a french garden


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The ivy is flowering

Rear honey bee

WARNING – This post contains a heavy bee content.

I know only too well that not everyone is so besotted with bees as I am, so you are warned.

In fact, I am not sure I know myself what drives me to wait with baited breath in the hot sun beside a hedge of ivy. just because I want to catch a glimpse of Colletes hederae.

Ladybird

There are lots of honey bees and other insects, like the ladybird that catch my eye and I click out of restlessness.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Butterflies are just as much drawn to the nectar source as the bees, but they are not what I am looking for today.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

The trouble is when I cannot see the bee I am looking for I get distracted by the other visitors.

Chafer

I haven’t seen as many chafers this year but there is one on the ivy.  Click.

Bumble on Common Toadflax

The cute bumble on the toadflax gets her picture taken too!

Bee mimic

And I cannot help marvelling at the best bee mimic I have ever seen.  It only lacks a pair of long antenna to be just about spot on.

Male Coletes hederae

Just as I was wondering if I was missing them, I saw my first, and I think probably a male Colletes hederae with his long antenna.

Female Colletes hederae

And there are more, a female this time with plenty of pollen on her hind legs.  They do not fly until late summer and should stay around into October. They gather pollen mainly from ivy which seems an odd strategy but as it is late flowering they will have less competition from other solitary bees (but not from honey bees) and perhaps less problems with parasites.  They are ground nesting bees, digging tunnels often in large groups.  I have never found a site near me but there must be one around as there is plenty of ivy.

I am delighted to see them again and I won’t be passing any ivy now on our walks without checking it out.  I don’t understand why it gives me a thrill to find them, but it does.

Female colletes hederae on ivy

It is worth the wait to see them again, even though my nearest and dearest find it all rather strange.


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Gardening on the beach

Meschers beach

Since we have returned from the U.K. we have been enjoying an Indian Summer so the garden has been neglected somewhat in favour of the beach.  Mescher beach is only half an hour away so it is easy to visit for a short break.

Pine tree on cliff

Never the less, I cannot stop looking at things from a gardener’s perspective.  Look at these pines with their roots growing into the limestone rock.  Not exactly how the gardening books would advise you to plant them.

Crithmum maritimum

Clumps of plants with yellow flowers grow on the vertical faces of the rock.  The rock samphire or Crithmum maritimum grows all over the cliff face.  It is not the same plant as the samphires that grow more inland but is also edible and is recommended to be eaten either pickled in vinegar, raw or cooked in an omelette, but I have no personal experience of eating it.  Seemingly, it is very high in vitamin C and used to be eaten by sailors to combat scurvy.  A common name for it in French is “perce-pierre” (stone cutter) – very appropriate.

Sea lavander

Growing alongside the rock samphire is the incredibly delicate sea lavander (Limonium vulgare).  It is difficult to believe such a delicate flower could take root and flourish without special care and attention.

caves

What a beautiful place it has chosen to grow in front of a miniature grotto in the soft limestone rocks, I’m sorry the harsh light does not do justice to the fine flower stems.

scrub oak root

A type of oak has thrust a root through the cliff and is now completely exposed.

oak with acorns

I do not know what species of oak this is but it is able to thrive and produce acorns in what looks like far from ideal conditions.  It has found a niche where few other plants can compete. It is a Holm Oak [Quercus ilex] or Cork Oak [Q. suber] see comment below from Dromfit.

ivy

I had to smile when I saw the clump of ivy hanging on to the edge at the top of the cliff – you would survive almost anywhere, wouldn’t you!

strawberry tree

A strawberry tree sits atop the cliff with a beautiful view out to sea.  It is full of its strawberry fruits now and does not object to the sea air.

Meschers carrelet

It is low tide on the estuary in the picture but the carrelet is just visible on the side of the cliff.  These are strange constructions that are very common here and consist of a little cabin supporting a huge net that can be lowered and raised to catch fish.  See my post “The call of the sea” for better pictures.

M.mar 1

But of course what really fascinated me was the clump of a kind of knapweed as it was full of bees and butterflies.  This is a Megachile, perhaps maritima.  The knapweed grows on the dune at the base of the cliff on a substrate that looks like sand.  However, it grows in the full sun and its flowers produce a sought after nectar for nearby pollinators.

M. ma male

I have never seen this fluffy Megachile before, he has such downy front legs as if he was carrying a muff.  It may have been the male of the Megachile maritima.

hare tail

Talking of fluffy things some of the grass Lagurus ovatus was growing beside the knotweed.  I often see this growing more inland and it keeps well if cut for using as a dried flower.  I like the French name “queue-de-lièvre” or hare’s tail.  I think it would tend to call it bunny tail.

1-Anthidium

I was quite excited seeing all these new Megachile but something was buzzing them as soon as they settled and I had a good idea what it was.  I finally got a photograph of the culprit, Anthidium manicatum, the wool carder bee.  He can be a bit aggressive towards other bees and does not like sharing “his” patch of flowers.

M.vers

This is another Megachile I have not seen in the garden, yet.  It may be Megachile versicolor as its orange scopa has dark hairs at its tip.

