a french garden


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It is a matter of perspective

It is all a matter of perspective.

A glow in the night

Viewed on the computer this is a remarkably bad photograph.

Viewed in reality on a warm August evening it is a little marvel of nature.

Viewed scientifically it is a bioluminescence released when the enzyme luciferase interacts with the luciferin naturally produced by the glow-worm, releasing energy in the form of light.

Viewed from the point of view of a male Lampyris noctiluca it is an irresistible attraction.  The female glow worm is attracting her winged mate.

Glow worm in strawberry patch

Viewed with the aid of flash, the beetle Lampyris noctiluca can be seen more clearly.

A closer look

From my point of view I love to see these points of light that make summer evenings so special.

Glow baby, glow!

From the point of view of a gardener, I was even more delighted to discover that the larvae eat snails.  I just hope they have been able to find sufficient this year as it has been so dry.

It is nice to think that there may be a group of glow worms protecting my strawberries while I sleep!


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Dragonfly pond update

In my blog on 8th. of July, I explained that inspired by the Dragonfly Woman’s blog ( http://thedragonflywoman.com/), I had decided to initiate my solo citizen’s science project to learn more about dragonflies.  I feel I have kept up my side of the bargain but I feel hugely let down by the dragonflies.  As a novice I expected a bit more leeway and consideration.  I don’t not want to sound paranoid but I do have a sneaky feeling that they are taunting me.

Madion pond

For one thing my decision to choose the pool nearby seemed eminently sensible to me.  The fact that it had a raft of water lilies in the middle made it more aesthetically pleasing.

The thought never occurred to me that the dragonflies might prefer to take their well-earned R&R on the water lily pads far from my invasive lens.  I watched bemused as a couple of huge dragonflies patrolled tirelessly back and forth across the pond.  They were very large and I had an idea what they could be because of their size but they were much too far away to identify.  However, there is plenty to look at while I keep a look out for dragonflies.

Oak tree with gash in its side

One day I noticed that the bushes had been lopped, I had never realised that the pond was being cared for, but an oak tree had been damaged in the process.

Hornet and cleverly camouflaged butterfly

The tree was oozing sap and providing an impromptu feast for a European hornet (Vespa crabro) and a butterfly.

Oak Eggar caterpillar

I was impressed by this huge hairy caterpillar that looked about 10cm. long passing by at the same time on the oak trunk.  I think it must have been looking for a good place to pupate in.  At least the caterpillar was playing ball being an Oak Eggar (Lasiocampa quercus) caterpillar on an oak tree.

Signal crayfish

The pond is also home to crayfish, this one is a signal crayfish, an invasive American species which has been introduced in Europe and is taking over the native species habitats. This is leading to a decline in the native crayfish species as well as upsetting the balance of other native species, such as newts and frogs. It is a voracious feeder and a far less fussy feeder than the native crayfish. This diminishes the food supply available to the native crayfish and at the same time as increasing the predation on native species at risk of being eaten.

Blue-tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

I see a lot of nature around the pond but my only complaint is that the dragonflies are camera shy around the pond.  The damselflies are much more predictable and sit delicately on the greenery at the water’s edge enjoying the sunshine. They seem creatures of habit, so I can now make a bee line to where I will see them if it is warm and sunny.

The Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)

On sunny afternoons I have noticed huge dragonflies patrolling across the pond in a tireless search for their prey.  I have seen them stoop like birds of prey and I was pretty sure of their identity, because of their size, but they were always too far away to be sure.  Eventually I managed to get a photograph of the male Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator).  It is not a good quality photograph but I think sufficient for an identification.

Southern Hawker or Blue Darner (Aeshna cyanea)

However, I am much more successful in dragonfly spotting on the way to the pond but I don’t expect that this counts as “pond watching”.

The biggest dragonfly that I have seen close up was in the woods on my way to the pond.  It was not much short of 10 cm. long and very impressive.  I think it is a Boyeria Irene  or Western Spectre dragonfly.  Please see Susan’s comments, it is a Southern Hawker or Blue Darner (Aeshna cyanea), I was mislead by his green eyes but they will turn blue as he matures

Lestes viridis

The same day I saw the Downy Emerald Dragonfly (Cordulia aenea) (or I thought it was, now revised to Lestes viridis, see Susan’s comments below) and

Willow Emerald Damselfly (Lestes viridis)

the beautiful metallic green Willow Emerald Damselfly.   This demoiselle does not hold its wings folded over its back in the typical damselfly fashion.  I told you they are out to confuse me!

