a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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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.