a french garden


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Keeping focused…

I do try and keep focused on the garden.  The problem is that as soon as I put a foot outside the door I find other things staring me in the face.

Take this bee, he has decided to take up residence in our cellier wall, which adjoins our back door.  If you see a face like that looking out at you, it is impossible to ignore it.  So it’s off for the camera to record it for posterity.  I am not really sure if posterity will care about this bee (Anthophora plumipes, hairy-footed  flower bee)  but I find him very appealing and I’m going to keep my eye on him.

Once I have been distracted I find it very simple to carry on down my distracted path and check out the garden.  The blackcurrants are in flower and I am very excited about spotting a new bee.  This one has a gorgeous auburn hair-doo, a sort of all over Mohican.  He is definitely as fluffy as a bumble bee but has no stripes so I think he might be a fluffy bee.  I thought this would lead to a prolonged identification search on the Internet but I posted it on Flickr in the Bees,bees,bees! group and it was identified as Anthophora plumipes male by eucera – thank you again.

The rain has stopped and I think the bees and bumbles must be famished after the recent heavy rains and high wind, not typical weather here at this time of year.

This leads me to the Wisteria which is providing nectar for a large range of bees and bumbles.

What I notice is that the early bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) are robbing the nectar from the Wisteria.  The Wisteria provides nectar for pollinating insects.  That is the insects are theoretically attracted into the flower for the nectar.  They then brush against the pollen laden pistils and carry the pollen attached to their bristly, hairy body, to another flower.  However, if your tongue is a bit on the short side, the length of the Wisteria flower may pose a problem.  So these bumble bees have solved the problem by piercing the flowers at just the right place to take a short cut to the nectar.

The flowers are left with a hole which may be used later by other insects and bees eager to reach the nectar as rapidly as possible.

They are very welcome to made holes in the Wisteria flowers.  The damage is not too obvious and if there are a few less pollinated flowers there will be less seed pods for me to have to prune later in the season.  I prefer my Wisteria full of life.

Not all the bumbles go for the nectar in exactly this way, this red-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lapidarius) looks as if he has gone the more conventional route of approaching from inside the flower but in fact he has just pierced a hole under the upper lip of the Wisteria flower.

The Carpenter bees follow the same practice.

Never the less, collecting nectar can be a tickly problem.

Dandelions on the other hand are very accessible to all the bees and insects providing both nectar and pollen.

Seeing all the bees foraging on the dandelions has made me rethink my gardner’s attitude to this common , invasive weed.  I now look at the dandelions from a totally different prospective.

Now I appreciate their bright yellow flower that stands out so well against the green in the springtime.

I even admire the seed head with its beautiful symmetry and think of the food it provides for the seed eating birds.  The bees and the bumbles have really softened my heart towards the weeds in my garden, sorry not the weeds, the wild flowers in my garden.

Attitudes can change with more understanding.  When you find a newly hatched and groggy Bombus pascuorum you feel you  have to give it a hand to get started on some Bugle.

I’m not sure if it needed a helping hand but it was fun anyway!

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What colour is a white wood anemone?

The butterfly path leads through the woods.  On either side are wild flowers, hence the butterflies at this time of year and the bees and bumble bees and lots more if you stop and look.  That’s just it, you have to stop and look.

You can take a deep breath, look all around and get the general impression of the pleasant woodland scene but it is not until you really look that you see things.

For one thing there are the wild anemones.  I have always loved anemones and to find so many growing wild never ceases to thrill.  They grow in ones and two’s by the side of the path and then spread out into clearings that they have colonised, taking advantage of the extra sunlight.

The species most commonly found in the UK and europe is Anemone nemorosa, the wood anemone.  They are usually white and in fact I had never seen any other colour until my eye was drawn to a particular patch enjoying the spring sunshine.

From a distance I thought it might be some other flower, a vinca perhaps.  But no, it was a coloured anemone and the more I looked the more different forms I found.

Pale blue anemone.

Pink anemone.

The differences in the flowers were subtle like the pink veining in a mainly white anemone.

Lilac anemone.

The wood anemone generally has six petals but here I found double flowers.

Double white anemone

I have done a little research and my anemones are not unique, unusual but not unique.  The wood anemone, anemone nemorosa, does occur in shades of pink and blue and lilac and can have variations in the number of petals.

Why does this particular patch carry such a high rate of mutation?  Last spring was particularly warm and sunny, did they get more U.V. radiation?  The soil is limestone so I cannot imagine much natural radiation from the soil. Is it down to sheer chance?

