a french garden


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Reflections towards the end of July

 

White bougainvillia-001

It was after I read Sue’s post “White is cool” that I remembered that white was our favourite colour for flowers too.  The white oleander was planted in front of the house shortly after we bought it and years before we moved here.  I too loved the idea of a white area.  Crathes Castle garden, near Aberdeen, had a beautiful white border and I intended to find a place in the garden for a display of stunning white flowers.

However, my initial design of my white summer hedge has now the addition of an untidy but profusely flowering lilac Lavatera and hidden from view underneath is a winter flowering honeysuckle.

Gaura nectar bee-001

We meticulously selected the seed from the whitest Gaura, but then gave up as it self-seeded over the garden and we were happy to replant whatever turned up as the bees did not mind either pale pink or pure white.

Molene honey bee-001

And then there are the plants that take up residence of their own volition.

Molene syrphe-001

The wild Verbascum has been flowering non-stop since June welcoming the hover flies and

Molene wild bee-001

bees of all kinds which gather large quantities of the bright orange pollen early in the morning leaving the yellow petals strewn around the plant like confetti.

Acc. sej.-001

Then there are the plants that suddenly beg attention.  Some years ago Kourosh “acquired” a couple of seeds of Feijoa sellowiana.  The seeds germinated and lived in pots that I tended until I was able to get rid of them into a new border.  This year they have shot up to more than a metre in height and flowered for the first time.

Feijoa sellowiana-001

The flowers are extremely attractive and as they belong to the myrtle they should also be attractive to bees.  I will have to wait until autumn to see if any fruit is formed, another extra as the fruits are edible.

Vegetable garden-001

Another additional problem with planning a garden can be illustrated by our vegetable garden.  Planning must be done in advance and, as can be seen, we have our long, sturdy tomato stakes in place but very weak, short tomato plants.  The cooler, wet June was not to their liking and now the high temperatures that are soaring now in July are drying them out before they have time to grow.

Leek flower-001

At least the couple of leeks I have left to flower from last year provide me with some amusement as I ponder on the likelihood of  making homemade tomato sauce this year.

Pot-001

Kourosh spotted this beautifully fashioned “pot” in the house wall.

Polistes dominula European paper wasp-001

I thought it might belong to these wasps that are using the bird bath.  However, I think these are European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) and I have seen their nests around in previous years.

Polistes sparkle-001

I noticed they gather the water differently.  You get the careful type that holds onto the side and gently laps from the edge of the water.

Sparkle wasp-001

Then you get the cool guys who do a full belly-flop onto the water, maintaining themselves by surface tension and float while taking their fill.

Origano-001

The success of the large oregano clump in attracting the bees has also made me think of modifying my planting.

Lavendar clump-001 The large clumps of flowers, like the lavender and nepeta, attract more bees, so I am going to try to spread my plants less in the future.  However, the garden will have the last word.  The yellow haze of cat’s ears (Hypochaeris radicata), visible in the background, has developed on its own.

Dasypoda (1)-001

Without them, we would miss watching the Dasypoda bees bouncing from flower to flower at this time of year.

 

 

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The bees and Sweet Chestnuts

Rucher

Last week I was very worried about the bees.  We are new to beekeeping and we visit the girls everyday (often more than once) just to see how they are getting on as you can learn a lot by just watching them.

However, I noticed a strange odour around the beehives and Kourosh confirmed that he could smell it too.  When it lasted more than a day or too I began to recall bee diseases that had unpleasant odours attached to them.  However, the bees were doing so well and the odour, although unusual, was not unpleasant.  In fact, it smelt familiar but I could not place it.

Chestnut flowers overhead

It was not until we went for a walk into the woods that I traced the source of the perfume (?).  We had been watching the Sweet Chestnuts (Castanea sativa) throw out the unripe catkins and knew that the flowering was imminent but we had never suspected that the bees could bring so much pollen back that we would be able to smell it in front of the hives.

Chestnut flower stamens

The male flowers produce long stamens and the quantity of pollen produced by the tree is enormous.  One method of testing to see what type of honey that the bees produce is to examine the pollen grains trapped inside the honey.  However, the quantity of pollen produced by the sweet chestnut can complicate the analysis and I have read that some honeys in France which are 100% Latifolia (the commercially grown lavender for perfume, essential  oils etc.) and, therefore, monofloral could containe 80% of sweet chestnut pollen!

Stand of Chestnut trees

We are lucky to be surrounded by woods containing Sweet Chestnut trees so the bees are happy just now and we are happy to collect the chestnuts in the autumn.

Chestnut flowers and stamens

The female flowers which are tiny and insignificant in comparison to the stamens of the male flower.  After receiving comments provoked by the Facebook page of the BBKA I need to clarify where the nectaries of the Sweet Chestnut trees are situated.  I have found a paper in which one of the main criteria was to study the morphology of Sweet Chestnut flowers. ( Flower morphology of Castanea sativa Mill From Bulgaria and characteristics of unifloral chestnut honey ( Comptes rendus de l’Académie bulgare des sciences: sciences mathématiques et naturelles · January 2013.Juliana Atanassova, Spassimir Tonkov (Submitted by Academician V. Golemansky on April 19, 2013))  This paper quoted, as a reference, Farkas A., E. Zajacz.  ́ Eur. J. Plant Sci. Biotech., 1, 2007, No 2, 125–148. but I was unable to find this on the internet but it appears another quirk of the sweet chestnut that this mainly wind pollinated tree produces nectar from nectaries situated on the male flowers which also produce pollen, although at different times to avoid cross-pollination.