Definitely a dragonfly day(especially if you include the damselfly)!

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)

I am becoming familiar with the Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) and have a special fondness for him because he even comes and visits in my brussel sprouts.

Ruddy Darter

I must add a “health warning” to this blog, if I could I’d like to print a large L across it.  I am trying very hard to learn about dragonflies by observing and trying to identify them.  I welcome comments and I would love to hear if my identifications are not on target.

One thing I have learned is that there can be a considerable difference in colour between the male and female dragonflies and also between the mature and immature forms.

I have already become more aware and spot them in the environment.  The next stage will be to familiarise myself with them bit by bit.  But that will take some time!


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Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them

Check out the red mite or tick on the side of the fly!

The vermin only teaze and pinch

Their foes superior by an inch.

So, naturalists observe, a flea

Has smaller fleas that on him prey;

And these have smaller still to bite ’em,

And so proceed ad infinitum.

Taken from “On Poetry: a Rhapsody“, Jonathon Swift (1733)

I was taken aback when I saw this robber fly on my hydrangea about to tuck into a smaller fly while he himself was being made a meal of by a red tick or mite on his side.

So what’s inside the mite – bacteria, ‘phages, viruses, prions?  Mmm, first poetry, next philosophy, I think I prefer to keep to observation.


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The garden in August

Taking photographs of the garden in August is difficult.

Lime tree (Tilia platyphyllos)

This is one of the Lime trees (Tilia platyphyllos) that I planted for its perfumed blossom (see my last post Perfumed Pumpkin Flower? https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/pumpkin-perfume/) .  It is just  starting to take form but I find the August sunshine is as harsh in a photograph as it is on the grass.  I do not water our “lawns” as they are only mowed grasses and something green will come up even if they do dry up in summer.

White Hollyhock

However, the light for taking the plants closer up is better.  Hollyhocks survive very well here with very little attention.

Bumble on last of the Hollyhocks

Bumble on last of the hollyhocks

They are just about finished but I cannot bear to cut them down just yet as the bees, especially the bumble bees, still love to visit them, but they really should go as they are getting very long and straggly.

Hibiscus after a welcome shower of rain

Another plant that accepts a regime of lots of sun and very little water is the Hibiscus syriacus. It is called Althea over here and Rose of Sharon in the States. There were already a few Hibiscus syriacus plants in the front garden when we bought the house, in fact, they were just about the only flowers that we inherited.  They are survivors and require little care.  They also self-seed so I immediately picked out any little plants that I found and planted them along the long border that I have with the road to form part of a “shrubby hedge” I was attempting to grow.  These plants can be cut and shaped or left to expand and I have seen some that grow so large they are almost small trees.

I never knew what colour the plants I had planted would turn out be, but luckily I’ve had quite a selection of different shades as this must be one of the most popular garden plants in the area and the bees ensure there will be plenty of cross-pollination.

Pollen frenzy

The bees have transferred their allegiance from the hollyhocks to the hibiscus when it comes to pollen showers.

Bumble taking a break for a brush out of pollen

Sometimes it gets all too much for them and they sit down somewhere and give themselves a thorough grooming to remove the pollen load.  I love to watch them as they really do seem frustrated when the pollen gets too thick.

Complex flowerlets of Acanthus mollis

Another plant that attracts the bees is Acanthus mollis or Bear’s Breeches, I was given this attractive architectural plant by friends who were splitting theirs.  I was delighted, as I had very little plants at the time and as it threw up little side plants, I cleverly (?) found places for them in other parts of the garden.  Now I have to try and purge my garden of this invasive plant that thrives with little water and lots of sun.  In my borders it is a monster as even a tiny bit of root left behind throws out bright happy green leaves that laugh at me, but I will eradicate it!  I have left just the one plant in a dry spot that nothing else would want as it does look good, and the bees appreciate it too.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth, Macroglossum stellatarum

At least I can control the Red Valerian, Centranthus rubber, which is happy in a very dry hot spot along the front of the atelier wall.  It is a native plant of the Mediterranean and has the additional benefit of being attractive to Hummingbird Hawk Moths, Macroglossum stellatarum.

