The garden from far and near

The weather continues to be warm and has completely seduced us into believing that summer has arrived.  It hasn’t arrived but I am seduced.  I cannot help wandering around the garden completely distracted by each new happening.  A serious gardener would get a grip on herself and spend more time on the important tasks of weeding and sowing.

Instead I am enjoying.

The essential gardners’ “cuppa”.

Last year’s pansies re-appear in the aluminium tub.

Actually the flowering quince is in Annie’s garden up the road which is still a French garden…

My first redstart of the season.  Only summer visitors but very welcome.

The first leaves of the edible quince are a downy soft green.  The beautiful flowers will come later.

I love pansies.

The blue tits visits are less numerous, it happens every year, they must be busy nesting.

Our first asparagus shoot.

The radish and salad is making an appearance.

The forget-me-nots have arrived, self-seeded in the borders.

At least someone is working.

A trap in the trees – Asiatic Hornets beware

The Asiatic hornet vespa velutina nigrithorax is a non-native species of hornets which has invaded France and gets very bad press over here.  It was first identified in 2004 in France and the story goes that it had stowed away in some pottery that had been imported from China.  The sad truth is that it has arrived fromChina or South-East Asia somehow and has become acclimatised to life inFrance.  Perhaps the exceptionally hot summer that France endured in 2006 helped them to get established.  Each year they multiply in numbers and increase their territory.

A native European hornet Vespa crabro is also present inFrance but it is a less aggressive species.  The main problem is that this invasive species of hornets has destroyed large numbers of bee hives and has added to the problems of the apiculurists already struggling with falling numbers of bees.

The apicultures in this area have requested the public to place traps for these invasive hornets and have sent instructions on how to make home made traps by e-mail contact between friends.  The traps are made from water bottles and lure the hornets with such temping mixtures such as beer and fruit syrup.

I decided to try and was aided (well he made them and I supplied the coffee) by my neighbour.

The plastic bottles are also pierced with small holes in the eventuality that small insects could become trapped.  Both of the hornet species feed on ripe fruit and small insects such as bees but it is the Asiatic that is extremely aggressive and can destroy whole hives.

Luckily, they are of a different colouration and the Asiatic hornet, as its Latin name suggests, has a black abdomen and looks quite dark from a distance but has legs that are bright yellow at their end and the face is also yellow.   The European hornet has a lighter abdomen and a more yellow thorax.  The European hornets are attracted to the light and may come towards windows in the evenings but the Asiatic hornets are not attracted by light.

Now (between February and May) is the best time to put out the traps for the hope is to catch the young queens before they make their nest.  The young fertilised queens do not stay in the maternal nest but over winter in dead trees or inside stone walls or dry vegetation.  As they come out of hibernation they will seek out a nesting place but will also be seeking food.  The theory is that if the cycle can be arrested at this stage each queen destroyed would prevent a nest being built.  The nest are huge and spherical, 40 cm.(16 inches) in diameter by the end of the season holding up to 5,000 hornets.

I saw this video on YouTube, it’s not the Asiatic hornets but the video is brilliant.

On a more scientific note and if your French is up to it, this is also an amazing video (see link below).  It shows the hornets waiting to pick off the bees as they return to the hive. Any that dare to land on the hive are attacked by the guards who join in a fight to the death that may take an hour with an uncertain outcome as far as the hornet is concerned.

The bees in Asia have developed a defence mechanism by forming a living ball around the aggressing hornet and by beating their wings they increase their body temperature and so increase the temperature at the inside of this infernal ball to 45˚ C weakening and killing the hornet.  The bees themselves can support this temperature.

Now if you are still with me maybe you can help me with my dilemma.  I put up my traps a week ago but in recent days I have been becoming unsure of their efficacy.  I see a lot of dead things in them.  The theory that the little trapped beasties happily fly off is not holding.

