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.
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.
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.
The tree was oozing sap and providing an impromptu feast for a European hornet (Vespa crabro) and a butterfly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 aSouthern Hawker or Blue Darner (Aeshna cyanea), I was mislead by his green eyes but they will turn blue as he matures
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
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)!
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.
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!
Taking photographs of the garden in August is difficult.
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.
However, the light for taking the plants closer up is better. Hollyhocks survive very well here with very little attention.
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.
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 Hibiscussyriacus 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.
The bees have transferred their allegiance from the hollyhocks to the hibiscus when it comes to pollen showers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
I have planted Wisteria along the front wall and it perfumes the whole front garden when it is in flower.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Although it is tempting to slide off to the beach when it is hot and sunny, it is also tempting to go for a walk beside the little canal. The little canal runs parallel to the Seudre which is at the bottom of our garden. Although both are dry just now after the dry winter and spring, the banks are rich with flowers and grasses that tempt all manner of wildlife.
I had just taken the first steps on the road outside the house when I met a caterpillar (Peacock butterfly, Inachis io, I think). I helped it to the other side as I like Peacocks, they are very friendly and photogenic and this year they seem to be everywhere.
The next caterpillar I met made me laugh. I cannot identify it, although I would guess at some sort of Fritillary, but I would certainly call it a Highland Cow caterpillar, the same sort of red hairy look. Maybe I’m just getting homesick.
The banks of the little canal are well-endowed with Hemp-agrimony ( Eupatorium-cannabinum), the usual form is on the left but I have noticed an odd dark-leaved form here and there. As frequently occurs with common names, it is a bit misleading as it is neither hemp nor cannabis, but what makes it very special is that it is very popular with butterflies. Before I hear from anyone in the States, it is not Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium Purpureum) but it is a native european relative with the same quality of attracting butterflies with its nectar
…and also day-flying moths.
His orange underside looks like a silken cloak but I felt this bright colouration , although a treat to watch for humans, was surely lacking in discretion from a creature liable to end up as a tasty morsel for a predator.
But that was before I saw how well camouflaged he was resting in the shade on the trunk of a tree.
The other plant growing abundantly is Penny Royal (Mentha-pulegium) which seems equally as attractive to butterflies and nectar-feeding insects. I did not recognise it as a mint at first glance as the flower has two or sometimes three spikes of lilac flowerlets sitting the one above the other. The leaves are the give away and definitely mint leaves. The flavour is extremely good. It has a much superior flavour to the wild creeping mint that grows through the grass at home. However, the benefit of that mint is that when you walk on the grass in the garden you crush the mint and you walk in a mist of mint perfume.
The butterflies are territorial and I knew exactly where I will see the Provençal Short-tailed Blue, Everes alcetas, they seem to like to keep together and fly around together like scattered blue sequins. O.K. so they are one of my favourites, but look at their cute little tails!
It’s hard to have favourites as the Speckled Wood butterfly is omnipresent and he has to have a vote for being friendly.
The Gatekeeper gets my vote for being confusing as he is very like the Meadow Brown but has two white on his fore wing eye spots whereas the Meadow Brown has one. Not easy to notice at a distance.
Neither are the googly eyes of this Burnet Companion moth, ( I mean easy to spot from a distance!)
This is a serious photograph of the Burnet Companion moth. They are supposedly found in the company of the Burnet moth and although I have seen the caterpillars on the Ragwort I’ve seen no Burnet moths, yet.
The other plant that is growing abundantly is nettles and at this point being devoured voraciously by more Peacock butterfly caterpillars. Nettles are a favourite food of several different kinds of caterpillars which again accounts for the number of butterflies that can be seen nearby.
The warm sun has brought out a dragonfly that I think is the male common darter. I go looking for dragonflies at the pond which seems an eminently sensible place to look for them and they turn up beside woods near a “has been” water source. At least they had the decency to pause near the path so I could get a photograph of them.
This dragonfly was also flying around and looks like the Common Darter female, which seems logical.
The Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, has just started to flower. The lavender coloured flowers start to open in the middle of the flower head and then fill out on either side. I’m glad to see the teasel as the seeds are loved by Goldfinches and although I have seen a few, they are not numerous around here so its good to find a natural food source available for them in the area.
Even in the heat of the summer the countryside marks the changing seasons giving glimpses of the autumn to come as the sloes, Prunus spinosa, ripen in the sunshine.
The acorns are swelling high in the trees.
The mistletoe hanging in the Ash tree looks incongruous in the August heat but its berries still need some time to swell and ripen. The flowers and the fruit in the woods follow their seasonal changes and provide an ever changing background for our walks.
I could not miss an opportunity for a bumble bee picture. Bindweed is not something I would welcome amongst the flowers in my garden but looks beautiful rambling through the mass of green plants growing alongside the canal, and now I have discovered that it provides nectar for the bumble bees. This Carder bumble bee methodically visited each bloom on this clump of bindweed as I watched to check if it would miss one. It didn’t.
This is a special time in the Charente- Maritime region. The sunflower fields are in full bloom. I look forward to the sunflower season in this area, as you drive around you can see acres of sunflower fields. It is a fairly flat region and you can see the yellow fields stretching off to the horizon to meet up with the blue sky. The main crop is still the grape vines but the grape vines are overshadowed by the display of sunflowers just now.
There is a small sunflower field, nestled in between the vines, just 200 metres from the house and I decided to keep a record of it flowering.
The sunflower, Helianthus annuus, or tournesol in French, turns towards the sun. Well, sort of, they had me fooled.
Seemingly they do follow the sun as they are growing and while the shoots are flexible enough. However, once they are in flower their stiff stems are too inflexible to continue the motion and the heads point towards the rising sun. Certainly mine turned their backs on the setting sun and are facing a constant SE.