a french garden


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First published photograph

One of my photographs has just been published for the first time!

Two bumble bees on rose

O.K., O.K., I know it was only 7 x 5 cm. (3 x 2 inches) and the print quality was dubious but the original isn’t exactly Nature Photographer of the Year quality either.

However, it was in Buzz Magazine which is produced as a newsletter for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust http://bumblebeeconservation.org/.  I had replied in a Forum to another member who was wanting suggestions of what rose bushes to plant in her garden that might be suitable for bumblebees.  I have found that my climbing rose Madame Isaac Péreire attracts large numbers of bumblebees and some bees when it is in flower so I included a photograph with my reply with two bumblebees on a single rose.  The photograph was picked up by the editor and used in this issue of the Buzz newsletter.

I cannot think of anywhere I’d be happier to see one of my photographs.   They are a great organisation and provide news and information about bumblebees.

I had great fun photographing the bees on the rose last May, see the post Madame Isaac Péreire and remember you saw it first here on A French Garden!

 


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Short Mason Bee Update

Mason Bee  Osmia cornuta

The male Mason bees (Osmia cornuta) have not given up on checking out the Mason bee house.

Male Osmia cornuta

I’m not sure whether they are concerned that the females are playing hide and seek but they give the whole area a thorough check.

Male Mason bee, Osmia cornuta

If they think I am watching they play cool and pretend they are only resting on the box to give their antennae a groom.

Osmia cornuta on hyacinth

After a bit they give up and drop down for a bit of nectar from the hyacinths that are conveniently situated under the bee house.

Osmia cornuta on hyacinth

They may have to wait a long time because last year it was the beginning of April before The previous year’s bees hatched.


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Sunday afternoon walk

It had been raining all morning and was forecast to continue raining in the afternoon.  Then after lunch the sun appeared and we quickly flung on a waterproof, willing to accept walking in the rain later for some  some sunshine in the present.

Moss

Despite the earlier rain most of the water had soaked into the sandy soil but there is much more moss in the woods this year.

Moss on old tree trunk

This moss had found a moist base on a fallen tree trunk.

Germinating acorn

I’m not sure how this acorn had become so embedded into the same fallen tree trunk.  Hardly a propitious site but the acorn had heard the call of spring and was germinating all the same.

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

The Lesser Celandine has been out for some time now and the bright yellow flowers brighten up the woods.

Ant and Bombylius major

Ant and Bombylius major

The Lesser celandine is a favourite with all sorts of insects, including bees, flies, hover flies and Bombylius major.

Bombylius major, Large bee fly

Bombylius major, Large bee fly

I only see these around in the springtime as they are parasitic on solitary bees, wasps and beetles.  They lay their eggs near the nests of these species or on flowers that they visit.  After hatching the larvae parasitise the host larvae which they consume.  Not very nice.

Bombylius major on Pulmonaria

Bombylius major on Pulmonaria

I usually like fluffy things but the Bombylius major doesn’t quite do it for me.

Narrow-leaved lungwort, Pulmonaria longifolia

Narrow-leaved lungwort, Pulmonaria longifolia

The Pulmonaria is opening now, it deserves its place minus the bee fly.

Wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa

Wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa

I saw my first wood anemones of the year but none in full flower.

Wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa

They are usually white when fully open but the buds are usually pink in colour.Wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa

As the flower head matures the petals become paler in colour.  They look so elegant just now as they are just breaking into flower.

La Dame d'onze heures, Ornithogalum umbellatum

La Dame d’onze heures, Ornithogalum umbellatum

Another first sighting on the walk was my first  Ornithogalum umbellatum or Star of Bethlehem.  It is such an elegant flower that I prefer the French name of La Dame d’onze heures which I find much more fitting.  She is elegant but not shy and does not disdain to grow in the “lawn” in our back garden.  This causes a very irregular mowing pattern in the spring as my husband refuses to go over them with the mower.

Dog violet, viola

Dog violet, viola

The dog violets were open in the woods and have been in the garden for a couple of weeks.  Most of the violets are the unscented dog violets but I did find a clump of perfumed ones last year.

