a french garden


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November Walking

Back from the UK, away from the motorways, I was keen to get back on our well-trodden paths.

Beech lined path

But three weeks away and you can forget to pick up the things you need for a walk.  We often pass through the village and I have several friends I talk to and who expect a “Markie” from the backpack.

What did I do wrong?

You can see the disappointment and disbelief, the tail drooping and the ears down.  I felt so ashamed, but I was back with my “Markie” the very next day just to explain it was nothing personal.

The main street of the village is kept immaculately by the Mairie (council) and the Abelia is still flowering by the roadside.

Bee with pollen sac

Incredibly busy, the bee was gathering not only nectar but also pollen.

I saw another on the nearby Rosmary but she had flown away before I could take a picture but I did notice something else on the Rosemary, a red and green striped beetle.

Chrysolina americana

Researching for insect species is usually a difficult task for me and I doubted whether I would ever be able to find the name of this beetle on the Rosemary leaves but it is in fact – a Rosemary leaf beetle, Chrysolina americana!  Unfortunately it does not bode well for the Rosemary for the beetles eat the new shoots and their slug like larvae will continue the damage.  They seem to prefer similar plants like lavender, sage and thyme so if you see the tips of your plants blackening or being nibbled check them out and look on the underside of the leaves for eggs.

The signs of autumn are in the woods.

Solanum dulcamara

The bittersweet or climbing nightshade drapes its red berries in garlands through the trees as if anticipating the Christmas decorations.

Ruscus aculeatus

The red berries of the Ruscus or Butcher’s Broom are just as vivid and survive happily under the shade of the trees.  Ruscus is a popular garden shrub in the UK and it is strange for me to see it growing negligently throughout the woods here.

Euonymus europaeus, Spindle tree

Likewise, it always makes me smile when I see the Eonymus europaeus, or spindle tree in flower as I had always admired the one in Crathes Castle walled garden near Aberdeen in Scotland (http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/Crathes-Castle-Garden-Estate/What-to-see/#).  I found their (should you call it a fruit or a flower?) so attractive that I was determined to plant one if I ever should have my own garden.  As it so happens they were already growing at the bottom of my garden and grow freely in the woods around us!

Wild iris seed head

The other red berries that are decorating the edges of the woods at the moment are the iris seed heads.

But November here is such a mixture.

Escapee sunflower

There are often some straggling late arrival sunflowers in the fields where the main crop has long since been harvested, they are much smaller than the main crop but there were enough to provide an attractive vase full for the house.

Ulex europaeus, Gorse

There is gorse in flower but I think the it is the result of recent plantings as are the Medlar Trees.

Mespilus or Medlar

We often make a detour to pass by the Medlar trees.  They are much later in ripening this year, perhaps due to the lack of rain.  I enjoy an impromptu snack and I cannot understand why they are not widely accepted.  All I can imagine is that if they are eaten when unripe they will be considered inedible. I have fed good ripe medlars to sceptical friends and have seen them appreciate their unique flavour, but they must be ripe to be enjoyed.

Roe deer on the move

We never know what we are going to see.

Trying to catch up the others

I took these photographs at 1.30 p.m. hardly the time to expect to see deer in the open.

Almost there

I think they must have been disturbed in one copse and had to leg it some distance in the open to the nearest alternative cover.

Path of Beech leaves

The woods are an altogether quieter place in November but the floor is covered with all sorts of fungi.

Some of the fungi present this November

A few years ago I decided that it would be nice to discover what sort of fungi grew in the woods because neighbours and friends were only interested in the edible ones.  Armed with my camera and a large identification book I started.  I was quickly defeated by the variety of fungi that can be found and I have even noticed that the variety changes each year depending on the weather condition, I suppose.  I now just admire them and use them as photographic models – naming them is beyond me.  I have managed this year to at last take spore prints – that was thanks to encouragement from The Foraging Photographer http://theforagingphotographer.wordpress.com/.

Often on walks I wish I could not only take  a photograph but capture the odour of the surroundings because of some delicious perfume in the air, I thought of this when I was walking near these fungi.

Wet pungent fungi

Normally fungi have the decency to fade away discretely but these ones had taken over an area and were releasing a fetid odour that I have never smelt before and never want to smell again.  Definitely an odour I would not want to capture!