Bee fly

This fluffy insect is not a bee but a bee mimic and a parasite of the solitary bees, laying its eggs on the flowers they visit or beside their nests.

seed head spikes

These knapweeds have very sharp raised spines as you can see on this seed head.  I have no idea what the species is but it was growing on the dunes at the edge of the beach and is different in this aspect from the knapweeds I find growing around the garden.

open seed head

Plants can fill ecological niches that most gardeners would view as impossible and in doing so they open up a path for other species to follow them and provide food and nectar for an uncountable number of other creatures.

Humans on the other hand decide that to grow plants it is essential to change the balance and nature of the soil with artificial fertilisers, then spray them with pesticides to control the insect life and herbicide to ensure their crops are not out competed by other plants.  Unfortunately, the world is now suffering from this basic lack of understanding.

 

 

 


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It’s still summer in September

1-The potager

Back from a week in the UK it was straight out into the garden to see how the vegetable garden had survived in our absence.  The tomatoes were the losers this year.  The leaves had gone a crinkled brown but there were plenty of good red tomatoes for me to gather them all up and make enough tomato purée for our needs plus a few green tomatoes that I’ve put aside for chutney.

1-Borlotti

The Borlotti beans grow very well here and the first pods are all ready to be picked.

1-Coriander

Unfortunately, my coriander shot up and flowered whilst I was away but I’ve had a good crop from it and I still was able to cut down, chop and freeze the good leaves.

1-Coriander difference

The same day I had sown my Sutton coriander seed, on the right of the picture, I had sown some coriander seed that had been given to me by a friend who had assured me it was excellent.  The difference was marked between the two varieties and although my friend’s variety had some very pretty flowers it had very little leaf.  I am wondering now if she grew it for the seed.

1-Apples

The apples and pears have not been plentiful this year but last year was a bumper year and I am just finishing last year’s apple compote now!

1-Medlar

The medlar tree on the other hand is full of fruit but it will not be ripe for a while yet.  It flowers later so was probably not so affected by our hot/cold spring.

1-Pumpkins

The pumpkins were put down to the bottom of the garden this year and seem to be thriving there and do not get in the way.

1-Pumkins close

Once again some plants flourish like the “Rouge vif d’Etampes”, on the left, whereas the Giraumon Turban on the right is my sole success from this sowing.  I had really only wanted some Turban pumpkins for decoration but one single pumpkin will have to be supplemented with some supermarket bought gourds this year.  I find the gourds a bit messy to grow myself, I must try to find a spot for them for next year but where they cannot strangle anything precious.

1-Butternut squash

We brought some butternut squash seeds home from an excellent butternut squash we had eaten at Christmas in the UK last year and much to my surprise, the plants have prospered over here.  There’s not to reason why, there’s but to plant and try!

1-Saffron patch

Last autumn I rescued my saffron bulbs from a border patch that was becoming increasingly shady.  I gave them their own private area, well apart from the tuft of chive seeds that I had hoped would have flowered by now (for the bees).  Now I wait and watch.  I was told by a saffron producer in the area that this year, with so much rain, any saffron bulbs left in the soil would rot.  😦

1-New tubes for bees

Of course, one of the first things I checked in the garden was my bee hotels.  Before I left for the UK I had put up some emergency housing in the form of a bundle of dried stems tied with string and attached to the Wisteria so that it touched the bee hotel.  In my last post I had described the pilfering behaviour of the Heriades bees and I thought it could be caused by an accommodation crisis.  During the week I was away two of the stems had been filled and there is interest in the remaining empty ones.

1-Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa)

This is where I got my tubes from.  It is Himalayan honeysuckle, Leycesteria formosa, also known as Pheasant Berry and Himalayan Nutmeg. I pruned it severely last winter although it should be pruned in the spring.  I, thus, provided myself with some excellent hollow tubes for bee hotels that are much easier to cut than bamboo and provide a good variation in diameter which is to the taste of the discerning mix of visitors that I cater for.  The plus side of these tubes is that they are easy renewable, if you have the shrub, and so can be opened easily to obtain the cocoons for those who like to clean their hotels.  The downside is that they are more fragile and possibly allow parasitic wasps to lay their eggs through the tube although I have not seen this type of parasite around my hotels.

1-Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) close

I just wanted a close-up of the flowers and berries as I do not think the previous photograph does justice to this shrub.  I was photo bombed by that carder bee.  Honest!  The bumble bees do love the flowers and it is such an easy shrub to grow.  Mine is grown from a cutting from my sister’s garden and I believe it even seeds easily.

1-Garden bumble bee in Delphineum

Talking of bumble bees…they are getting some extra treats from my Delphineums this autumn.  Usually I have one or two re-flowering in the autumn but this year the spring display was so low that I thought the plants were perhaps on the way out and now there are more flowers than there were in the spring.  Completely the opposite!

1-Honey bee on Sedum

The sedums have loved all the late summer sun and providing lots of colour and attracting lots of honey bees with their nectar.  I am still somewhat surprised that I have not seen more butterflies or other bees taking advantage of the sedums.

1-Honey bee on wild mint

The honey bees are taking advantage of the wild mint that is flowering in the patch of grass we have left uncut at the bottom of the garden.  This is the first time I have seen the wild mint in the garden flower but as you walk through the garden in the summer the mint leaves are bruised and release a lovely minty perfume that follows you.  In fact, after a week away I realised that it was the smell of the garden that I missed as much as all the plants and flowers.