a french garden


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Pressing on

It may not be the New Year, there are still few days left of 2012 but it is not too early for me to have started my reflections on the past year with WordPress.

Early in 2012 my son suggested I started a blog as a way to create a journal of the garden and to reach out to other interested gardeners to share experiences, hopes, successes and disappointments that only other gardeners would appreciate.  It seemed a reasonable proposition but it soon took on a life of its own.

Cherry blosssom

Cherry blosssom

I realised that a picture was worth a thousand words, so my interest in photography which had languished for many years was rekindled.

Pear blossom

Pear blossom

I enjoyed taking pictures of my flowers but as I looked for photo opportunities, I started to see more than flowers.

Meloe violaceus in the pansies

Meloe violaceus in the pansies

I came across strange things when weeding, Tricked Again

Chafer in the cherry blossom

Chafer in the cherry blossom

Some creatures were strange and hairy.

Azuritis reducta

Azuritis reducta, Southern White Admiral, on Philadelphus

Others elegant and attractive.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea)

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea)

I started to see things I had never seen before.  Dragonfly pond update

White and blue wood anemones

White and blue wood anemones

I saw things I used to walk past. What colour is a white wood anemone?

White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lucorum) in Spanish beans

White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lucorum) in Spanish beans

I always loved my bumble bees but I paid more attention to them the more I photographed them.

Red-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lapidarius)

Red-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lapidarius)

I enjoyed noting the different species that visited the garden and was delighted when I found two bumble bee nests in the garden.

Tiny grey bee in Lavatera

Tiny grey bee in Lavatera

I noticed lots of solitary bees in the garden as well as the honey bees and started to follow some of the amazingly interesting and informative “bee blogs” on WordPress such as Aventures in beeland, Miss Apis Mellifera and Beelievable to name only a few.  I have to admit this has sparked another interest and I would love to be brave enough to embark on keeping bees myself.

Carder bumble bee (Bombus pascuorum) in quince

Carder bumble bee (Bombus pascuorum) in quince tree

They keep me company in the garden and in my walks in the surrounding countryside.

Carder bumblebee with pollinaria

Carder bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum) with pollinaria

It is often only when I review my photographs that I see something I had not noticed when I took the picture.  This bumble bee seemed to be carrying a lump of pollen stuck to its head.  I had seen them dusted over with loose pollen but never with such a strange package attached to them.

Bombus pascuorum with pollinaria

Bombus pascuorum with pollinaria

I discovered that this bumble bee was on a  special  pollination mission and had been selected by an orchid to carry its pollen to another orchid.

Orchids have evolved a special method of transporting pollen for cross fertilisation between plants by insect vectors.  Instead of releasing their pollen to the four winds like say the grasses, orchids have compressed bundles of pollen that will stick to the insect pollinators who will pass it onto another orchid that they visit.

This I would never have known, nor recognised on my bumble bee if it were not for WordPress fanning my interest in bees and bumblebees and the Bumblebee Conservation Organisation for supplying me with the information.

WordPress has stimulated my interests in photography, bees and nature but none of this would have been so enjoyable without all my gentle WordPress friends whose interesting blogs and helpful comments lighten and brighten the year.

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A frosty December morning

Frosty mornings on the Charente Maritime are not too common but this year I was keen to get out and take a look before all the frost was melted by the winter sun.

Frosty brambles

I found even the bramble leaves looked different covered by the frost.

Ice crystals on bramble

The cool evening temperature had formed ice crystals on the leave.

Frosty red bramble leaf

The autumn reds had been changed into frosted Christmas decorations.

Frosty wild rose hips

The wild rose hips were taking the frost in their stride.

Frosty spindle tree  berries

The spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus) berries looked sugar coated by the frost but will not survive many more freezing and de-frosting cycles.

Robin waching

The little birds flew out of the bushes as I approached, it was only the robin who could not retain his curiosity about the only person who was entering into their domain and lingering to look at their territory on such a frosty morning.

Frosty persimmonI decided to return and check out the garden.  The birds, mainly the blackbirds, I think, have turned one of the persimmon into a frosty dessert.  They choose to open the fruit at a ripe spot and I admire their choice as it is conveniently placed for easy perching.  A real fast food option for the bird on the go.

Frosty lonicera

In the back garden the fragrant honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, is completely frosted over with its perfume sealed within the ice waiting for the sun to arrive.

Frosty winter honeysuckle

The delicate flowers look as beautiful in the frost as they do in the sunshine.  More flowers will follow the flowers frozen by the ice.

Frozen bee

I was thinking of the bees that would be enjoying the new flowers on warmer days when I caught sight of a bumble bee.

Frozen bumble bee

The poor creature had been seeking overnight shelter on a flower and was frozen in place.  Male bumble bees do not survive the winter, the queens will be snuggly overwintering but the others will not see the spring.  My poor bumble bee had the added affliction of mites which survived the low temperatures remarkable well.


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How not to plant a cherry tree

The Victorians used to tell their children cautionary tales to warn them to avoid incorrect behaviour.  I see merit in this as often when you are shown the correct procedure performed by experts it looks all too easy and can give a false sense of security.  So this post is my cautionary tale of what not to do and will make real gardeners cringe.

When planting trees it should be remembered that they have a tendency to grow and produce branches which in turn will become entangled with other trees if they are planted too close together.  Makes sense?

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The move begins

The cherry tree was much too close to the large plum tree which also serves as a parasol for our table when we eat outside in the summer.

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Up rooted cherry tree

A trench was dug around the condemned tree and its anchoring roots were severed with a chain saw.  All that was left was to lever it out of the hole.  Problem – even with my not negligible (?) strength we could not move it.

Take a length of rope...

Take a length of rope…

The only option was to attach the base of the tree to the back of the car and move off gently.

