End of September in the garden

It has rained at last.  It has been such a dry year that it is time to rethink strategies.  The potager gets watered within reason but during a prolonged dry spell it is like watering a patch on top of a sponge.  I sowed dill twice and each time it came up and flowered almost instantly.  There was no glut of courgettes but just sufficient salad stuff to keep us going.

There is a hazel tree just beside the potager.  We have pruned it over the years and it has given us some excellent straight poles but its nut production has not increased and it is now over-shadowing an old peach tree and I feel it may be taking water away from the vegetables.

The hazel tree’s days are numbered
All that is left is a stump
No more hazel tree

Now the hazel tree has gone I may have another victim in my sights!  The Christmas tree was left by the previous owners and has grown so large in such a short time.  I do not know how much taller it will grow and if it too is draining too much water and nutrients from the garden.  I must admit that I do not have a master plan for the garden from the design point of view and I would be interested in any comments from experienced gardeners.

Quince tree

On a more upbeat note the quince tree has come through the drought with no visible sign of stress and the quinces are already ripening.  I have already been enjoying the quince stewed and have bottled some but I will wait until the main crop ripens to get on with the jelly, jam and chutney.

Medlar fruit

Likewise the medlar tree has plenty of fruit but that will not be ready for another month or so.

Kaki fruit ripening

The persimmons or kaki are just starting to show a little colour but it will be probably Christmas before they will be ripe.  It is nice to have some more fruit to look forward to when the pears and apples will be finished.

The apples and pears ripened early and the harvest was on the low side.  There is always fallen fruit and the good advice is to clear it away to reduce infection from pests that may use it as a food source.

Comma, Polygonia c-album on the apple tree trunk

There is an advantage in not clearing the fallen fruit away immediately as the  butterflies are attracted by the fallen fruit and I presume feed on the fermenting juices.

Comma showing the “C” underside

This Comma is kindly showing the white “C” mark, like a comma on the underside of the wing.

Speckled Wood butterfly, Parage aegeria

The Speckled Wood butterfly is a common visitor to the garden and is also enjoying the fallen apples.

Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas

The Small Copper seems also interested so perhaps an extra tidy garden is not always so good for for attracting the wildlife, it certainly is a good excuse for not being too tidy.

The Praying Mantis looks disdainfully at my attempts to take a photograph

The butterflies are common visitors but the Praying Mantis is less visible and remains well camouflaged while it stalks its prey.

Praying Mantis

It preys on a variety of insects, it would be nice to think it was the ones that could cause me trouble but unfortunately it will eat anything that it can lay its long hands on.  This one had a relatively friendly disposition until it got bored and headed back into the apple tree.

A flight too fast to capture well.

During the long dry spell I did not forget the birds and I have had various containers of water around the garden.  These containers take various forms including old pots, frying pans and gravel trays.  Not a very ornamental collection but very appreciated by the birds, among others.

After a recent visit to a brocante (explanation – a notch lower than an antique shop in France) I was tempted by an old pan for seven euros which seemed just the right size to add to the collection.  (I try to avoid going into brocantes as they have such interesting things and even if you do not find what you are looking for you find something you did not know you needed, but at least at seven euros I got off lightly this time.)

The house belonged to a builder at one time and we have inherited a good deal of his stones which have come in very handy.  A quick hunt at the bottom of the garden in the secret store and the right base was found.

In place beside the rose arch

As the stone is old and the pan is old it seems to have always been there.

Ready for the birds

I could not do a post about the garden without mentioning the bumble bees.  They are still active although I have not seen any red-tailed or garden bumble bees for a while.  The dahlias are still very popular with the white-tailed and the carder bees.

Carder bee heads to the fuschia

The fuschia is still flowering and is well-visited by the bees.

Now that it has rained there is so much to do in the garden and plants that have outgrown their space must be moved.  Autumn is a busy time.

New Species of Yellow-Tailed Carpenter Bee

As you can clearly see this is a Yellow-Tailed Carpenter Bee, a hitherto unknown and undescribed species of Carpenter Bee.

Yellow-Tailed Carpenter Bee

No, only joking, the Yellow-Tailed Carpenter Bee doesn’t exist, but she did look authentic.

She does really look as if the yellow tail is part of her but I have been watching her nectar orgy in the dahlias and I know that it is just the rich yellow pollen of the dahlias that has adhered firmly to her posterior.

