a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

It had to happen…



The frost arrived this morning.


The frost rimmed fuschia looked like a variegated variety.


There is no time for the pumpkin flower to produce fruit in October but I am sure the bees will be happy to take advantage of its pollen and nectar at this time of year.


All the seasons seem to be confounded at this time of year with frost on the flowers and the seeds providing a treat for the birds.


I enjoy the confusion of the plants with the delphiniums coming up for a second round of flowers.


Sunflowers in October make you think that summer is not really finishing.


But mostly the plants know what they are doing and my saffron started to show two weeks ago.  I was rather worried about it as I had sown Phacelia for the bees there in the spring to add natural nitrogen to the soil.  Phacelia is one of these handy plants whose roots have nodules sheltering symbiotic bacteria that can fix atmospheric nitrogen.  Once the Phacelia had finished flowering I cut it down, contented that not only had I sheltered my Saffron patch from too many weeds but I had fertilised it too.  Then the Phacelia started to grow again fueled  by seeds dropped during the summer.  I wondered if the Saffron would be choked out and I would have killed it with kindness.  It seemed to be taking longer but when I checked on my blog last year it was coming up at the same time but the new row of thinned out bulbs was taking slightly longer to flower.  So far, the Phacelia bedmate seems to be working – until someone leaves me a comment that Saffron does best in nitrogen poor soil!


I have to pick off the red stigmas of the saffron every day and  this afternoon I noticed a carder bumble bee burying its head deep inside the flower in search of nectar.  As you pick the saffron its perfume wafts in the air, I suppose it must smell just as good to the bumble bee.

The autumn asters and cosmos are ideal for my solitary bee watching and I was very excited to catch a Megachile that I find so attractive.  I think it is a male Megachile willoughbiella (remember I am no expert) and I love his muff like forelegs.


Close by was a Coelioxys bee which is cuckoo bee laying its eggs in the nests prepared by Megachile bees like the one above.


The bumble bees are the most active bees in the garden, flying for longer parts of the day and making the most of the widest variety of flowers.


As for us – we have been spoiled by an exceptionally tasty crop of sweet chestnuts in the woods around us.  We have been roasting them in the oven but soon it will be easier to put them to roast in the fire as the nights get colder.

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 “It had to happen…

  1. I’m surprised that you have frost before we do! Your season always seems to run longer. Your frost surprised your flowers, too! We have very little blooming now and bee activity has slowed considerably now that the days are cooler.


    • The weather here surprises us too! Despite a frosty start the air temperature went up to 16 degrees centigrade with sun which is T shirt weather for working in the garden. The bee hives looked empty first thing but soon got going once it warmed up. Amelia


      • Right after posting my surprise, I went out and it started to snow! Yet we have several warm days predicted for next week. (Good thing because I have to finish staining the exterior of the house.) Such is the crooked path of seasonal change.


  2. A lovely post. That carder bee shot is especially gorgeous. No frost here yet!


  3. Lovely to see all the different bees not so much the frost!
    I envy you having sweet chestnuts on your doorstep. Roasted chestnuts, a real autumn/winter treat.


  4. Lovely photos Amelia as always. No ground frost here yet though we have been down to 2c a couple of nights. The good news is that it’s now cold enough to light the Rayburn. Home made pizzas in the Rayburn are to die for!


  5. Great photos Amelia, and it looks like quite a significant frost. Is it unusual for it to arrive this early? I wonder if French forecasters are fretting about a harder than usual winter? there’s much talk over here, that we could have a very severe winter …the first Bewick swan has arrived at Slimbridge much earlier than normal apparently!


    • One of the things we notice over here in all seasons is the difference there can be between night and day temperatures despite living so close to the sea. We are forecast warm (16-17 degrees) days and sun for the next five days. I don’t think anyone was particularly surprised about a one-off early frost now. The temperatures bounce around throughout the winter here and I find the good spells particularly cheerful. I must admit I had been thinking we have not had a really hard winter for a bit and we might be “due” one. Amelia


  6. I especially liked the picture of the saffron, do you get enough to cook with?
    No frost here yet but we dont see many bees as there are few flowers about.


    • I get enough to cook with and as the filaments are very fine they dry up inside in a few days. It must be the most valuable item I take from the garden and I would much rather gather my saffron that collect the tomatoes or carrots. Amelia


  7. Pretty photos of your frost, Amelia. We haven’t had a white frost on the plants yet, just a tiny white sparkle on rooftops last weekend. But yes, it will have to come to us soon too! I would love to know what you use your saffron for.


  8. Our first frost dates coincided exactly this year but ours was far later than the usual mid September. Our bumblebees are still active but very sluggish.
    I’ve never eaten a chestnut. I’m going to have to try one sometime.


    • I am surprised about both the frost and the chestnuts! I should not be as I have just checked and Castanea sativa is a European species. It is still very popular to see street traders in the cities in Europe selling roasted chestnuts in the street in winter. Amelia


  9. What a shock…with such a wonderful display of colour as well. And I am envious of your saffron….


  10. Gosh, surprised you’ve had frost already Amelia. I normally have my first in September but I’m still waiting this year for it to finish off the tropical border. The photo of Megachile willoughbiella (I’ll take your word for it) is stunning. Dave


    • Glad you liked the Megachile, they are some of the cutest bees. We are always surprised by the differences between the day and night time temperatures here or even day temperatures over a short period – this is comparing with the U.K. Amelia


  11. You get such spectacular photos! Jealous of your flamboyant saffron flowers and that you still have plenty of bumbles and solitary bees around.


  12. That was a surprise to see you have had a frost before we have Amelia, but I always expect our English weather to be worse than yours. I love the idea of growing Saffron, it seems to decadent to grow and wonderful that your Bees are enjoying it too, I love the bottoms up photograph you have shown. I had to google your Megachile bee to see if we might see one here and see its a possibility. I hope so, he is really quite beautiful.


  13. Oh dear, frost! I am not ready for frost yet. How wonderful harvesting your own saffron. I will look out for the book you recommend, I would love to be able to recognise the different bees that visit here.


    • If you can get a good photo of their wing venation the book takes you through a step by step identification to genus level. I’m surprised I’m one of the early ones to have a frost. Amelia


  14. Sad, but pretty and it happens every year.


  15. Frost? You’ll be saying it’s time to put the sprouts on to simmer for Xmas next…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I didn’t know that the spice called saffron consists of the elongated stigmas of a flower in the iris family. Live and learn.


  17. I brought in all our pumpkins and apples the day before but we have only had the one frosty morning that surprised all the birds as the bird bath was solid! Diane


  18. Very nice narrative and photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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