a french garden


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The last days of September

Heptacodium jasminoides

The end of September has been hot with days around 30 degree C, although now the weather has changed with clouds and rain showers but with warm day-time temperatures.  The star of the garden at the moment is the Heptacodium jasminoides which perfumes a corner of the front garden with its beautiful jasmine-like scent.  After the late spring this year it is nearly a month behind compared with last year.

White tailed bumble bee

It is still covered by the white tailed bumble bees ( Bombus hortorum).  It surprises me that it is not the unanimous choice of all the bumble bees.  Perhaps because Bombus hortorum has a short tongue that she finds the nectar particularly easy to reach.

Carder bee

The carder bees come too but are much fewer in number.

Hardy fuschia

The carders are happy to frequent the nearby fuchsia but have longer tongues so are likely to have to work less to get to the nectar.  My hardy fuchsia is still a mass of flowers and has been flowering right through the summer.

Old bumble bee

I have been watching this old bumble bee as she returns day after day.  Her wings are ragged, her colours bleached and parts of her thorax and abdomen have become bald.  I think she must be very grateful for this plentiful supply of nectar.

Halictus female

Some solitary bees also take advantage of the nectar supply like this female Halictus, probably Halictus scabiosae.

Halictus sexcinctus

This is another Halictus, probably Halictus sexcinctus.

Unknown visitor

This is another visitor but I’ve unfortunately no idea of the identity but the white tailed bumble bees are content to share with all comers.

Carpenter bee, Xylocopa violacea

This year the carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea) have been more numerous, perhaps attracted from the nearby Wisteria that has had flowers on it throughout the summer.

The late spring has been responsible for differences in the garden this year especially with the fruit and vegetable.  The first fruits such as the early plums and apricots never appeared and the tomatoes seemed to have had a problem getting started; the fruit ripened late and the last tomatoes have rotted on the vine despite the warm weather.  Not even any green tomatoes left for green tomato chutney.

Sweet peas pyramid

On the right my “Sungold” baby tomatoes tried to put up a good show but rapidly gave up the ghost a few days ago.  They were no way so plentiful as last year but I forgive them as they were sufficient for our needs.

On the other hand the mass on the left is my sweet peas, which I have not forgiven.  It was my last effort at trying to grow sweet peas and I succeeded in producing one flower about a month ago which I cut immediately to promote the production of masses of flower heads.  Ha!  I give up.

Dwarf beans

I have had better flowers from the dwarf beans that my friend Michel gave me and I planted on the 27 July.  They have produced lovely fine beans.

Borlotti beans

I am luckier with my beans.  These are borlotti beans and these too have lovely flowers.

Borlotti bean flowers pollinised by carpenter bee

I wondered who might pollinate these flowers and I was not surprised when I caught the carpenter bee on them at the beginning of September.

Inside Borlotti beans

The actual beans are a beautiful pale green and then become speckled when fully ripe.  I have been converted to a Borlotti bean fan by reading Sarah Raven’s book “The great vegetable plot” and use her recipe for the beans as well as for other things.

Aster, Sweet lavender

Another success of the moment is my asters “Sweet Lavender” bought half price from the Savill Gardens in January.  I’ve never had these tall little asters before and I like them a lot.

Green apple sorbet

I’m still looking for inventive ways of using my apples.  I found a recipe for green apple sorbet on the Internet.  They used Granny Smiths but I used my green Golden Delicious, not really believing that the sorbet would stay green.  It did and as the apples are raw and have only a little sugar added it is much healthier than the normal sorbets cooked with a sugar syrup.  It is best eaten straight out of the ice cream maker as it is more difficult to defrost later – but not impossible.

Hyla meridionalis

I have now accepted that autumn is here.  My little green tree frogs croak at me from the patio in the morning and hide in the plastic cover of the outside table.

There are mushrooms growing in the garden which is very convenient but something else has appeared around a spindle tree.

Spindle tree, Euonymus europaeus

It makes the tree look as if it is growing out of some giant pie crust.  It does not look too good for the spindle tree and I think we should maybe cut it down.  If it goes to the bottom of our “to do” list in the garden it will be a little while yet.

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Motorway mice or rather motorway voles

Mouse on grass

Coming back from our trip to Maubuisson we stopped on the motorway to stretch our legs and have a cup of coffee.  I settled down at an outside picnic table to sip my coffee when I thought I saw something run across the grass.

Mouse in hole

It was then that I noticed that there were a large number of holes in the grass.  The sun was setting and it was not too easy to see into the holes.

Mouse looks out hole

A little bit of patience paid off.

