a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


Post on a post with a digression

In May I was walking in the woods nearby and I saw something up in front of me that was unfamiliar.  As I got nearer I could see it was insects over a large puddle of water in the middle of the path.

As I got closer I could see it was bees.  I had never seen them drinking before and I went closer to watch them.  What I observed was that they were avoiding the deeper puddles of water and were more interested in the mud.  I immediately assumed that they were Mason bees collecting mud to seal up their nests.

Luckily, a bee keeper(Adventures in Beeland) http://adventuresinbeeland.wordpress.com/ saw the post and contacted me, (see my post comments “Summer approaches in the woods”).  These were not Mason bees but honey bees!   There may be some variation of types within the bees but with the photographs available it is not possible to be any more definite, apart from saying that they are not Mason bees.

The first question that came to my mind was – Why are bees collecting mud?  Answer – They are not collecting mud, they are drinking water even though that is not what it appears at first glance.

In fact, bees are known to seek water at some sites that look rather insalubrious to us.  I first conceived a complex idea that they are in need of minerals from the soil or whatever substrate they collect the water from.

It could be a lot simpler than that.   The risk of  finding themselves in the water and drowning while gathering water from deeper sources is quite high.  Self preservation is a strong driver in behavioural traits and this is a safer way to get water.  Anecdotally, I can remember frequently seeing wasps drowned in water but never bees.  Wasps will come to the edges of water dishes left out for birds but I have never noticed bees do this, although I have read that bees can be drowned while seeking water from sources like this.

Another reason for the bees to choose water from shallow sources is that the water will usually be warmer and a bee chilled by a drink of cold water will have more difficulty in flying.

I have now two improvised bee drinking stations in the garden; one with unused sponge scouring pads in a plastic container and a second in a converted bird feeder lined with straw and water and hanging in a tree.  The ground is extremely porous in this area and there is very little surface water available during the day but there is always a very heavy dew which must provide them with a short-lived but convenient water supply.  However, so far, the bees seem singularly unimpressed with my innovations.

I must digress here to say how much I have learned from either comments made to me or what I have picked up from reading other people’s blogs.

I have been so impressed by the quality of photographs in blogs that I have been toying with taking up photography again but I know nothing of what is required in the way of equipment. I timidly enquired at a brilliant photographic blog, Focused Moments,   http://focusedmoments.net and was rewarded by really personal, focused advice which meant such a lot to me.

Taking pictures for the blog made me look more closely and think about the creatures I was photographing and made me very aware of my ignorance of the life around me, I find Bug Girl’s blog http://membracid.wordpress.com/ fascinating.  An entomologist who can write, amuse and inform!

Living in the country I am sensible to the fact that my neighbours are more interested in their potagers and although I grow vegetables, I hold my flowers and trees in higher esteem than they do. So  I enjoy watching other people’s gardens especially in different countries such as My Hesperides Garden (http://myhesperidesgarden.wordpress.com/) in Italy, Denobears  http://denobears.wordpress.com/ in Bulgaria and The Anxious Gardener http://theanxiousgardenerdotcom.wordpress.com/ in the UK to name only a few.

I am also enjoying following the joys and tribulations of being a bee keeper and learning about the  complex life of bees with Miss Apismellifer http://missapismellifera.com/ and Adventures in Beeland  (http://adventuresinbeeland.wordpress.com/.

End of digression but I just had to get it out!


Bee orchid


I am so excited, I’ve just found a bee orchid  (Ophrys apifera)  in the border of the front garden!  It was nearly an ex-bee orchid as I was in the process of ripping out the dead forget-me-nots.

Is it just me or does it look happy I found it too?




Turning a page on May

My last fruit tree is in blossom now.  It blossoms very late in the season and it also fruits late in the year.  My persimmon tree is in the front garden giving us shade with its dense, dark green thick leaves.  I picked the fruit a little early last year in early December as the bright red fruit is too tempting for the birds and they ripen well indoors in the cool.  My crop lasted into February (see my post Last Persimmons of the Season ).

Throughout May everyday something seems to appear and break into flower, unfortunately it can appear under some of the more exuberant growth and get lost.  My Nigella self-seeds and fills the borders, just as the forget-me-nots did a few weeks ago.  I find it difficult to pull them out and control them more harshly as it has not been long since there were so few flowers in the garden, and then the bees love the forget-me-nots.

The perfumes in the garden have changed too.  The Wisteria has finished flowering and it is now the turn of the Philadelphus to perfume the air.  I have several different types planted but they are all beautiful and much appreciated by the bees.

The Spanish broom is very fragrant and I have planted several along the back hedge.  I grew it from seeds where it was growing on coastal paths.  It is drought tolerant and can take plenty of sun.  It grows very rapidly so I will have to be more severe in my cutting back as it is getting too leggy.  The broom is the plant of choice at the moment for the carpenter bees along with the Jasmine.

Flowers also bring back memories.  These poppies were grown from seeds that I brought back from the Manoir de Bagnegrole in the Perigord where I spent a wonderful holiday.  The gardens were magnificent and we found 12 types of wild orchids growing on their lands behind their gardens.

We have one Pyramid orchid in the front garden and another in the back garden which we cherish but it is hardly up to Bagnegrole standards!

I have  honeysuckle in several places in the garden and  its heavy perfume fills the air in the sunshine and can waft for some distance on the breeze.

I have noticed some queen bumble bees around, I am a bit surprised as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust http://bumblebeeconservation.org/ says to look out for them in July.  We may be a whole month earlier over here or it maybe it is an early year for queens to appear.

I have several oriental poppies in the garden and it amuses me to see the bees with coal black pollen sacs like this one above.  It looks as if they are flying with little sacks of coal around their legs.

We have a good number of ladybirds in the garden but this year they are out classed by an abundance of chafers which are much too big for them to tackle.

This is a rose chafer on the rose but the other chafers seem just as happy to gorge on the centre of the roses leaving them empty of their stamens and pollen.  Hopefully, the bees are smaller and have already been there, done that and had all the best pollen.

I have geraniums wherever I want some ground cover or need a space filling as they are very tolerant and grow quickly.  This little bee is demonstrating how much he loves my geraniums.

This one was enjoying messing around in my clumps of Nigella it looks as if he has a problem getting his pollen in the right place or maybe he just doesn’t care.