a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


A week of hard work

Before fire

It’s been a week of hard work in the garden.


We have at last been able to burn the branches torn down from the trees during the storm on 26 July this year.  We need to get authorisation from the Mairie (our local authority) to burn the branches in the garden so we were all set for this Friday.

Fire from side

Of course, all the larger wood was cut up and we first brought it up in barrow loads for storing.  A huge pile of small branches had been left on the grass and even more was distributed under the trees.

Near end of fire

All it needs now is a cut with the mower and I will be very happy to forget about the mound of branches at the bottom of the garden.  I did notice it was the favourite haunt of a wren who used to fly out of it when I passed by.

Wren in arriere cuisine

I don’t know if it is the same one that paid us a visit.

wren in arriere cuisine 2

She came into the utility room.

wren on door

I can’t say I blame her as it was a very cold day.

wren on doorstep

She did no seem in the least perturbed by her visit to the house but I do not know why she was picking up dried leaves to fly off with.  It is not nesting time unless they make a place to roost when it is cold.

Ring dove in Kaki

Our resident ring dove is keeping watch over the Kaki fruit as they ripen.  There is not much fruit this year, perhaps due to the late spring.  It looks as if it is going to be a race between us and the dove to see who’s going to be the first to get them when they are ripe.

There used to be a Forsythia beside the Kaki tree but this has been removed to allow more sun on the border for flowers.


As I cleared the border I lifted a stone from the stump of an old Hibiscus to reveal the little toadstools hidden underneath.  I was struck by the symmetry and force of their growth.

Tremella mesenterica

I noticed another fungus when I was gathering the wood at the bottom of the garden.  It is an attractively coloured fungus that I have seen before on the dead wood in the garden.  I think it may be Tremella mesenterica.

Cotoneaster berries

On a brighter note our cotoneasters are full of bright red berries and are doing their bit to brighten up the garden.  They seem to thrive here on minimal water and care.

Pear tree in ground

Crazed with our success at replanting our cherry tree last year, we decided to move a pear tree this week.  It has not thrived well in the front garden and its removal will give more light to the border behind it.

pear tree in barrow

Its roots were not too big and it was a one man job to get it into the barrow.  No need to get the car involved this time, which is just as well as it would have been difficult to manoeuvre it into the front garden.

Pear tree replanted

It looks much happier in the back garden.  It has not given us large crops of pears (Williams) but I valued it more for the beautiful blossom that it gives us every spring.

1-Pear & bee 2

Gosh!  That was a near thing, I nearly posted a blog without a picture of a bee!


Of bees and blogs

Bee in Cellandine 17.2.13

It usually starts in February.

Early bumble bee February 2013The bees start sneaking into my posts.

Bee 1.4.13

By April things are hotting up.

Bee on Forget-me-not.18.4.13

They appear on Forget-me-nots.

Andrena fulva.25.4.13

I show the solitary bees pollinating our blackcurrants.

Carpenter April2013

The bees are getting bigger.

Bee on Dame de onze heure.19.4.13

The more flowers that appear the more bees that arrive.

Bee in Holly hock.13.7.13

Summer brings even more bees.

Bee-Geranium 5.7.14

The geraniums in my blog are accompanied by bumble bees.

Bee in Chicory.11.8.13

The Chicory flower is accompanied by a colourful solitary bee.

August poppy

In August the bees are in the Hollyhocks.

Bee in Dahlia.11.8.13

In the dahlias…

Bee in Dahlia-28.8.13

For a gardening blog I fear there maybe a bit too many bees.

Bumble in Sedum

I can’t help it they are too appealing (c’est plus fort que moi!)

I do, however, want to learn and understand more about solitary bees and so I have decided to separate (to some extent) my passion for the bees from the garden.  I have started a new blog Bees in a French Garden .  This is a more serious blog to find out if there is anyone else out there interested in solitary bees.  It would be nice to find people to exchange ideas with as has happened with my garden blog.  I have learnt so much following some great gardening blogs so I am hoping my bee blog will be rewarding too.

My French Garden Blog will continue as the garden changes through the seasons incorporating the advice and help from friends and bloggers.


Back to the garden

gdn nov 2013

I’ve never seen the grass so long.  We’ve been with the family in the U.K. for a month and it has rained a lot both in the U.K. and here.

Potager nov13

I managed to tidy the small vegetable plot before I left and it looks sadly empty.  In the bottom right hand corner there are rows of saffron bulbs that I dug up about this time last year after I had collected the stigmas.  I stored the bulbs over the summer and replanted them at the end of August.  I thought I had lost them all as nothing appeared until I saw some tips in the middle of October.  This was very late as they usually are in flower by October, however, my six bulbs that I planted in 2008 have now become 77 little plants.  It looks as if I will have to wait until next year for the flowers.

