a french garden


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Hot August Days

parched grassAugust has been hot and  dry.  Rain showers have passed to the north of us and to the south of us but we remain parched.  The trees must be able to reach lower damper soil with their roots but even they are tiring.  The leaves are starting to change to autumn colour because of the drought stress and the apples are falling.

weeded look

I have to water the young plants and the judicious watering is creating a well-weeded took as even the weeds are succumbing.

Saville gdns hydrangia

My “Savill Garden” hydrangea has survived and flowered for the first time but only the cared for plants can make it through the hot sun and dryness.  Even the lavender requires some water.

Canna

Only the Canna has survived and flourished without watering.  I don’t actually like it and years ago I presumed I could kill it if I never watered it.  Not so.  Now I keep it as it provides a trouble free hedging and it is easily controlled by pulling out the new plants once a year either in autumn or spring.

A gold star goes to a tough, yellow flower that I was given, I think it must be a perennial sunflower.  This on the other hand is a favourite as the bees adore it.

B.sylvarum.. (1)

I could do with a help on the I.D. here.  Even the bees are getting bleached in the sun!  I would like to know if this is a Shrill Carder bumble bee or just a very bleached other carder.

B.sylvarum.. (2)

Here is a side shot if it helps.

Whip snake long view

One creature that was enjoying a hot sunny spot in the garden was this Western Whip snake or couleuvre.

Whip snake portrait

They are not venomous and very shy, not hanging around when disturbed.  I was surprised, therefore, to see it later in a different part of the garden.  Coincidently, it was near a hose each time.

garden hose

In view of the colour of our garden hose, I wonder if it was just looking for a friend?

Bumble bee mint

Outside of the garden the wild mint is in flower and attracts loads of bees and butterflies.

honey bee mint

I have let our mint flower in the garden too and notice our bees on the flowers.  Does this meant that our honey will have mint overtones?

honey bee gaura

The Gaura is the favourite flower of the honey bees in the garden at the moment.  The pollen is all carried away by mid-morning but I notice the bees fill-up on the nectar while collecting the pollen.

Artemisia absinthium

I am fascinated by my Artemisia absinthium bush.  This is the plant used in the production of absinthe and known commonly as Wormwood as it was used in the treatment of intestinal worms.

What fascinates me is that I never see an insect on it: not a fly, or bee or butterfly.  Yet it has pleasant little yellow pom-pom flowers that remind me of Mimosa.  It was at one time used for strewing on floors to keep insects away or for folding into materials to protect them from damage by mites.

I have tried rubbing it in my hands and it has a not unpleasant odour and I wonder how it would fare as an anti-mosquito treatment.  I think I will cut the branches and try it in the cupboards this winter as an anti-moth remedy.

Sphinx caterpillar

This caterpillar did not come from my garden.  My neighbour Annie brought it down to me as she knew I would be interested.  It was 12 cm. long and 2 cm. tall (?), a real chunky chappy.  I recognised it as a Sphinx caterpillar but as it happened our beekeeper friend, Michel, was here too and correctly explained that these caterpillars grow into Death’s head hawkmoths; moths that love honey and can invade bee hives.  I must admit I was a bit sceptical of moths attacking bee hives but check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death%27s-head_hawkmoth.

Poor bees they have a lot to put up with!

 

 

 

 

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A Regulus ignicapillus in the hand

Back door

Our dining room faces onto a small patio facing the front garden.  Water and food is placed on the patio for the birds to eat, drink, bathe and generally frolic for our amusement summer and winter.

We get large numbers of sparrows and tits with the flock mentality of one for all.  This means that when one is startled they all take off en mass.  Sometimes the startled birds lose their sense of direction and we occasionally hear a tell tale knock on the window.  Usually, they fly off but sometimes they are stunned.

IMG_0004

The other day we heard the fateful rap on the window and ran to check that all was well.  A stunned bird was lying on the patio, so I picked it up and even I with my limited birding knowledge realised that it was not a sparrow.

Firecrest

It was completely stunned so Kourosh quickly took a few photographs and then dashed off for a cardboard box.  He found a conveniently small one and I placed the bird in the box and closed the lid and left it in a quiet place.  A couple of hours later we heard a scrabbling from inside the box.  We opened the box outside at the back of the house and the bird flew directly into the trees.

The dark box treatment is the best course to take to prevent a stunned bird from freezing in the winter or dehydrating in the sun of the summer.

Next we had to find out what it was!  I thought it might be a Goldcrest (the smallest British bird – I’m not sure why that stuck in my mind.)  I was on the right track though – it is in fact a Firecrest.  I think I have heard it in the back garden, it has a very distinctive call, you can listen to it here http://www.oiseaux.net/oiseaux/roitelet.triple-bandeau.html

My book on the birds of the Charente-Maritime calls it the Roitelet triple-bandeau and says that it nests in this region but can also migrate in winter.  It also identifies her as a female, the male having a bright orange stripe instead of the females more yellow stripe on the head.  I hope her disagreement with our window does not put her off nesting in the garden or visiting the patio.


