a french garden


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L’avant-première

The biggest single event in the garden must be when the prune tree flowers.

It is pretty impressive and is the earliest tree to have blossom in the immediate area and gets a lot of admiration from the neighbourhood.

For me it not only provides plums, as all good plum trees should, but provides shade for us to eat under in the summer time and the blossom provides loads of pollen and nectar for the bees.  So it was with great care and consideration that it received its annual pruning a couple of weeks ago.  The result was that a lot of small branches hit the ground and I noticed that the first swellings of the  buds were just visible.  I gathered some up and put them in a vase.

Plum twigs in vase

Plum twigs in vase

It just took over a week before I had a preview of the blossom that will eventually cover the tree.

Opening plum flower

Opening plum flower

So while the rain continued to pour outside I could appreciate my plum blossom and also get to grips with some close-up photography.  I took this using my Christmas present tripod, which allowed me to dispense with flash.

Getting closer to the twig

Getting closer to the twig

What I really wanted to try was to get closer, not just crop a photograph.

The stamens can be seen

The stamens can be seen

I wanted to see the stamens and the pollen that the bees would be collecting.

The anthers are visible

The anthers are visible

Here the four anthers can be seen amongst the stamens

Opening flower

Opening flower

I cannot justify buying a Macro lens but I have bought a reversing ring and that has allowed me to take these photographs with my lens fitted back to front on the camera.  It has its limitations, but for 18 euros including postage (it would be cheaper in the States or UK, I’m sure) it is worth it.

Abstract bud

Abstract bud

I’ve had lots of fun and whereas the depth of field can be a challenge I like the abstract feel of some of the shots.

Abstract

Perhaps I’m going too far here for some, but I like it.

I doubt whether I’ll be able to take any bees or bumble shots outside like this – but I can always try when it gets warmer!

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January walking

January sunrise

January sunrise

The sun rises late in January and the shorter daylight hours mean that walks are best taken in the early afternoon.  It is our best chance here to get some sun in what has been a rainy January.

Mistletoe in trees

Mistletoe in trees

Most of the trees around us are deciduous and in the winter once the leaves have gone you can see clearly how much mistletoe is carried by some of the trees.

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

There were several large clumps of mistletoe lying at the bottom of these trees and I was surprised by the girth of the branches.  The berries, although poisonous for humans, provide a good food source for berry-eating birds like thrushes.  The woods around here are not managed and many support a large proportion of mistletoe and are also used as supports by seemingly smothering runners of ivy.  A tough life for the trees but the ivy flowers provide a valuable source of food for the bees and other insects and again the birds eat the berries.

Ruscus aculeatus

Ruscus aculeatus

The Ruscus seems to be enjoying its increase share of the light now that the leaves have fallen.  The berries are staying plump in contrast to the Spindle tree berries which looked beautiful in the woods in December but are now dry and inconspicuous.

Bolbitius vitellinus

Bolbitius vitellinus

The relatively mild temperatures for January mean that the fungi are well represented.  I saw this chrome yellow toadstool on the roadside near our house.

Older Bolbitius vitellinus

Older Bolbitius vitellinus

There were a few more mature specimens close beside it.

Mucilago crustacea

Mucilago crustacea

This slime mould was also beside the road and taking advantage of the mild damp weather to consume a rotting stick.

Toadstool in maize field

Toadstool in maize field

This toadstool had pushed through the stubble left in a field that had grown maize last year. When the cold front arrived it was frozen solid.  I tried to make a spore print to identify it but when defrosted, it transformed into a pile of jelly .  So I have learnt something else – you can’t make spore prints with frozen toadstools.

Fungus on tree bark

Fungus on tree bark

I have to admit that I can manage to identify only a very small portion of the fungi that I see.  This one was appealing as it reminded of raw jewel stones as it was a mix of black with amethyst glints to it.

Dichomitus campestris?

Dichomitus campestris?

I found this one different and attractive also, but I am not sure if I have identified it correctly.

