a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Elaeagnus and other surprises


I love finding out about things and I had a few surprises in the garden last week.

Firstly, I was planting some self-seeded Hollyhock plants in front of my Elaeagnus in the back border when I noticed a beautiful jasmine perfume.  The Elaeagnus was bought about six years ago as a workhorse to protect and conceal the garden from brambles and overgrowth on the other side.  It cost only a few euros and has performed its function as backdrop without complaint or problem despite being overshadowed by tall Ash trees.  A couple of years ago two of the Ash trees were blown down in a storm and I now noticed the Elaeagnus had shot up some new branches and was looking happy.

I was surprised that the wonderful perfume was coming from my Elaeagnus.  In fact disbelieving is more truthful.  I had to search on the internet to convince myself I hadn’t mistaken its name.   I discovered that I have probably got Elaeagnus ebbingei.

Elaeagnus ebbingei leaf tip

The leaves start out with this curious speckled pattern.

Elaeagnus mature leaf

As the leaf matures it loses this silvery scaling and becomes a dark shiny green.

Brown scaled flowers

Now there are lots of little white flowers on the leaf axils.

Close up Elaeagnus flower

The outside of the flowers is spotted with brown bark-like dots but the interior is waxen white.

Carder bee on Elaeagnus ebbingei

Not perhaps the most beautiful of blossoms but the perfume carries for a distance and the bumble bees appreciate the nectar although I have not, as yet, seen them gather any pollen.  I haven’t seen any honeybees on the flowers but the ivy is flowering in the woods around about and they are probably targeting that feast at the moment.

Bumble steals nectar from Elaeagnus ebbingei

It is interesting to note the different techniques the two bees are using to obtain the nectar.  The carder bee is sticking his head inside the flower to reach the nectar and will thereby help to pollinate the flowers by carrying the pollen on his body from flower to flower.  The white tailed bumble bee, on the other hand, has a shorter tongue than the carder bee and finds it easier to pierce the tubular flower near its base to reach the nectar.  By “stealing” the nectar in this manner it is less likely that she will pollinate the flowers.

While checking out the identity of my Elaeagnus I discovered that the fruits were often edible and that the Elaeagnus angustifolia produced similar yellow, fragrant flowers and a date shaped fruit called senjed.  I hadn’t thought about senjed for many years and had never given a thought to where they grow.  I like this strange fruit with its dry powdery centre, I suppose because I have always enjoyed trying unusual fruit and I have been rarely disappointed.  So Elaeagnus angustifolia is another plant for my wish list as it is listed as having yellow fragrant flowers producing both nectar and pollen for the bees.  I just have to find a suitable sunny position for it.

Back garden wall

My next surprise is on the front garden wall on the right of the Heptacodium jasminoides which is still in flower and can be seen on the far left of the photograph.

Osmanthus heterophyllus Goshiki flowers

Once again it was the perfume that alerted me that something else was flowering.

Osmanthus heterophyllus Goshiki flowers

This time the flowers are as delicate and beautiful as their perfume but I have never seen a bee on them.  In fact, the carder bumble bees fly directly overhead feeding on the hardy fuschia and then returning to the Heptacodium.  It seems strange that such perfumed flowers do not attract pollinators but it is not a native european plant so perhaps it has been separated from its pollinating partners.


There are plenty of branches to snip and when brought indoors and put into water the flowers will perfume the room and keep for several days and the leaves for even longer.

Osmanthus heterophyllus Goshiki

From just a short distance away the flowers can hardly be seen but the Osmanthus heterophyllus “Goshiki” is another workhorse, staying evergreen throughout the year, accepting a day long shady position with minimal care in a fast draining soil.  The flowers could easily be missed if it wasn’t for the perfume.  Such nice surprises!

Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

33 thoughts on “Elaeagnus and other surprises

  1. Very instructive reading. And your weather still looks plant-friendly.

    I’ve just finished clearing all our flowerbeds, preparing them for winter. I still have some bulbs to plant (a few hour’s worth), and then I’ll be done with the yard for the year.


  2. Great illustrations of the different ways bees feed.


  3. Perfume late in the season is a lovely surprise. Our laurel flowered a second time this autumn, just a little, and the smell was heavenly. I didn’t recognize any of these shrubs you’ve highlighted, so thanks for sharing. I shall have to look them up!


  4. well, glad you noticed it ;), i’ve just planted a second one as i’m sort of addicted to the scent…and i’m not the only one, lots of bees etc. having a good time in the shrub


  5. I love the perfume of the eleagnus and that the flowers are so small, as it makes it such a lovely surprise. The flowers of the Heptacodium jasminoides are really pretty.


  6. The Heptacodium jasminoides is also called autumn lilac, so it’s not hard to imagine how fragrant your yard is right now.


  7. What wonderful surprises. I don’t think I have encountered either of those plants but I will keep my eyes open. I like to try unusual fruit too but haven’t yet tried a senjed.


    • They are very easy plants to grow and are not invasive but perhaps not common in New Zealand.


      • I have just read a NZ website concerning the development of food forests and Elaeagnus mulitflora (?) is suggested as a top performer for a food forest. I still think it may be difficult to obtain.


        • Very interesting, I had not heard about that one, perhaps its the more usual species for NZ. I saw a picture of the Goumi berries they produce and they look very similar to the Senjed that I know. As the shrubs fix nitrogen they can survive well in poor soils which is another bonus.


          • Yes, I thought the nitrogen fixing quality was good too. There is a move to have food forests as part of the redevelopment of Christchurch , post -earthquake, so perhaps we will see more of these plants in our main-stream garden centres, as time goes by.


  8. Beautiful photos of bumbles foraging eleagnus!


    • Sorry I have no pictures of honey bees but I’ve been enjoying watching the honey bees on the ivy and they make me laugh when I see how much pollen they are trying to fly with. The ivy is fascinating at the moment, full of so much insect life.


  9. Interesting reading about shrubs I do not know. I will be keeping an eye out for them next time I visit the nursery Thanks. Have a good week Diane


  10. Lovely, Amelia. An underrated plant! RH


  11. Interesting and nice to meet these plants, and to see some summer still. We had nearly frost some times, tonight everything is freezing… ;(


  12. Now I finally know why a Texas species of Solanum is named elaeagnifolium, meaning ‘having leaves like Elaeagnus.’ Till now I had no idea there’s a plant called Elaeagnus.


  13. If I had a garden I would spend all day there looking for surprises! Another beautiful storytelling post 🙂


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