The Potter Wasp returns

I heard her coming as I stepped outside of the front door.

The pot had already been covered and she spent the next two days adding layers of mud to weather proof her nest for the winter.

I was fascinated to see her bring the smooth mud ball, held against her thorax by her front legs and her head.

The mud ball was then smoothed into place, perhaps to resemble the stone wall surface?

This is the type of pot she is covering, so she is capable of a much finer work. I had watched a pot being built last October. Perhaps it was from that very pot that she has emerged this year.

Back home

After a pleasant break in the Auvergne region of France, it was good to get back to the garden. We visited the Puy de Dôme, an extinct volcano towering 1650 metres high and providing an amazing viewpoint of the area. It is possible to access the summit by foot, or a charming train can take you up and down. We asked if it was possible to take the train up and then come down by foot. We were told this was quite possible but it was not mentioned that the “goats’ path” would not lead you back to where we started from but to another carpark at some distance from the main centre where we were parked. Luckily, we enjoy walking but the extra leg was more than we bargained for.

There had been some rain for the garden while we were away and the Cosmos had taken over a corner of the front garden as I had not had the heart to weed out the self-sown plants.

Today some of the flowers are finishing and it has attracted the Godfinches (Carduelis carduelis).

The adults are very brightly coloured with distinctive red heads.

I am not a birder but I think there were quite a few immature birds in the group.

Perhaps someone might know if these are females or young birds.

There was a constant movement of birds in the Cosmos – I can count five birds in the photo above.

We were amused to watch them patiently wait their turn until the sparrows finished splashing around and drinking from the bird bath.

Eventually the sparrows move on.

It makes me wonder if they are the same birds from the little nest that the goldfinches hid amongst the leaves of one of our Hibiscus syriacus at the front of our house in July.

Bag-tie time

Bag-ties are appearing in the garden as the seed heads appear and the blooms disappear. I will be able to find the plants when all the flowers have finished. I was pleased with my pot of Antirrhinums grown from seed this year. The seed I had gathered germinated well and now I am choosing my preferred light shades although I am sure the bees will have assured that the seeds are a good mixture of colours.

My yellow Cosmos self-seed everywhere, much to the pleasure of the bees, but I like to choose some of the more lemon shades and the doubles, as I think the orange is the predominant colour and might swamp out the variety. Anyway, it is always handy to have seeds ready to throw down if a space is free.

I did the same thing with the coloured Cosmos last year as this dark pink is the colour that tends to predominate from the self-seeded plants.

I should have thinned the self-seeded Cosmos but they are doing such an excellent job of shading my Caryopteris that I have let them be.

There was a beautiful tall Eryngium with bright blue flowers growing near us which I have been admiring and I managed to obtain a seed head.

The seed head is reminiscent of an artichoke but the hard outer coat was difficult to open, even with secateurs. Once inside though, I was so surprised with the softness of the downy seed heads. The seeds seemed to have been arranged within with such tender care, like eggs in a down lined bird’s nest.

The first seeds germinated after a few days, some in a pot and some outdoors. The seedlings are stocky and open like little solar panels during the day and close up in the evening. I will be planting these three on into larger pots as they develop tap roots that cannot be disturbed. Whether they survive to be planted out in the spring is to be seen but if it takes the Eryngium will survive if next summer is dry and hot.

Another plant with formidable roots is our Wisteria which is happily re-flowering in the heat.

The flowers attract the bees and especially the carpenter bees and the bumblebees.

It is also attracting the short-tailed blue butterfly,  Everes alcetas, Provencal Short-tailed Blue. I hope you can see the little tails although this one is female and so not blue. I would like to have caught the blue male but he refused to come low enough for me to get a shot.

The Japanese anemones and the fuchsia are spared the hottest rays of the sun behind a north facing wall which has spared them the searing rays that have burnt other plants leaves.

The heat is continuing and I often find myself in the garden very late at night savouring the cooler air. This year there have been several glow worms in the front garden. I was concerned that the drought might have had a negative effect on their numbers so I was happy to see them but too tired to get a good photograph. I have better photographs of them here if you are interested. We often find them during the day in the garden too, so it is a good idea to know what they look like.

Autumn in August

If autumn makes you think of falling leaves, then that’s what is happening in the garden now.

