a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

36 thoughts on “Gardening on the beach

  1. Very true what you say about human habits. Whereabouts is Mescher by the way?


  2. How wonderful to have this lovely place just a short drive away, I have enjoyed your tour. I agree with your thoughts too Amelia, the drive to feed so many people cheaply needs to be balanced pretty quickly.


  3. A lovely post Amelia. I also love to see the different flowers and grasses that take root in the limestone rocks around us and admire the plants that seem to defy all the rules and settle in the most uncomfortable places! Yes, we have cultivated some of this planet to near death.


  4. It’s true. We’d all be better off growing native plants that are better suited to the soil and conditions in our own yards.
    It takes a tough plant to survive so close to salt water. Some of these are very beautiful.


    • I try to keep to native plants for the garden as much as possible but there are too many tempting strangers to be too strict but I try to stick to ones that are suitable for the conditions in the garden. Amelia


  5. A lovely example of how plants fit in with what is, and make the most of it. The sea lavender looks beautiful. And I love that you go to the beach and find bees. 🙂


  6. A strawberry tree? Does it grow edible strawberries? You could pick them without a sore back! 🙂
    Bees at the sea…that has a nice ring to it. 🙂


  7. What you are calling knotweeds…
    I call Knapweed.
    To me, knotweeds are members of the Dock family….
    viz: the terribly invasive Japanese Knotweed.

    Knapweeds are loved by all nectar loving species…
    are perrenials… and are clump forming.
    That means, to me, that I can leave them in place and mow around!!

    Your oak is Holm Oak [Quercus ilex] or Cork Oak [Q. suber]…
    both would look very similar in this sort of habitat…
    I would go for the former only because it has the smoother cups on the acorns.

    Love the bees.


  8. Hello Amelia,
    I like the Knapweed… a bit finer petalled than the ones here, which are also brilliant for attracting insects. Did you collect any seeds??? I’ve often thought that more of our native plants should be used in gardens for their insect appeal as well as garden worthiness,,,but I guess there’s no money in it for the nurseries. Your analysis of man’s (or at least in the ‘developed world’ ) disconnect and lack of awareness of the interlinking of species in the natural world is, I think, spot on,
    Best wishes


  9. As a matter of fact I did get some seeds. The bracts are extremely prickly but I was brave. I have also got some seeds of the Rock Samphire but I got those from another beach. I don’t think I have much chance of germinating them but it will be fun trying them on different media. I also collected some Fleabane seeds as the bees are loving this at the moment. Still no luck with your rose seeds 😦 Amelia


  10. Some of my favourite beach photos ever.


  11. We humans would do better to let things grow or die without our intervention. I think Mother Nature knows what she’s doing far better than we do.


  12. Very nice, Amelia and certainly agree with the holm oak id. It is a great hedging plant here and especially so in dry and salty sites. I had samphire once in Norfolk. Rather nice actually. D


  13. Very beautiful and I envy you seeing all the solitary bees.

    Richard Mabey in his book Food for Free suggests boiling Rock Samphire in water for about 10 minutes and then serving with melted butter. You then have to suck the fleshy parts away from the stringy veins.

    Our local fish stall has the Marsh Samphire when it is in season and it makes a nice addition to a fresh tomato pasta sauce.


  14. I am so jealous! Can’t wait for retirement when we make our move to Vernet-les-Bains 😉


  15. Samphire is lovely, especially if served with fish, I wouldn’t serve it with butter; if you pick out only the newest shoots you can eat it all. The beautiful beach reminds me of the place we sometimes go at Lake Bolsena. It has a similar promontory.


  16. Your indian summer looks so nice!!! No more indian summer here, it was down to 1.9 below zero the other night, but now it is looking good again. But not that good!


  17. We’ve been making the most of the September sunshine with visits around the UK and the coast too. It’s amazing how beautiful it is this time of year, almost better than actual summer.


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