a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


Rain, rain

Rain up to edge

Part of the river Seudre runs at the bottom of our garden.  It is now up to the very edge.

Bottom of garden

A tree had to be removed a few weeks ago because the summer storm had broken its top across the river.  We managed to get the greater part of it out with the help of a tractor but the rest will have to be removed in the summer when it more or less dries up.  This part of the river used to flood regularly until a canal was built some time ago which takes any overflow.

cyclamenAt least the trees are getting a good soaking.  The rest of the plants seem quite happy too.  I had planted cyclamen at the bottom of the garden under the trees hoping it would naturalise.

Cyclamen seedlingsI had never really thought about how they would “naturalise”, I just hoped they would spread.  This year I have noticed little seeds germinating on the ground and I have spread them out but I seem to have missed some here.  I never realised they would set seed so readily.

CrocusThe spring bulbs are coming on apace.

SnowdropsBut everything is wet and muddy.

BergeniaThe usual winter flowers are opening up.

PrimulaThere is colour around.

RosemaryThe Rosemary has not stopped flowering.

Apricot flowerBut neither has the Apricot.

Apricot flowersAnd more keeps arriving.

Prune flower budsWorst of all the Plum tree has started to bloom.  I had such high hope for the Plum tree this year as it is a favourite with the bees.  Only some immediate low temperatures could retard things now and no low temperatures are forecast.  I think the plum tree will be quiet again this year with only some honey bees and bumble bees awake to appreciate its flowers.

Pink helleboreMy first Hellebore is in flower.

Inside HelleboreI always have to have a look inside as I pass.  They do look delicate drooping as they do but you miss seeing what they look like inside.

Red HelleboreThe red Hellebores are not far behind.  These are all seedlings from my sister’s garden and are prodigious self-seeders and I have already my own little plantation of last year’s seedlings in the back garden under the trees.

SedumI’ve got a lot of cutting back to do yet.

AchileaI am also considering keeping the long stems from the Achillea and Sedum to use in the bee hotels.  So I would need to cut them and dry them out.

Two problems here.  The first is obvious – they will be difficult to dry out and the second is that I am not tempted out in this weather.  No excuse really as it is not cold but as soon as you get ready, it starts to rain!

Mutabilis roseI really should not complain as all the plants I have planted recently have had perfect growing conditions and my unperfumed Mutabilis rose looks very happy.

HeathersEven the two Heathers I bought last year and did not believe would grow in my chalky soil have prospered.  They were marked as suitable – it is just I am very sceptical about the quality of information in the local nurseries.  I’ve seen no bees on them yet so maybe they are as surprised as I am to see them.

propagatorI’ve resorted to planting some seeds indoors.  I have five perennial poppy seedlings with secondary leaves in the can intensive care propagator.  I don’t think they really need this much care but it is an outlet for my gardening frustrations.

I have also started off my last three Scabiosa caucasica seeds which I failed with last year.  In addition, I have  sown some Monarda seeds as I was no too successful last year as I started them off too late.

Hyla meridionalis

Hyla meridionalis 19.1.14

Basically it is only the Reinette that really appreciates this weather.

 Tree frog on well 19.1.14And even she prefers sitting on the top of the well when it is sunny!


A January day

Comma butterfly, (Polygonia c-album),10.1.13

Comma butterfly, (Polygonia c-album),10.1.13

Red Admiral,(Vanessa atlanta).10.1.14

Red Admiral,(Vanessa atlanta).10.1.14

Honey bee gathering pollen, 10.1.14

Honey bee gathering pollen, 10.1.14

These photographs bear witness to the strange weather we are having this January. The Red Admiral and the Comma are butterflies that over-winter here, and the honey bees don’t have to stay tucked up in their hives for too long but the weather is staying exceptionally mild.

Bumble bee on winter honeysuckle

It is so mild the queen bumble bees have stretched their wings and stirred from their winter torpor to gather some nectar.

Honey bee on tinus

The bees have been visiting the Viburnum tinus.  This is not the preferred winter flower for the bees so I presume the warmer temperatures have activated the plants nectar production.

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

The first winter aconite has opened in the garden.

Apricot flower 10.1.14

Apricot flower 10.1.14

The apricot flower, as beautiful as it is, must surely be too early.  You would think it could tell by the length of the short days that it is winter and it would not to be fooled by the mild temperatures.

Apricot tree shoots 10.1.14

Apricot tree shoots 10.1.14

The shoots are opening and the leaves unfurling.  I do not want to be pessimistic but I think my chances of apricots this year are low.

Garden in snow  25.2.13

Garden in snow 25.2.13

The cold winter weather is bound to arrive and trees, like my plum tree in flower in the picture above , will lose a lot of their fruit.   I try to recall that we had snow last February and that the winter is far from over.   I would have less to complain about if there were more frequent sunny days but in fact we are having a lot of rainy days.

