a french garden


Wisley in the wet

I am visiting the UK at the moment and last Tuesday my son asked if I would like to go anywhere.  The idea of going to the RHS Garden Wisley to see how the Magnolias were getting on was very appealing.  The Royal Horticultural Society call Wisley their flagship garden and it is situated between Cobham and Ripley to one side of the A3 in Surrey not far from the M25.  Not an auspicious location but you forget all about that once you go in to the gardens.

Magnolia bud

The Magnolias were indeed opening.


Some of the trees were breaking bud in abundance.


Over a long view you can see the mixture of leafless trees and shrubs in flower.

Rhododendron (Golden Oriole Group)

Rhododendron (Golden Oriole Group)

The Rhododendron were also providing colour.

Rhododendron schlippenbachii

Rhododendron schlippenbachii

But I had come here to see what Magnolia were in bloom.

Magnolia stellata

Magnolia stellata

The Magnolia stellata was pristine.

Magnolia stellata 'Jane Platt'

Magnolia stellata ‘Jane Platt’

And flouncy.

Magnolia cambelli

Magnolia cambelli

And all the Magnolias that were blooming were magnificent.

Stachyurus chinensis celina

Stachyurus chinensis celina

But of course at Wisley you can see some things that are more unusual.  This small shrub growing to only two metres produces its flowers in winter to late spring.

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha is another small shrub I would love to have in my garden.  It has perfume and flowers at this time of year and is related to Daphne.

Osmanthus x burkwoodii

Osmanthus x burkwoodii

Another beauty I would like to add to my garden.

Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer'

Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’

Time was passing and the clouds were gathering when I caught sight of a tree in the distance that had an immediate appeal.  I photographed it and then checked on its name.  I was so surprised that I had admired the same tree in France but in the autumn when its leaves were a stunning red.  I was delighted to have seen it in the spring too – and still looking stunning.



‘The rain started and we decided to head to the cafeteria for lunch.  As the doors to the cafeteria opened the smell of baked potatoes and something else (soup?) rushed out and I veered away without looking at the source leaving my son to fend for himself in the hot food queue.  I grabbed a scone and joined the queue for coffee to be joined shortly by my son with a sandwich wrapped in clingfilm on a tray.  I drew my own conclusions about the choices of hot food.  After paying it was obvious that the place was completely full with no seating available but luckily a break in the clouds allowed us take our tray outside as it was a mild day.

Wisley it such a magic place but their self-service cafeteria inside the grounds lets them down badly.  I would recommend coming equipped with a picnic or using the expensive  restaurant.

Silver birch

Not wanting to end on a sour note, my son wondered if the white bark of the silver birch was intentionally polished by the gardeners as the lower trunk is whiter than the higher reaches.  Perhaps it is just polished by the hands of the many admirers that pass by and stroke it lovingly?



Primula problem

Front house 10.3.14

Shortly after we set up home here I bought a packet of primula seeds.  There were hardly any flowers in the garden and I wanted some colour.  I was pleased with the  quantity of seedlings that resulted and which prospered and multiplied.  This suited me very well as there were plenty of places to put in new plants when the older ones were split.  However, as the years passed I began to run out of places and because you can’t eat primulas the neighbours were not interested in them either.

Front border 10.3.14

In addition, as I accumulated more flowers I found that the primulas could cover the smaller spring flowers like the crocus and snowdrops.  The red one with the yellow centre was particularly vigorous and I decided that definitely this year, enough was enough.  They could have their last flowering and then it would be the compost heap.

Anthophora plumipes on Primula

That was until this morning.

Anthophora plumipes 10.3.14

I’d seen him roaring through the broad beans yesterday afternoon, he was either chasing off another male or trying to catch a female as he didn’t stop.  The Anthophora plumipes bees were back.  They are one of my favourites.  Who couldn’t not love a bee with a name like the Hairy-footed flower bee?  (Please note his hairy feet.)

Anthophora plumipes on Primula

I never knew they liked Primula and Narcissi.  I should have because BWARS gives a long list of the flowers they visit.

Anthophora plumipes on red Primula

So this is how a bee saved some Primulas from the compost heap.

I couldn’t get rid of them now, could I?


Wild bee nest

I’m not sure whether it is technically correct to call this a wild bee nest.   It is definitely bees living in the wild.  Should I call them wild bees or feral bees or even run-away bees (having left their bee keeper never to return), I’m not sure.

Anyway, I have always harboured a desire to see bees doing their own thing as nature intended but I never expected to see it in real life.  But that was before I was talking about bees to our friend Manuel.

Bee nest in the oak

Last autumn there was a violent storm and it brought down an oak tree in some woodland behind vines not far from his house and about two kilometres from our house.  He noticed some bees and found that the tree was hollow but that the nest was now exposed.  The centre of the tree was filled with honey comb.  As time passed he noticed that the honey comb was disappearing.  He suspects that the comb was being pulled off and eaten by animals such as badgers.  Winter was approaching and he took pity on the nest and covered it with a plastic tarpaulin, making sure the bees had a rear entrance.  His strategy obviously worked as the hive has come through the winter despite loosing some of its stocks of honey to predators.

Wild bee nest

I could see the regular sheets of comb in the hollowed out tree trunk.  There were also some little beetles but I think they were more interested in the decaying wood.

Bark beetlesA close-up of the beetles for anyone who knows about such things.

The bees won’t have to go far when they need resin.  An advantage to tree-dwelling bees.

Bee close-up

It was 6 o’clock in the evening and getting cooler after a warm day.  There was not much activity, so I decided to go in closer to see if I could get a shot of the bees inside.  I was delighted to see some bees on the edge of the comb.

Bees on comb

Manuel was delighted that I was delighted but not satisfied with the number of bees I was seeing so he banged the tree with a large stick.  That made a difference.

Bees on comb

I had no doubt that this was a thriving colony with plenty of bees in between the sheets of honeycomb.

bees on comb

Just another couple of whacks with the stick and clicks of the camera and I retired not wanting to abuse their patience any longer.  They gave the impression of particularly laid back good-natured bees and I’m glad Manuel found them and had the ingenuity to protect their hive through the winter.