Mouse sits in hole

I realised that a picnic area could provide mice with a good supply of food and I thought of all the sandwiches and biscuits that would be accidentally dropped from the picnic tables every day.

Mouse coming out of hole

Nobody else seemed to have noticed them.  I suppose people were content with their drinks and ice creams.

Mouse on grass

They were well camouflaged as they scuttled across the sun baked grass.

Mouse slides into hole

They exited from one hole and soon found another to dive into.

Mouse close up

I’m not sure how many people would have appreciated sharing the picnic area with the mice (short tailed voles, Microtis agrestis) but I enjoyed watching their antics and let my coffee get cold.


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A secret corner of paradise

I will share with you the secret of a little corner of paradise!

It seems, in any case, to be a secret, for when Amelia and I mention lake Carcans-Maubuisson to most of our French friends, they claim that they have never heard of it.  They all tell me that the largest lake in France is Lake Annecy (Lac d’Annecy) in the Haute-Savoie.  But lake Annecy covers an area of 27.5 square kilometers.  Lake Geneva, admittedly is large (580 Sq Km), but it is only partially in France.  Lake Carcans-Maubuisson or sometimes referred to as Hourtin-Carcans, depending on the leaflet of which tourist office you look at, is indeed the largest inland lake, entirely in France.  It covers an area of 56.67 square kilometers, and is just 50 Km west of Bordeaux in the Aquitaine region of France.

Lake Carcans Maubuisson to the North and Lake Lacanu below it.  The Atlantic Ocean on the left.

Lake Carcans Maubuisson to the North and Lake Lacanau below it. The Atlantic Ocean on the left.

Just on the Southern shores of the lake is the little town of Maubuisson, with its main Boulevard du Lac running along the shore.

Lake Carcans- Maubuisson

Lake Carcans- Maubuisson

Amelia and I escape to this little corner of paradise whenever the windsurfing fever takes us, or we just feel that we need a little relaxation from weeding and looking after Amelia’s ‘afrenchgarden’.

I love to just sit on the terrace of the café ‘Le Bord’eau’ and have a cup of coffee.

Le Bord 'eau

Le Bord ‘eau

I often look across the bay and watch the boats, the catamarans, and the windsurfers sailing across the lake.

Water sports heaven

Water sports heaven

We went to Maubuisson on 2nd of September but the French holiday season had finished.    The temperature was between 28 degrees Centigrade (82 F) and 34 Centigrade (93 F).  The water was warm and there were only a small number of holiday makers, mostly locals on the beach.

30 degrees and the summer is over!

30 degrees and the summer is over!

As we swam in the lake damselflies and dragonflies skimmed over the lake and sandy shore.

Azure Damselfly -(Coenagrion puella)

Azure Damselfly -(Coenagrion puella)

Amelia drew my attention to a pair of azure damselflies at ‘it’, on the sand.  Even during mating they appeared to indicate that they too loved Maubuisson .

Azure Damselflies mating (Coenagrion puella)

Azure Damselflies mating (Coenagrion puella)

We took a stroll in the weekly street market and watched the regional products on display.

Home-made Pate

Home-made Pate on sale

The Basque family  (Euskadi is their own name for Basque) were selling cheese and home made cakes.

Basque (Euskadi) cheese and cake

Basque (Euskadi) cheese and cake

The little Basque girl would be at school in a few days, but today she was helping mum.

Basque girl in the market

Basque girl in the market

The fishmonger was displaying beautiful fresh fish and his stall was certainly very popular.

Fishmonger in the market

Fishmonger in the market

The little dog waited patiently and hopefully.

Fish for dinner?

Fish for dinner?

There were several stalls selling local and regional handicraft: pottery, clothes and jewelry.

Local jewelry

Local jewelry

I mentioned that there are two lakes in that area.  To the North is the lake Carcans-Maubuisson and below that is lake Lacanau.  There is, however another little jewel in between these two lakes and that is lake Cousseau.

Lake Cousseau

Lake Cousseau

It is a nature reserve and can only be reached on foot or on bicycle.  The lake, now covering some 6 square kilometers,  was formed some 3000 years ago after the last ice age came to an end.  Initially lake Cousseau was joined to its sister lakes on the North and the South, but as the water receded, the area around the lake became, as it is today, a marshland ideal for the wildlife.

Lake Cousseau and its marshland

Lake Cousseau and its marshland

Whilst I enjoyed the absolute peace and beauty of the countryside, Amelia was busy (bee-sy?) taking macro photos of the bees , the damselflies, and the butterflies.

Amelia relaxing (I think) in the nature reserve.

