a french garden


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Autumn has started

back-garden-2

Autumn has started with temperatures of 27 degrees centigrade and sunshine.  We have had one heavy rainfall and I am pleased to see that most of the trees look like they have come through the dry summer.  I think the two consecutive wet winters and spring had filled up the ground water as I did not (could not) water the trees but only the vegetable garden and some of the young plants.

belle-de-boskop

This is our Belle de Boskoop.  I like the large, crunchy apples of the Belle de Boskoop but even counting on our other three apple trees, we are going to have no storage problems for the apple harvest – there is just enough to keep us going for eating and a bit more for compote to freeze.

pear

The pear harvest is also meagre but I am not complaining as I am only too happy that they have survived.

cyclamen

What did surprise me was that some cyclamen shot through the soil a few days after the rain.  The corms had lain in the baking soil until the rain and the season stimulated the flower production.  The leaves are appearing slowly like an afterthought.

red-poppy

Not all plants have such a good synchronisation with the seasons and this poppy that has self seeded from the spring ones has skipped a few months.

swallow-tail-caterpillar

I thought this Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) caterpillar on my fennel stalks had missed the boat for this year but checking in Wiki I found out that the later broods can overwinter as pupae which is what I presume will happen to this one.

heptacodium-micanoides-1

One of my great disappointments in the garden is the Heptacodium micanoides that I planted to replace the shrub I bought (and lost ) as Heptacodium jasminoides.  I raved about this shrub Heptacodium jasminoides, the bumble bee tree in 2012 and again The last days of September in 2013.  I have two healthy H. micanoides now but neither of them are perfumed.  Not surprising, you say, as they are different species but as far as I can understand the difference is only a name change, as there is only the one representative of the genus.  The second difference is that although the bumble bees are attracted to the shrub it is not pulling in the bees like my first Heptacodium.  Any ideas?

hibiscus-trionum

Last year I had a beautiful patch of Hibiscus trionum, or Flower of an hour.  I had hopes that here they might be perennial, or at least self-seed, but despite the mild winter I have found only one flower.  Never mind, I kept the seeds from last year so they can be sown again in the spring in the ground or in pots.

21-9-16-midday

On the topic of puzzles – what is this honey bee doing?  I had cut the basil I grow in a pot on the patio about a week ago to dry the leaves but I left the stalks as they are quite happy to push out some more leaves.  While having our lunch we noticed bees around the pot and one bee in particular seemed to be treating a damaged leaf like an ice lolly.

bee-on-basil

The long tongue was slid over the back and then the front of the leaf.  It was just after midday and their was no obvious moisture on the leaf and I wonder if they can extract oils from the leaves?  No wonder their honey tastes so good!

bee-on-cosmos-sulphureus

The bees are also through the Cosmos sulphureus.  They must keep their options open as when we go walking we are greeted first by the smell of the ivy flowers and then the noise of the bees overhead.  The ivy is just opening here and the flowers that receive more sun, such as the ones on the tops of the trees, open first.  It is the last great feast for all the pollinators.

male-ivy-bee

The male ivy bees (Colletes hedera) which nest in a dry path not far from the house are searching hopefully for females that are just starting to appear.

lindas-pretty-pink-flower

Back to the garden and another puzzle.  This is called “Linda’s pretty pink flower”.  We saw it in a friend’s garden and we were delighted to be given one for our own garden.  Linda had momentarily forgotten the name and I forget to ask her whenever I see her!  Can anyone help out here?

 

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And the prize goes to Sunflower

It seems that we all had a hot summer.  Here, in August we had what they call the canicule – the dog days – with the temperatures nearly every day in mid to high 30s  centigrade (95 to 100F).

Throughout June and even July I didn’t mow the area near the beehives.

Beehives at la Bourie

Throughout August and now in September, the grass – well forget the grass – has been a patch of desert.  The more mature trees have decided that they just would rather go into autumn mode and their leaves have turned yellow. Amelia has been watering her precious flowers and smaller shrubs that she has so lovingly nursed, every evening.

We have always enjoyed our daily walks in the countryside around us.  After all, isn’t that the main reason why we settled to rural France?  However, the recent heat wave has meant that most afternoons we had to close the curtains and stay in the relative coolness of the house.  Nevertheless, one walk that we particularly enjoy is to a small lake where Amelia likes to photograph the solitary bees and bumbles.

The lake at Madion

I prefer to just enjoy the peaceful surrounding and look at the waterlilies.

waterlilies at Madion lake

We had practically no rain since June and I was beginning to wonder if there was enough nectar in what was left of the flowers to feed our girls as well as fill the supers with honey.

Last year I found that the change in the self fertilising variety of  sunflowers planted around us meant that the bees could not reach the nectar.

Sunflowers at Virollet

Fortunately, this year the farmers returned to the more traditional seeds which was much more attractive to bees.

Honeybees on sunflower

They do need to dig deep to collect the nectar, but at least there is no need to fly from flower to flower to collect the precious nectar.

Bee collecting nectar from sunflower

Despite the August dryness and the heat we are fortunate to have a lot of gaura around the garden.  Early morning is the best time to see the bees collecting pollen.  By around 8am, they have stripped all the pollen from the flowers.  But, they do return later in the afternoon to collect the nectar.

A bee collecting nectar on gaura

I must not forget the lavender also which has been buzzing with bees, bumbles and butterflies throughout the summer.

A bee on lavender

Our hive Violette suffered most from the afternoon sun.  So, for most of this summer I had to shelter her under a beach umbrella, the violet colour of the umbrella is just coincidental!

