a french garden


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Springtime?

Hellebore

January was so cold and I became so impatient to see the Hellebores open.  My Hellebores have obligingly self-seeded and I have tenderly spread them throughout the garden knowing how much I appreciate their colour and the number of bees that they attract in the early warm days of the year.

They are beautiful plants and provide both nectar and pollen for the bees.  The green tubes that you can see behind the bee in the last picture, are the hellebore nectaries.  There is an excellent site if you want more of an insight into the botany of Hellebores with superb photographs.

Sarcococca confusa

The winter flowers of the Sarcococca confusa are as important to me as to the bees and they bring their perfume to assure me that spring will not be long in coming.

Crocus

The crocus bring the longed for colour – no matter what the weather is like.

1st Flowers plum tree

The plum tree is just as impatient to flower, but with the first flowers opening so early I doubt whether the fruits will survive.  It is two years since we have tasted the plums as although these signs are encouraging, winter will not have finished with us yet.

1st pollen 17.2.19

The willow near the bee hives is covered with soft pussy willow and I saw the male stamens break out with their yellow pollen today.  If the weather keeps good the tree will soon be covered with bees of all sorts.

Carpenter.JPG

The carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea) have returned.

Carder bumble bee.JPGMore and more queen bumble bees are topping up on nectar, but I have not seen any gathering pollen yet (they know it is too early.)

Red Admiral

The butterflies are around too.  I think this Red Admiral must have overwintered somewhere judging by the condition of the wings.

Macroglossum stellatarum

However, I was surprised to see a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) so early.

Bumble on Hellebore

All in all I feel disoriented by this spell of clement, sunny weather with temperatures going up to 17 degrees centigrade sometimes in the afternoon.

Perhaps not so disoriented as the bumble bee above who seemed to be looking for nectar in the wrong place.

Two bumble bees inside Hellebore

But finally we can take a lesson from these two bumble bees.  Life is not all about rushing to get nectar.  We need to make choices and decide to just enjoy it sometimes.

 

 

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A present for the bees

Honey bee in Manuka in Malaga

While we were staying with our son in Malaga over Christmas, we once again, visited the beautiful botanical gardens La Concepción.  This time we saw the Manuka bushes in flower and saw how attractive the flowers were to the honey bees.  The Manuka plants are native to New Zealand and my internet research indicates that they are easy to grow, will tolerate temperatures down to minus ten centigrade and do not require wet soil.  This certainly sounded interesting.

Manuka trees in place-001

I was delighted to find I could order plants in France and decided to order from Gamme Vert as I could avoid the delivery charge by picking the plants up myself from their nearest shop.

We are running out of sunny spots in the garden so Kourosh decided to clear off  the turf to provide the plants with their personal flower bed.  They will probably have to share it as time goes by but for now it is all theirs.

Manuka trees planted

The plants all had strong roots and have had plenty of rain to allow them to settle into their new home.  The Manuka or Leptospermum scoparium “Martini” that I have chosen is due to flower in May to June.  I cannot say why the Manuka was flowering in December in Malaga but it may just flower there over a much longer period.

Honey bee in Neflier du Japon

I really do feel our bees deserve a present as they are out there as soon as there is a glimmer of sun in this unusually dull start to the year.  The Loquat or Eribotrya japonicais just about finished flowering and the cold seems to have finished off the older flowers.

Honey bee in winter heather

The bees, like this one, appear to be flying at temperatures that my indoor/outdoor thermometer reads as under ten degrees centigrade.

Pisse en lit

This is “Pissenlit” in the sunshine.  The temperature at the house was showing seven degrees so I decided to put an old fashioned liquid thermometer in the shade near the hives.

Winter flowering honeysuckle

The thermometer read seven degrees, so the sunshine must keep them warm enough to forage on nearby flowers.

queen bumble in winter heather

The queen bumble bees are said to be able to fly at the lower temperatures because their fluffy coats provide insulation but they should choose a shady site to continue their light hibernation or else they will be woken prematurely by the fickle winter sun.

The four hives-001

Let’s hope there are more sunny days coming up for the bees to stretch their wings and the gardeners to appreciate the spring flowers appearing.

To see the bees bringing in the pollen to “Violette Noire” have a look at this short video (1min30s) taken on the 6 of February.