Garden 13

The medlar tree is full of fruit and provides some interest in the back garden.

For the rest I feel that the autumn is not a good season in the garden.

Euonymus europaeus

At least the spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus) provides colour in the back.

Persimmon fruit

The Persimmon tree in the front garden is the only tree to give me red and yellow leaves of autumn, as well as the fruit.

Strawberry tree

I think I am missing the bees.  We have had little sunny weather since our return and I rushed out to take these photographs while the sky was blue.  I can always count on the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) to attract the bumbles bees when we have some sunshine.

Arbutus unedo

At least our birds haven’t been hungry while we’ve been away.  The fruits are edible but I have never tried them as I’ve read that they do not have much of a flavour.

Carder bee

There are a few stray cosmos left in the front garden but everything looks washed out.

I think I will have to put more effort into adding some interest for the autumn next year.  I have already started thinking of next summer and I have under-planted the trees in the back hedge with geraniums to add colour and keep down the weeds.  I have tried an on-line nursery here for the first time and I am awaiting the Elaeagnus angustifolia that I have ordered from them.  It is only a small bare root tree so it might be some time before I will know if the fruit will ripen here.  It does have a common name in France and is called the Olive of Bohemia.

Clathrus ruber

Clathrus ruber

This fungus comes up regularly where I have mulched the plants with wood chippings.  I find it very attractive as the lacy top is bright red and it appears from a cream coloured, egg shaped body that pushes out from the soil.

Bottom of garden

Another project for this winter is to add interest to the narrow strip of trees at the bottom of the garden.  Trying to take inspiration from Beth Chatto’s book “Woodland Garden” I want to introduce some shade loving plants.  I already have some Ruscus and spring bulbs on the edges.  In the summer everything will have to fend for itself.

Sparkle in tree

Of course, I am also trying to improve my photography.  Do you see the sparkle in the top right hand of this photograph?

Subtle sparkle in tree

I think I prefer the more subtle effect.  I’ll have to wait for more sunshine to try for more sparkles in my photographs.

I got this tip from a great blog I follow Focused Moments.  I think Rachel could have started a craze in WordPress with her great photographs including a point of light.

Tall Nepeta

I also have a puzzle in the garden.  This long straggly flower is supposedly a tall Nepeta but I wonder if it was wrongly marked or I picked up the wrong pot in error.  Granted that I should have found a sunnier spot for it but it must have grown to about two and a half metres tall.

Nepeta flower head

Does anyone recognise this as an autumn flowering Nepeta?


More on the Mason bees

No surprises!

I posted my first Mason bee update on  25 March and I was really satisfied that I had attracted Osmia to my new Mason bee houses and I hoped to gather a bit of data on what might be suitable spots to situate  Mason bee houses and what sized holes they preferred.

Mason bee house

19 July 2013

Firstly, no surprises, it looks like in France, at least, the bees prefer a sunny position.  Out of the first three new hotels that were put up, it was the one on the wall in the front garden, with the morning sun, that attracted the most bees.

The bamboo canes had been chosen to give a diameter of 6mm to 1cm.  I think the smaller diameter was favoured but my task was complicated as a potter wasp decided to use the hotel too.  The potter wasp is responsible for the filling of the larger hole in the picture and the open holes are where the wasps have already vacated.  I presume some of the other holes may hold wasp larvae.

The Bee hotel in the plum tree that received only dappled sunlight through its branches has Osmia and some other insects nesting but like the one under the willow at the bottom of the garden received fewer Osmia than the sunny hotel.

The bees arrive!

Osmia cornuta entering nest laden with pollen

Osmia cornuta entering nest laden with pollen

Keeping on track, not only did my original hanging house hatch out last year’s Osmia cornuta and have some more bamboo canes re-occupied but the new neighbouring one on the wall was even better received.

Osmia cornuta

Osmia cornuta

The O. cornuta preferred the new nest on the wall either because it was sunnier or because it was fixed securely to the wall rather than swinging on the branch of the lilac.

And then a second variety!

Male Osmia rufa in the lilac 28 April 2013

Male Osmia rufa in the lilac 28 April 2013

I had first seen the O. cornuta males around the old nest box at the beginning of March but in April  I spotted another species of male Osmia in the garden.

Female Osmia rufa

Female Osmia rufa

The Osmia rufa are not as brightly coloured as the O.cornuta and hatch out and fly later.  I had never noticed them in the garden before.

Head of Osmia rufa female

Head of Osmia rufa female

Both the O. rufa and the O.cornuta have curious prongs on their heads just under their antenna.  The prongs are used to tamp in the mud they bring to seal their nest.

