a french garden


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The beekeeper’s car

Bee keepers are full of surprises.

Michel's Renault

The other day our friend Michel turned up to show us his latest project completed.

90 year old Renault

His offer to go for a spin was promptly taken up by my husband and son-in-law Tim.

Renault

The dress code was casual!

Renault reversing

I have no interest in cars myself but I was completely seduced by the beautiful cream Renault.

The tour begins in the Renault

A perfect day for a drive in the country, even without your shirt!

Tim's royal wave

Tim gives the royal wave, quickly falling into spirit of the occasion.

Six months of work

Michel has been working on the engine of this ninety year old Renault  for the last six months.

Renault from rear

Aren’t bee keepers clever?

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The largest European moth

I have to come right out and say it – this is the largest European moth’s caterpillar.  (Does that mean it is the largest European caterpillar?)

Saturnia pyri

Saturnia pyri

A couple of evenings ago I went out into the back garden to do a bit of watering and as I reached to turn on the hose I noticed something crawling along the wall in front of my eyes.  I did a double take as I had never seen anything like it before.  A few shouts and the whole household was roused to come and see what I had found.

Saturnia pyri from the front

Saturnia pyri from the front

It was not only its size that was astounding, 10 cm., but the blue baubles made it look very unreal.

Saturnia pyri from the rear

Saturnia pyri from the rear

I wasn’t able to get good pictures because of the poor light and the steady progress it was making along the wall.

Saturnia pyri on the move

Saturnia pyri on the move

I had a good idea what it might be as I had seen photographs of the huge moths that can be seen in the area.

For pictures of the adult moth and more information from Wikipedia please click on the links.  The moths fly from April to June so I presume the caterpillars must over winter in pupal form and my caterpillar did seem dead set on getting somewhere quickly, so it must have been searching for a convenient place to over winter.

The caterpillars feed on tree leaves and it appeared to have dropped out of our apricot tree.  The next day I started to search for leaves with large holes or even whole branches denuded!  However, when I looked up into the branches of the apricot tree I found something else.

Ring doves in nest

Ring doves in nest

The apricot tree was already being used by the Ring doves to nest in and I hadn’t noticed.  Not the most beautiful babies, perhaps I could label them “cute” if I was in a charitable mood.  I had to give up on my search for traces of the caterpillar’s passing.


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A walk after the storm

Our garden borders the river Seudre.  We have left a part of the land next to the river somewhat wild forming a little forest.  After the recent storm it now resembles a war zone with broken trees scattered along it, waiting for the autumn when I will drag the branches to an open space and burn them.

We are still in the middle of summer and summer storm are not unusual here, but I was reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s Ode to the West Wind:

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing – 

Amelia and I often walk on a path only a couple of minutes from our house, that takes us along the river and then through a forest to the nearby hamlet of Madion.  It is a pretty walk that usually takes less than an hour, if Amelia doesn’t stop too long photographing the bees.  Today we took the same path for the first time after the recent storm.

The wild mint is flowering just now and is adored by the bees and the butterflies.

The wild mint

The wild mint

The hemp agrimony ( Eupatorium cannabinum ) remains a favourite of the butterflies.

Butterflies on hemp agrrimony

Butterflies on hemp agrrimony

A little while later I realized why not many people had walked along the path lately.  Between the river and the field of maze, the path was blocked by a broken tree.

IMG_2787We maneuvered our way through the field of maize as many have fallen victim of the storm and were flattened.  On the other side of the fallen tree, I encountered a patch of my worst hidden enemy in the garden: the stinging nettles.   They were covered with caterpillars.  Well my consolation is that at least we will have more butterflies.

Collage catepillars

Like all little boys, I am fascinated by the form of the little snails.

IMG_2780

In the stillness and the heat of the late afternoon, I could see a few  damsel flies and even the dragon flies.

Collage damsel flies

I am not a biologist, but merely an engineer, but it seemed to me that each wild plant and wild flower has its purpose in the life of the countryside.

Wild flowers

I could see that my path was yet again interrupted by another fallen tree.

IMG_2809Never mind, I will turn right through the forest.  That is my favourite route: so peaceful, and yet so full of promise.

IMG_2811A few minute later the forest path was also blocked.

IMG_2813We fought the branches and emerged yet again successfully on the other side and then left the forest into a much more open countryside. along the vineyards.  On my left, a bunch of mislteoe:  Perhaps waiting there for a stolen kiss?

IMG_2823And then a field of pure warm sunshine:

IMG_2827I do not know the people that live in that little farm building, but I have often thought that they have indeed chosen a corner of heaven.

IMG_2834

In the open ground there were more bees and butterflies.  Even a queen bumble bee with her sac of pollen.

Bumbles and butterflies in the open

The grains of grapes are swelling.  Perhaps summer is already approaching its end?

IMG_2845And more wild flowers and berries preparing the countryside for the summers to come

IMG_2831In this part of France they often plant sloe (prunus spinosa) along the edges of the fields.  Its white flowers are pretty in early Spring, its fruit is eaten by some wild animals, and its thorn inhibit the intruders.

IMG_2846

The wild blackberries are already ripening.  Last year we collected several kilos of blackberries at this spot and Amelia made delicious jelly.