 


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A new year starts in the garden

owl 2

Arriving back home from our Christmas break we caught our barn owl in the glare of the car headlights.  I thought the sudden interruption would be sure to disturb her but instead she looked more put-out, as if to say “Where have you been?  It’s been pretty quiet around here with you gone”.  It gave a chance for Kourosh to get out the mobile phone and try for a photograph (not the best quality, but a touching memory.  She only flew off slowly when we got out of the car.

used bird box

January has been disappointing to work in the garden.  Cold and too frequently cloudy.  Still the bare trees show up the bird boxes to be brought down and cleaned ready for spring.

old wasp nest

This one had been home to some wasps, most likely after the birds had left.  We often find these delicate paper nests tucked away around the garden and the wasps help themselves to the water put out for the birds.  The nests are never very large and we have had no problem with the wasps themselves.

queen bumble bee mahonia

We have had some sunny days when the queen bumble bees are warmed up enough to come searching for nectar from the Mahonia flowers.

pelote d'ivoire

The honey bees are doing fine and are happy to see the Viburnum tinus starting to open its flowers.  Can you see the shiny ivory pollen sac on her back leg?

pelote jaune

The other pollen the bees are bringing in is the winter flowering honey suckle.  The bees in the garden surprise me by flying at temperatures of under 10 degrees when their hives and the plants are in the sun.  I feel they take a risk, for when the thick clouds take over the temperatures drops noticeably.

I can’t help but empathise with the attraction to leave the house when the sun shines.

hellebore

The first Hellebores are pushing through, they seem late this year.  Perhaps I’m just willing the signs of spring to appear.

reinette 9.1.19

The Hellebore leaves provide good cover for the little “Rainette” tree frog but It was hardly weather to sun bathe but perhaps he too felt the need to get out.

old smaug

But too often this January we have had to retreat inside to the fire.

 


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Big, black, noisy bees in France

The Wisteria in this part of France is in flower now and I suspect that wherever there is Wisteria there will be Carpenter bees.  The first thought that passes through the mind of a person seeing a Carpenter for the first time is – “Does it sting?”

It is large – and measuring 25 to 30 mm long and with a possible wingspan of 45 to 50 mm – so it is a reasonable question to spring to mind.  However, despite its impressive size and loud drone when in flight, it is not an aggressive bee.  Now, I do not recommend trying to pick it up and give it a squeeze because it does have a sting.

Anyone wanting to “test” their aggressiveness has only to try and creep up on one to attempt a photograph.  They are much more difficult to capture with a camera than honey bees.  However, if you happen to be walking past some Wisteria in the spring you could inadvertently have a “near miss” with a male relentlessly patrolling for a receptive female.  The bee will be just as astonished as you are before he manages to steer his bulk around you.

One of the reasons I enjoy the Carpenters in the garden is that they are with us throughout the good weather.  The Carpenter above is on the Heptacodium at the end of September and will have been on all the early blossoms.  Not a fussy feeder and certainly a useful pollinator.

But not all pollinators pollinate all the time.  This sneaky bumble bee is enjoying the Wisteria’s nectar without touching the stamens and pollen.  In fact, if you look closely you can see a couple of black dots to the right of the bee’s proboscis which means that this this particular flower has been visited by other bees earlier.  In fact, the Wisteria flowers become quite ragged from the repeated piercings but this lets the smaller bees with short tongues, like honey bees, take advantage of the easy access route to the nectar.

I love watching the Carpenters in the garden but I do worry that they could be misunderstood so hopefully anyone who reads this blog and is new to Carpenters will come to love them too.

 

 

 

 


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Flowers on the roof

Flowers on roof

I have flowers on the roof.  I have not planted them but the seeds have found a home and the rain has done the rest.

Anthophora plumipes

This solitary bee (Anthophora plumipes) takes shelter in the house wall as it whiles away the time until the females are hatched.  If it was sunnier he would be out patrolling the garden but he is inside – like me.  The continuous clouds and frequent rain makes the garden option less attractive than usual at this time of the year.

Another male, this time an Osmia cornuta, continues his vigil outside the bee hotel.

He had less time to wait after the photograph as the female Osmia cornuta are now hatched and busy filling up the holes and bamboo sticks in the bee hotel.  She makes her own mortar to carefully seal in each egg she lays, tamping it in place with the little horns or “cornes” she has on her head.  One of the horns is visible in the photograph, she has two, but the other is obscured by the antenna.

At least during the bright spells I have had some chance to check out some of my newer plants for the bees like the Lonicera tatarica.

The flowers have been given the seal of approval by the bumble bees.  I would be interested if anyone had any other shrub type of honeysuckle other than the L. fragrantissima which I have also got.

It also let me have my first view this year of the early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum) which looked like a queen with full pollen sacs starting up her colony.

Another new shrub flowering this year for the first time is the Elaeagnus umbellata.  I was pleased to see the bees on its flowers as I have bought quite a few of them.  They are covered in flowers although they are still small and are in their first year in the garden.  I think they should look quite impressive next year.

A lot of the fruit trees are in flower just now.  The apple, Belle de Boskoop gets first prize at the moment for the most beautiful flowers.  The buds are a beautiful deep pink that softens as the flower opens.

