a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

A February of contradictions


Frozen molehill.JPG

It has not really been a cold month, with hardly any frost but in the middle of the month there was a hard one that froze the molehills, making cunning trip traps for me as I made my way down the garden.  It has been a good winter for the moles.

Frozen daddodils

The frost tried to beat the spring flowers into submission but the daffodils take it in their stride.


Not so the broad beans that should not be flowering yet.  They are less hardy and have lost their first flowers to the cold.  Will we have a broad bean harvest this year?  It depends on the weather that will follow on.

Frozen HydrangeaSome plants look even better frosted.

Budding HydrangeaBut maybe it is time to clip the old flower heads to let the sun reach the new shoots.

Choisia Sundance

The Choisia Sundance is a star of the winter garden whether frosted or not it adds a splash of colour even in the dull winter days.

Frozen garden

The frosted back garden is quiet.  Although I prefer the cold to the higher than average rainfall we have been having this month.  February has been unusually wet and grey.

Bee on plum flowers.JPGBut it has not prevented the big plum tree from flowering and on the sunny days I can hear a comforting buzz from the bees collecting the pollen and nectar.  The butterflies also visit but not in great numbers.  Last year we had very few plums as the weather was very similar and the newly pollinated flowers were destroyed by a subsequent frost.  I notice that the tree has been opening its flowers slowly so perhaps like this there will be more chance that some fruit will hold if the cold returns.

Hazel flowers

The hazel trees started to push open their discrete flowers in February.  The catkins were already open and presenting their pollen to the wind and any passing bees that might be interested.  I have read that the hazel pollen is a precious source of protein for the bees at this time of year but try as I might I’ve never seen any bees on them let alone steal a photograph.  Those sneaky bees!

Bee in Hellebore

It’s not hard to find bees on the Hellebores, in fact, you’ll hear them first.  The pollen is a dull grey/beige but it must taste good as it is very popular.

Hyacinthe bee

The Hyacinths too are popular with both the honey bees and the queen bumble bees.  But even the bees get lulled into a false sense of spring with a few sunny days.  I found a frozen bumble bee queen one frosty morning futilely  sheltering inside a hyacinth flower.  Why had she not taken better shelter for the night?

Colletes 17.2.2016

The solitary bees have started to appear but I wonder if they regret their early arrival during the rainy days.


The Reinettes (Hyla meridionalis) seem content with the situation.  They croak happily on the patio when it is raining and sit serenely soaking up the rays when it is sunny.  It is so good to feel the winter sun after the gloom.


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.

37 thoughts on “A February of contradictions

  1. Spring is almost here in my area and I look forward to seeing flowers and bees. We’ve had a couple of unusually warm days recently and I was treated to a chorus of frog calls in the marsh. Your beautiful images remind me of what is to come.


  2. It’s good to see your bees back and active.


  3. It is good to feel the warmth of the sun again, isn’t it. I love those warm days in winter; it is as if we are cheating winter!


  4. I really enjoyed your post Amelia, the last photo took me a few moments to realise what I was looking at – I thought an eye through a leaf at first, its briefly chilly here but hopefully Spring and some warmth will return soon.


  5. Hello Amelia,
    Lovely sunny pics. I also seem to remember reading that hazel pollen is great for bees…..and yet , like you I’ve never seen any bees on them… which makes me wonder whether it’s a low preference food source if there are other flowers around – which there usually are, in our gardens – maybe not so out in the wider countryside at this time of the year, in many intensively manages farmlandscapes?
    Best wishes


    • Interesting about your experience with the hazel pollen. I do check out the hazel in hedges that have been planted on farmland near here too. I do agree though that bees are choosy and there could be big differences regionally. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Those unpredictable frosts can be problematic for insects whose metabolism slows down so much they can no longer move. I think most plants have better coping mechanisms to deal with the occasional low temperature. Lovely photos, Amelia.


  7. It has been a spring of contradictions over here as well. The green frog adds a bit of colour!


  8. If the frogs are out it must be spring. They don’t get fooled very often.


  9. you’re much further ahead than we are over here in Berlin, lucky you


  10. Good to see the garden coming to life despite the frost. I always found our broad beans to be very hardy. They put up with a lot of contrary weather and unexpected cold.


    • I have just come back from two weeks holidays and you are perfectly correct. There are lots more flowers and the broad bean plants are all looking quite happy. I just have to time my sister’s visit correctly so she can help me prepare them. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for sharing your photos. It gives me hope for spring. Over the weekend it was so warm here the snow was all gone from the garden and the birds were singing their spring songs. I was fooled into thinking we could be in the clear. Two days later we were back to bitter cold with snow and sleet. Ah, March.


  12. Despite your pretty frost it must have been very mild for your bees to be up and about. Very few have been out to explore my crocus, snowdrops and hellebores. But the pussy willow has been ignored so far – just too cold for them?


    • I have read honey bees need temperatures of 12 or 13 degrees to fly and bumble bees about ten. However, it must be more complicated than that as our honey bees have been out when our thermometer in the shade was registering much lower. The morning sun shines on their hives and on our willow tree and plum tree. Warm sunshine must play a part. The sun here is much hotter than in Scotland. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, our garden is on a south-facing slope and the rockery does warm up quickly once the sun gets to it. About half is still in shade until the sun gets higher though, so it was still a surprise to see so many bees.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Away from the actual coast it still seems too cold here (below 10 degrees) for bees to be out and about but I am looking!


    • I was just commenting to Cathy (above) that our bees are flying in very low air temperatures here but the sun is very warm when it comes out. Of course, the sun affects the plants too and they need to be warmed to produce the nectar but not so much the pollen that the bees are looking for at the moment to feed the larvae. Amelia


  14. Amelia… you can do a Spring planting of Broad Beans… end of March is a good time to put some in… and, some years, they catch up with the overwintered ones.
    Pauline no longer plants overwinterers… and a good job this year, they’d have rotted in the ground.
    We had bees out in today’s sunshine… all over the pussy willow!!
    And one of the big, black Carpenter bees was out and about… with the thorax covered in white pollen… don’t know where he was getting that… yes, he… male X. violacea… he had orange tips to the antennae.

    Love the tree frog picture… looks almost smug!


    • We are just back from two weeks holidays to be welcomed by male Osmia buzzing our bee houses before I even got out the car. So it looks like spring has arrived. I was warned never to plant broad beans here in the spring by an old neighbour. Never the less, I tried one year to snatch two crops, but he was correct, my spring planting was covered in aphids. You have to listen to the locals! Amelia


  15. Our Spring has come early too but yours is more advanced. Hopefully no more frosts will finish everything off.


  16. Fingers crossed that the good weather stays. Amelia


  17. Those are great bee photos, Amelia. My plum trees are blooming and a couple of peach trees too. This is the first year in 4 years that I have only one hive left. I can’t see many bees on the fruit tree blossoms. I have put the mason bees out to hatch…three weeks early. Every day I look for ‘poop’ stains on the ‘launching box’ to indicate they are emerging, but after one week, no stains. Come on, wake up, wake up, before it’s too late!!!


    • Hope you get plenty of bees on your trees. We are still waiting to see if the weather has continued the good work the bees started in out plum tree. It takes a while to see if the fruit has set. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m still in a waiting pattern too, but I’m in BIG TROUBLE on the Italian Plum tree. I trimmed it back…possibly a little too far, because we saw only a precious few blossoms. “Uh, honey…there’s always next year. I bet it’ll REALLY be good next year.” 🙂


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