a french garden


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Planting bulbs the hard way

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This pot has lain since May of 2014 just to satisfy my curiosity.  I had noticed daffodils appearing in the garden where I thought they had not been planted but at the same time I doubted whether they would self-seed.

Bee approaches daffodil.jpg

I have read that bees are not attracted to daffodils but that will depend on the bees, the availability of other flowers and of course the variety of daffodil.

bee-in-daffodil

These pictures were taken in March of 2013, before we started keeping honey bees so I cannot answer for their tastes in nectar or pollen.

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I do find that some of the daffodils go to seed so in May of 2014 I decided to plant some of the seeds.

bumble-in-tulip

In addition, the bumble bees are attracted to the tulips although some of them make very inelegant exits from inside the tulips, like this red tailed queen bumble bee.  So I also had seeds of a pretty pink tulip to sow with the daffodils.

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Just to make up a threesome, I had noticed that the snakeskin fritillaria (Fritillaria meleagris) had masses of seeds so their seeds went in the pot too.

The fritillaria had been sown for the first time in the autumn of 2013 and flowered abundantly the following spring.  That was the last time I saw them.  I am not sure whether our hot, dry summers killed off the young plants or whether I had not loved them enough while they were flowering.

bulbs-revealed

The seeds in my pot from 2014 had produced green leaves last year but I felt they would need to be planted out this year.  So with a heave I upturned the pot to see what was happening.

bulb-close-up

You must have faith in me here, as the photo is not clear, but there were masses of fritillaria bulblets (top left), six long, thin but very well rooted tulip bulbs (eight seeds had been planted originally) and lots of little daffodil bulblets.

I don’t like planting bulbs but here I was now with lots of little fritillaria bulblets (that I am not particularly keen on) but now I feel totally obliged to give them at least a chance to grow in with the little daffodil bulbs in a patch at the bottom of the garden.

The six pink tulip bulbs have received a preferential treatment and been replaced with new soil in the pot.

So why do I do it?  Just to be sure?  It is so much easier to pick up a bag of bulbs all ready to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Am I killing our bees?

Amelia and I spent two week in the UK in late October.  Before our departure we were so happy with our bees. They had given us loads of honey and all the frames of each of our five hives were either full of brood or honey reserve.  This was much better than last year at this stage, when we had to remove three empty frames from Violette and two from Poppy and place a partition in their hives.

The entrance of each of our hives is fitted with a metal strip that just permits the bees to enter the hive but is (in theory) too narrow to let the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) and European hornets (Vespa crabro) enter the hive. (Grille d’entrée anti frelons )

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During the Spring of this year we had captured over a hundred Asian hornets – mostly queens – and as the result we had noticed very few attacks from the hornets during August, September and even October.  Despite that I had left several frelon traps not far from the hives.

On our return from the UK, we went to the hives immediately, even before entering the house.  What we found just broke our hearts.  The hives were being badly attacked even though it was late in the evening.  We noticed that the Asian hornets appeared to be smaller than the previous year and they were coming out of the hive we call Iris.  She was our youngest division from Violette and in October she had a large brood and all frames at the sides were full of honey.  She had even given us honey.

The next day I opened Iris as there did not appear to be any guard bees.  I noticed a very small brood in the middle two frames but only a small handful of bees on them.  I could almost cry!

We had already bought hive muzzles and decided to place an entrance reducer on some of the hives and the muzzles on others.  Maybe it is the case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.  Maybe as far as Iris is concerned we have lost her.

poppy-dead-bees-001

Just above the metal mesh, there is an entrance to the hive, but only some of the bees are getting used to entering through that entrance.  The problem in any case is that the metal mesh in front of the muzzle has 6mm wide entrance for the bees.  Theoretically they should be able to enter and leave, but some get stuck in the mesh, others do injure themselves or die.  Others try to remove their dead sisters which makes it even a sadder sight to watch.