Group of yellow Calendula

Group of yellow Calendula

These were flowering by the roadside not particularly near any houses but I think they must be garden escapees that have managed to flourish on the verge.

Flower full of rain water

Flower full of rain water

This seems to sum up our January up until now.

Winter heliotrope, (Petasites fragrans)

Winter heliotrope, (Petasites fragrans)

When I saw these flowers I at first thought that these too were garden escapees.  When I knelt down to photograph them I was surprised that they were beautifully perfumed.  The perfume is described by UK Wildflowers as vanilla, I found it hard to describe but very pleasant.  Strangely, although they flower in the middle of winter they are frost sensitive perhaps because they originally came from North Africa.

Close up Winter heliotrope ( Petasites fragrans )

Close up Winter heliotrope ( Petasites fragrans )

It was tempting to try and introduce some into the wilder parts of the garden but they are extremely invasive and can smother anything in their path.  I have enough to cope with in the garden without bringing in flowers that could take over!


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Back home

SnowdropIt cannot be compared to The Savill Garden but at least I was correct in guessing that the snowdrops would be through in the garden.  Seeing the first snowdrops appear in the garden always lightens the winter for me.

Group of snowdropsMy only regret is I do not have as many snowdrops as I would like but then again I am not sure if I could ever get too many snowdrops.  I could always try.  Even their name is evocative.  In English the name works on the picture of snow dropping from their slender stems.  In French they are called “perce-neige” recalling that they often push their way through the snow to flower in the coldest of months.

Yellow Crocus Just as early as the snowdrops is my first crocus.  The weather has been dull and wet since my return but the mild temperatures have encouraged the bulbs to appear.

Broad beansI planted the broad beans later than I meant too but the mild, wet weather is helping them catch up.  Cold weather is forecast to follow but I’ll have to wait and see what the rest of January has in store for the garden.

Hazel catkins

The garden is certainly not at its best in winter but their are some things that I like, such as the hazel catkins at the bottom of the garden.

Viburnum tinusThe Viburnum tinus is a mass of flowers.  It has grown from a tiny cutting in a few years and is such an easy shrub to maintain.   While it has been cold and damp nothing has been attracted to the flowers.  Yesterday it was sunny and we had friends for lunch.  After lunch I grabbed my camera, said, “I’ll be back in 5 minutes” and tore off down the garden.  I proceeded to shoot amazing shots of bees gathering nectar and pollen in the Viburnum.  Overjoyed at discovering there was another good source of food for the bees in the garden, I took the camera on our after-lunch walk, so I would not miss anything interesting.

In between chatting on our walk I managed to take some photographs of fungi.  The mild, wet weather must be ideal for them.  It was not until later I discovered that  in my keenness to tidy I had put my camera in its bag and left the memory card in the computer.  So no shots of bees in the Viburnum (yet).

This is not the first time it has happened to me.  You would think there would be a warning that you are not recording the shots.  Has anyone a tip for avoiding forgetting to replace the memory card?

Bee on winter honeysuckle

As the saying goes this was one I had taken earlier, with the card in the camera.  Although it was only 10 degrees C and not sunny the bees were all over the pefumed winter flowering honeysuckle (lonicera fragrantissima) on Thursday.

Bee with pollen bags

What surprised me was that some were gathering pollen.  Perhaps my beekeeper friends can help me out but I thought they would only gather the pollen to feed the larvae.  I thought they only foraged for nectar in the winter to keep up the food stores but perhaps I have misunderstood their winter needs.

Hoverfly on winter jasmineAnother thing I was surprised to see was a hover fly (Eristalis sp. ?), I associate them with the summer but perhaps another false assumption.

White tailed bumble bee, Bombus lucorumOne thing I was not surprised to see was a white-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lucorum).  They have been coming to the honeysuckle when it has only been 7 degrees C and have had all the flowers to themselves.

I have missed the bees whilst I’ve been in the UK, now I really feel I’m back  home  when I hear them buzzing in the garden.