How to acquire a yellow tail

She is obviously a meticulous creature and retired to the shelter of the house wall to tidy up a bit and make herself more presentable.  My concern is that she is totally ignorant of the pollen stuck to her rear.  She spent a good deal of time and effort cleaning up all her face parts and sorting out her antenna but the problem at the other end was ignored.

A good wash and brush-up was needed

It does make me wonder if she is not one of these unfortunate creatures that is going to be an evolutionary dead-end.  I have seen many Carpenter Bees on the Wisteria, the Spanish Broom and Jasmine but I have never seen any on the Dahlias.

Happy days in the Jasmine

When Carpenter Bees feed on Wisteria they do not actually come into contact with the pollen, therefore, – no yellow bottoms.

Taking the Wisteria nectar

If I think she is different, what is a male Carpenter Bee going to think?  It could be a faux pas in Carpenter Bee protocol like getting the back of your skirt caught in your knickers. She will be doomed.  Her genes will stay stranded inside her unfertilised eggs.  Her predilection for Dahlia nectar will not be passed on to future generations of Carpenter Bees.

Perhaps the last of her line?

On the other hand the pollen might fall off in time for her to return to her seductive black form allowing her to raise plenty of Dahlia-appreciating offspring.

It will be up to me to keep an eye on my Dahlias next year and note if there is an increase in Yellow-Tailed Carpenter Bees.

Barcelona visit

I live in the country, not too remote but very quiet.  I reap the benefits of this situation by enjoying a large garden, having my choice of a multitude of walks or cycle rides straight from my door and the sound of silence of the countryside.

Last weekend it was time to appreciate civilisation, to explore by metro, to soak in some culture – to see crowds of people!

Crowds at the Magic Fountain

There were certainly plenty of people;

Entrance of Guell Park

so many people wanting to see the same thing.

The house in Guell Park which Gaudi designed and lived in.

Many of the people, like me, go to Barcelona as they are attracted by Gaudi’s style and architecture.  His distinctive style of Catalan architecture and his love of nature has produced remarkable buildings and influenced the architecture of Barcelona.

Art nouveau leterbox

Designs from nature are used by other architects such as this art nouveau letterbox by Lluís Domènech i Montaner; an example of catalan Modernisme on an originally 15th. century palace, Casa de l’Ardiaca.

Some of the 13 white geese (I did not do a roll count)

Across the road in the cathedral I was surprised to see white geese in their special courtyard.  They are kept in honour of the cathedral’s patron St. Eulalia.  One goose for each year of the virgin martyr’s short life.

Coffee after visiting the Pedera

There are always plenty of refreshments available in Barcelone, the coffee and pastries are excellent.

Lunch and dinner can still be eaten al fresco

A little away from the main tourist sites I enjoyed an excellent three course Catalan meal for 9 euros 50.

Casa Batllo by night

The evenings can be as full as the days.

Casa Terrades

There is so much to see walking in the streets, like these beautiful balconies on the Casa Terrades.

Urban parrot

Green parrots nest in the palm trees, they were the only birds I saw except for pigeons.

Fountain in Ciutadella Park

Walking in Ciutadella Park I noticed there were very few flowers in bloom at this time of year in Barcelona.  I had hoped I might see some different bees and butterflies but I did not see any.  I imagine that Barcelona does not have sufficient water to support the size of the population that it shelters and to water flowers.

I had a marvellous time, I love Barcellona – the architecture, the people, the atmosphere – but I had never realised how we appreciate nature in words and culture but in truth we marginalise it and exclude it.  We profess to love and admire nature.  Artists glorify it in their paintings and sculptures,  but we cannot coexist side by side.  The city, so full of life and bustle from the human point of view, seemed so barren and empty.

Conversation beside the Brussel sprouts

It’s no good trying to pretend your’e not there, because your’e so well camouflaged.  I saw you fly in there.

I can see perfectly well what your doing.

It really doesn’t wash with me the innocent “I’m just resting in the shade” look.  I can see your yellow eggs positioned neatly on the stem.  Now flutter off and find some plant I don’t intend to eat to lay your eggs on.

From Guimauve to marshmallows

Flowers in the wood

I happened upon the pale pink flowers in the middle of August in the woods beside the dried-up canal.  It seemed such a beautiful plant and I was not sure whether it was a wild flower or a garden escapee which had self-seeded valiantly amongst the bramble and Hemp Agrimony.  The pale green-gray leaves were as soft as a puppy’s ear and seemed too fragile to be those of a wild plant.

Tree Lavatera

The flowers reminded me of my Tree Mallow but they were much paler and smaller but the size of the bush was similar.

