a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

A Summer Day in October


Last Friday was the fifth of October and the sun shone in the blue Charentais sky like a beautiful summer day with the temperature reaching 26 degrees centigrade.  There was no wind and it seemed an ideal day to explore another little pond just about a kilometre or so away from the pond at Madion.  It would have taken a bit too long on foot so we opted for the bikes so that we would not lose the afternoon sun.

The pond and the Charentais blue sky

The pond is not far from a small road and has woods and vineyards behind it.  The surrounds of the pond had been cleared to stop the woods encroaching.

Common darters

From a distance I spotted what looked like an extremely large dragonfly but as I got closer I realised it was two dragonflies in tandem.  This was the first time I have seen dragonflies laying eggs.  I would say these are Common darters (Sympetrum striolatum), as we get a lot of them in this area.

Dipping into the water

It was fascinating to watch the aerobatics of the pair.

Vertical descent

The eggs were laid at the edges of the pond.  The tail would just break the surface of the water as if to ensure that the eggs did not float on the surface to be easy prey to predators.  Presumably, the eggs would quickly find a safe spot on the murky floor of the pond.

Another dipping

The frenetic tandem flight continues with the female’s tail being dipped for her to release the eggs.  It looks a tiring exercise for the pair of them as they zoom from place to place, stopping from time to time at a selected spot for repeated dippings of the females tail.

There was more than one pair of the same variety of dragonfly taking advantage of the sunshine for mating and laying their eggs.

Willow Emerald Damselfly, (Chalcolestes viridis)

I also noticed a Willow Emerald Damselfly sitting looking beautiful beside the pond, its metallic green colour sparkling in the sunshine.

I wondered what was happening at the other pond so partly pushing the bikes through the grass we decided to take a “short cut” thereby avoiding the road.

Ready for the vendage

We passed some vines, these are the Uni Blanc, as they are called here, or Ugni blanc if you prefer the Italian spelling which are widely grown around here and are likely to end up as Cognac or Pineau.  The harvesting of the grapes has just begun.  Almost all of the vines are harvested mechanically, apart from a few older vineyards where the distance between the vines is too narrow for the machines to pass and so these have to be harvested by hand.  This is true of our immediate vicinity and does not hold true for vineyards producing high quality wine.

Ragwort cafe

There were a few Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) plants in the grass but this  one seemed particularly  attractive to the local insects.  The female common blue seemed to be receiving a lot of attention.

First advances

The sunshine and the advancing season led to pairing off on the Ragwort.

On the ground

The pairing game continued on the ground but we wanted to push onto the other pond to see what was happening there.

At the other pond things were quieter and although there were a couple of darters performing their frenetic egg laying dance I could not get a shot of them.  Perhaps it was too late in the evening (our short cut having provided more distractions than anticipated) but these days the fields and woods are getting quieter.

Peacock butterflies in the Hemp Agrimony, (Eupatorium cannabinum)

A month ago the Hemp Agrimony was in flower and full of butterflies, bees and other insects.

Hemp Agrimony seed head

Now the flowers have finished and the little seeds float around the plants and waft in the air like miniature parachutes.  Without their flowers the wood edges have become a lot quieter, less nectar bearing flowers for the bees and other insects.  The hornets are still on patrol though.

European hornet, (Vespra crabro)

They patrol back and forth on the look out for bees or other insects.  It seems late in the season for them to still be hunting for prey for their larvae but I have seen more now than earlier in the year.

They take their searching seriously and trace the wood edges like little yellow bullets.

Run butterfly!

I think the butterfly outclassed the hornet but it did not stay around to argue.

Asian hornet, (Vespa velutina nigrithorax)

The one thing that puzzles me is that the hornets I trapped in March were all Asian hornets, non-native hornets which are causing concern among bee keepers in France.  However, I have never seen any of the Asian hornets in the countryside during my walks.  So much the better for the bees.

Carder bumble bee

The wild mint is still happily flowering providing a rich nectar, but the bumble bees are much reduced in numbers, the majority that I see outside the garden are Carder bees.

Butterfly on side

On the way home I noticed a butterfly on its side, attended by another one.

Mouth to mouth resuscitation?

I could not imagine what they were doing, so I approached closer.  Too close.

Dead butterfly?

The apparently dead butterfly, finding her partner had flown off and left her, took wing leaving me feeling foolish.  Even the poor butterflies don’t get a chance to get on quietly with their life when I’m around with my camera.

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

17 thoughts on “A Summer Day in October

  1. So beautiful! I love the creatures you find on your walks. Wish I could come with you.


  2. Fantastic captures! The shot with 3 butterflies is amazing, you are very observant and obviously very patient, I know how long it takes to get shots like these. Christina


  3. Terrific hornet shots and some nice observations.


  4. What a wonderful day out, so many subjects captured on camera. I especially like the photo of the willow emerald damselfly.


  5. Lovely shots…. and it was a very nice day, too, here in Indre-et-Loire.
    We went to Villandry with a guest.
    Nice Hornet shots… I took one about six years ago of a Red Admiral seeing of a Hornet on an over-ripe plum. Not really the outcome one would expect!
    Favourite picture… has to be Ragwort Café!


  6. Very nice pictures! Greetings from Argentina. We´re entering in spring, so the flowers will be “calling” bees and butterflies… Thank you for writing the latin names: is easier to identify the plants or insects


    • It is so strange to think that half the world is going into spring now and not autumn like me! Sometimes I wish we all called the plants by their Latin names, I know some of the common flowers names in French because of talking to friends and some in other languages because of where I have been living and it gets very confusing.


  7. Excellent! Right, that’s it. I’m signing up now! RH


  8. This is a super post. I am very impressed with all the flying bug shots. What a lot of dragonflies and butterflies! In the last couple of years we have started to see Eurpoean hornets over here in the South of England. They are impressive looking things, although I gather rather less aggressive than our smaller native common wasp.


    • Certainly the ones I see are not interested in humans and although I see them in the garden I have never had them attracted to food we were eating outdoors – so far.


    • Rachel, I was in forestry in the Guildford area in the late 60s / early 70s and Hornets were around that area then… not often, but frequent and noticeable… and I’ve seen them also North of London and as far north as Leeds.
      Usually around over-ripe fruit… and never noticed agressive behaviour.


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