Bumble on Red dead nettle, Lamium purpureum

Bumble on Red dead nettle, Lamium purpureum

The queen white-tailed bumble bees (Bombus lucorum) is the most common bumble around us at the moment.  I often see them on the look out for a likely nesting spot flying close to the ground, not interested in finding flowers.  This one has no pollen so perhaps she too is on the look out for a good site.

So we managed our walk without getting wet.  Just as well as the rain seems to have set in again.


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See you next year!

Purple crocus

I didn’t plant any bulbs this year.  In fact, I think I dislike planting bulbs more than weeding.  I am a great reader of labels and it causes me great anguish as I put the bulbs into the soil.  I worry – have I placed them too deeply or are they too near the surface.  I try to measure, I try to avoid disturbing the roots of other plants no longer visible.

White crocus

Then there is the weather.  The ground can often be dry and very unwilling to give way to my prodding and digging.

Crocus

If planting bulbs is difficult – I find that not buying them is even more difficult and going a step further – restraining my husband from surreptitiously sliding a large packet into the trolley.

Crocus

It’s during our visits to the UK after the bulb planting season has passed and the prices of bulbs are slashed and you feel almost obliged to re-home them.

Whte crocus

The illustrations on the packets of bulbs are so tempting.  You don’t think of crouching in the borders in the cold trying to find a space for the new arrivals.

Purple and yellow crocus

But last year I was strong and resisted temptation.

Lilac crocus

Now I feel I have been too harsh.  The crocus have been flowering from the 13 February and are just finishing now.  They provide patches of bright colour at what has been a dull time of year and have flowered even more plentifully than last year.

Spring bulbs

They are starting to be overshadowed by the other bulbs which are arriving now.

Daffodils

But by the time the daffodils arrive I am becoming much more blasé about the flowers opening out.

Hyacinth

The crocus don’t smell as good as the hyacinth but they lift my spirits and they brighten the garden for more than a month.

Yellow crocus
I really regret all the muttering that went on as I planted the bulbs in previous years.  They have more than rewarded me for the time and money spent and hopefully I’ll see even more of them next year.


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In praise of my plum tree

9 March 2013

9 March 2013

The blossom is just about finished and the green leaf shoots are starting to appear.

Plum tree in bloom

Plum tree in bloom

The first flowers opened on the ninth of February.

25 February 2013

25 February 2013

And despite the snow it has continued to welcome masses of bees, butterflies and other insects to feed on its pollen and nectar.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly

Even at this time when the blossom is coming to an end I love to be underneath it surrounded by its bitter almond perfume and feel the petals raining like confetti around me.

This year I have passed more time than usual under its branches as for the first time I noticed little mounds of soil like tiny mole hills.  As I stared into the tiny hole I thought I could see a pair of eyes staring back at me.

Miniature molehill and occupant

Miniature molehill and occupant

I had been putting up man-made bee houses to attract solitary bees into the garden so that I could watch them and here were a group at home under the plum tree.

They take a long time to come out of the hole if you sit beside them with a camera but although I had an idea of what they might be I wanted to get some photographs for identification.

Emerging from nest

Emerging from nest

To the naked eye the female bee looks very similar to a honey bee but from the nesting pattern I think they are Halictus scabiosae.

Mining bee arriving

Mining bee arriving

I saw this one arriving near where I was poised with my camera (pointing at another hole!)

Entering the nest

Entering the nest

Here she goes down into her nest.  There are at least ten nests closely associated under the plum tree and I have marked them with plastic plant name tags so I don’t stand on them.  I can’t find a great deal out about their life cycle but the females overwinter and start new nests in the spring.  They have queens which found the nest and lay the first eggs which develop into workers whose functions are similar to the honey bees; helping the queen lay eggs which later in the season will produce males and more females who will leave the nest to found colonies the following season.  So I should have these bees all summer.

Bee on speedwell

Bee on speedwell

Another surprise this week was that I saw bees gathering nectar from blue speedwell (Veronica spp) it is a pretty weed but much too small to be of use to bees, I had thought.  Pressing a ruler against the flower head so that it is flat, it measures one centimetre in diameter.

