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.
Outer walls and ramparts of Carcassonne. The medieval cite was restored by the french architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th. century.
The Narbonnaise entrance to the old city
Restored 12th. century house
The old cite is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites and restoration and repair is continuous.
We took a guided tour and Julian our guide did an admirable hob of giving us a potted history of Carcassone and the Cathars in a time slot of two and a half hours.
View of the old city from the new city on the other side of the river Aude.
Basilique des Saints Nazarre et Celse 11th & 14 th. Century
Gargoyle on the Basilica Saints Nazarre
Stain glass window Basilica Saints Nazarre early 14th. century
The Doros choir was singing in the Basillica. I cannot describe how beautiful these five men sounded using only their range of voices.
Staying in the old city lets you capture the feel of the ramparts in the evening
Canal du Midi at Carcassonne
I think these people chose the best transport for a view of the Canal du Midi.
Minerve has the accolade of one of the most beautiful villages in France
Village door in Minerve
The cobbled streets of Minerve
La Porte d’Eau Lagrasse. Lagrasse also has the accolade “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”
Lagrasse looking towards the Abbey Sainte-Marie de Lagrasse
Perfect place for children to play in the river Orbieu running through Lagrasse
The first flush of the spring bulbs is well past and the old faithfuls are shooting through.
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.
The wet, cooler spring has kept the Hellebores going for longer just until the tulips can take over.
This longer season is appreciated by the bumble bees.
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.
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.
I have never noticed any bees on the Amelanchier blossom which surprises me.
The quince tree is a mass of pale pink blossom which welcome bees and bumble bees alike throughout the day.
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.
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?
We get more and more birds in the garden now, the Hoopoe is a summer visitor.
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.
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.
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.
As usual I find myself looking into a hole when something starts looking back at me.
Unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch the little flickering black tongue that repeatedly tested the air.
I was please to see him come out as he will quickly return if he feels any movement.
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.
This picture was taken five years ago and the snake made a remarkably rapid retreat mounting the wall vertically and disappearing over the roof.
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.
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.
The trees are budding but the sun easily reaches the ground bringing out the spring flowers.
The violets are everywhere but I haven’t found any perfumed ones yet.
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.
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).
The Pulmonaria is everywhere and is enjoying a spring that has been wetter than usual.
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.
My favourite weed at this time of the year is the dandelion. Its pollen is a magnet for the bees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The white-tailed queens are very big and can be told apart from their smaller workers.
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.
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.
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.