with the house and decorated to be pleasing to humans after all the work he had put in.  For bats that appear to have a penchant for white painted shutters this may be a good ploy.

We felt that having the box ready in February would give the bats plenty of time to settle in this year.

However, so far we have had no takers.  We look regularly of tell-tale signs of occupation, but so far it is unoccupied.

However, this September the same white shutter, so favoured by the Barbastelle bat, was adopted by a Pipestrelle bat.

There is no accounting for taste!

We are still waiting to see if the bat box will eventually tempt any bats.  In the meantime I wonder if I have tempted anyone to have a go at building their own bat box?


15 Comments

The flowers in November

The rain still continues and everything in the garden is wet.

It does not stop the bees and other insects flying in between the downpours.

The low light makes it difficult to take sharp photographs.

Everything is getting sodden.   Luckily, I have already gathered plenty of Cosmos and other seeds.  These are French Marigold (Tagetes erecta), that are late in setting seed and have stated germinating still attached to the flower heads.

I grew these flowers near my tomatoes this year.  They provided lots of colour in the vegetable garden and are reputed to attract beneficial insect such as hoverflies and at the same time the roots secrete a substance to repel certain nematodes.  I cannot affirm that they make a considerable difference but they are held in high esteem in this area.

There is still plenty of Borage left in the vegetable garden, and elsewhere, and that is a magnet for all pollinators.  It is also so handy for decoration of salads and drinks.

We always have a clutter of pots at our front coffee spot.  This allows us to keep an eye on the fragile and admire our favourite flowers of the moment.

The Salvias are in their glory at the moment, especially the Salvia leucantha.  We have one in a pot on the patio and another in the garden but they do not photograph well and you need to see a close up photograph to see what the eye actually sees.  The flowers look as if they have been fashioned from velvet.  They are constantly visited by the bees.  This carder bumble bee is piercing a hole in the flower to “steal” the nectar.

Another flower we are monitoring in a pot on the patio is the Ajania.  This is new to us this year and I am waiting impatiently to see if the flowers will open fully.  It has grown well and I am thinking of trying it as ground cover next year as it has grown well in the pot.

Some flowers get attention and care yet this Alyssum grows on its own every year, seeding into the cracks in the front path and the base of the wall.  It completely looks after itself and releases its own special honey scent in the warm evenings and is still flowering.

Perhaps tough love can work as I have succeeded in keeping two Abutilon plants.  They die completely from the surface in winter and reappear in late spring.  They are not too tall yet, but I have my hopes, and it is nice to have their flowers so late in the year.

The bees still manage to get out to forage for nectar and pollen despite the rain.  They have to “faire avec” as we all have to during these rainy days.

Thus saying, I was surprised to see a cricket perched on top of my pink rose in the front garden.  It does not seem a good place to be camouflaged from hungry birds. In addition, it is not very far away from our bird feeder.

More surprisingly it was still there the next day!  Is it the same one or is it cricket time?

 


21 Comments

The October Garden

After months of drought now everything is wet!   The Nerine bowdenii has shot up with rain, totally unconcerned with the dry summer as it lay dormant underground.  But the petals are sodden.

The little cyclamen have pushed through undeterred by the dry summer.  Certainly autumn flowering bulbs and tubers are good drought resistant plants for the garden.

The bees go out for nectar and pollen when the rain stops but this poor bumble bee was quite soaked from the wet petals.

The Tulip tree or Liriodendron did not get watered during the summer but the autumn rains have been sufficient to allow it to put on its usual autumn show.

Since we have had rain the Chosia ternata “Sundance” has started flowering.  I find the Choisias do very well in the garden and as well as the C. ternata (basic?) I have a Choisia ternata “Aztec pearl”. which I prefer as I like the finer leaves.  Yesterday, I saw a Choisia ternata “White Dazler” in a nursery.  It was covered in white, very perfumed flowers that the bees seemed to be appreciating as much as I was appreciating the perfume.  I paused from purchasing as I do not have a place ready for it at the moment, and it was 35 euros.  Has anyone experience with this variety?

My Osmanthus heterophyllus “Goshiki” has also come through the summer to provide us with loads of perfumed flowers but it does live in a shady spot and did not have to withstand any scorching.

Today was sunny and in the low twenties Centigrade and it was so good to get into the garden after all the rain, even though the work to be done is a bit daunting.

The good thing about sunny days in the garden is that you are never alone.

Today a grasshopper joined us for morning coffee.

Then we were amused while we had lunch on the patio by the antics of another green insect.  This time better camouflaged, in amongst my potted Salvia uliginosa.

This is the Praying mantis doing her special photo pose, with me taking her from her best side.  They seem such clumsy creatures that do not seem to know quite what to do with such long legs.

