a french garden


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Carcassonne visit

Last Saturday morning we realised that if we did not take the chance to get away for a few days we would have no time to fit it in before I go back to the UK in May to be with the family.  A couple of hours later we had booked our hotel in the Mediaeval Cite of  Carcassonne.

There has been no work done in the garden this week but if you would like to share our visit to Carcassonne – here are some photographs of the places we saw.

The area is really beautiful and we hope to return another time to explore more of the countryside.


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All’s well in the garden

View from upstairs window

View from upstairs window

The first flush of the spring bulbs is well past and the old faithfuls are shooting through.

Pulsatilla

Pulsatilla

Some things don’t come up as you expect them to.  I bought a beautiful pale blue Pulsatilla a few years ago as I was so taken by its ephemeral lightness. I propagated its seeds but only to find that it must have been a hybrid.  I have grown its ugly sister, a much darker harsher coloured flower but as it now has appeared yet again this year I think I am softening to it and I can’t resist its fluffy buds and leaves.

Forsythia, hellebores and tulips

Forsythia, hellebores and tulip

The wet, cooler spring has kept the Hellebores going for longer just until the tulips can take over.

Bumble in Hellebore

Bumble in Hellebore

This longer season is appreciated by the bumble bees.

Broad bean flowers

Broad bean flowers

The mild wet winter has favoured the growth of the broad beans that I sow in the autumn.  Last year they got frozen but this year has been good for the vegetable garden and the early peas are growing well too.

Back garden

Back garden

One by one the trees begin to flower.  The Amelanchier doesn’t flower for long and isn’t perfumed but its flower are so delicate that I forgive it its short comings.

Amelanchier blossom

Amelanchier blossom

I have never noticed any bees on the Amelanchier blossom which surprises me.

Quince and carder bee

Quince and carder bee

The quince tree is a mass of pale pink blossom which welcome bees and bumble bees alike throughout the day.

Cherry blossom  moved tree

Cherry blossom moved tree

The apricot trees are finished flowering and we were happy to see the cherry tree that we roughly transplanted has survived and is full of flowers on its foreshortened branches.  The plum trees are in flower and with the apple trees coming into flower all the trees are at their best.

I have noticed one very strange phenomenon this year.

Pear tree and Osmia cornuta

Pear tree and Osmia cornuta

About a week ago my pear tree flowers gave off a foetid odour of fish!  I have never noticed this before and believe me you couldn’t miss it.  I have a William variety in the front so I checked with the Conference in the back; same thing but somewhat less strong.  I decided to check out the neighbours so I asked Yvon and Annie if their pear trees smelled of fish.  After they had ascertained I was serious we all went off for a sniff.

Yvon decided it was sardines.  I think it was worse than that.  We all retreated to their cherry tree and took deep breaths of the fresh cherry blossom to purge our lungs.

The pear blossom is just about finished and the odour passed too.  Has anyone else noticed this?

Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

We get more and more birds in the garden now, the Hoopoe is a summer visitor.

Hoopoe with worm

Hoopoe with worm

He digs deep into the ground with his beak and is a successful worm catcher.  His visits would be great to aerate a lawn, if you had one.

Andrena cineraria in hole

Andrena cineraria in hole

Of all my visitors to the garden it is the bees that excite me the most and the garden is full of them at the moment.  I have so many to identify but I am overjoyed as I now have a book to try and get my mind round.  It is called the ” Bees of Surrey” by David W. Baldock.  You may wonder if this is what I really need as I live in France.  It is certainly the best thing I have read so far and I have learnt such a lot although I have not had time to fully use it.  It was advice I received from an excellent blog http://www.edphillipswildlife.com/news.html that put me onto the book.  The author of “Bees of Surrey” suggests that to begin identifying bees you should try and identify twenty (with the help of a local bee expert if possible 😦 ) and then you can identify a few new ones each year.  He says it is difficult advice to follow but you will be hooked for life if you take it.  Well, I have set myself the challenge to identify twenty bees by photographing them.

I’ve got a lot of photographs and some tentative identifications in mind and I’ll post some of my identifications and observations and I’d be very grateful for any comments.

When it is sunny here it seems it is not only the bees that are happy.

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It seems to put everyone in a good mood.


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Lodgers

Hierophis viridiflavus

Hierophis viridiflavus

When you live in an old stone house you have got to accept that you will not be the only occupant.  It’s just a matter of when you meet the other lodgers.

A head pops out of a hole

A head pops out of a hole

As usual I find myself looking into a hole when something starts looking back at me.

Testing the sunshine

Testing the sunshine

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch the little flickering black tongue that repeatedly tested the air.

Decision taken

Decision taken

I was please to see him come out as he will quickly return if he feels any movement.

Nearly out

Nearly out

You will note that precaution has won and the last little bit of the tail is still in the hole.  Well after that I must have moved and he was off like a shot back into the hole.

He does move fast and his speed is what gives him his common name of Western Whipsnake – fast as a whip.

We’ve had a couple of sunny days and he likes to sunbathe at the edge of the house.  He is well hidden by the bunches of white Alyssum that grow in the cracks, and O.K. the odd bit of chickweed too.  Reptiles and Amphibians of France say that they hatch at about 30 centimetres and that was my guess of his length although I am very surprised that they would hatch as big as that.  It would mean that my lodger is this year’s hatchling which seems  a bit early.

These snakes are common throughout France and we have seen larger ones before (A Snake in the House).  They are not aggressive snakes nor are they venomous so they are very welcome to share the garden with everybody else.

