a french garden


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Nice to see you girls

This being our first year as beekeepers, I entered winter with some trepidation.  We were told that during the four to five months of winter the queen bees stop laying eggs and the bees stay mostly in their hives in a tight bunch to stay warm and economise their precious stock of honey.

Even by the standards of this region of France, our winter has been so far very mild and there has not been a single week that the bees have not been in and out of their hives at least for a short period during the sunny days.

There is evidently plenty of pollen on the gorse less than a kilometer from our house,

Honey bee on gorseand our Viburnum tinus is still in full flower.

Viburnum TinusI decided to place a rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) from a pot into the corner of the new rockery.  The bees could hardly wait.

Rosmarinus officinalis

The back lawn (well it’s hardly a lawn) is now full of speedwell (veronica)  in flower and the bees appear interested by those too.

Speedwell

Last week, on 24th of January 2016, the sun shone all day and the temperature for most of the day was around 17 degrees C (nearly 63F).  Our girls were really busy.  You can see the entrance of our Sunflower Hive in this short clip.

It is lovely to see you, girls, and I am dying to open up the hive for a quick inspection, and see how much brood your queen has made.  But I must have patience.  It is too early!

Kourosh

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Persimmon Sorbet

Persimmon flowers

The persimmon fruit starts its life as very discrete white flower about the beginning of June.

persimmons and asian hornet

By the middle of November some are starting to ripen and being burst open by birds, and in 2015 being feasted on by the glut of Asian hornets (Vespa velutina).

Persimmon and Great Tit

This poses a problem as the Persimmon ripen slowly and if left on the tree very little whole fruit will be left to harvest.

At first we were reluctant to gather unripe fruit but we have since discovered that they will happily ripen indoors and maintain their flavour.

The Kaki or Persimmon is not well known in this area but we have now successfully converted a couple of friends who, much to their surprise, discovered that they too enjoyed this sweet winter fruit.  Nevertheless, this year we had an exceptionally large crop and had to leave a box of unripe fruit while we visited the U.K. at Christmas.  I quite expected to return to a box of mushy rotten fruit but all the Persimmon had ripened with no spoiled exceptions.  However, there were too many to deal with in the immediate so I decided to experiment.  I gave them a wash and then packed them individually into the freezer.

defrosting Persimmon

The frozen Persimmon retain their shape as they defrost and the frozen flesh, though slightly softer than the fresh, is almost the same texture and just as sweet.  We can enjoy our defrosted Persimmon as a fruit on its own or add it to yoghurt as a dessert.

Persimmon sorbet

Flush with the success of my freezing experiment, I decide to try for a sorbet.  I treated three Persimmon to a mix with the hand blender and poured the result into the ice cream maker.  The resulting sorbet has a beautiful colour and was ready to eat.  I do not have a very sweet tooth as far as desserts are concerned, so for those that like something sweeter I would recommend the addition of a sugar syrup which would also keep the sorbet softer if re-freezing.

However, for me I was pleased to have discovered another way to use the fruit of the garden without adding additional sugar.


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A beekeeper’s notes for the year

A beekeepers Notes

My copy of “A beekeeper’s notes for the year” by Emma Sarah Tennant arrived this week.  Emma is a beekeeper who writes the blog Miss Apis Mellifera and the book  has  been based on her blog posts.  She keeps her bees with a hive partner, Emily Scott, who also blogs at Adventures in Beeland and I have followed both their blogs for some years now.

Emma has managed to capture the essence of her 2015  beekeeping year in her apiary in Ealing, London.  Dedicating a page to each month, we can follow her month by month through the pages that are well illustrated to show the changing seasons.  Here in France, we enjoy the convenience of having our hives at the bottom of the garden but I envied the camaraderie and companionship that she enjoys on her visits to the apiary.

The book would not only be a pleasure for an established beekeeper to read but also ideal for anyone just interested or tinkering with the idea of starting to keep bees.