Then today on checking a trap: I find I have caught one.  The dark body and the give away yellow legs and face allow a positive identification.  I have not got her out of the trap to measure her but given that the queen is 3 cm long and the worker 2.5 cm. it is not going to be easy.  Is that at full stretch or curled in her death agony?  Given the start of spring here after a long cold spell it is more likely to be a young queen recently out of hibernation looking for a snack before she founds a colony.

See the video of the “catch” on YouTube.

Does this mean I have to build better traps?

Bees in the willows

The weather today was like summer.  The temperature was in the mid 20’s and the bees were busy.

They were busy in my weeds.

They were busy in the rosemary.

They were foraging in the flowers…

And in the dog violets.

But the biggest attraction was the willow tree at the bottom of the garden.

Listen, they are really high up but you can still hear them.

with only the Celandines to tell of hope

Gardening is not just about weeding and watering and tilling the earth it is about dreaming of the shape of things to come as a consequence of these menial tasks.  Well, I try to convince myself it is.

I had a design for the bottom of the garden, a woodland glade sheltering spring flowers and providing welcome shade in the summer.  Unfortunately, the area had been left to fend for itself for a long time before we took over.  It had not coped very well.  It had been invaded by brambles that choked the growth of most plants, except the ivy, which managed to see off the rest of the plants and was starting to cover the trees.  There was no choice but brute force and the brambles were cut back and the roots dug out but the ivy has not yet been finally defeated.

However, after the removal of the brambles I could see a natural glade appearing at one end although the level of the soil was low at that part.  This was quickly (relatively) remedied by our neighbour who was creating a pond and had nowhere to dump his soil!

Finally my dream of the woodland scene in spring lit by the yellow Winter Aconites was becoming a reality.  Before actually possessing a garden I had been an avid reader of gardening magazines and I had read several articles on Winter Aconites.  They provide a carpet of sunshine in the dark days and are happy to live under the canopy of deciduous trees. Even the Latin name Eranthis hyemalis, meaning winter flower in Greek fitted in with the theme.

There is a beautiful time lapse film by Neil Bromhall on You Tube showing the Winter Aconites pushing through the melting snow. 

The bulbs of Winter Aconite can be bought and planted in the spring time.

Only I forgot this crucial stage.

Never the less, this spring my woodland glade was covered in a carpet of yellow Winter Aconites.  They do look beautiful and I had to ask myself if I had really planted them and forgotten about it.  Then I thought about the soil from our neighbour’s garden. Then there was more doubt and searching for close-up photographs of Winter Aconites on the Internet.

I quickly realised that my bright yellow flowers, like large buttercups were not Winter Aconite, the leaves are not similar.  This left me with another problem.  What were they?  My kindly neighbours do not know the name of anything you don’t eat so I could get no help there.

I decided to post an identification request on a French web site

I got a rapid reply from a member and could confirm that what I had was Lesser Celandine or Pilewort.

What’s in a name?  But I must admit I was very disappointed. My woodland glade was carpeted with Pilewort, old herbal remedy for haemorrhoids.

It warranted further research.  Ranunculus ficaria , Lesser Celandine in the UK and Fig Buttercup in the States does not get a universally good press.  It is considered an invasive weed in the UK and in some states in the USA.  One suggestion I found was to treat it with a systemic weed killer.

It is not all bad news as it is a native plant in the UK and Europe and provides an early source of pollen for bees just coming out of hibernation. Many people look forward to seeing this bright yellow flower as a sign that spring is on its way.  Good enough reason for me to keep it where it has grown.

It was supposedly William Wordsworth favourite flower and he wrote three poems on the Celandine.

The Celandine has also found its way into English literature, “Throughout the gusty winds of March dust-laden and with only the celandines to tell of hope…”  The Lone Swallow by Henry Williamson.

So I am in good company wishing no harm to my new arrivals.

Another happy ending?

A bird in the hand

One has a tendency to marvel at nature, at the wonderful accomplishments of simple creatures.

But let’s face it – they make mistakes too.

In my opinion it was all the sparrows fault.  They have a tendency to flock down on the patio and then when one decides to leave the others all fly off frequently sowing panic amongst the other birds.  My poor robin must have been startled and misjudged his trajectory on taking flight.  Luckily, I heard the bump and went out immediately to retrieve the unconscious ball of feathers.

