Give Nature a Home

We have a RSPB sticker on the car that says “Give Nature a Home” but we mean in our garden.

Tit under fireplace

Today this young Great Tit (Parus major) appeared in the living room under the fireplace.  I’ve no idea how it got in, probably when the French windows were open.

Juvenile tit in hand

He was quickly scooped up and taken outside.

tit pecks finger

He was quite perky enough to peck the finger that was trying to rescue him and he was left near the feeding station where he would see the other birds.  There are no cats to worry about and he quickly hid in a clump of Alyssum by the wall.  So far, so good.  However, I could not resist checking to see if he had flown off a few minutes later.

He was still there and I gave him a fright.  He broke cover went to the left and fell down the well!

Tit comes out of well

It is not easy to recover a fledgling Great Tit from an old well with lots of nooks and crannies to hide in but he was eventually caught.

Tit in rose

This time he was placed high on the rose bush opposite the feeding station.

Tit sits in rose

Just stay in the garden and out of houses and deep wells.


There is more in the garden than flowers…

1-Disturbed toad

Our hose drips where it is attached to the outside tap and the corner stays damp so that underneath it was very overgrown and needed a good spring weeding.  However, more than the plants had appreciated the dampness and a large common toad (Bufo bufo) had made the corner his home and even constructed a comfortable tunnel under a large stone.

1-Toad in hand

He did not object to being handled and posed peacefully for a close-up shot.  It makes me wonder how often he has done this for us.  My husband likes the toads and I think they are now trained to come to hand when he discovers one.

1-Marbled newt

Beside the toad was a marbled newt ( Triturus marmoratus) who was also enjoying the damp spot.  We often see the newts in the garden or in the old well.

1-Marbled newt with crest

Next to appear were much younger newts and for the first time I saw one (the one on the left) that still had its crest.  The males have a crest during the aquatic stage but this will gradually disappear as they proceed into the terrestrial stage and begin to become more coloured.

1-Juvenile Western whip snake, Hierophis viridiflavus

The other day I needed a stepping stone to use to get through the border to my bee hotel so I looked for a suitable one at the bottom of the garden.  When the stone was lifted there were two young snakes curled up together underneath it but they soon made off.  The above photograph is a set-up.  The stone was replaced and lifted again the next day but this time only one of the snakes was underneath it.   The snake is a juvenile Western whip snake, (Hierophis viridiflavus), they are quite common around here but are non-venomous and not aggressive.  We have lots of wall lizards and these provide an easy food source for the snakes.

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera

My bee orchid is still doing well and I was quite excited when I thought another orchid might be growing in the garden.

1-Bud Orobanch amethystea

First a shoot like an asparagus appeared.

1-Bud growing Oroba amethystea

Then the bud started to open.

1-IMG_0376.Orobanche amethystea

I thought the flowerlets looked like orchids.  Wrong!  There are similarities but there is no central single lip which is a common feature of orchids.  This is a new plant to me – it is an Orobanche amythystea.  These are not orchids but plants that do not produce chlorophyll and obtain their nutrition by parasitising other plants.  Orobanche amythystea can use various plants as a substrate including wild carrot, sea holly and ivy.  I do hope mine is a parasite of my ivy!  I cannot see where the roots of the Orobache are reaching under the soil but I’d like to think it is joining me in my never ending battle with invading ivy.

The flowers will eventually form seeds but these seeds will be unable to germinate unless they find themselves near roots of their host.  There are many different species and they can become problematic if the host plant is an arable crop.  In France some of the other species can infect tobacco and legumes.

Anthophora plumipes male

Yesterday morning, just after 10 o’clock my husband called me to see the bee he had spotted asleep on a Hydrangea bud.  It was an Anthophora plumipes male.  They are extremely fast moving bees so it was fun to snap some shots of him while he was fast asleep and motionless.

Flowers and trees make up the backbone of a garden but it is all the unplanned arrivals, plant and animal, that make gardens so special.

Old favourites and new arrivals

Poppy and 2 beesMme Isaac Péreire in front


Mme Isaac Péreire started her first flush of perfumed roses about a week ago.  She will continue to flower for months but this first flowering is the most dense and the most welcome and the perfume drifts over the patio to be enjoyed with cups of coffee in the sun.

Mme Isaac Péreire covers down pipe

She is being trained round the corner and with the help of the white jasmine does her best to conceal the down pipe.

Mme Isaac Péreire and bee

She is also appreciated by the bumble bees who disappear inside.  The buzz of the bumble bees reverberates through the flower until they once more reappear and fly off.  This is an early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum).  I have seen a lot of them this year but it must be about the end of their season now.

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera

This week I noticed another old favourite, the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) while I was removing the faded forget-me-nots.  In fact I was lucky I spotted it.  I managed to rescue another one which had been weighed down by the forget-me-nots but that had got quite bent.

Close bee orchid

They are not dependant on bees for pollination but I would love to get a photograph with a bee, nevertheless.  This one is not in the same place as the one that had appeared last year, so they are perhaps seeding themselves.

Purple Ancolie Aquilegia

I had given up growing Aquilegia from seed this year.

Pale Ancolie

I had taken seed from friends’ gardens, I had been given a presents of packet seeds and I only managed a few pathetic specimens.

Magpie Ancolie

Those pathetic specimens must have taken things into their own hands and re-seeded in places of their own choice and I have some decent plants for the first time.

New Peony

A new Peony bought on a whim and without a name has flowered and produced three flowers that open and close at night time.

New Pivoine

They will not re-flower like roses but I have no objection to just having their flowers for a short time every year.

First flower Vibernum

Another first this week is the first flower on a Viburnum I bought while on holiday is Gascony a few years ago.  It was supposedly an unusual Viburnum but I could not find the name on the web and I have now lost it completely.  It will have to remain my no-name Viburnum.