Common Mallow, Malva neglecta

It even resembles the common mallow which can manage to grow and flower in my parched “lawn” against seemingly impossible odds.

Hibiscus syriacus

Like my Hibiscus syriacus, or Althea, they all belong to the family Malvaceae.  They all are are able to survive in dry and sometimes inhospitable conditions.  One of the reasons is their long tap roots.

Althaea officinalis or Guimauve sauvage

I eventually discovered that it is indeed a wild flower Althaea officianalis or guimauve as it is called in France.

It is their long tap-roots that were first used to make marshmallow or guimauve (as it is called in France) and the name has stuck to the much more widely known modern confectionary of the same name.  The dried and powdered root can be combined with sugar and water to make a sweet paste or the roots can be soaked in cold water to extract the mucilage that was originally used to make marshmallows in France.

Tender but downy leaves

In fact most of the plant is comestible and apparently the flowers and leaves can be added to salads.  I found this idea quite appealing and I liked the idea of foraging for my own salad (I am not sure why, as there is enough in the garden).  In the interest of furthering my practical knowledge I decided to try some of the young leaves.  This required a certain amount of dedication on my part as they are somewhat furry. These downy hairs may be a marvellous adaptation on the part of the plant to reduce water loss but they are not particularly palatable.

The tasting was disappointing.  Please feel free to try yourself but I found them completely tasteless.  Perhaps I should have infused them and made some tea which I could have drunk or used as a face lotion!  All the parts of the plants appear to have a medicinal use, both the roots and the leaves producing soothing mucilage.

Bee gathering pollen

Of course, what also attracted me to the flowers in the first place was the bees.  They were particularly shy and flighty individuals.  From the photograph it appears that the flowers are supplying nectar in addition to the pollen.

Pink pollen sacs

The bees were beautiful and I was taken with the lilac pink colour of their pollen sacs which they were filling up with a generous quantity of pollen.

Pollen confectionery

Not so much marshmallow, more miniature  candy floss.

Laid back carpenter bee

Violet Carpenter Bee

I took this photograph of a carpenter bee (Xylocopa violacea) in early April this year in the garden.  I was delighted to see the return of these huge black bees who took delight in piercing the wisteria flowers to “steal” the nectar.

I am surprised that they are not universally liked as they are not aggressive, the male does not even have a sting, but I agree they are very clumsy and you could get buzzed if you happen to get in the way of their noisy flight path.  So aside from accidental encounters of a close kind, it is extremely difficult to get near them.  I felt it was somewhat easier to get close to them in the early spring as they must have been just emerging from hibernation and have been famished.  During the summer time I felt that they were extremely frisky and I failed to sneak up to them without being spotted.

This is why I was very surprised to find some very laid-back carpenters feeding on Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium Cannabinum).  I have seen them over the past couple of days.

Sun catching violet wings

I must admit their different behaviour made me suspect a different species but the red tip on the antenna is supposed to be indicative of the Xylocopa violacea.

Sipping the nectar

I find the carpenters as appealing as the bumble bees probably because of their fluffy appearance.

Serious nectar gathering

They did not seem in the slightest concerned with being photographed by humans at such a short distance, so I decided to make the most of the opportunity and take a short video.  It is only a few seconds long, the battery in the camera was running out for one thing and it is enough to give an idea of its nonchalant nectar gathering.


I wonder if the change in behaviour is due to the approach of autumn and the hibernating season?  Perhaps the greatest driver now is to build up sufficient food stores to be able to survive over winter?

Has anyone any other ideas or has anyone else noticed this change in behaviour?

Things are changing in the garden

the Charentais blue sky

Yesterday was a  hot summer day with a cloudless blue sky.

The scorched back garden

The “grass” is yellow and the trees are suffering.

Today the change is evident.  The morning is misty with the humidity approaching a fine rain.

Cosmos sulphureus going to seed

In the garden it is the same.  The season is changing.

Plum tree dusted with yellow leaves

Yesterday I noticed the plum tree had a dusting of golden leaves on its crown that were floating to the ground when a breeze moved the branches.  At lunch time under the tree some leaves fell onto the food and decorated the table.

Yet other parts of the garden seem to be still in summer mode.

There have been large numbers of peacocks this year
Red bottomed bumble bee
Helophilus trivittatus enjoying the nectar

The bumble bee tree (Heptacodium jasminoides) is still alive with visitors.

Echinacea seed heads

The Echinacea is drying but has its own beauty and is pointing to the end of summer.

