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.

Snakes alive!

On Wednesday morning we were just having a quiet coffee near the French window when there was a thump on the patio. We occasionally get birds bumping into the window and are always alert but this noise did not sound like a bird near miss.

Kourosh was fast off his mark with his camera!

“Snakes alive!” we said, (or we might have if our brains had been as quick off the mark.)

The “thump” was the ungainly landing of two coulouvres who had been passionately mating on our roof. These ones are Hierophis viridiflavus (I think) and could be called Whip snakes in English.

They are completely inoffensive and have always lived in the walls and roof of the house.

After realising where they were, one slid into the old well.

The other split and took off round the front of the house to look for a convenient hole to escape into.

We just hope that they do a bit of natural pest control as they shelter around the house. These two were close to two metres long and certainly looked well nourished.

Elsewhere in the garden the lime trees are in flower, if you manage to miss the delicious perfume you won’t miss the buzz of the bees.

In the front garden the olive tree is buzzing too with bumble bees…

and honey bees.

In the back garden the yellow raspberries are starting to ripen. They start before the red raspberries.

The raspberries are not ripening fast enough for me so I am picking the blackcurrants raw for my yoghurt and I find they go very nicely with a spoonful of our own honey.

Allium cernuum, feast or famine

Last year I wrote about my success with half a packet of Allium Cernuum seeds (See here More eggs). My first half packet had produced some precious bulbs but the second half, used a year later, had failed.

My natural assumption was that these were tricky to grow and that a bigger effort was necessary to provide me with the bulbs I wanted – not only in a few pots but in the ground.

I allowed the flowers to form seeds – no problem here as they attract all sorts of pollinators – and planted them out in a pot to overwinter outside.

Believing that the seeds were difficult to germinate, I sowed them thickly.
I think every seed must have germinated.
This is where I am at the moment with the pot. I have planted areas in the border. I have already given away one planted pot to a gardener friend and planted one pot for a friend that I will keep until next year when I hope it will flower.

As you can see, there is going to be excess. I hate to throw seedlings away but I think that quite a few will find their way to the compost.

Next year the pots will be much fuller than this one!

The poppies of May

Returning from an excellent yoga retreat led by Sonia Ama and Marion Duval we found the garden full of sunshine, bees and poppies.

The poppies pop up all over the garden and are appreciated by us and all the bees.

May is a time when so much blooms in the garden but this year the weather is hot and dry. Today is 33 degrees at 5 p.m. in the evening, there has never been such a hot May here since 1947. Already some of the plants are suffering but it is difficult to tell whether they are still suffering from the short, sharp frost we had in April or lack of water.

It is a time to tend the garden when it is cool enough to work and enjoy it when it is too hot to do anything else.

Our Blue Tits and Great Tits have returned to the bird table after raising their young. They are bringing their noisy fledglings to try to encourage them to feed themselves.

Check out this short 23 second video to listen to this pushy fledgling demanding to be fed.

The garden end of April 22

Looking down the back garden the row of blue boxes at the bottom is increasing.

The bees have kept us busy and there have been swarms and sunny days.

I am glad I planted the thyme under the cherry tree it keeps down the weeds and adds a splash of colour. I added two other varieties of thyme to the wild variety I found in the grass. I fought valiantly for some years to keep back the native variety but I have given up now and the other varieties have been completely smothered.

The bees seem indifferent to the different varieties and the thyme is always covered with honeybees, bumble bees and other wild bees.

Looking up from the bottom of the garden, our red Hazel is at its best just now. Its leaves don’t stay this colour but change to green, so we have to appreciate it at this time of year.

On the left of the photograph one of our Judas trees is coming into flower.

They are such beautiful trees and are pushing forth blossoms on their trunks as well.

We bought a Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’ in 2016. We did know that certain varieties had vicious spines but this variety is “inermis” – meaning unarmed in Latin or to put it another way, thornless.