Neflier flower and bee

One of the last fruit trees to flower is the Medlar which has an attractive white blossom.

Olive flowers

The Medlar flowers faithfully every year and gives us fruit but our Olive tree has surprised us by producing flowers for the first time.  I presume the mild winter has coaxed it into trying but I am not sure whether we could ever have proper fruit here.

first flower Acacia

Another first flowering this year is an Acacia tree grown from seed by my husband from a beautifully perfumed tree growing in a multi-storey car park in Guildford!  The flowers were highly perfumed which attracted him but we are also surrounded by Acacias in the woods around here.  Still this is a very special hand-grown one!


I bought this Fremontodendron as a tiny plant on a love at first sight basis.  It has grown and produces flowers every year but it does not seem to fit in.  It is a plant in the wrong place but I don’t know what the correct place might be.

Halictid in Fremontodendron

At least it provides succour for the wild bees as this little Halictid bears witness.  I must promise not to buy any more plants without first thinking about where they are to go.Poppy and 2 bees

The double orange poppies are the first to appear in the garden and are highly appreciated by bees and bumble bees alike.  They are not aggressive creatures and ignore any other foragers on the flowers.

Hoopoe in vine

You need to peer to find the Hoopoe but he appeared in the garden three days ago and is a herald of summer to me.  He walked out of the garden closely followed by me and my camera but he never let me get close enough for a good photograph.

Hoopoe on roof 26.3.14

My husband had spotted him at the end of March on the roof but I was trying for a closer shot.

The cuckoo heralds the spring but by May his call is starting to get monotonous and I begin to harbour uncharitable thoughts about his contribution to the sounds of nature.

Roll on summer!



April is over

April is over.  It was a beautiful month in the garden; mild and sunny.  That was right up until the last week when it became overcast and rained, but as the rain was forecast we took the opportunity to leave the garden being well-watered and follow the sun into Spain for a few days.

A. fulva on blackcurrants

April is when the blackcurrants start to flower and as soon as they are open I know I will find an Andrena fulva bee drinking the nectar.

A. fulva

The Tawny Mining Bee is supposedly quite common in the U.K. and can be seen in gardens on all sorts of fruit trees and even daisies but I only see mine when my blackcurrants are in flower.

1-Asian hornet.Vespa velutina

One thing that you will not see on the blackcurrants in the U.K. is an Asian hornet, Vespa velutina.  This was the first one I had seen this year and for the sake of the bee keepers near me I hope there are none nesting nearby.

1-First rosa mutabilis

I nearly missed my first rose on my new Rosa mutablis.  I am delighted with the delicate foliage and thornless stems but mine is not perfumed, although some can be.

1-First flowers on flowering currant

I saw the first flowers on my new flowering currant and satisfied myself that, small as it was, it was still able to attract the bees.

1-First fritillaria

My first fritillaria flowered and has now produced seed heads.


I’m hoping to plant more spring bulbs at the bottom of the garden that can flower before the shade of the trees overtakes them.  I have anemones, pulmonaria, hellebores,  iris and asphodel but it takes time for them to get established.

1-Yellow tree peony

The yellow tree peony started to flower in the middle of April.

1-Full yellow tree peony

As the flower opens it looks as if it is actually growing larger rather than just opening out its petals.

1-Camassia on patio

I have Camasia cusickii in a pot in the patio.

1-Camassia bumble

The early bumble bee, Bombus pratorum, loved the Camassia and provided the entertainment whilst we drank our coffee.  They can be noisy little bees and you hear the “buzz pollination” as she visits the flowerlets.

It was from this vantage point on the patio at the beginning of the year that I noticed a thick growth of straight leaves, not unlike grass in the right hand border.  I had no idea what it could be so I decided to excavate a lump to have a closer look.  There were not roots but masses of tightly packed small white bulbs covering quite an area.

I recognised the bulbs instantly and I knew how they had appeared.

1-Dame d onze heures

Dame d’onze heures or Ornithogalum umbellatum, is a wild flower that sometimes appears in our lawn.  My husband mows our lawn and is rather fond of them.  He will not cut them down but tries to re-home them.   I have warned him of the dangers of introducing wild flowers where they will have no competition and take over completely.

I showed him the incriminating masses of bulbs that I was now obliged to remove.  I thought they should compost down nicely but he begged a reprieve and took them down to a rough part of the back garden.

1-Alium at bottom of garden

In April masses of white alliums appeared at the bottom of the garden.

1-Allium with weeds

They had fought it out with the weeds and survived, so I will again have to dig them up and replant them beside the dark tulips that they usually grow beside, in the front garden.

I would like to say two things in my defence.  The alliums must have had an amazing generation of bulbs as we never planted that many and also they did move!  They did not start out so close to the edge of the border as I found them.

1-Choisia butterfly

My Choisia, both the Aztec pearl and Sundance have really done well this year.  They attract lots of insects with their perfumed blossom.  I think this Red Admiral butterfly on the Sundance looks as if it is using a straw to get at the nectar!

1-First Peony bud

Another first this year is a peony which is flowering for the first time since it was planted in 2008.  I received four peonies from a specialist nursery as a birthday present from the children but perhaps the pine tree that we cut down in the winter took too much sun away from them as they never flowered.  I still have the paperwork so I will know what it is called when it eventually opens.  I hope it will be worth the wait.

1-Green apricot

Lots of apricots set on the trees in April but every day there are more on the ground so it will not be a plentiful year for apricots.  The problem is the wind.  We are usually very sheltered here but this April there has been a lot of high winds.

Back from Spain, I am looking forward to getting into the garden again, especially if the forecast sunshine arrives.