Hive Violette sheltered

The bees need plenty of water in summer, mainly to cool their hives.  So right in front of their hives I have placed an inverted bottle to fill a dish with water.  But it seems that they prefer to go to the zinc basin that is usually filled with water for the birds. I have now modified it by placing a large stone in the middle, so that any bees that might fall in can do a bee paddle to safety.

Honeybees drinking water

Our beekeeper friend, Michel recommended that we collect our honey on 19th of August.  We used his extractor once more and Amelia and I were delighted to see that we had actually collected a total of 74.5 Kg (164 pounds) of honey. Each of the hives, including the two divisions of this year (Iris and Pissenlit) had done an excellent job.  But the prize went to Sunflower hive that had produced the most honey.

We collected two different types of honey: the dark coloured honey containing mainly the nectar from the chestnut flowers which are abundant around our house.  We also collected the beautifully yellow honey from the sunflowers.  This year the summer honey is different from last year.  It is slightly granular in constituency, but has a lovely flavour, as it is mixed with wild flowers.

I do feel a bit guilty stealing their precious honey, but I have checked and they do have adequate reserves in their hives and the ivy is just starting to flower.

bee-on-ivy

Ivy is very important allowing the bees to complete their winter stock.  Beekeepers season really starts after the honey collection, when we have to make sure the bees are healthy and ready to go through winter.

– Kourosh

 

 


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Jumping spiders!

I think most of you will have seen the great video by Jürgen Otto’s of the jumping spider Maratus speciosus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_yYC5r8xMI.  It is coming up on six million views now.  I really like some of the other ones that are set to music like the YMCA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYIUFEQeh3g which always makes me laugh.

However, I had never expected to see a jumping spider waving its legs at me in real life.  Especially not on the dining room table.

saitis-barbipes-2

I would like to point out here that it is only 5mm. and apart from scuttling very rapidly – it can jump.

saitis-barbipes-1

Even a bad photograph is better than none as I am not sure whether I would have believed it myself since the famous Maratus spider is a native of Australia.

Working back with the help of Wiki I found out that there is a large family of Salicidae or Jumping spiders and there are members of this family present in Europe.  My spider bears a striking resemblance to Saitis-barbipes which is present in France.

I feel rather favoured that he waved his fluffy orange legs at me before skilfully disappearing under the books and papers on the table.


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The heat goes on

cosmos-1

It has been a difficult summer in the garden.  The best laid plans have been scuppered by the heat and lack of rain.  I had sown Cosmos suphureus seeds by the vegetable garden to have lots to plant for a bright August garden.  However, the heat and lack of any rain did not allow me to move anything.

rudbeckia-and-cosmos

It’s not all doom and gloom, I did manage to coax some Rudbeckia and Cosmos to flower in the front garden and the bees still enjoyed the flowers even if they were in the wrong place.

too-much-pollen

There are hardly any Hollyhock flowers left so the bees are obliged to visit the Hibiscus syriacus.  They are not as popular as the Hollyhocks and I wonder if it is because their pollen is a lot stickier?  This male bumble had to spend a long time grooming after his drink of nectar.

hibiscus-moscheutos

I have been given another Hibiscus which our friend Michel had grown from one in his garden.  This one has a much lighter open growth and has more than one stem.  In addition, the honey bees like it.  It has five petals and a shorter pistil proportionally to the H. syriacus.

annies-red-robin

Gardners love to share their treasures and when my cousin and his wife, Annie, visited us from Seattle in the summer of 2014, Annie brought seeds of Red Robin tomatoes that she had saved from year to year for twenty years.  I was delighted when this spring I got a large crop of seedlings.  I planted them throughout the garden and then watched as they failed to thrive and disappeared (homesickness?).  The only clump that survived was under the olive tree, I do not think they could take the full sun this summer.  Now I have tasted these tiny tomatoes I have decided to collect my own seed and I think I will be able to choose better places for them next year.

cotinus

Then there are the gifts of unknown species.  This was given to me by my sister as “You know that tree with the red leaves” – (you will note the plant does not have red leaves.)  It has taken me a year but I have deduced that it could be Cotinus.

caryopteris

At the same time she had potted up a cutting of – “You know that plant with the blue flowers that the bees like”.  It was quite a small cutting and the bees like quite a lot of blue flowers.  Never the less, it was a good cutting and it survived tucked away forgotten under larger neighbours until its blue flowers poked through a few days ago and I saw the first Caryopteris I’ve ever had.

anemone

I’ve even forgiven her for giving me pots of her Japanese anemones when I was starting the garden.  I found them so invasive that I have spent the last years systematically, but unsuccessfully, rooting them out.  Today I noticed a bumble bee on one that had cunningly concealed itself under my large fuchsia.  Perhaps if the bees like them I could permit a few to survive.

lagerstroemia-indica

I freely admit I am totally biased when it comes to plants that provide for wild life, especially bees.  At this time of year in France many of the streets in town centres are lined with Lagerstroemia indica, usually the pink flowered trees.  They are popular garden trees as well, but I had found them gaudy.  I was very surprised to see how beautiful the bark was in winter.  I craved the beautiful bark in winter but the pink flowers were still too gaudy for me until Michel pointed out how the flowers attracted the bees.

bee-line

It changed my perspective on the tree and it did not seem quite so gawdy but instead appeared an ideal tree to brighten the garden in summer and add interest with its bark in winter.  Is this opinion shift common in gardeners?  Do we mellow to certain plants over time?

lagerstroemia-indica-2

So last week we were delighted to receive a present of  a pink Lagerstroemia indica which was planted with great care in the front garden.  Now I have to wait to see how long it will take for the formation of the fascinating bark.