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Free in December

Savill Garden

The Savill Garden is situated at the southern end of Windsor Great Park, covers 35 acres and does not charge admission during the month of December.  What more incentive does a Scot need to visit and marvel at such a fine landscaped garden during the Christmas holidays in the UK?  I felt now was the time to really appreciate a garden that is reduced to its bare bones by the winter.

Savill garden cornus

Cornus sanguinea

As expected, full use had been made of the colours available in winter with beds of dogwood adding patches of brightness.

Towards New Zeeland garden

It was easier to see the sculptural detail provided by the trees.

Mahonia Charity

Mahonia “Charity”

Colour was provided by the Mahonia with their large yellow flowers.

Acer conspicuum "Phoenix"

Acer conspicuum “Phoenix”

The barks of the trees were much in evidence and I was particularly impressed by this Acer which kept its deep pink/red colour to the tips of its twigs.

Sun-striped (?) trunks

Sun-striped (?) trunks

These trunks looked as if they were reflecting the sun, although the sun was most definitely lacking!

Yellow litchen on trunk

Yellow litchen on trunk

Nature had provided a harmonious decoration to enhance this area and provide colour on dull days like this.

Quercus oxyodon bark

Quercus oxyodon bark

I found this oak ‘s bark attractive, I had never seen it before.

Arbetus andrachnoides

Arbutus andrachnoides

I marvelled at the Arbutus and its stunning peeling bark.  My Arbutus back home is still small, it is an Arbutus unedo.  Arbutus unedo is one partner of the cross with Arbutus andrachne that gives this beautiful hybrid Arbutus andrachnoides which appears naturally where the two species overlap.  I did covet the spreading growth and beautiful bark of this specimen but  I did also realise the impracticalities of trying to climb into its branches and photograph the bees nectaring on the flowers.  Small has certain advantages.

Hamamelis intermedia Vesta

Hamamelis intermedia Vesta

I also enjoyed the different Witch hazels blooming in the gardens.  I really think Witch hazels are magic plants to produce such beautiful flowers in winter and I always admired them in the gardens in Scotland intending to plant them when I had a garden of my own.

Hamamellis intermedia Pallida

Hamamellis intermedia Pallida

Unfortunately, they need an acid soil and I would not want to torture a plant by planting it in my chalky soil.

Different pallida

Different pallida

This specimen was also marked as a “Pallida” but I do not know why it is much more pallid than the previous one, still gorgeous though.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

I saw my first snowdrops of the season, perhaps some of mine will be up to welcome me when I get home.

Prunus subhirtella autumnalis

Prunus subhirtella autumnalis

Another white flower gracing the gardens was a flowering cherry!  It seemed to be ignoring the dull. miserable, rainy weather and providing a mass of beautiful, delicate flowers, truly amazing!

Magnolia

It was not only the trees in flower that was providing interest, I loved the wandering trunks of the Magnolias.

Magnolia stellata buds

Magnolia stellata buds

The buds of the Magnolia were also appealing.

Magnolia bud opening

Magnolia bud opening

I became completely fascinated by these beautiful fluffy buds and continued to photograph them, trying to pose them in the most advantageous position.  Then I saw the similarity – I was still taking photographs of fluffy things on branches!  These were my substitute bees and bumble bees, very much lacking in a winter garden – no matter how beautiful.

Mallards

The insect life was not visible but an English garden cannot be complete without its ducks.

Male pheasant

Male pheasant

We were just about to leave when a male pheasant came strutting out of the bushes.  Such a beautiful plumage.  Not the smartest of birds.

Crow looking on

Crow looking on

The other birds that were very much in evidence were the crows.  They kept an eye on the picnic tables outside the restaurant to mop up any leftover morsels and monitored duck feeding knowing that young children were frequently not proficient bread throwers.

Truly a wonderful visit and I  have only succeeded in showing a few of the highlights.  I cannot miss out the excellent cafeteria and delicious pastries and a small but interesting area of plants for sale.  They had entered into the spirit of the season and had a 50% reduced section – what an excellent way to end a visit to a garden, some more bee friendly plants at half price!