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I cannot decide whether the muzzles are helping the bees or harming them.

My other problem is that I have fitted two of my hives with a small canopy which makes it even more difficult to fit the muzzle.  On Violette with her canopy I had to fit the muzzle above the canopy so it is really badly fitted.

violette-dead-bees-001

Fortunately during the last few days it has been raining and there are less bees coming and going.  I have not had the courage to fully inspect all the hives when it rains and disturb them even more, but I am seriously worried for at least three of the hives.

A few days ago we found eight Asian hornets had actually managed to enter the space within the muzzle of Iris.  Once inside the muzzle the hornets do not attack the bees and appear to panic.  Eventually they die.

8-frelon-trapped-iris

I watched Poppy’s guard bees actually attack two hornets inside her muzzle and eventually killed her.  But to be honest I am getting desperate.  Perhaps someone – not necessarily a beekeeper – can suggest a better design for the muzzle that would protect the bees without killing them.  For the moment I am not sure if I am hurting them more than protecting them.

Kourosh

 

 


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The good and bad in November

all-well

We were two weeks in the U.K. and returned home to sunshine to find all was well with the garden.

broadbeans-up

The broad beans had popped through while we were away.

courgette-for-soup

The courgettes had, not unexpectedly, finished but had left us three courgettes which went into some soup.

brussel-sprouts

The brussel sprouts are great.  You either love them or hate them and I love them.

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The medlar are still hard and their leaves look better from a distance providing a splash of yellow.

cotoneaster

I was pleased that the cotoneaster were full of berries.  After such a dry summer I thought the birds might be in short supply of food for the winter but it has not been the case.

eriobotrya-japonica

Our first loquat or Eriobotrya japonica flowers are progressing happily.

altea

The “Althea” which our friend Michel has given us is still flowering.  It is not a Hibiscus syriacus as those have larger flowers and have long since formed fruit and succumbed to the autumn.  The honey bees know it is not, as they are attracted to its flowers.  Perhaps it is a variety of Lavatera.  It is a much finer shrub with softer and more delicate leaves than the Lavatera I have.

elaeagnus

For me the star of the back garden just now is the Elaeagnus.  The wonderful perfume can be smelt metres away (I must check exactly how far) even when temperatures are as low as ten degrees centigrade.  I admit the flowers are far from stunning but it is all worth it for that delicious perfume.  In addition, the flowers provide nectar for the over wintering queen bumble bees.

clathrus-ruber

Not far away in the grass is the basket fungus Clathrus ruber with a diferent odour.  I am fascinated by its complex globe structure but you would not want to stay too close too long.  The rotting smell, thankfully, does not carry too far so I am quite happy when it pops up in the autumn.

clathrus-ruber-egg

Close beside it another fruiting body has pushed out of the soil.  This “egg” shape will eventually split and I will be treated to another red basket display.

mr-blackbird

The birds in the front garden have started feasting on the first ripe Persimmon.  We have since removed the ripest fruit to finish ripening in the house but we have left the birds their share too.  The greener ones will continue ripening slowly on the tree and we will collect these later.

mrs-blackbird

This foray looked like a family affair with Mr. and Mrs. blackbird although I thought male blackbirds had much yellower beaks than this male.

muzzle-trial

Our pleasure at returning home received a shock when we visited the bees.  The Asian hornets that had seemed fewer this year had profited from our absence and targeted the bees.  We saw hornets exiting from “Iris” which we fear lost.  We immediately put on a muzzle on the front of Poppy to see if it would protect her.  We chose her as the front of her hive is flat and so easier to fix the muzzle.  We have not decided whether this is helping or not.

8-hornets-001

Despite rain, which we thought would protect them, we found eight hornets had entered the muzzle in front of Iris.  There were not eight dead bees in the trap so perhaps they immediately took fright.  Once they realise they are trapped, the hornets lose their hunting instinct and will seek an exit until they die exhausted.