So I was quite surprised to see these sticking out of the trunk. I hope it will not be repeated.

I was tempted to plant this tree for the bees as it has been vaunted as producing flowers with a high content of nectar. Now that I am looking closer into it, I find some sites telling me that it is dioïque and others that it is only the male flowers that produce nectar. So I do not really know what I am going to get as it has not flowered yet and it is getting very tall. It might be quite a delicate mission, if it ever flowers, to get up close enough to the flowers to find out if my tree is male, or female or can produce both types of flowers.

Some plants are much easier. My aquilegia spring up every year without planting or care and flower before I have time to notice them.

Other plants make themselves at home, whether you want them or not. When we first arrived here we had very little in the garden and a UK gardening magazine I had bought had offered free Oxalis bulbs stuck to the front cover. They were duly planted but I did not take to them. They looked too much like the weeds I was trying to conceal. I did nothing to propagate them yet they still keep on popping up here and there.

So I was delighted to see the carder bumble bees on them, I had never noticed they were attractive to bumble bees. Actually, they look rather nice with the Cerinthe and forget-me-nots.

The blackcurrants are in flower. I think this is a little male Osmia pollinating them for us.

At this time it is the little grey Anthophora bees that create all the noise in the Cerinthe with the bumble bees that are my favourites.

Meanwhile, April has been busy in the garden or rather the bees have been keeping us busy.

The bees do not always decide to swarm so low down but it allows for a gentle transfer into the hive which suits every one.

Green grass and daisies

After the frost and frozen leaves we are having days like summertime. In the back garden the grass is spring green and covered with daisies.

From the upstairs window you can see the grass covered with daisies.

When I see daisies I have an instinctive desire to make daisy chains. I asked two of my neighbours, separately, if they used to make daisy chains when they were children. The answer was negative and I have now initiated them into the art of making daisy chains. Is it a lost art or is it a “British” thing?

The odd butterfly takes advantage of the daisies but there is too much temptation from the blossom and other flowers for the bees to bother with them just now.

The main bee action is in the front garden on the Cerinthe, it is quite noisy with the bumble bees, Anthophora and Amegilla. It self seeds and is quite tough. Some of the seeds germinate in the autumn and survive the winter to bloom early in the spring here. For places with a cold winter you could sow in early spring, it is a magnet for bumble bees.

I have some bright yellow primulas beside the Cerinthe which adds a flash to the purple Cerinthe but they are largely ignored by the fickle bumble bees while there is Cerinthe available.

This is our ornamental apple tree which survived our frost quite well. Others of the frost bitten trees are recovering their leaves but there will be less of the early fruits this year.

Our lemon tree is outside once more as we had to put it back in our front bedroom to shelter it from the cold snap. As we lifted the pot to take it inside we had a good look in case the little tree frog was still hiding in it. We laughed a bit about the idea, but it is a bit of a walk round to the other side of the house so I did not think there was really a chance he would be in the pot. Nearly two weeks later we opened the front window and he was sitting on the trunk of the lemon tree. We felt really bad. We put the tree and the frog back in the usual place but we have not seen the frog since. I think he is sulking.

I have planted a pot of mixed Allium for the patio this year and they have just shot through. In the morning I noticed that the tips had exuded a ball of sap that twinkled in the light. There is always something new in the garden.

On the back wall of the front garden we planted an Akebia “Silver Bells” in November 2020. The flowers look very impressive in my close-up photograph but I am a little underwhelmed by it at the moment. Perhaps as it grows bigger and has more flowers I will change my mind.

At the same time we planted a Ribes odoratum nearby and I am more optimistic that it will be a success, although it has a bit of growing to do.

Bee swarm

In the meantime the bees are keeping us busy.

Slow down…

The back garden is a mixture of bare trees, leafing trees and blossom.

I don’t want the Nashi and the Accolade flowering cherry to finish.

In the front garden there is plenty of colour even although most of the daffodils have finished.

