Last week my husband bought a new chain saw, the old one having given up the ghost after years of rough treatment.  Inspired by his new possession he attacked the trees and branches on the left side of the garden that had left too much of the sides in heavy shade.

Collecting the ash

I had no sooner finished collecting the ash from the last bonfire than new cut branches were starting to accumulate.

Clearing the back wood

We are also trying to clear the very bottom of the garden of straggly growth that allows only sufficient light for ivy to grow.

Old willow cut

Trees have a remarkable ability for regeneration but we have left them untended for too long and judicious pruning and loping is required.  I want to protect the willows as they are alive with bees in the spring.

MistletoeA lot of mistletoe grows in this area of France and it was handy that some of the fallen branches supplied us with good bunches of mistletoe for Christmas.

Plum tree rebalanced

The large plum tree, another firm favourite of the bees, has had some lower branches removed .

Bee hotel in place

The bee hotel stayed undisturbed on it perch.

Christmas tree standing

But I had my eyes set on the ex-Christmas tree left by the house’s previous owners.  We had inherited three ex-Christmas trees with the house, planted in a straight row – baby tree, Mummy tree and Daddy tree.  Baby tree was cut to join us celebrating Christmas the first year we bought the house while we were still in the U.K.  Mummy tree was cut some years later but Daddy tree just grew too big.  I think there must be a moral in this story about people who don’t knew much about gardening being careful about where and how they plant trees in their garden.  I know we certainly have made many miscalculations and I am astonished at how quickly trees grow, especially if you are not watching them.


Armed with his new (but not shiny any more) chain saw my husband complied with my wishes and cut down the last Christmas tree.

Fallen tree

This left a lot of leaves and branches to be cleared.

Bedding area exposed

The objective is to give more light to the bedding area to the right of the tree stump.


However, some of the plants are shade loving.  I have grown this fragrant Skimmia from a tiny cutting that broke off as I passed it in the Aberdeen Botanical Gardens.  I loved walking there and it has taken me nine years to grow my cutting to a reasonable size.  I fear that if I do not move it that the sun will scorch this shade-loving plant.

Seating area exposed

It will also leave our sitting area more exposed so I am considering some alternative lower planting or short “hedge”.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

Strawberry tree

Despite low temperatures morning and evening we’ve been enjoying some sunshine and the honey bees have been visiting the strawberry tree.

bee on gorse

I was surprised to see the honey bees were busy and gathering lots of pollen on the gorse which seems quite happy to flower in these conditions.

Tip toes

I watched as one spent considerable effort to enter a flower that was not quite open.  I wonder if the first-come gets more nectar?

Take off

She’ll need plenty of energy to carry those pollen sacs back to the hive!

Wasp on hand

Apart from the gorse, the medlars were ripening and we were snacking on the fruit while watching the bees.  Medlars are sticky things to eat and I had difficulty in persuading this wasp to go and find its own medlar rather than expecting me to hand feed it on the remains of the one I had just finished.

December is a time of sharp contrast here.  Frosts and low temperatures mornings and evenings but sometimes blue skies and warm afternoon sun.

40 thoughts on “Timber!

  1. solarbeez

    I see you have gorse there too. I’ve seen the bees on gorse here on the Oregon Coast, but they really have to work at it to get the nectar. If you take a video you can see the pollen shower when they trigger it.
    I can understand the need to cut trees. We hate to bring them down, but when they shade a big part of the garden, well, they become firewood.

    I am surprised to see your bees working the blossoms in December. Maybe because we are going through a sub freezing cold spell. Several days of it. 😦
    What is your temperature when they are flying?


    1. I’ve never seen the pollen shower from the gorse so I must look more closely the next time. We have big differences between day and night temperatures even in summer. The day I took the photographs had started with a frosty sub zero Centigrade morning but with the sun in the afternoon I think it went up to 10 degrees Centigrade. My friend Michel keeps bees and he says his bees fly most days. I’ll try and pin him down to see what minimum temperature they fly at. The gorse bushes must only be about a kilometre, as the bee flies, from his house so they could have been his bees.