Whatever the reason I was thrilled to note the variation and I will keep my eye on this patch next year.


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I love my quince tree.

One of the first trees we planted was a quince, quickly followed by a second one just in case the first did not make it.  I am particularly fond of the first one.  It is a more compact little tree with round fruits.  The second quince is a different variety with a more elongated shape and more elongated fruits.

These are real quince trees Cydonia oblonga.  They are in their glory now.  Unlike the apricot, cherry and plum trees their blossom is preceded by the softest green leaves.

This year we were lucky with the weather and the blossoms opened in the warm spring sunshine.

The buds of the blossom are a darker pink but are a perfect match for the downy green leaves.

The petals of the open flower are veined with a darker pink.


The flowers are not in clusters like cherry blossom but are the perfect size for a bumble bee to curl up in.

The edible quince flowers later than the flowering quince, Chaemomeles .  Shrubs of the  Chaemomeles family produce a small fruit similar to the much larger edible quince which are edible but rarely used as they tend to be to small to use conveniently.

They give a much more flamboyant blossom of dark pink and are often prized in a garden as they flower so early in the season.  My neighbour Annie’s flowering quince produced blossom at the end of March.

We had huge bouquets of these beautiful flowers in jugs in our houses which were an absolute picture – but it comes at a price.  They can be very invasive shrubs and difficult to keep within bounds in a small garden.  They are extremely thorny whereas the edible quince has no thorns.

I think I have been traumatised by a flowering quince that I inherited in this garden.  It had been allowed to take over a large area of the front garden.  It was not as simple as removing all the branches above the ground with a chain-saw.  The roots were so compact that they formed a huge trunk-like mass that continued some distance under the ground and was extremely difficult and time-consuming to remove.  In addition, the residual roots managed to sprout new growth every spring for several years which I cut off assiduously, in terror that the thing might re-appear and flourish anew.

However, the bees love the flowering quince which provides them with much needed nourishment at this early time in the year.

I am just glad it is in Annie’s garden and not mine.

A large part of my decision to plant a quince tree was for their fruit.  I love quinces but they are not always as easy to source as many other fruits.  They are also generally under appreciated.

I love to see the yellow fruit with its downy coat hanging on the tree in autumn but I do not eat it raw.  My quince are too hard and tough.  That is not to say there are no varieties that can be eaten raw.  I have eaten a raw quince in Isphahan, Iran which although very firm was fragrant and delicious but the quinces of Isphahan are famous and quinces probably originated in Iran.

I use my quinces to make jelly,  jam and compote.  The quince jelly can be eaten like a jam but also marries very well with savoury flavours such as meat and cheese.  A cheese plate can be given an immediate upgrade by serving it with a splash of home made quince jelly.   I also make a Persian  lamb sauce with quince and serve it with steamed rice.  The quince segments can be blanched in the autumn and frozen for use later in savoury dishes.

At the end of this month I’ll be putting up my coddling moth traps, lured with pheromones.  Unfortunately, it is not only me that enjoys the quinces and the fruit is attacked by these moth larvae which bore right into the core leaving an ugly brown trail through the flesh.  I was pleased with the result last year and hope it will work as well this year.  I am not too precious about any damaged fruit and would prefer to cut away damaged fruit than have perfect fruit all of the time at the expense of using systemic pesticides or spraying indiscriminately.

I love my quince tree.


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Walk with me in the woods

Yesterday was cooler and cloudy in the morning but still inviting enough for a walk in the nearby woods.  As a bonus the clouds parted in the afternoon and the sun was warm.  There is always more activity along the way if it is sunny and the photographs seem more full of life.

We saw plenty of life.

The wild flowers are in abundance now.  The wild violets are still going strong but must surely be finishing soon.

New flowers are coming up every day and line the roadside.

Not even the dandelions can leave you untouched as they are the centre of attraction for bees and chafers.

The fresh green of new plants and flowers is covering the still open floor of the woods.

Inside the woods the flowers bloom in the sunny clearings that have not yet been shadowed by the trees which are only starting to open their leaves.

Th wild anemones take advantage of their days in the sunshine before the trees cover them with shade.  But today I notice a special patch with colours I have never seen before.  The wild anemones are usually completely white single flowers but this patch has delicately shaded flowers of pale violet, blue, pink and even some double flowers.

Every walk reveals a new discovery.

The butterflies cross our path.

The bumble bees are delirious with the abundance of Pulmonaria to provide them with nectar.

Sometimes the butterflies take a break on the ground.

I even caught this bumble dozing in the sun on a dry leaf.

So many of the plants are new to me.