Poppy seed germinating

Poppy seed germinating

On the wet days I am looking through my photographs of the bees I have seen and trying to identify them.  I have challenged myself to identify 20 before springtime.  I have featured five bees now on my blog Bees in a French Garden so that leaves quite a lot left!

I have been looking at my seeds but it much to early to plant anything as they will need to be kept outside.  So to amuse myself I have tried to grow some perennial poppies from a poppy left behind at my daughter’s old house.  O.K. they will not likely turn out like the parent plant but it lets me grow something indoors.



I just left them under cling film on some moist vermiculite and some have gone mouldy but I have selected a few healthy ones to put into small pots.

Poppy seed shooting


It is working for the moment, but who knows?  I enjoy watching them grow.

But now for an appeal!

Liriodendron tulipifera

Does anyone know if these could possibly be the dried remains of Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) flowers?  We only noticed them when we were pruning the Tulip tree.  I cannot think what else they could be but I had read that Tulip trees take about 20 years before they flower and as we have planted it less then six years ago I do not think it could be that age.


Onward in January

We returned from the U.K. with some plants that are a lot easier to source there and with an idea for the empty area created when the large pine tree was cut down.

New border at pine tree

Agreed, it does not look very impressive but it is the thought that counts.  There are four willows of the red stemmed variety Salix alba Chermesina (or Scarlet Willow) planted in a zig zag fashion.  These I hope to coppice so that they become bush-like.  Although willows are reputed easy to root I bought mycorrhizal fungi and added this to help them adapt to their new home.  I am not sure if such a large evergreen tree could have changed the micro-environment of the soil over time and so they might need a helping hand.

I also bought my first Mahonia.  I had steered clear of Mahonias as some can be as prickly as holly so they need to be sited where they will not be brushed against.  This Mahonia is Mahonia eurybracteata subspecies ganpinensis “Soft Caress”, as the name suggests – no spikes but soft frond like leaves!  It was chosen as Plant of the Year at Chelsea Flower Show 2013.  My new Mahonia also benefited from a helping of the same mycorrhizal  fungi so I hope lots of intimate root associations are being made  in this damp warm weather that we are having.

So far, so good but after more reading I found out that my new Mahonia may not be the plant that I am hoping will flower at this time of the year.  I think that it maybe an earlier flowering variety as it is reputed to start flowering in October.  Locally I have seen beautiful Mahonias flowering just now but with the spiky leaves. These were in a park with plenty of space.  I’ll have to find a suitable spot  in the garden as the flowers were fragrant and  full of bees.

Another purchase in the U.K. was Rosa mutabilis from David Austin.  Roses are not my favourite plants but I had seen so many beautiful pictures of it in Christina’s garden (http://myhesperidesgarden.wordpress.com) that I was completely seduced by this rose that flowers over a long season with few thorns and a perfume that attracts butterflies and bees.  However, once again I should have been more careful.  I have bought the variety Rosa mutabilis and not the variety Rosa mutabilis x Oderata.  That means I have bought a rose with no perfume!  For me that’s the best thing about roses, I just hope the bees won’t mind – I expect the pollen and the nectar is just as nourishing for them.  Once again I used mycorrhizal fungi to encourage the new rose to have a healthy supported root system in its new home.

A tall blue Salvia brought over from my friend Linda’s garden completes the border which is now filled in with with summer bulbs and lots of Alliums.

New border

Behind the new border many years worth of dropped pine needles had accumulated.  I used these to mulch over the border hoping that it will prevent weed growth.  There was lots more left after I had finished the border so I was able to use it in other parts of the garden.  It is supposed to be good for strawberries so they had their share too.

hoped for screen

This is the sort of screen I am hoping to create but I suppose it will take two or three years to reach this stage.

Between the stump and the new border there is a barren patch of ground where nothing has grown because the shade of the pine tree was so dense.  I wonder if, now that the ground has been cleared of the pine needles, whether this might be an ideal site for mining bees to make their nests in the spring?  Many types of mining bees like bare, sandy soil with little or no vegetation.

mulched snowdrops

Elsewhere in the garden there is not much floral interest but my first snowdrops have arrived and I have surrounded them with a mulch of pine needles to keep the chickweed at bay.  The weather is rainy and extremely mild with temperatures going as high as 16 degrees Centigrade.

Sarcocca confusa

One of the great successes in the garden is the Sarcococca confusa.  It stands in the shade of a wall and gets very little direct sun but it thrives there and perfumes the corner that it grows in.  After the white flowers come shiny black berries and now I find I am getting a lot of self-seeded plants.  Some of the earlier babies are attaining a reasonable size and I have retrieved some smaller ones and planted them against a wall in the back garden that receives the same amount of light.

Red Admiral 3.1.14

Red Admiral 3.1.14

The winter flowering honeysuckle is still in flower and provides nectar for the bees and over-wintering butterflies on the rare sunny days when the rain stops.