      1. solarbeez

        I finally found the video where you can see the gorse pollen shooting out.
        Unless you have VERY good vision, you probably won’t see it unless you view it after videotaping it. That’s the only way I saw it, and then on a big screen, bigger than the iPhone.
        The pollen showers are marked in the captions.
        This video also shows the bees getting pollen and nectar off the pussy willows, an important source of nectar early in spring. I had never seen it before because, well, I never had bees til last year and who goes around looking up at the trees in the middle of winter?? 🙂


    1. That’s minus 12 Centigrade! It did go to minus 13 Centigrade once here a few winters ago but we really appreciate the warm winter sun that we can get here during the winter. There can be periods without the sun but that makes it even more special when it does come.


  2. I planted a spruce as an outdoor Christmas tree when we moved here and now I’d need a very tall ladder to decorate it. I planted it on the south side of the house to keep the hot sun off us in the summer and it worked out well.
    Have you thought of Japanese flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica) as a headge? They don’t get real tall but they do get quite large in diameter.
    True dwarf fruit trees will stay at 10 feet high or less and don’t need a lot of care.
    Personally I like old fashioned rugosa cabbage roses (Rosa rugosa) as a hedge. The white ones are pretty and don’t need a lot of care.
    All of these attract a lot of bees too, at different times of year.


    1. The Japanese quince is a magnet for bees here but has a large, difficult root system here. My neighbour Annie has a lovely specimen and I go to her garden to watch the bees in it. The Rosa rugosa seem a lot hardier than the specimen roses and don’t seem to suffer from the diseases roses are prone to. I do not know if they would be difficult to contain as some can be quite vigorous and push out suckers away from the main plant. I think they would survive well in that spot. I would not want to put anything in that would be difficult to contain or maintain.


      1. I was intrigued because along our city river we have willows that were planted long ago when the idea was that we were a little piece of England. Over the years, there have been moves to rid the river bank of willows, almost as if they serve no useful purpose… but if they are home to bees then I hope we can keep them for as long as possible.


        1. I’m not sure where you are with springtime over your way. The willows would be in flower at the end of March here and maybe April in the UK. I suppose you have passed spring now for you can here them in the willows even if the trees are too tall to see them.


      2. I don’t want to mislead you. The willows provide a very valuable food source for the bees at an important time of the year but not necessary a “home” as I do not think they necessarily live in those trees.


  3. Hello AFG,
    I envy your husband getting out with the chainsaw…great winter work, and creating huge opportunities for future planting. I’d agree with the above comment about Rosa rugosa, or alternatively we’ve grown from seed a hedge of Rosa glauca, mixed with holly – no fragrance of course, but lovely to look at and for insects when the pretty flowers are open, and masses of berries later for birds. And you can keep it in shape fairly easily at variable heights if you bend over and tie in branches (roses), or prune.
    I love those images of frosts – we’re still grey and mild here – not at all like December.


    1. I had to look Rosa glauca up but it does look beautiful and I always fancied having a rose that would give rose hips for the birds in winter. The description of the thorny stems made me wince a bit as I can be a bit of a coward where rose thorns are concerned.:)


  4. I’m surprised that the honey bees are still so active, the Rosa mutabilis are alive with bees when the sun is on them. You are very brave to allow the wasp to sit on your hand like that, I’d be terrified, wasps scare me more than most things!


  5. Yesterday, in a very protected part of Devon in a garden by the River Dart we saw a mahonia in flower with at least five large bumblebees busily feeding in the sunshine; also one possible solitary bee. No honeybees though


    1. I’m very tempted to plant a Mahonia but I’m not sure where. Last December I saw a bumble bee on a Mahonia outside the Natural History Museum it had been raining earlier and I didn’t find it very warm. Hardy bumble bees!


        1. Thank you for that extremely interesting link. One point he made was that the Bombus terrestris have white tails in Northern France. I have never seen a B. terrestris here and I think I must be misidentifying them B. lucorum. I find the bumble bees can be very difficult to identify because of their variable colourings.