This is White-asphodel, Asphodelus-albus.

It is such a majestic plant I find it hard to imagine it growing wild, I am more used to finding daisies and buttercups.  I would love to learn more about the wild flowers in my area.

Some are instantly recognisable like this wild strawberry but others are not.

Each walk brings a new discovery something we have never seen before, like these two bees mating in the Asphodel.  Taking time to watch and discover.  There is so much to discover.


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Weeding – tricked again

Weeding is not my favourite tasks but it can have its moments.  It can be exciting as long as you have a low stimulation threshold. I find the length of time spent weeding is directly proportional to the size of stimulation required to trigger an interest in a different direction.  In other words, I find myself easily distracted by a newly germinating plant (weed?), a bee, the smell of coffee brewing in the distance but yesterday it was different.

It was exciting.

While clearing a border in the front garden a bright blue creature appeared.

I had never seen anything like it before so I rushed to get my camera, sure that it would have disappeared when I returned.  It was still there.  Definitely more interesting than weeding!

I have very little knowledge about insects but I felt I would have to do my best to record and identify it.

It could be a rare endangered species.

So I set about my self-appointed task of documenting its progress across the front of the house.  This required me lying in strange positions on the grass but luckily I live in a very quiet neighbourhood and I do not think anyone saw me, or else they have not liked to mention it.

I reckoned I had taken enough photographs to identify it or post it on a web site and plead for  an identification.

I managed to identify it myself.  It is not an endangered species and I found out about some of its rather nasty habits.  It is Meloe violaceus.

The females can lay up to 4,000 eggs in a hole in the ground, usually in April and May, and may lay more than one batch of eggs.  What hatches out of these eggs are called triungulins and these are capable of producing a pheromone which mimics the sex attractant of a bee.  They climb up flowers such as dandelions and wait for a passing bee.  The confused male bee will attempt to mate with the triungulins which promptly hitch a ride on the bee’s abdomen and are subsequently passed onto a female bee.  The triungulin now gains access to the bee’s nest by hanging on to the female bee. They then use a similar strategy as the cuckoo.  They enter a nest cell and consume the bee’s egg and mature into a larva using the honey stored inside the nest cell.  The larva can pass the winter in the comfort of the bees nest to appear in its adult form in the spring.

I’ve been fooled again (see my blog “I love thee, I love thee not”).  I try to attract the bees to my garden but I am just finding out what they are up against, it is not just about finding food.  Meloe violaceus parasitizes solitary bees in particular, that means my beloved bumble bees.

Maybe I should have just stood on it and forgotten about the camera.


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A little rain

The garden has suffered from extremes of weather this year.  After beginning mild the winter closed with two weeks of freezing temperatures in February with temperatures dropping as low as -15 degrees centigrade.

Now fear of drought is the issue having had very little winter and spring rain.  It is raining lightly today with storms forecast so I am glad I have taken photographs of the trees in blossom.

The young pear tree in the front garden has been very generous with its blossom this year.

The cherry and the apricot in the back have been full of blossom.

The wisteria against the white atelier wall is full of flowers that perfume the back door area.  The wisteria in the front garden is in bud but without the additional warmth of a wall has not yet flowered.

All this beauty!

But practicalities call, the soil is now soft from the rain and it is an ideal moment for weeding before the weather deteriorates further.


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I love thee, I love thee not…a short lived love affair

I love thee…

Blythe creature!  You flew into my life on gossamer wings, alighting on the flowers to sup their nectar and leave me breathless with your beauty.

.

I wanted to learn more about you.  What were you called?  Were you rare?

I needed to know.  Quick.  Your photo was blasted onto http://www.visoflora.com/.

I love thee not…

You are a fly!  Yuk!

A fly! I love thee not.

How could you have deceived me?

I love thee…

O.K.  So you are also called a bee-fly, that’s not so bad.  You are a mimic, it is your strategy to survive – I can’t fault you there.

http://www.cirrusimage.com/flies_bee_Bombylius_major.htm

There is a guy here on this web site that loves you.  Why not me?  After all it is a bit staid to reject you just because you are a fly, albeit with a cute name Bomylius major.  You are just as furry as a bumble bee and I love those.  I must really widen my horizons, make my own decisions and not be bound by conventional, narrow ideas.  I can love flies too!


You do what!   You lay your eggs so that they parasitize solitary bees’ nests.  Your eggs become maggots that turn into ectoparasites sucking the body fluids from the  bee larvae!  Stop, too much information – this is a bee friendly blog.

This has got to be the end of the line.

I love thee not.