The cosmos is not only one of my favourites but also popular with the bees

The Cosmos sulphurous still provides bright orange and yellow flowers and there are plenty of seeds to collect for next year.  The cosmos is popular with the bees but I have been tricked here by this dronefly, so called because some people (who me ?) think it looks like a drone honey bee whereas it is an Eristalis sp.  Many thanks to Susan at  http://daysontheclaise.blogspot.com

The dahlias provide end of season brightness

The dahlias too are passing but there are still lots of flowers to attract the bees and give the borders colour.

Asters are just starting to flower

The asters or ” Reine Margeurite” are as popular here for a country garden flower.  The seeds are easy to collect each year for sowing in the spring.

Queen of Spain fritillary, Issoria lathonia

Even the nepeta is still providing colour and nurture.

Never the less, I find the imminent passing of the summer sad.

To a Squirrel

Being a practical sort of person I have tried to  acquire plants that have more than one virtue.  By that I mean if I would like a beautiful flower I try to choose a perfumed variety.

I decided to plant a green hazelnut on the road side of the garden as they grow quickly to provide screening and also produce hazelnuts.

Promising green hazelnuts in July

I decided a purple hazelnut would also work well to give some different foliage colour in spring time.

Purple hazel tree at the end of April

They are not such abundant nut producers but given I had the other trees I felt I would be amply provided for.

Purple hazel nut in July

This year the crop has not been plentiful and I have worked out why.

Hazel nut shells in my plum tree

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

With apologies to Rabbie Burns

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_a_Mouse for the full version and translation, if need be.

Heptacodium jasminoides, the bumble bee tree

I bought my Heptacodium jasminoides from the rose grower André Eve’s garden in Pithiviers-le-Vieil in September of 2007.  It was not very big but the jasminoides part of the name and the mention that it was perfumed was enough to attract me and clinch the sale.

Fragrant white blossom

Since then I have discovered that it originates from China and has only fairly recently become cultivated as a garden plant elsewhere.  The Chinese name means “seven-son flower from Zhejiang”; I hope that sounds nicer in Chinese.  It refers to the seven-flowered heads of the inflorescence according to the botanists but mine seems to have six little flowers around a centre that does not flower.  This is more easily seen when they are still in bud as they get a bit difficult to count in a photograph when they are in flower.

Six flowerlets around central point

I haven’t found any other common name and I feel very pompous when people asked me what it is called and I have to say  Heptacodium jasminoides.  So I am proposing that it should be called the “Bumble Bee Tree”.

White-tailed bumble bees

From early morning the tree is covered in bumble bees, mostly the white-tailed variety (Bombus lucorum) but other bumble bees, honey bees, butterflies and other nectar feeders also visit.

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) and bee

All the nectar feeders share the flowers with no aggression but a lot of careless flying and landing goes on,  knocking each other off as one lands heavily on the same or nearby flower head.

Tiny carder bee

I do not understand why it is 95% white-tailed bumble bees that cover the blossoms.  The other 5% consists of the other common bumble bees, such as the carders and red-tailed bumble bees, some solitary bees and honey bees.  It perhaps is a good illustration that the bumble bees have their  “favourite” nectar sources but are ready to compromise on an opportunistic basis.

It is also interesting to find a plant that is definitely not native but proving to be a favourite food source for a native insect species.  Perhaps the explanation is that the plant belongs to the genus Caprifoliaceae,  which is the same family as Loncera, the honeysuckles.

I have not found that it has grown rapidly in my garden, although it can grow to six or seven metres, but this may be due to soil and climate conditions.  It must be relatively hardy, at least when it is established, as last February we had two weeks of sub zero weather with the lowest temperature reaching minus seventeen centigrade.  I have never tried taking cuttings but I have read that it can be propagated by sowing the seeds, preferably in a warm greenhouse, or taking soft wood cuttings.

The bark is just starting to peel on the main trunk

I have noticed that this spring the bark has started peeling.  I at first thought something horrible was happening so I rushed to check it out on the internet  and I was relieved to find that this is normal.  I do like trees with peeling bark so this has proved a bonus for me but this will be the first winter that I will be able to appreciate as it has never peeled up until now.

I am fascinated by the attraction this tree has for the bumble bees.  I’ve taken short video which lasts just over one minute http://youtu.be/wLRGrAlgeuY and gives a bit of an idea about the tree and maybe will convince you that Heptacodium jasminoides should be called “The Bumble Bee Tree”.