  6. Have you thought of a mixed willow “fedge” to create a screen?

    Scarlet Willow, Flanders Red and Golden Willow are all varieties of Salix alba and would provide colour all winter…
    as would Purple Willow, Cohu Blue and Green Dicks, which are all Salix purpurea…
    Cohu Blue has wonderful, long, steel grey catkins that start to glow red and then “burn” yellow as an added bonus.
    The three S. purpureas all have different colour stems, too…
    and all the colour comes from the young stems, so the “fedge” looks its best in Winter as a decoration…
    then gives leafy cover when you need it…
    it is fun weaving the branches to create the “fedge”….
    you can be random or organised as to the mix…
    and you can plant two lengths per “hole” and cross weave…

    Also your friends benefit from the colourful bunches of excess branches that you give them each year!!
    There are quite a lot of people in France who are growing willow for “fedging”… and some can be scrounged.
    You need 1.5m to 2m lengths of, preferably, one year old growth…

    And of course…
    the catkins are bee food…
    you could even incorporate nesting bocks, etc. into the weave.


    1. That is a really interesting suggestion. I haven’t a lot of colour in the back garden in winter. I like the idea of a stand of different coloured salix. I suppose that it would thicken into tree trunks eventually? I suppose you would have to call it a day if they got that big but it would not happen for some years.


      1. The trunks grow quite slowly because of mutual competition…
        they are not really meant to be planted at 6″ spacing!!…
        and they grow into one another….
        creating a lattice effect.
        I have seen a ten year old Golden Osier fedge that still had yellow-gold stems right to the bottom… and they were only around an inch thick at the base, too.
        The fedge was six foot high!
        The new growth from the top which will give the colour, will also supply new rods to replace the first as well… and to create other fedges or living sculptures…
        with willow the world is your basket…
        and with all that willow bark available…
        no more headaches!


        1. That’s interesting about the competition, I wondered if it all became a massive trunk. My husband now tells me he saw it in a private garden he visited and he took photographs of it that he has shown me.


  7. I’ve only ever used a chainsaw once, and don’t think I’d do it again. I know in experienced hands they are fine but I just don’t trust them. I think I’d have one of those special nylon suits on (it instantly blocks up the machine if touched). Glad to see more bees about. 🙂


    1. I use a pair of “the wrong trousers”…
      whilst they are bulky, I have seen chainsaw damage to a leg…
      it was very nasty.
      And his saw was coming to a halt!
      If you need to use a chainsaw…
      1] buy protective clothing suitable for the job you are doing…
      and make sure it is the right one… and genuine!!
      2] Go on a chain saw course… in the UK the BTCV run them from time to time.
      3] Make sure no one is within falling distance of a tree…
      a contractor cut my forestry career short by dropping a tree on me…
      he’d cut part way through the tree and then went and sharpened his chain…
      the wind caught the tree and finished the job for him…
      the only thing that saved me from more than a shattered ankle was the fact that the cut wasn’t complete and it came down against other trees….
      both of which slowed it down.


  8. Gorse is an absolute lifesaver for nectaring insects. It has some mechanism which ensures that there is always at least one gorse plant in a group which is flowering.

    If you want to include a rose in your hedge, why not go for Lady Banks R. banksiae? Thornless. lightly scented, vigorous, comes in yellow or white. Attractive light green leaves, only negative point is that it is not repeat flowering. The other really lovely, strongly scented, thornless rose is Zephirine Drouhin, but it’s not suitable for a hedge unless you support it. It would grow well supported by a lattice style fedge.

    BTW, rugosa roses are not cabbage roses. Rugosas are native to Japan, whereas cabbage roses are a type of hybrid gallica and come from France and the low countries.


    1. I remember getting excited in springtime in Scotland to go for a walk when the gorse started blooming, so I am a bit surprised that some is always flowering here. I suppose in Scotland its springtime flowering will be relatively much stronger. I must admit I’ve already succumbed to another rose whilst I’m in the UK. I’d seen Zephrine Drouhin in Andre Eve’s catalogue but I’d never noticed it was thornless, I think my rose loving friend might have it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have quite a few Zepherine’s in my garden. Everything about them is wonderful, they even do well on north facing walls! You can make excellent rose water with them too for adding to glycerine for a skin cosmetic. The parfum stays very well.


    1. We are now in the UK for Christmas with the family but there are is still work for my husband. He has brought his chain saw and is now helping in my daughter’s garden. The chain saw is a feared implement here in suburbia so he has semi-hero status.


  9. Pingback: Back home | a french garden

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