The Eleagnus umbellata trees are full of flowers and attract honeybees.

I would highly recommend Eleagnus umbellata if you were looking for a fast growing small tree. I bought 10 at 1.71 euros each and shared some with friends. That was in February 2017 and they have grown rapidly. I like them as trees but they can also be used as a hedge. They survive our dry summer weather which is a great plus.

Another beauty is the Malus coccinella, it was bought in February 2020 and is smothered in flowers just now (one of the Eleagnus umbella trees is behind it in this photograph, slightly to the right.)

I do not want the blossom of the Malus to finish but it will eventually be replaced with small ornamental apples that were appreciated and completely finished by the birds in the winter.

The weather continues to seesaw from our recent summer-like temperatures to overnight lows near zero. We took our lemon tree back inside yesterday, we knew that the it would only be a short warm spell at this time of year. Still the frog was able to sunbathe in its leaves some of the days. Can you see it so perfectly camouflaged? (Hint, towards bottom left.)

At least we are having more sun than was predicted but when I look at all the blossoms and flowers I feel like shouting at the garden – Slow down you move too fast, you’ve got to make the springtime last!

The dirty garden

Last Wednesday morning started in a strange way. Sitting at breakfast and looking out of the window – things looked different.

All I could think of was that someone had changed our window panes to yellow tinted glass while we were sleeping. They must have been very quiet but I could think of no reason for the change in hue. I had a quick look at BBC online as I thought there could have been a volcanic eruption somewhere but nothing was mentioned.

As the morning progressed the colour lifted and I had my second surprise when I started a bit of weeding in the front garden.

All my lovely Hellebores were diseased! It looked fungal to me.

Then to my horror I saw that all the other plant leaves had been attacked by the same disease. Here I started to get suspicious as I could not imagine the one fungus successfully attacking such a variety of plants. We are having a lot of tree pollen being blown around at this moment and the spots could be rubbed off like soft pollen but I did not think that was the answer.

Then I remembered the yellow light and searched on the French sites and found out that we had sand from the Sahara blown onto the garden. I had to wash my parsley well that day and it was strange to think that the sand from the Sahara was going down my sink.

Luckily our car was under shelter but there have been very dirty looking cars driving around and the car washes are busy! This is the first time I have encountered this phenomena but I believe it is not too unusual in the south of France.

Continuing on the strange theme, we saw this strange beast in our pond this week. Has anyone any idea what it is?

Just before noticing the beast, I thought a wall lizard had fallen in and drowned in the water, so I tried to scoop it out of the pond in case it might be still alive. The “lizard” swam off to hide in the pond weed! So, I have another question. Was the “lizard” a newt or do wall lizards swim?

This week the bulbs are filling the borders. The front garden is a mass of flowers. The late daffodils are mingling with the early tulips.

We have some Puschkinia bulbs in pots for the first time this year. They are not very showy, perhaps it is the way I have planted them. Perhaps they would be better to accompany another flower or would do better in the soil.

However, they attract the bees and provide us with bee entertainment when we are lucky enough to have the warmth to enjoy our coffee on the patio.

Even their leaves are smudged with dust and I could not find enough clean flowers in the garden to fill a vase for the house. So I had to content myself with a slightly soiled bunch of flowers.

In the top of the back garden there are three trees in flower. From left to right – the ornamental pear “Chanticleer”, the little pink cherry blossom “Accolade” and the Nashi.

We planted Chanticleer in the autumn of 2019 and it is now showing clearly its distinctive tall form.

The little Prunus “Accolade” was a impulse purchase in spring 2020. It is not a purchase we regret as the little tree is smothered in a mass of flowers.

The Nashi “Kosui” was only planted in January of 2021 but perhaps it will give us some fruit this year as it has plenty of flowers.

So much happens in the garden at this time of year. Even the evenings can be colourful.

March 17 2022 at 20h20