Geranium robertianum, Herb Robert

There has still been  plenty of sun this November in the Charente Maritime and the Herb Robert is flowering on the verges along with clover and scabious.

Bee on Bugle, Ajuga reptans

However, it is still surprising to see the bees feeding on this very late flowering Bugle.

Asian hornets, Vespa volutina on ivy flowers

Perhaps they are being kept away from their more common source of nectar by the Asian hornets that seem to be everywhere at the moment.  They were not around in the summer near here, perhaps concentrating themselves around the bees hives, but every time I seem to target a flower with my camera lens an Asian hornet is there (O.K.,sorry, exaggeration but it sometimes feels like that.)

The cabbage white butterflies are still laying their eggs on my brussel sprouts and I am still picking off the caterpillars.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta

The Red Admiral do not seem to care that it is November and the Speckled Wood butterfly is still around on the sunny days.

Cranes in flight

But despite the sunny days with the Charentais blue sky the geese are making their noisy way south, a sure sign that they know it is November and the winter will be arriving.  Correction!  My friends now tell me that these were more likely to be cranes, please see the comments below – I did not notice the long legs.


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My first visit to an English beekeeper

I have just returned from the U.K. where I was helping my daughter move house.  Not only are they lucky to have found a lovely house but are surrounded by extremely friendly and helpful neighbours.  The nearby neighbours all came over to welcome the newcomers and have a chat.  It was during one of the conversations that my daughter discovered she was living opposite a beekeeper and mentioned that I was very interested in bees.

I was delighted to be invited to visit his hive!

Looking towards the back of the garden

Even in the early evening of November in England David’s garden looked beautiful and I immediately saw the beehive nestling at the back of the garden.

I believe this is a National Frame hive and David let me have a quick peek inside.

The frames revealed

The bees were not too happy about this impromptu viewing and raised their tails to signal their disgust at being disturbed.

And there’s more!

I had assumed David had recently taken up beekeeping as I had read it is becoming a very popular hobby in the U.K. and that I would be seeing the one hive.  Not so.  Hidden off to the side were more hives.

David is a confirmed beekeeper, when I asked how long he had been keeping bees, he replied that he had been keeping bees really all his life.  His interest had first been sparked when taking a badge at Boy Scouts!  His step-father had bought him a hive and together they began what turned out to be a life long interest in bee keeping.  One that he in turn has passed on to his son.

In fact, he made me laugh when he explained that when he was looking for this house that it was its suitability for keeping bees that was at the head of the list of his requirements that he had given to the estate agent.

Top Bar Hive

I had never seen a Top Bar Hive and the different shape of the top bars that lead to a V-shaped comb formation.  David mentioned he was interested in Malawi and after a quick internet search since I’ve returned home I noticed that the Top bar Hives are used there.  Something more for me to ask him about when I go back to the UK at Christmas.

Treating the hives

David was quick to warn me that beekeeping was not just about watching the bees, that there was a lot of work to maintaining healthy hives and recovering the honey.

WBC hive

Not all the hives were occupied.   The white WBC hive belongs to David’s, son who is not using it at the moment, and is storing it in the garden.

Tempting residence for a swarm

The last hive I saw was empty but waiting for perhaps the arrival of a swarm in the spring, who knows?

Another facet of beekeeping

Sometimes I forget about the result of keeping bees.  I am so fascinated by their life cycle and the struggle to maintain a healthy colony in the face of so many challenges that the reward in the form of honey slips to the back of my mind.  Even after my visits to two beekeepers and smelling that wonderful aroma from the combs, it all seems too detached that this wonderful liquid should end up in a bottle on the supermarket shelf.

David does not sell his honey but his friends and family benefit from his expertise so I was delighted to be given a jar of his heather honey, something I do not find in the Charente region.  Delicious!

David encouraged me to keep on studying the bees and sent me off with some copies of “BeeCraft” – the official journal of the British Beekeepers Association-tucked under my arm.

Perhaps when I get the garden more under control I could think of putting a hive at the bottom of the garden under the trees but it will not be this spring – there is still too much to do.


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November in the Garden

After three weeks with the family in the U.K. I returned to survey the garden.

Hydrangea

Some plants have definitely decided it is autumn.