Another visit

Another visit

This picture was taken five years ago and the snake made a remarkably rapid retreat mounting the wall vertically and disappearing over the roof.

Bat on wall

Bat on wall

It was a month ago exactly that we had another visitor in almost the same position on the wall.  A bat took up residence behind the shutters of the living room window that we leave almost permanently in the open position.

The bat only stayed a couple of nights, probably put off by people taking photographs of him but I don’t really think that behind the shutters would have been a good site for a permanent roost.


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Beginning of April

It has been a dull start to April.  Heavy clouds hanging over the garden dulling the colours of the flowers and keeping the bees in their nests.

I shouldn’t complain; the north of France has had snow and we are only suffering from a lack of sunshine and below normal temperatures.  It has reduced my walks as I am more tempted when the sun is shining.

Still clear canopy

Still clear canopy

The trees are budding but the sun easily reaches the ground bringing out the spring flowers.

Dog violet

Dog violet

The violets are everywhere but I haven’t found any perfumed ones yet.

Geranium robertinium

Geranium robertinium

The wild geraniums are plentiful.  Unfortunately, they are difficult to tell apart from the perennial geraniums I have planted in the garden and I cannot always remember where they are so it makes the weeding difficult.  I am very fickle, outside the garden I admire them and take photographs: inside they get short shrift and are summarily removed.

Cardamine pratensis (Cuckoo Flower or Lady's Smock)

Cardamine pratensis (Cuckoo Flower or Lady’s Smock)

I must admit that the common name, Cuckoo Flower, was right on target as I heard my first cuckoo just days  before seeing the flower.  The French name for the flower is La cressonnette ou cresson des prés as it resembles cress.  It is reputed to be edible and can be added to sandwiches to spice up the flavour.  I have never tried this so I cannot recommend it (yet).

Pulmonaria and Lesser Celandine

Pulmonaria and Lesser Celandine

The Pulmonaria is everywhere and is enjoying a spring that has been wetter than usual.

Grape Hyacinth, Muscari

Grape Hyacinth, Muscari

I am always surprised at what grows under the vines.  The vegetation is controlled under the vines in this area by spraying but come spring a variety of plants appear undaunted.

Dandelion and bee with pollen

Dandelion and bee with pollen

My favourite weed at this time of the year is the dandelion.  Its pollen is a magnet for the bees.

Dandelion and bee

Dandelion and bee

Last year I managed to take many photographs of beautiful bees on the dandelions and other flowers and my winter task was to identify them.

Another bee on dandelion (Halictus ?)

Another bee on dandelion (Halictus ?)

Ah, the innocence of ignorance.

I have not identified most of them but I think I have got this one that I saw on the first of April this year.

Rear view

Rear view

If you will note, this little lady has a longitudinal slit in her last tergite.  A sign of the Halictus I have read.  I find identification frustrating, you try for a wing shot to see if the venation pattern will be useful and then find out that a rear end photo would be more useful, anyway she kept her wings folded too.

Red-tailed bumble bee ( Bombus lapidarius

Red-tailed bumble bee ( Bombus lapidarius)

At least I have got the bumble bees that are a lot easier to identify.  The white-tailed are the most common around me and I am still seeing the queens frantically patrolling at ground level looking for a nesting spot.  These are obviously the late risers as I have already seen my first worker, so someone was quick off the mark.

White-tailed worker bumble bee

White-tailed worker bumble bee

The white-tailed queens are very big and can be told apart from their smaller workers.

Mining bee nests

Mining bee nests

I had never noticed  the Mining bee nests in the paths before.  They must surely have been there last year but I must have stamped over them unaware.  Now I see them where the agricultural machinery hardens the paths.  I suppose the ones built on the edges must do better than the ones that will be compacted by the tyres as the seasons pass.

Fox peacock

Fox peacock

I know the eye spots on the butterflies are reputed to deter predators but I had never noticed such a striking resemblance to a fox face as this photo presents.  Does anyone else see a face instead of butterfly wings?

I am waiting for the sunshine which has been forecast to return late next week.  I feel very much like hibernating until then.


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To a daisy

We have had much more rain this winter than usual, even the water table level that has been getting dangerously low for some years has returned to normal.  This is all good stuff for gardeners and I look forward to seeing many more wild flowers this year.  What has surprised me is the crop of daisies that has appeared in the grass around the house.  I had not noticed their absence until they appeared in quantity this year.  In the wet west of Scotland there is no shortage of daisies in the grass and making daisy chains was a summer pastime.  I hated the lawnmowers that put an end to them and created a boring green plain.  I was difficult to console and had little sympathy with the adults who assured me the daisies would soon reappear.

I have my own daisies now and I have enjoyed photographing them and capturing the variety of shapes and colours as they unfold.  Some   begin with deep raspberry-tinted petals and some are round like miniature peonys.  Some unfold coquettishly, others  frankly becoming completely white, while others retain a pink rim to the petals.

But the fateful day was sure to come.  I was informed that if the grass was not cut the machine would not be able to cope.  I begged a stay of execution for a patch with speedwell and dandelions near the plum tree and my mining bee nests.  The rest of the grass is now more or less green.

At least I have my photographs.

And I am comforted that Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s national poet felt pretty bad about seeing the daisies cut down too. His poem is to a Mountain Daisy but I’m sure its like my daisies.

To A Mountain Daisy (Written in 1786)

Wee, modest crimson-tipped flow’r,
Thou’s met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure
Thy slender stem:
To spare thee now is past my pow’r,
Thou bonie gem.

To read more or to listen to it being read, http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/works/to_a_mountain_daisy/

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