Impressive pollen sacs

Impressive pollen sacs

In this photograph the stripy abdomen is similar to the Halictus.  The pollen sacs are not as feathery as I would have expected but I wonder if this depends on what they are collecting.

1-IMG_5464That’s one happy bee!

Pussy willow stamens

Pussy willow stamens

Just as the plum tree’s blossom draws to an end, the willow at the bottom of the garden puts forth its yellow stamens.  Just as the buzzing in the plum tree diminishes day by day, the buzzing heightens from the willow tree.  The willow tree is much higher so I have to appreciate its visitors from afar.


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Mason bees

Bad photograph of male Osmia cornuta

Bad photograph of male Osmia cornuta

This afternoon I saw more than Mason bee circling around the Mason bee house.  The nests have hatched – I thought, and rushed to check which ones had opened.

I was quite surprised to see them intact and at first puzzled.

However, I could see the little white heads so I knew that they were males.

Another bad photograph of the male

Another bad photograph of the male

The photographs are poor as the box is in the shade in poor light.  However, I could plainly see their white tufts.  They not only landed on the nest but they explored inside the tubes.

I was pleased to see these males arrive as I had always assumed the hatching females were to mate with their brothers who hatched earlier.  It seemed to go against the principle of shuffling the gene pool in sexual reproduction.   Apparently the males can be more promiscuous and will travel in search of females rather than waiting where they have hatched.

I still have to wait to see if my nests will hatch.


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New Mason Bee Nests

The new Mason bee houses are all in place.  I must admit that the building of these houses are all due to the skills of my long-suffering husband.  There are plenty of helpful sites on the net if anyone wants to make some themselves.  Compared to the shop built house I think ours are better, if the Net information is to be believed.  It is suggested that holes be 10 cm. long whereas our shop built nest had bamboo tubes of only  8 cm. long which were not well protected from the elements.  Again the opinion seems to be between 6-8 mm. diameter for the holes and some of the bamboo tubes from the shop built house were 1 cm in diameter.

I was pleased to have been given some large bamboo poles but found most of them were too large in diameter to be used.  Some of our bamboo tubes were cleared of internal walls by a manoeuvre with an electric drill which I do not think was in keeping with Health and Safety regulations so I will let you work out your own methods for that.  It is amazing how many bamboo tubes you can squash into a given area, we have had to put a few larger ones in as filler but they will also act as a comparison with the finer ones.

Charentais style Mark I

Charentais style Mark I

Using a spare roof tile as the protection from the elements, this first style was quickly realised using cut bamboo canes and tied securely to the plum tree in the back garden.

Charenais style Mark II

Charenais style Mark II

The roof tile serves again in this model but the holes are provided in a birch log specially drilled with a 6mm drill bit.  The whole is firmly wedged into the willow at the bottom of the garden.  The tree is already covered in furry catkins that will provide lots of pollen when they have fully flowered.

Mason bee house Mark III

Mason bee house Mark III

Mark III has pride of place in the front garden, not far from the original house and sports a choice in 6 or 8 mm drilled holes in a log with additional accommodation available on a second level, provided by bamboo in varying diameters but chiefly between 6-8 mm.

I think the houses are in place with plenty of time to spare.

I was both disappointed and confused when I compared the photo of our original bee house last April with the bee house as it is at present.

 Present on left, last April on right,

Present on left, last April on right

There were four sealed holes in April 2012 on this face of the house, whereas there are only three now and one of those has a tiny hole in it.

In addition, the two sealed holes now present, were not there last April.  I was under the impression that there was only one brood a year so it looks as if  I’ll have to keep a closer watch on the holes this year to see what is happening.  It could be predation.

September 2010

September 2010

I thought this cute lizard was just curious and looking for a cool spot to relax in but now I’m not sure.

Prospective occupant

Prospective occupant

I hope the new bee houses will be looked upon favourably.  Two filled hole on one side and another filled hole on the reverse (with a little hole) does not seem a great stock of future Mason bees but I am hopeful that there may be others hiding away in the stone walls of the house and surrounding buildings.