It can be downloaded as a free ebook or a hard copy can be purchased with £2 of the purchase price being donated by Emma to the charity Bees for Development.  For all the details check out Emily’s web site Miss Apis Mellifera.


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The Savill Garden December 2015

I first visited The Savill Garden in December 2012 (Free in December).  I admit the absence of an entrance fee attracted me to visit but it has become one of my favourite gardens.  For me to really appreciate a garden I need to get to know it and I look forward to seeing some of my favourite trees as I would old friends.

Long view

There is plenty to see even in the winter and I was interested to see the differences this exceptionally mild winter might show.

Gunnera

I was impressed that by covering the Gunnera plants with their leaves in such regular pyramids that it transformed the bed into an attractive feature for the winter.

Arch with Camelia

The arch leading into the spring garden was already sprinkled with flowering pink Camellias, judging by the label Camellia Japponica “Lady Clare”.

Rhododendron kiusianum

Rhododendron kiusianum or Kyushu Azalea, a native of southern Japan, was also in flower.

Start of green roof

Heading to the Temperate House I was disappointed that the large Mahonia “Charity” was no longer in flower, I think the mild autumn encouraged it to flower earlier than usual.  However, I noticed the beginnings of a green roof which I will be interested to watch progress in future visits.

Acacia Pravisima

The Acacia pravissima was flowering brightly against the wall.  This plant is a native of Australia and would usually flower a month after Acacia dealbata in France.  Acacia dealbata is also a native of Australia but is very commonly grown in parts of France including our region and flowers from January onwards.  I have not planted any Mimosa in our garden, despite the attractive perfume of the flowers, as it is very vigorous and invasive and will push up shoots around the main trunk.

Chamaecyparis obtus “Leprechaun”

Nearby, we could not help but be amused at this little plant which is so well-named – Chamaecyparis obtusa “Leprechaun”.   It has an expected height of  thirty centimetres.

Raolia lutescens

At the same raised bed I was attracted to what I took for an algal mat.  Wikipedia tells us that it is in the “pussy’s-toes-tribe” and is a native New Zealand plant which when covered by its little white flowers can resemble flocks of sheep when viewed from afar – leading to its common name of Vegetable Sheep!

Hamamelia japponica Pallida

Coming back to more mundane plants, this was a time to see the wonderful varieties of Witchhazel that grow throughout the gardens, like this Hamamelia japponica Pallida.

Hamamelis intermedia Pallida

Or the very similar Hamamelia intermedia Pallida.

Hamamelis Intermedia Orange Peel

I liked the Hamamelis Intermedia “Orange Peel” as the petals were a deep, bright yellow and did look like orange peel.

Mahonia Bokrafoot

I was disappointed not to see the huge Mahonia “Charity” in flower but it did bring my attention to other Mahonias that can be grown like this Mahonia Bokrafoot.  This is a very compact hybrid of M. repens and will only reach 60cm in height.

Mahonia wagneri 'Aldenhamensis'

A patch had been planted out with several Mahonia wagneri ‘Aldenhamensis’ which were flowering bravely, despite being still in the seedling stage.  It will probably take about ten years for these plants to reach a maximum height of one and half metres and it is comforting for me to be aware that even in these beautiful mature gardens there is a lot of renewal and beginnings amongst the stunning focal points.

Green parrot

One thing we could not ignore was the noisy groups of green parrots calling from high in the trees.  These are the rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri), also known as the ring-necked parakeet.  These birds have most likely escaped from captivity having been imported from Africa or Asia as pets.  Large flocks of parakeets have established themselves in the Greater London area and are not always welcome as they can be very noisy additions to the neighbourhood.

Iris reticulata Katherine Hodgkin

There was so much to see like these Iris reticulata “Katherine Hodgkin”.

Hellebore bumble

And I still managed to see some bumble bees in the Hellebores

Bumble in Arbetus

and Arbutus arachnoides.