Cosmos

Others are hanging in and pretending its still summer.

Liquidambar

My Liquidamabar is still growing and looking healthy even though I moved it last year.  I bought it before I realised it did not like chalky soil and I keep thinking it will die soon.  I love the trees and shrubs with red autumn leaves but it seems as if they all need acid soil, if there are any exceptions I would be pleased to hear about them.

Fuschia Riccartonnii

I prefer my plants to be happy and not struggling against soil and climate conditions.   The fuschia Riccartonnii still has flowers and does very well in this area becoming a reliable perennial in the garden.

Tagetes patula

The French Marigolds stood sentinel over the plants in the vegetable garden, withstood the sun beating on them in the front garden and were still here to welcome me home, pushing their way through the weeds.  Not a bad performance from flowers that produce plenty of seed each year that I can sow directly into the soil where I want them in the spring.  Not forgetting the little posies to decorate the table.

Clematis tangutica “Helios”

I’m not a mad fan of clematis but I do like my Helios, I grew it from seed and I enjoy its yellow flowers in summer and the fluffy seed heads in the autumn.

Physalis alkekengi – Chinese Lantern Plant

I do try and brighten up the garden but it is a difficult job when everything is damp and dull.

Why are the black grapes so late this year?

The plants seem to clash with grapes on one side and brussel sprouts on the other.

Brussels are ready to go

Cotoneaster

I have lots of clumps of cotoneaster in the garden, once again a very easy tolerant shrub and the red berries are very much appreciated by the blackbirds and thrushes.

Bombus lucorum, white tailed bumble bee

I was so pleased that my Arbutus unedo is just starting to flower.  The flowers provide valuable nectar and they will be hopefully followed by small red fruits similar in shape to strawberries which give the tree its common name of the Strawberry Tree.

Drone fly

The delicate, white bell-shaped flowers appear to produce lots of nectar as the bees feed for a long time on each flower.

Drone fly et al.

This plant is a native of the Mediterranean region but  I have seen expansive tracts of it in the Lake Lacanau area and it grows in the woods around us.  I have also seen attractive specimens in the UK so it must be able to adapt to a variety of climates and conditions.

Glossy green leaves

I chose it so that I could see it from my bedroom window in the winter time as it is evergreen.  This is the first year it has flowered so I will look forward to seeing the fruits for the first time.  In due course the bark becomes an attractive feature and can be quite red, but my tree is still too young.

Not a bee

Although I like to think that the Strawberry Tree provides valuable nectar for the bees and bumble bees it has a much more generous nature than I have and shares its nectar with a variety of “pollenating insects” and doesn’t have a “bees only” sign.

Winter honeysuckle

At the far end of the back garden the Winter Honeysuckle has also just started to flower.  Another tough plant that I love.  I’ve put it in a dry spot on the edge of the garden to provide screening.

Lonicera fragrantissima

For the tough love it gets from me it provides me with small white perfumed blossom and pink-tinged buds.  An annual prune keeps it in shape and last spring I took some cuttings that were layering at its base and they are now waiting to be planted (when I get round to it).  I would like some more bushes in the garden as they provide the bees with nectar throughout the winter, last year it was still flowering at the end of March.

Remember this bush for the cold days ahead!


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A drop of blood on the lace

Back in July I took a photograph of a wild carrot flower (Daucus carota) that had one red flowerlet in the flower head.

Daucus carota in the woods

I loved to see the rebel standing out amongst all of the pure white wild carrot flowers.  I kept my eye out for more variation in the sea of pure white heads.

Completely white flower head

My single red floweret was definitely unusual.

Sole red flowerlet

Then I wondered why?  Was it a genetic mutation about to take over the white Daucus carota world?

After my last post I wondered if it harboured an alien invader.  Perhaps it had some mysterious mosaic virus but it really looked too healthy and the colouration wasn’t streaky.

I looked it up in Wikipedia which brought me back to reality.  It is a natural variant although the red flower/all white flower proportion seems to vary from area to area.  Daucus carota has even a common name, Queen Anne’s Lace (Queen Anne being the wife of James VI of Scotland) because of the flower’s lacy appearance.  The little red flowerlet is the drop of blood that was spilt when the queen pricked her finger whilst making the lace, according to the legend.