The bees, however, differ and award first prize to the cherry trees.  It is interesting to see that, despite being offered apple, pear and plum tree flowers at the same time, the bees favour the cherries.  Obviously, they visit all the flowering fruit trees but they do have their favourites.

The Victoria plum gets its fair share of visits.

But what had me guessing was this bee that was only visiting the faded flowers of the plum tree.  I find that so unusual as their were plenty of fresh flowers around even on the same tree.  So why should she do that?  Just to keep me guessing?

We do care about the other visitors to the garden and we have put up some more nest boxes this year.  However, the wren has decided to make a nest in the coils of rope Kourosh has left in the outside workshop.  We try not to go too near it but it looks beautiful constructed from moss that has been gathered.  At least it must have been easy gathering moss this year!

We always hear the cuckoos at this time of year but rarely see them, however, this year we have spotted one that comes in a tree at the bottom of the garden.  Kourosh has even managed to take a short video of it “singing”.  It is fun to hear the first cuckoo but if you are working a lot in the garden it does not take long before you wish it had another tune to sing.

We are now being promised more sun and less rain.  I truly hope the forecast holds true this time.

The bees have had enough of being stuck in the hives sheltering form the rain.  They are hoping for sunshine as there are plenty of flowers available for them now.

 

 

 

 


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Snow in the garden

An almost black and white view of the garden in the afternoon of 19 March 2018.

A different view of a patch of hellebore.

The Oleander was completely bent under the weight of the snow.

The hyacinth looked rather shocked by their surprise topping.

The hives are the most sheltered under the trees and I am glad we decided to insulate them this year.

The snow has all melted now and is nothing compared to what falls regularly in the winter in many parts of the world.  It is unusual though to have snow like this in March in this part of the world.

It is a snowfall to remember for us, the day before the spring equinox.


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March in the garden

Up till now we have been subjected to chaotic changes in the weather this March.  High winds, freezing temperatures overnight, sunshine and rain and more rain and clouds with temperatures about ten degrees under seasonal average take turns to fill the days.

The first of March saw the plum tree flowers frozen and brown.

Whereas a week earlier it had been full of flowers.

Four rows of broad beans were frozen overnight in an extremely low temperature.  I could have avoided the damage by simply covering the plants with a fleece or even some newspaper but they completely slipped my mind.

It has not been all bad news and the Goat Willow (Salix caprea) is open and welcoming the honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees and butterflies – especially when it is sunny.  As you can see our hives are very close to the willow, which is on the left of the picture, so they can take advantage of short sunny spells in between the rain.  Standing under the tree and listening to the hum above your head feels so peaceful.  There is a 19 second video if you would like to share the bees.

It is good to see the girls collecting such healthy sized sacs of pollen.

The willow provides nectar as well as pollen.  This is a  Andrena cineraria (Ashy mining bee).  They have nested in the past under the large plum tree.

Checking under the plum tree I saw a number of male Andrena cineraria flying over the ground and this one was kind enough to pose on a daisy for me while he had a snack.  It looks like they are keeping to the same nesting area.

Last week the Osmia cornuta emerged from their holes.  The males emerge first and on sunny days they fly constantly around the bee hotels hoping for a female to emerge.  I have just seen a female prospecting one of the bee hotels so it will soon be time to watch the nest building.  Check out last year’s post if you would like to see more.

On the opposite side of the garden from the bees is an area that has always been full of lesser celandine (Ficaria verna).  I do my best but I find it difficult to do more than try and keep it out the borders.

I probably would not mind it so much if the bees liked it but usually it is only flies that I see on them.

One thing you can be sure about bees is that you can never say never, when it comes to their behaviour.

Keeping on the unusual – this is a double headed daffodil.  It is the first one I have seen.  Is it unusual?

This hyacinth is probably easier to explain, as it looks as if it has self-sown.  Not very striking but at least it is a pretty colour.

It might be worth looking under your Hellebores as there are lots of seedlings under mine.

Looking closer the second leaves are just starting to appear but they could easily be overlooked by an enthusiastic weeding.

This spring has been so wet and windy that I have come to realise how useful the downward facing flowers of the Hellebore are.  The pollen is kept dry for the bees and they are sheltered from the winds that make flying and nectar gathering difficult.

The green tubular structures are that the bee is visiting are the Hellebores nectaries and provide nectar which is collected by honey bees and so very valuable to the overwintering queen bumble bees when they awaken on warmer winter days.

This year my previous year’s seedlings have all done well and are settling into positions at the base of deciduous trees and plants.  I have my seed trays all ready so my next job in the garden is to fill them up with more Hellebore seedlings as I have already marked out in my mind where I can plant them in the autumn.