The grass is dried to a crisp, in fact it is tinder dry. There have been many forest fires in France set off by accidental sparks coming from farm machinery etc. The forest fire in the Landes region just south of here was started by a pyromaniac volonteer fireman and consumed 6,200 hectares of pine forest. Unfortunately, many other regions have suffered forest fires and the heat and drought continues.

It seems trivial after the fires to complain that my Liquidambar tree has yellow leaves that are carpeting the ground underneath it

The old plum tree that lost all its flowers in a late frost is now dropping its leaves. I hope this is its way to stay alive as there is no way to water these trees.

In amongst the desiccated grass there are still clumps of weeds like the cat’s ears that somehow manage to store enough moisture in their long tap roots to produce leaves and flower, and are much appreciated by the bees.

The Dahlias must survive thanks to their tubers and even manage to accept the scorching sun on their leaves better than the Hellebores which have become yellow leaved and exhausted looking.

The Japanese Anemones survive in the drought and the scorching sun. They are surrounded by a host of tiny bees and I should use them more but I find them so difficult to control.

I have patches of Yellow Cosmos in the front garden but these do need to be watered at the moment although I would say that they are moderately drought and heat tolerant.

It cheers me up to watch the variety of bees that they attract. This is a Megachile (centuncularis, I think). It is slightly larger than a honey bee and sometimes chooses a Cosmos already occupied by another bee knowing that the surprised bee quickly cedes its place. Pushy creature!

I can’t forget the honeybees!

I have not been working in the garden lately because of the high day time temperatures. We are now in our third period of “canicule”, that is a period of high day and night time temperatures that last at least three consecutive days. We have never had such a hot dry summer and it is forecast to last at least until Sunday.

I am glad for my pots of flowers near the door. This blue sage does well in a pot and I could always plant it our in the autumn.

My tub of Antirrhynums have been a great success and were very easy to grow from the seeds I collected last year. They attract the bumble bees that squeeze themselves inside.

My two Heptacodium jasminoides (or miconioides) have started flowering. They are in a very hot dry part of the garden but they belong to the honeysuckle family so I hope they will not suffer to much. Once in full flower, they will be covered with bumble bees.

I have made use of the sun and heat and cleaned up the wax from the cappings of the honey frames. You can see how I did it if you look zigzag at the collage above ( I have no longer access to the carousel feature with my free site). I forgot to wash the cappings of excess honey but the wax still came out clean. Today I am processing my friend’s cappings and I have remembered to wash them first!

The end of July 22 in the garden

The shutters are closed while the sun is up. At least now the nights are cooler and we can air the house in the cool of the morning.

Most plants are showing signs of heat exhaustion and the lack of rain. The Chitalpa does not get watered but it has flowered for even longer this year, having had flowers since early June.

The plants in this patch of the back garden get sun most of the day. The lavender has survived for many years, although it has finished flowering for this year. I am not sure whether the Colutea will survive as all I can see is its seed pods with no leaves. Surprisingly, the Eucryphea has started to flower even although some of its leaves have been burnt by the sun.

I’m not sure what the yellow flowers are in this area. They are very tough perennials which grow out of tubers that must allow them to survive in the heat and dry.

They are very attractive to the honey bees and although I find them rather invasive, I do appreciate them during hot summers.

The cat’s ears in our “lawn” provide a splash of colour in the sunshine as the lawn is a crispy brown.

The honey bees love the pollen and have been bringing in this bright orange pollen to the hives.

The cat’s ear weed attracts the Dasypoda bees. They are also called pantaloon bees as their hind legs have such long hairs for collecting the pollen. These bees nest in sandy soil, digging tunnels into the ground to lay their eggs. I am sure I must have nests nearby but I have never discovered any.

The larger Tetradium daniellii (the bee-bee tree) has just started to flower on the top branches and there is a satisfactory buzz when I stand underneath it. The garden is managing in the heat better than I am but both of us would benefit from some refreshing rain.

They grow up so fast!

Outside our kitchen door we have access to what is called the cellier. In this cellar we keep a lot of our beekeeping equipment, and so in spring we need access to that place very frequently.

So, spring being what it is, the birds help themselves to the shelter that the beam is providing to make a nest, reducing our ability to freely visit the cellar. This year it started with the robin.

She visits the back of the house where we have placed a water trough for the bees. She has her daily bath there. So it was not surprising that we found she had laid 6 eggs there.

about 10 days later I saw that two eggs had hatched. What happened to the others?

After that, it did not seem to take long before they flew up to the nearby ash tree.