The car moves off

The car moves off

The car moved forward, the rope became taut – and then broke.  Ah, yet another root was cleverly hiding and  holding the root tightly in place.  The last root was cut by the chain saw.

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Some more rope – and we have lift out!

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Once the tree was successfully uprooted  it looked a long way to take it to its new home.  Energy levels were fast depleting (coffee time was approaching) so the car was called upon again to take up its new multi-tasking activity as part-time tractor.

Stop, you're in position!

Stop, you’re in position!

A bit of ungentle persuasion and the cherry tree was happily(?) ensconced in its new position.  We gave it a good watering and luckily it rained all the next day.

Extra support

Extra support

The cherry tree is now supported by two stout poles to stabilise it while it grows more roots.  It had a few days of respite but then it has had to deal with a sharp frost and cold spell.

It will be interesting to see if survives its manhandling but it will be springtime before there could be signs of life and next summer will be the true test and struggle for survival.


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La Rainette comes calling

The night before last we had a visit.

I just dropped by!

I just dropped by!

We were delighted!  The little green frogs are one of our favourite visitors and we had not seen any since the spring.  It had been a very dry summer and not really frog weather but recently it has been raining a lot and I have heard them in the evening but not seen any.

I'm back

I’m back

I rushed out to say hello – as you can see they are not shy.

Just to give you an idea of size.

Just to give you an idea of size.

I was able to measure this one’s size through the window and the body length is only 3 centimetres (not counting the head), which is very small compared to the ones we have seen before.

La Rainette, Hyla meridionalis 1.4.12

Relaxing in the garden in April this year

I remember the first time I saw a Rainette.  It was a rainy afternoon several years ago and I had just started to draw closed the patio window to stop the rain coming in.  She was sitting comfortably on the hand grip of the door frame and I saw her just in time to draw back my hand without touching her.

We were both startled.  I had never been that close to a bright green frog before.  I didn’t move but neither did she, except to move her head to the side as if to ward off an imminent blow. I felt chilled by the thought that I could have inadvertently squashed her and then by the thought that she was expecting an aggressive blow.  She still didn’t budge and I realised she had no intention of moving unless forced to.  She was enjoying watching the rain from the window as I frequently do myself.  I retired leaving her to her reflections.

On chair in the garden

On chair in the garden

From then on she turned up in the garden whenever she fancied, usually when it is warm and damp.

Among the Wisteria in April

Among the Wisteria in April

I have identified the Rainette as Hyla meridiaonalis, a little green tree frog that lives in our garden and is common in this area of France.  They differ from any other frogs that I have come across as being much calmer and less easily startled.  I see them more often during warm, wet weather anywhere in the garden and our old well (see my post The old well ).   The well had no water this summer but a plentiful growth of ferns on its walls is a favourite haunt of the tree frogs.

Oooh that sun feels so good on my back!

Oooh that sun feels so good on my back!

They surprisingly enjoy basking in the sunshine.

Blending into the colour of the unfolding Arum Lily.

Blending into the colour of the unfolding Arum Lily.

Despite being bright green they can be difficult to see.

Inside on side-table

Inside on side-table

They occasionally come inside and can take you by surprise because once comfortable they can remain motionless.  This one appeared in the dining-room and I only noticed as I bent to put a cup of coffee beside her!

This year they were very quiet as usually we hear them calling from the river in the summer evenings.  Their call makes us laugh and I had missed it this year, so I am glad they are back.

You can hear their call if you go to this excellent site and press the button under the Call heading http://www.herpfrance.com/amphibian/stripeless_tree_frog_hyla_meridionalis.php.


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My Spindle tree, Euonymus europaeus

Looking up through the branches in November

Looking up through the branches in November

I did not discover that there were spindle trees at the bottom of the garden for several years after we started to live here.  This was because they were systematically de-foliated by caterpillars each year and just managed to put on enough growth after their spring stripping to survive until the next annual attack.

Berries just starting to crack open

Berries just starting to crack open

The caterpillars that attack the Spindle trees are particularly obnoxious.  They form writhing masses inside a pouch that looks as if it has been made by spiders. If you hit the nest with a stick the caterpillars can eject and parachute out hanging on securely by a silken thread.  The synchronised descent is very unnerving.  The culprit I believe is Yponomeuta cagnagella or Yponomeuta cognatella if you prefer.  This is an attractive little night flying moth but I do not want it to defoliate my Spindle trees nor my young silver birch which was likewise defoliated by a very similar looking caterpillar.

Berries fully open

Berries fully open

I have had to have recourse to Bacillus thuringiensis as I have no hope to hand gather these caterpillars on branches far above my head.  I am remarkably pitiless towards anything that threatens the life of my plants.  After two years of treatment, including this spring, I have at last seen berries on the trees.

Close up of berry

Close up of berry

But life for a spindle tree seems to be tough as I noticed that something has been eating the berries!  The leaves and the fruit of the spindle tree are poisonous to humans but there is obvious a little worm around that has cut out a little niche for itself feeding off Spindle berries.  The trees outside in the woods don’t seem affected so I’m just hoping there is something out there that likes the little worm and it is just a matter of time till it catches up with my newly prospering trees.

Berries attacked by another pest

Berries attacked by another pest

The common name for Euonymus europaeus in French is Fusain.  This is a reference to the Spindle trees’ use for the charcoal that artists use to make sketches. Artists’ charcoal is called fusain in French, regardless of the source of the charcoal. The natural charcoal is produced by carbonising young branches of trees of a suitable diameter.  Other trees including willow and birch can be used but the name seems to have stuck to the Spindle tree.  Does the practical Anglo Saxon mind think of the fine, useful implements, like spindles and knitting needles and the Gallic mind think of the benefits to Art that Euonymus europaeus provides?

Or am I just over-thinking this one?