Amelia relaxing (I think) in the nature reserve.

Along the path back from the lake I did see the white-tailed bumble bees gorging themselves on the heather.  This one’s pollen sac was so heavy that I wondered how she could fly.

White-tailed bumble bee on heather

White-tailed bumble bee on heather

It is rare in our area of the Charente-Maritime to see and hear the cicadas (Cicadidae).  But the Gironde region is that little bit more south. I could hear many cicadas singing in the hot mid-day , but when I looked carefully I eventually spotted him (or her?)

Cicada

Cicada

I found it difficult to photograph the little insect, but hopefully the very short video clip  (only 12 seconds) is more demonstrative as the cicada moves down along the bark of the tree.  I will not even try to explain how cicadas make their  wonderful sound, since  Sue in her Backyard Biology blog so wonderfully explains and illustrates it.

I looked up beyond the cicada, at the deep blue sky,

blue sky

blue sky

And I thought once again how lucky I was.  As Amelia and I drove back home I recalled the lyrics of an old song:

‘If paradise is half as nice as heaven that you take me to, who needs paradise, I’d rather have you.’

– K


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The garden in September

Sunflower Earth Walker (Helianthus annuus)

Sunflower Earth Walker (Helianthus annuus)

Despite being surrounded by commercial sunflower fields, I still like to have sunflowers in the garden.  Some we sowed from the wildbird seed and are remarkably successful and are still flowering.  The sunflower Earth Walker seeds were free with the “Amateur Gardening” magazine.  I would never have bought them but are much more attractive than I imagined.   I will keep the seeds for next year (if the birds spare me some) as I have been charmed by their multi-headed plants.

Hemaris fuciformis on buddleia which is still flowering

Hemaris fuciformis on buddleia which is still flowering

I am still in denial about the autumn and I think the garden is with me.  The wisteria has been flowering since the beginning of the season, not as abundantly, granted, but there have always been flowers.  Now some other flowers are deciding to re-flower.

Pale blue delphineums

Pale blue delphiniums

I’ve never seen my delphiniums flower at this time of year.

Bell flower,  Platycodon grandiflorus

Bell flower, Platycodon grandiflorus

I am particularly fond of this plant as I bought it as a Heliotrope (complete with label) it took me a couple of years before I realised it was fooling me.  It usually flowers once in early summer so a second flowering is unusual.

Astrantia

Astrantia

My Astrantia are doing well still.

Yellow flower

Yellow flower

These are early to mid summer flowers but are still going strong.  They thrive in the hot sun and dry soil.  I was given them by a friend who called them black-eyed-Susies.  I think the error in this name is very clear but they are a great summer flower for my garden.

Clematis "Helios"

Clematis “Helios”

My yellow clematis is still in full swing and has only just started to have some fluffy seed heads.

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)

This is a weed, or wild flower if you want to be kind.  It appeared on its own but it was so well placed near my bee hotel I had to leave it; it attracts too many pollinators.  I didn’t know then it would be a convenient re-fuelling spot for my leaf cutter bees.  That was because I did not know I had leaf cutting bees in the garden but more about them later.

Pumpkin patch

Pumpkin patch

A garden doesn’t let you stay completely in denial.  We planted two types of pumpkins this year Rouge Vif d’Etampes and Giraumon Turban.  It’s our most successful year yet.  They are well away from the potager and it looks as if the Rouge Vif d’Etampes will supply us with enough pumpkins for the season.

Turban and impostor

Turban and impostor

The Turban pumpkins are coming along nicely but another type has appeared that I have not planted.  I’m not sure where it has come from.

Red hazelnut tree

Red hazelnut tree

I took this picture in July.  The hazelnuts were just forming but we have saved them from the red squirrel which had just started to eat them and leave us the shells a couple of weeks ago.  The rapid rescue mission left me no time for a more up to date record.  We harvested a good bowlful which is a very good reward from such an attractive little tree.

Vines

Vines

Our grapes are ripening too.  They are not as good as last year, unhappy with the late summer probably.

Reine de reinettes

Reine de reinettes

Our oldest apple tree is a Reine de reinette and full of apples this year.  The apples have been the most successful of the fruits apart from the dark blue plum.

Golden Delicious

Golden Delicious

The Golden Delicious is also having a very good year and we have a small pear tree in the front and in the back garden which will provide enough to eat and probably make some compote.

Storecupoard

Storecupoard

This all brings me back to why I am in denial.  All this fruit has to be usefully preserved.  I have started but there is more to go and I still haven’t got round to gathering some brambles for jelly!