New bee hotel 17 April 2013

New bee hotel 17 April 2013

With two species of Osmia nesting in the hotels my husband became concerned that they would run out of holes or feel overcrowded so he hastily built a fourth hotel to go on an outbuilding wall that receives the sun all day long.

The third Osmia provides lots of entertainment in the summertime!

Upside down Osmia leaiana

Upside down Osmia leaiana

The Osmia leiana were the next arrivals in May and stayed around well into July.  These little bees really put everything into building their nests.  Gradually they fill the holes, cell by cell, and you can get a better look at all the action as they complete the last one or two compartments.  I had now three species of Osmia nesting!

Osmia leiana 17 July 2013

Osmia leiana 17 July 2013

The Osmia leiana is not so colourful as the other two Osmia but nested for a longer period and the females even slept overnight in the bamboo of the hotel.

Osmia leaiana head

Osmia leaiana head

All the Osmia bees have strong mandibles to help them in building their nests.  The O. leiana were prolific nesters and nested in all the bee hotels, even building a few nests in the hotels in the shade under the trees.

Then there is the Anthophora!

Anthophora 7 May 2013

Anthophora 7 May 2013

I have Anthophora plumipes nesting in the stone walls of the house and in May they were feeding on the blue Cerinthe in the front garden.  I think this is a female of the light form that I have here starting off her nest in the holes of the trunk section of the bee hotel in the front garden.

The Anthophora have nested in the bored wooden holes in the cut tree trunks of the bee hotel on the out building too.  They nest deep inside the holes but their presence is noticeable as they leave “paths” of sawdust on the bottom of the holes.  They do this in the holes in the house walls but the “paths” in this case are like fine sand produced as they excavate their nests in the soft limestone.

And the Anthidium!

Anthidium at nest

Anthidium at nest

Another bee that nests in the bee hotels is the Anthidium.  It is called the cotton bee in French for obvious reasons.  She gathers the soft hairs from plants such as Stachys and brings them to the bamboo canes to make her nest.

Anthidium's cotton nest

Anthidium’s cotton nest

Frequently the nest is made deep into the hole and the cotton does not protrude so it is easy to miss their nests.  It is really amazing to see the quality and quantity of cotton that this bee produces.  I have a great attraction for this lovely bee.

Different Megachiles arrive!

Megachile beginning of September

Megachile beginning of September

I had noticed suspicious pieces of leaves missing from plants in the garden during the summer and I had suspected leaf cutting bees but I had never caught any “in the act” so I could not be sure.  So I was ecstatic when at the end of August I found them nesting in the sunny hotel on the outbuilding.  They were so engaged in their task that they did not object to being watched.  I found their determination and hard work fascinating to watch.

Megachile asleep 26 August 2013

Megachile asleep 26 August 2013

Some leaf cutting bees also nested in the hotel in the front garden but they were not early risers and I used to enjoy watching them wake up.  This little bee had been so busy that she fell asleep on her back with a piece of leaf for a blanket.  I took the photo at 9.49 a.m. and she was awake shortly after.

 Hole sealed with rose petals

Hole sealed with rose petal

At the beginning of September one of the leaf cutting bees used rose petals to make her nest.  I did not see her but the end result was beautiful.  I think they are most likely to be Megachile centuncularis.


Cellophane glaze

Cellophane glaze

I am puzzled by this hole as it is shiny (I couldn’t manage to get a photograph to show the shine).  Who has filled this hole?  Is it another species of bee such as Colletes which line their underground nest with a cellophane?  Or is it some other insect?

The other puzzle is how many different types of bees are nesting in the bee hotels?  I have photographed six different species of solitary bees in this post.  In addition, I think there is more than one species of Anthophora in the hotels and what about the ones I’ve missed?


I am always on the look out for parasites and predators, which are numerous.

Dolichomitus imperator

Dolichomitus imperator

I was concerned when I saw this on the nests at the end of September.

Ichneumon wasp 27 September 2013

Ichneumon wasp 27 September 2013

This wasp came around at the end of September and seeing her putting her long tail into the bamboos I worried that she had been laying eggs in the bees nests.  Apparently she prefers to parasitise wood boring insects but the larvae of the potter wasp which also used the bee hotel could also be a target.

And then there’s our lizards!

Lizard in bee hotel

Lizard in bee hotel

The lizards can be a bit of a pain as they insist on squeezing in between the bamboo and sometimes they will dislodge one causing it to fall.  I replace it but I think a winter job will be to put a backing behind the bamboo to keep out the lizards.  I comfort myself thinking that they will eat any little flies that might be lurking around.

Lizard asleep in bee hotel

Lizard asleep in bee hotel

I’m just not sure how vigilant my lizard guardians are but I can always hope.