He was treated to the dark box in a quiet place therapy.  I think a lot of birds must succumb when left motionless in the cold.  Yesterday it took less than an hour before the robin was back on his feet. He was able to fly from the box on ground level to perch on a phone line high above the ground before heading to a favourite bush to take cover.

I do like stories with happy endings!

I can hear my plum tree from 20 metres away

I can hear my plum tree from 20 metres away and I can smell it even further away.  The bees and butterflies can smell it as well and it is the sound of the bees foraging in the plum blossom that I can hear.  It only lasts a few days but I love to go and stand under the tree at this time of year and listen to the bees.

The perfume fills the garden too; a bitter almond mixed with honey.  The special perfume of a special tree that is the first to flower in our neighbourhood.  It shares its beauty with everyone who passes by just as it shares its nectar with a variety of bees and butterflies.

In a few days the flowers will be over, leaving a thick carpet of petals under the tree as the leaves themselves unfold.  Next comes the coy season when the leaves are fresh and green and the attention is displaced towards the other trees and plants flowering in the garden.  Then one day, despite late frosts, I will see a tiny green plum, then another and another.  The old  plum tree never disappoints.  Its plums are not the biggest but they are the first fruit in our garden and delicious eaten straight from the tree.  The plums are small but what the tree loses by the size of its fruits it gives in the quantity that it produces.  More than enough fruit to eat, to make into jam, to preserve and to share.

Even once we have harvested its fruit the tree is indispensable in the summer as it performs the function of an enormous parasol sheltering us from the sun.  What more could you ask from one tree?

If you would like to listen to my bees and also the first cuckoo I have heard this year, click on the link below.

Bee hopeful

I would love to have a garden that was alive with colour, shape and form throughout the four seasons of the year.

I read the gardening magazines and I plant Cornus alba to give me the bright red bark throughout the winter.  I leave the flower heads on the hydrangea and sedum to catch the sparkle of the frost on a winter day.

I plant Sarcoccoca confusa for the evergreen leaves and the perfumed flowers but their perfume is not so strong in the cold winter days.  In total, I am not convinced I am succeeding.

Then I see my winter flowering honeysuckle.  The flowers may be insignificant after the freezing period last month but they are being visited by a constant flow of bees.

I’ve got a long way to go before I reach my goal but at least it’s keeping the bees happy along the way.

It’s raining, it’s pouring…

It’s raining it’s pouring…Well, what does a gardener (an amateur one!) do on a wet Sunday in March?  First comes the guilt for going walking during the warm sunny afternoons last week but that doesn’t last long.  The temperatures soared into the 20’s and it was too good to stay in the garden and get started on the spring clean-up.  Today I can make a start on my seeds. I have not looked at my seeds since the autumn.  I have thought about them but I have saved up the pleasure of a thorough foray into my seed reserves for just such a day.


I have my two reserves.  My “treasure chest” for the collection of long term favourites, plus the unusual and new seeds collected during the past year to be tested for the first time.


Then I have my serious, working collection which I sort through regularly during the growing season checking for second and later sowings.


My “serious” seed collection does not look very serious as it is in an ex shoebox loving decorated by my granddaughter.  However, I can make a recommendation of this container as it has served me well for many years; keeps the seed packets in a neat and orderly fashion and in addition slides conveniently under my settee for storage purposes. A collage project for a wet Sunday, perhaps?


My first selections are practical; some mixed salad leaves, some radish and some baby spinach.  We have not had frost for a few days now so I will be optimistic and hope that they will survive in the open ground.  I cannot proceed with any flower seeds or more tender plants until I get my covered staging out of winter hibernation and I need some dry weather to organise that.

As I sort through the flower seeds I also remember the warm autumn days when I collected them.  I remember a very special day in September in a garden inEngland.   The garden was beautiful and a perfect backdrop for a family lunch outside.  The little brown envelope contains more than dried verbena seeds; it contains lots of happy memories.