IMG_284715th of August is the Assumption day.  It is a National Holiday in France and some towns will have the last fireworks display of the season.  After that the French holidaymakers start returning home to prepare the children for the rentrée scolaire.  

On our return home, after nearly two and half hour of walk, I look again at the devastation that the storm caused in the countryside.  I think back at that night of the storm with 150 Km/hr wind tearing the trees down, and I can’t help but think again of Shelly:

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;

If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;

A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free

Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even

I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven 

We are really lucky here that we have a mild climate and do not suffer from ‘uncontrollable’ wind very often.  Our summers are warm, but not too hot and we are able to enjoy the last days of beautiful warm sunshine well into October and and when autumn at last comes we will return to the task of clearing Amelia’s afrenchgarden.

K


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A bee with no name

Paranoid I must be, but I am beginning to think they are following me.  The bees that is.

Bee with no name

I posted on my Dasypoda hirtipes in my garden yesterday and raved about her “pantaloons” and today I go for a walk and meet another well-endowed bee.

Centaurea cyanus

I don’t think she is the same species but she is indeed gathering pollen or nectar from Centaurea cyanus which is in the Asteraceae family.

Pantaloons

She is certainly a well-endowed bee on the hairy hind leg side.  Her white pantloons give her a different look from the yellow ones I am used to seeing.  Dasypoda hirtipes has an attractive ginger brown natural colouration to her hind leg hairs.  I wonder if she could cover all that up with a mass of white pollen?


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Cutting the “grass”

Garden with weeds

We do not have a lawn.  Even the grass is in short supply and each year “the green bit” is invaded by the most successful weed.  This year the prize goes to varieties in the family of the Compositae, probably Cat’s Ears and Hawkbits but my Botany skills cannot identify it or them any further.

Unmown patches

Never the less when it comes time to mow the stuff we feel obliged to leave some patches uncut.  What used to be an annoying, unsightly weed has become the preferred pollen source of the Dasypoda hirtipes that are living in the garden just now.

Dasypoda hirtipes and ladybird

We can see them foraging from a distance as each time they land on a flower head it dips and the whole mass of flowers undulates as the bees move from flower to flower.  The video gives a very short clip (12 seconds) of the action.

Abeille à culottes

The French name for this bee is “Abeille à culottes”, for an obvious reason.  I don’t think it has a common English name as it is not quite as common as it is here in France.

Dasypoda hirtipes and pollen

She collects pollen on long hairs on her back legs but sometimes she has a pollen frenzy and it goes everywhere!

Dasypoda hirtipes in nest entrance

This solitary nest is just at the edge of the back garden  very conveniently located for access to the flowers.  She comes out of the hole very cautiously so I have managed to get some shots.

Dasypoda hirtipes leaves nest

She zooms back in as the open nest is quite exposed so my best photograph to date is a yellow smudge at the nest entrance.

It is nice to think she is leaving me the eggs and I’m sure our weeds will be back to feed her offspring.


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After the Storm

Fallen ash tree

On Friday night 26 July a storm raged across the garden.

Fallen branches

The wind flew past at 150 kilometres and hour and 58 centimetres of rain fell.  The rain was welcome but the wind was scary.  We sat watching the spectacle with our oldest granddaughter.  The storm seemed to stay overhead for a long time with a constant flickering interspersed with impressive forked lightening.

Changed skyline

The next morning the garden was different.  The skyline had changed at the bottom but we didn’t notice the missing tree top immediately as lots of large Ash branches had fallen on the left hand side of the garden making access difficult.

Topped Christmas tree

The ex-Christmas tree had been summarily lopped.

Top of tree

The wind has made a very neat job and saved us the trouble as the tree is becoming over-sized.

Fallen branch

This was not the case for most of the fallen branches.  The fallen branches caused a lot of work and it took us four days to clear away the debris to the bottom of the garden, stacking the larger logs for  further cutting for the fire and smaller branches for a bonfire in September when burning in the garden will be permitted.  No possibility of removing the debris – it has to be seen to understand the quantity involved.  We haven’t had the heart to look too closely at the very bottom.  some trees are down and large branches will have to be cut up but we are too tired to start and we want to enjoy time with the grandchildren who are visiting.

Telephone line down

Across the road a branch of our neighbour’s Ash tree fell on the telephone line where it lay for over a week cutting us off from the Internet.  We did manage to check our emails once by going to MacDonalds.  Thank you, thank you MacDonalds.

We also lost our electricity during the storm, which is a common occurrence in France – a heavily wooded country with overhead power and overhead telephone wires.  We were fortunate and were reconnected on Saturday afternoon.  All those broad beans from this year’s monster crop saved!

Nobody was hurt in the vicinity and it was a fairly localised storm although random storms have been blasting all of France during this exceptionally hot and thundery July.  The Sunflower and maize fields suffered.

Herve's maize

The maize field at the bottom of our garden was flattened but the good news is that it is all standing to attention again!  Perhaps all the rain gave it strength to recover.

Fallen cross

The cross at the entry of the village wasn’t so lucky.

Fallen cross

I doubt whether it will be replaced.  It was quite a landmark with its magnificent lavender bush.

Please excuse the lack of communication on my part.