 

 

Close up Chestnut flowers

Looking closer at the flowers you can see the formation of the prickly green cover that protects the mature chestnuts.

Chestnut flowers

The form of the female flowers remind me of the hazel nut flowers but perhaps the hazel flowers are more stunning with their surprisingly red colour.

Honey bee on Bramble Rubus fruticosus

What did intrigue me was that in spite of the abundance of the chestnut nectar and pollen the bees were still visiting the brambles (Rubus fruticosus) that were growing in the undergrowth beneath the trees .  This will alter the flavour and constituency of any honey produced if the bees mix the nectar of different plants and I am sure ours will.

Megachile on Bramble

It was not only the honey bees.

Butterfly on bramble

But other pollinators were attracted to the brambles.

Honey bee on old man's beard Clematis vitalba

I saw honey bees on the Old Man’s Beard (Clematis vitalba) despite the feast of plenty overhead.  An abundant source of nectar and pollen does not stop the bees visiting the other sources.

daucus carota Queen Anne's Lace

Checking out for bees and nectar sources under the trees I noticed this lovely Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) or Queen Anne’s Lace with its sole red floweret in the centre of the bloom.  This has nothing to do with Sweet Chestnuts and bees but I just thought it was so lovely.

Bees in super

So the odour has disappeared from the hives and it will be something we will expect to reappear next year when the Sweet Chestnut trees flower.  Perhaps we will be less nervous and more confident then.  Until then Kourosh has fitted all the supers with clear plastic covers so that we can have a peek at the bees filling up the frames without disturbing them.


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Have you seen a glow worm?

glow worm

This is what a female glow worm looks like and as you can see from its size against the grass stem it is not very big, maybe two centimetres at a stretch.  However, at night time all you will see is a spot of green light.

The group Estuaire is trying to study glow worms in France and if you have a garden in France your assistance is invaluable to them.  They would like to find out where glow worms can be seen in France.  Are they more common in city gardens or country gardens?  Are they on the increase or decrease?

So have a look after dark in the garden and if you do see a glow worm let the association know http://www.asterella.eu/index.php?.

In addition, you can check out the summer skies and maybe even spot a shooting star.  Late July and early August might give you an even higher chance.

Close up of glow worm

In fact, glow worm hunting would be the ideal pastime for insomniacs, you just need to wait until it is really dark to start your hunt.  Like all sports it has its dangers and unless doted with extra sensory perception it is best to have a torch at hand to avoid the odd rake or misplaced rockery.

Last year I was given a “Special Mission” by the Association, so you are warned that glow worm hunting can become addictive.  I have other blogs and pictures of glow worms I have met but for more information check out the Association’s web site and good hunting!

 

 


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June finishes

Potager

June began with unseasonal rain and showers which meant it was a perfect time to root out weeds from the soft ground and watch the plants grow.  The rain has stopped abruptly and it is amazing how quickly the ground dries up.  The vegetable garden now needs a daily watering.

Borlotti beans

We do not grow a lot of vegetables.  We do like to grow some Borlotti beans but we forgot to buy more beans on our last visit to the U.K.  Kourosh had already placed his Hazel poles before we found the seeds here.  We could only find dwarf Bolotti beans and as they have started to flower already I think the height of the poles will be more than generous, but we will see.

Fennel

I have left the Fennel that grew spontaneously from our compost in the flower borders.  It actually looks quite attractive adding height and colour and of course attracting the hover flies to help keep the flowers free from aphid attacks.

Poppies

It was time to say goodbye to the poppies as they had started to fall over and dry up.  I usually gather the seed from the prettiest poppies but after many years I noticed this year there was less variety and colours so I think I will have to invest in new seeds for next year.  Any suggestions of seed varieties would be welcome.

Philadelphus

The Philadelphus have just about finished but with the extra rain they had a particularly long and abundant season.  Their perfume makes them a must in a garden but it is only the odd bee that I catch in their flowers.

Geranium

On the other hand the geraniums are constantly visited by butterflies, solitary bees and honey bees.

Cotoneaster

The cotoneaster is almost finished.  I have different types of cotoneaster throughout the garden and the easiest way to find them is to listen for the bees.  If I could choose only one shrub for the garden it would be cotoneaster as it provides for the bees in summer and feeds the birds its red berries in the winter.

Lime tree

If I could choose only one tree it would be the lime tree (Tillia platyphyllos) for the heavenly perfume of its flowers.  Bees make delicious honey from the lime tree flowers and I have taken my share of the flowers to dry to make infusions in the winter.

Astrantia

The Astrantia is as popular as ever.

Hydrangea

And the flat flowers of the Hydrangea give an easy access for foraging bees.

hawkmoth

The hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) is a common visitor once the warm weather arrives.  His eye with the dark spot like a pupil is unusual for an insect’s eye and gives him a knowing expression.

Bee fly

The bee fly (Bombylius sp.) has also appeared with the warm weather and its high-pitched buzz is ever present around the Nepeta and Lavander.  It is a parasite of solitary bees laying its eggs near their nest entrances so I cannot warm to it but it is also an efficient pollinator.

Unknown

I often find that I cosset plants only to find I have been mistaken and what I have been rearing with care turns out to be a weed.  These appeared in my stone trough so I decided to let them flower as I would be then able to identify them from their flowers.  Only, I have still no idea.

Yellow flower

They are about one metre tall and have pretty yellow flowers.  Has anyone any idea of what they might be?