Kourosh is a fan of Praying mantis and the insect did not object to being handled gently.  Some people keep them as pets.  I’m glad Kourosh seems to be satisfied with keeping his bees.


18 Comments

Some winners and losers of the dry summer

I’m going back into September here and the garden is dry.  Just as I was hoping to get a bit more out of the vegetable garden, I encounter our hottest, driest summer.

I was so concerned that there would be nothing left to flower even outside the garden for the bees that I chucked down loads of Cosmos and Cosmos sulphureus seeds in the vegetable garden as I felt I could keep them watered.  They were just seeds that I had gathered last year from the garden so I had plenty.

My attempt at growing chick peas was a failure but I did discover that you could eat them raw from the pod like green peas.

The Borlotti beans produced very little and the parsley refused to grow.

This is my sole butternut production.  I shall be dependent on my neighbour Annie for her pumpkins in the winter.

There have been notable successes.  The aubergines did well, as did the courgettes.

And these delicious little cucumbers kept producing all summer.

In summary the vegetables performed poorly but our pear trees produced more fruit this year although the apple trees produced hardly any apples.

The Comice pears above were very good but I think our Conference pears beat them on flavour.

The tomatoes survived as I watered them and they produced enough to eat in salad and make coulis to freeze.  The little Sungold did well on the wigwam we made.  The leeks and Brussel sprouts are planted for the winter but everything needs to be tidied and sorted for next season.

I think the bees probably think I should just stick to planting flowers.

The senna plants that I have grown from seed are doing well.  Whether they will survive the winter remains to be seen.

I watered late in the evening and by that time the senna had closed their leaves and gone to sleep which I find a very endearing trait.

I have noticed less leaf cutter bees in the garden this year.  They are such pretty bees with their abdomens bright yellow and full of pollen.  I have had no leaf cutters nesting in my bee houses either this year despite providing fresh bamboo tubes and drilled holes.  I do not know if the dry weather could affect them adversely.  I’d be interested in anyone else’s experience.

We will have to wait until next spring to see how a lot of the plants have survived.  I do choose drought tolerant plants.  There are some good surprises, like many shrubs such as fuschia will just look totally miserable yet survive.  Others have been disappointing and I will not plant anymore Tithonia rotundifolia which I thought was drought tolerant but does not grow well from seed unless it is well watered.

I am going to try to grow from seed, Tithonia diversifolia, which is a big brute of a plant and is supposed to be drought tolerant.  It is a perennial and I may live to regret it but it looked quite stunning when I saw it.

There were plenty of opportunities for tea and coffee in the garden, in the shade, and we shared these moments with the various garden visitors.  This bee seems to have recognised her stolen honey in the dregs of my lemon balm and mint tea.  She just cannot work out how it got there.


14 Comments

Garden Birds

The real hot days of summer (la canicule) are behind us.  Amelia and I found that this summer with the temperatures often between 35 and 40 degrees Centigrade, we were sitting less in the garden.  Oh, well, I told her, it is a good excuse to go to the beach!

asters

Now in late September it is milder and we can attend to the neglected tasks in the garden.  And to admire the autumn flowers and of course to sit down for a cup of coffee.

front garden

Our garden is usually very peaceful, except for the chattering of the birds.  But the garden would surely not be the same without the birds.

When we first bought this house we had very few visiting birds.  Now I am amazed with the variety of the birds.  They all need water, and so we have placed several watering havens for the bees and the birds.

The hoopoe has become a regular summer visitor to the garden.

Hoopoe

The green woodpecker made a bright splash of colour in the garden.  It is the first year that I have seen the woodpecker in the front garden.

woodpecker 1

The Redstarts have remained one of my favourite birds.  This year they occupied four nests that I had made for them and they raised at least four young ones in each nest!  We get both the black Redstarts as well as the common Redstarts.

red start 1

Birds require plenty of water, not only to drink but to keep their feathers clean and their antics in the trough provide us with lots of amusement.  We  see Redstarts taking their bath almost every day at the moment.

red start 2

I am almost sure that they actually enjoy frolicking in the water as much as my granddaughter used to do.

baby sparrow 1

The sparrow make their nest under the eaves, and I am sure that they must have had three broods this year.  Like all baby animals, they too look cute.

baby sparrow 2

But without a doubt, my favourite, at least for this year, is the warbler (I believe it is the melodious warbler).

Sometimes we have mistaken it for a sparrow as it is shy and moves away quickly, but its fine beak is a give-away.  The warbler has also started taking bath, but it is a quick dip in and out.

A couple of year ago, from a holiday in Malta, we brought with us a few seeds of what I call the giant fennel.  It has grown to well over two metres high and its flowers certainly attracted the bees.  Now in seeds, it seems to attract the warbler.

warbler 3

We shall certainly try to replant it next year, if nothing else to make sure that this beautiful bird keeps coming to our garden.

IMG_0149

– Kourosh