They actually do look like little birds!

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These are day flying moths and are a favourite visitor to the garden.  They also visit the Buddleias but it is easier to photograph them on the low growing valerian, but they really move fast and hover while sipping the nectar.

Pink Hydrangea

Plants frequently do not turn out how you think they should and it is always worth giving a favourite plant a chance.  Hydrangeas remind me of gardens when I was a child in Scotland but I was not sure if they would survive in my chalky soil.  I bought a tiny plant and put it in a corner so that it is sheltered from the direct afternoon sun, I did not have much to lose.  In just a couple of years I have my pink mop head hydrangea that looks at home in the corner of the wall.

My bumbles love the Hydrangea too!

It was too cheap to have a variety name and anyway I find in France that the labelling leaves a lot to be desired.  Giddy with success I have tried a couple of lacecap Hydrangeas which are progressing but not with the same vigour.

Map butterfly on my daughter’s shoulder

You never can tell how plants will do and you certainly can’t tell with butterflies either.  Sometimes you chase them, camera at the ready and they flutter but never sit long enough to take a photo.  Another time they come and sit on a shoulder when you are having lunch.

Friendly Map butterfly (Araschnia levana)

Then happily pose for you on some nearby flowers!


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Pumpkin perfume?

Before I had my own garden I enjoyed visiting other gardens, my favourite being the walled garden in Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire.  I made a mental “wish list” of the flowers and trees I would plant if I had my own garden.  It was not only their colour or beauty that attracted me but also their perfume.

I used to walk in the Botanical Gardens in Aberdeen at lunch time and I remember searching for the flower along the path that had the heady perfume.  It took me a couple of days sniffing at all the flowers along the path before one day I returned on the other side and found the hedge of perfumed Skimmia.  I would never have imagined that a perfume could travel so far.

Similarly in Geneva I walked for ages tracking the heavenly perfume that was floating in the air.  I found the lime trees in flower and I could have stayed under them all day.  I have planted two lime trees in the garden which flowered for the first time this year.

The perfume of a garden is essential to me.  If  it is at all possible I plant a perfumed variety.

So I have chosen to plant the perfumed roses like , “Mme. Alfred Carrière”, “Mme Isaac Péreire” and “Mme Caroline Testout”

‘Mme. Alfred Carrière’

‘Mme Isaac Péreire’

‘Mme Caroline Testout’

Blue Wisteria

I have planted Wisteria along the front wall and it  perfumes the whole front garden when it is in flower.

Honeysuckle

I have to have several clumps of honeysuckle even though it can be invasive and needs a strong hand to control it.  Honeysuckle perfume is warm summer nights.

I also love the more subtle perfumes of the wild mint and thyme that grows through the grass and releases their essence as they are crushed underfoot.

Pumpkin flowers

However, I was quite taken aback by the perfume of my pumpkin flowers.

I noticed a couple of days ago a perfume drifting over the garden and I located it to the pumpkins which are isolated on a pyramid to enjoy the most sunshine.

Pumpkin pyramid

I do not know what variety they are as I saved the seeds from a delicious pumpkin given to me last year by my friends Patricia and Guy.

Have I got a mutant perfumed variety?  Do pumpkin flowers usually smell this good and the world forgot to tell me?  Am I particularly sensitive to plant perfumes?

Flowers fade in a day

The downside is that the flowers last less than a full day and the perfume is strongest early in a warm sunny morning.

I would love to know if other people enjoyed perfumed pumpkin flowers.


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Bee in Echinacea

I like watching the bees in the garden.  They have their different methods of collecting nectar and pollen from different plants.  It appears they collect nectar from some, pollen from others and nectar and pollen from still others.  The collection can be extremely rapid visit or a more relaxed endeavour.

This bee had an extremely thorough approach to her grooming of a single echinacea flower and I photographed her engrossed in her enterprise for eight minutes.

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