I phoned a friend to see how she was getting on and discovered she had experienced a surge in the hornet attack in the past two weeks (just when we were in the U.K.!).  She fears she has lost at least two of her four hives.

Sad news to end on.

 


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Cognac Jardin Public revisited

water-jets

It was a beautiful day in October, when mellow from a very enjoyable lunch we decided to enjoy the sunshine and walk through the park in Cognac.  It was many years since we had visited the garden but although I noticed improvements, the structures that had delighted me years ago had been left intact (or preserved).

bridge-moulded-logs

Water plays a major role in the garden which extends over 7 hectares (17 acres).  The town bought the first part of the gardens (including the building now used as the Town Hall) from the Otard family.  This family bought the close-by Chateau of Cognac (birthplace of Francis I) in 1796 and the same family are still producing Cognac and storing it in the cellars of the chateau.

I like the moulded tree struts of the bridge which is quite in keeping with the grotto in the distance.

grotto-distance

The design of the gardens was the work of the landscape gardener Edouard André who started of life as a gardener at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris and was given the task of remodelling these gardens in 1892.  He specialised in fountains and grottoes and worked internationally, including in Sefton in the U.K.

grotto-waterfall

I love the mystery of grottos and the sound of running water.

grotto

We have a fair number of stones in our garden and Kourosh has produced some rockeries and dry stone walls; I wonder if I would be pushing it to suggest he try for a grotto?

folly

The folly would be one step too far for our garden but looks perfect in Cognac.  Otherwise called the neo-Gothic tower it was built in 1835 and is octagonal in shape.  It is having work done on it at the moment and I believe it will have a moat surrounding it in the future.

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I had seen all of the park before but what I noticed this time was the number of plants providing nectar for pollinators.

arbutus-unedo

The arbutus unedo or Strawberry trees were full of this year’s blossom and last year’s fruit.  I’ve read that honey from the Strawberry trees has a rich chocolatey/coffee flavour which I would like to try.

johnsons-blue

This honeybee is on a Johnson’s blue geranium and was spoiled for choice on the bee friendly flowers in the borders.

lonicera-maachii

My only small complaint was that the labelling of the plants was variable but I suppose the gardeners are working towards the upkeep and beauty of the gardens – not trying to sell the plants.  However, at the base of this tree was a large plaque announcing that it was a Sophora japonica. I was initially extremely surprised as I had never heard of the Sophora producing beautiful red berries.

sophora-japonica

However, taking a step to the rear I realised I had got a little too close and the real Sophora was hiding behind.  A Google search at home indicates that it is Lonicera Maackii or Amur honeysuckle which produces these attractive red berries.  This is an Asian species which has become invasive in some parts of the U.S.A.  I found the berries very beautiful and the flowers are rich in nectar.

black-walnuts

You could not miss the enormous American Black Walnut tree at this time of year as it was impossible to walk near it without sliding on the walnuts.  I noticed that the fruits were smaller than our walnuts and the outer coatings were more yellow.

statue

In December 1999 France was hit by a catastrophic storm which caused immense damage and 288 trees were lost in the garden.  This statue called “Instinct” was carved from a fallen green oak tree that had lived for two hundred years.  A fitting tribute to the memory of the trees lost in the storm.

salvia

I was so pleased to see the garden planted with such thought for the pollinators but it also gave me pause for thought.

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There were lots of little blue butterflies on the Erigeron.

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I think they may have been Lang’s short tailed blue butterflies ( Leptotes pirithous) but I am not sure.  What I do know is that I have masses of Erigeron that self seeds in every nook and cranny in my garden and although it looks pretty I have never seen a bee or butterfly on the flowers.  I wonder if it is the sole butterfly that likes Erigeron?

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I will make a point of returning in the spring as many of the bedding plants were perennial and it was too late in the season to see them all to their advantage.

Cognac’s park provides ample room for everyone to enjoy the usual space for playing, running and other activities so well provided for in parks.