A couple of weeks later I noticed that the redstart was flying back and forth from the nearby washing line to the same nest.

Four eggs! I wondered what will happen to them. That was 18th of June.

I investigated on the 23rd of June and behold all but one chic had hatched.

Two days later they were all in the nest.

They were so tiny. But on 2nd of July, they seemed big enough to leave the nest.

On 5th of July, all I had was an empty nest. The birds had all gone to the nearby trees.

Robin and the sparrows visit the water trough and share it with our bees. With these very dry and also hot days that the French call the canicule, (the dog days) with temperatures around upper 30s and reaching 40 degree C (over 100 degrees F), we ensure that there is plenty of water for all the birds and the bees.

Amelia and I are concerned that although we water the vegetable patch and a few of the more precious shrubs, we will inevitably loose some plants and even trees. The heat is literally killing their leaves to a frazzle. Gardening is getting difficuly. I did try to cut down a branch of the ash tree, but without success. The pigeon had decided to nest just above the branch.

So, I do hope everyone keeps well and keeps cool.

  • Kourosh

The rhythm continues

The rhythm of summer has begun.

It is hot, although this year there is more of a breeze in the garden.

We all have our habits. We take our morning coffee in the front garden but soon it will be too hot for that and we will shift to the cool of the trees in the back garden.

The shade of a parasol is getting insufficient to keep the heat of the sun at bay on the patio.

In addition we have to do our “frog check” each time we open the parasol.

He is not easy to dislodge.

The parasol has to be removed and the frog shaken on to the lemon tree close-by in a pot. This is a secondary favourite haunt so he will hop off easily.

This is a closer view for those of you who cannot see him in the photo above.

In fact, it is much easier to take our coffee in the back garden now.

Sunflower time

The sunflowers have started to flower around us here in the Charente Maritime in France.

There are some small fields near us.

A little further on there are fields so large that their yellow blends into the horizon.

This year the bees and bumble bees have descended upon the sunflowers and so I presume they must be producing a good supply of nectar although it has been an overall dry season.

The different sunflower hybrids produce nectar with different sugar mass quantity so whether this season will produce an abundant honey supply or not remains to be seen.

For the moment our girls at the bottom of the garden are very busy.

In praise of Lavatera

Some plants tick all the boxes for me. Lavatera is one of my favourites. It does not ask for special treatment. It prefers full sun but can manage in partial shade and manages well through dry periods.

In June the plant is in full bloom, providing a mass of flowers.

This was the Lavatera near the house in April this year. It was already filling out and pushing out its soft green leaves.

Now in June it is covered in flowers and attracts all sorts of pollinators drawn by the nectar. It has a rapid growth. You can take advantage of this if you want to quickly fill up a space in the garden.

Unfortunately the rapid growth can lead to branches breaking with the weight of the leaves and flowers. Looks like we should have given it a more severe cutting in April. However, it is easily grown from a cutting. In the U.K. it is preferable to take a softwood cutting in spring but they grown well from cuttings taken in the autumn here as long as they are not exposed to harsh weather. We often find an offshoot at the base of mature plants too.

Red Alert – canicule

Our department of the Charente Maritime (plus another eleven departments) have been placed on a red alert because of the predicted high temperatures – approaching 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Depending on where you live this may seem extreme or not.

It feels pretty hot to me but luckily we live in an old stone house that will stay cool until this stretch of extreme weather passes. We were booked to go with friends to an evening outside meal with music at our village tomorrow but all outside entertainment has been stopped including outside markets until the weather cools.

The bees are hot and fan in front of their entrances. The trees behind them protect them from the worse of the direct sun and there is insulation under the roof.

Kourosh thought of the old type of coolers that pushed air through wet straw and has sprayed the wooden entrances to increase the efficiency of the bees fanning.

We always leave plenty of water out for the bees and they need it, especially in the heat.

There is a particular crush around this local stone which is limestone and soaks up the water well.

It is not only the bees that appreciate the water and the bath is perfect for a morning dip for the robin.

It is too hot to go walking and too hot at the beach for me. I have checked out the Magnolia tree this morning and the bees had already set upon the flowers with gusto. The flowers do not last a day once they have opened.

Macroglossum stellatarum

The hummingbird hawk moth is back in the lavender.

I find it difficult staying inside and so check out the garden for only short periods.

There are little bees nesting in tiny tunnels in the house walls. I do not know what they are so that will give me something to think about. If you have any ideas please drop me a hint.