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Special Mission – Year Two

Last year we undertook a “Special Mission” to count glow worms on a route of  500 metres in length near our house.  I posted about the Special Mission in July last year.  We were contacted again this year and were on the road at 11.00 p.m. last Saturday.

glow worm

I was a bit disappointed with the photographs I took but it was important to try, as seemingly they are often able to tell which species they are, even from fuzzy photographs.  We saw eight females but no males and no couples mating.  Last year we had found fourteen on our second attempt and we were able to photograph a couple mating.  This year has been very dry so perhaps less snails for the larval food?

Sous apricotier

The previous day Kourosh had noticed a glow worm under the apricot tree in the back garden when he had been pulling back the weeds.  So we checked if it was still there.

Glow worm with snails

She was still there on Saturday night and we also noticed a lot of little snails ( of the Clausilies family, I think).

Un autre dans le jardin clignotant

This one was in the front garden and she was producing a strong light but still no male.

I posted this just to give everybody a poke if they had intended to notify http://www.asterella.eu/index.php? in France (or indeed to notify the various organisation with similar projects in other countries) and might have forgotten to check their garden.

We do not often go wandering around after midnight but with the street light extinguished it is beautiful to watch the stars in a cloudless summer sky.

Deilephila elpenor.Elephant Hawk Moth

When we got back to the house we found an Elephant Hawk-Moth (Deilephila elpenor) waiting for us on the kitchen window ledge so perhaps we should take after dark walks more frequently.

 


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Not your usual garden flowers

pulicaria dysenterica

Pulicaria dysenterica, or Fleabane, is not your usual garden flower and I can just imagine you thinking – “That figures!”  I thought hard about bringing it into the garden as I was worried that it might be difficult to control as it seems to pop up on the roadside here in the summer time without any problem.  Actually it has grown taller and more shrub like in the garden and is quite attractive in the wilder part.  Time will tell if I have difficulty in controlling it.

Green eyed bee

This is the reason I have it in the garden.  I love this green-eyed bee, which in turn loves the Fleabane.  However, this is my first picture of it this year but having the Fleabane in the garden may have saved me from heatstroke if I had been searching for it, as usual, outside.  July has been very hot and sunny.

Megachilae

There are lots of other bees that come along, like this little Megachilae which I can recognise from a distance as it bobs its tail up and down on the flower to pick up the pollen on the hairs under her abdomen.  I think this is a very efficient method to gather pollen but this is the only time I’ve seen it used.

Halictes

The different Halictes come in droves but my green-eyed bee remains elusive.

Common blue butterfly

As I wait I get restless and snap at the butterflies that visit.  It is a very useful plant if you are keen to have a focal point to watch a lot of the pollinators around your garden.  As for herbal uses, it would seem to have been effective as a treatment against dysentery and the dried plants were among those used for strewing on the floors to deter fleas.  Perhaps not as useful nowadays, when we are not looking for a cure for cholera or something to control the fleas from a garden plant.

Lettuce flowers

This year again I have decided to let some lettuce flower.  Last year I let lettuce flower to see what bees were attracted to it and again this year I found only some tiny bees bothered to visit the flowers, although it is hardly surprising as they are competing with the lavender and origano flowers.  This year I have let the lettuce flower because I want to collect the seeds.

Lettuce flower closed

The lettuce flowers only last for one morning and then close in the afternoon.

Lettuce seeds

The seed heads are like little dandelion clocks and I pinch the seed heads off each day.  I decided to collect the seeds of our red and green leaf lettuce as lovely plants appeared in the front garden in the spring, obviously arriving with the garden compost.  However, we have had difficulty in getting the bought seeds to germinate so I am going to try DIY lettuce seeds.

Mullein garden

I have had several Mullein plants (Verbascum thapsis) self seed in the garden this year and I have found that they fit in very well and I like their tall candelabra shape.  This picture was taken in July.

Mullein garden august

Now in August, most of the flowers are finished but I have decided to let it go to seed.  It is a biannual and is very easy to remove by cutting it at the base.  It has a tap root and its roots do not wander through the garden.  Its seeds do like some open ground and it prefers an open spot with plenty of sun.  I can think of a few suitable spots if I can harvest the seeds.

It is also regarded as a medicinal plant and the flowers can be added to tisanes.  The young leaves can also be used if taken before the flowering but in any case the tisanes should be well strained to remove and tiny leaf hairs which could cause irritation.

Mullein honey bee

The reason I want to have a steady supply of the Mullein is to be able to watch all the different kind of bees that come each morning to gather the bright orange pollen.

As I take note of the flowers that attract the bees I notice how many of these flowers have been regarded as medicinal herbs in the past.