a french garden


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Perfume and colour in the December garden

bee-on-mousmoula

When the sun plays on the Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) tree the perfume expands over the garden and the bees descend on the flowers.  The flowers are just starting to open and are only opening slowly.

loquat-flowers-dec

Have you ever been caught out by thinking an artificial plant was a real one?  There are some fake plants that, well placed in a shady corner of a restaurant or hotel, have had me deceived.  However, when I look at the Loquat I find that the fluffy stems that support the flowers look more as if they have been fabricated from a soft, synthetic velvet rather having grown in such perfection.  The leaves, on closer inspection, are a bit suspect too.  Rather too thick and shiny.

The most unusual is the perfume.  Extremely pleasant as it is, I find it reminds me of baby talcum powder and not of any other flower that I know!  It almost seems as if it is a real plant pretending to be artificial!

We are too far north for the tree to produce its delicious fruit but it is H3 hardy so suitable as decoration in areas with a mild winter.

elaeagnus-x-ebbingei

The Elaeagnus x ebbingei is still flowering.  I must try and note next year how long its perfumed season lasts. I am growing this as a screen between the us and the neighbouring garden.  It is very amenable to being cut and I like to let it have a free form to give access to the birds and bees but it takes well to being pruned.

bee-on-winter-honeysuckle

The winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is H6 so we are looking at a plant that will take very cold winters but reward you with flowers and perfume when there is some sunshine and warmth.

bombus-p

The honeysuckle is frequently visited throughout the winter by the buff tailed bumble bee (just to confuse me the buff tailed bumble bees have white tails in France) but I noticed this carder bee on the honeysuckle.  It interested me as it is a queen carder that I frequently see in springtime here.

bombus-brown-band

It has a thick brown band at the top of its thorax and I had straight away thought of the brown-banded bumble bee (Bombus humilis) however, it does not match the description of Steven Falk.  I then checked on Atlas Hymenoptera – Les bourdons de la Belgique and I think I have found my carder bee as one of the three types that used to be found in Belgium although now they have practically disappeared.

Perhaps I should post this on my other site Bees in a French Garden to see if anyone can help me here.  But whatever their names are it is nice to see them in December.

bumble-on-strawberry-tree

You can tell that the bumble bees are finding plenty of pollen and so must still have a nest with young that they are feeding.  The young queens only need nectar to survive until they decide to make a nest.  The strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) H5 is a real hardy tree and the flowers are very attractive, if low on the perfume stakes.

Osmanthus

Another white, perfumed flower still blossoming is the Osmanthus heterophyllus “Goshiki”, I should really take a cutting to see if I could start another plant but this one is shaded by a wall and I am not sure whether it would stand the summer sun.

honey-bee-on-mahonia

It seems that most of my very fragrant winter flowers are white but now I have the Mahonias I love the splashes of yellow that they are providing.  “Charity” is the most prolific but the two “Media” are close behind.

anisodontea-el-rayo

The Anisodontea el rayo continues to flower and attract the bees but now some of the leaves have taken on a copper tint.  When I first saw the colour change after some cold nights I thought that was the end of the flowering season but the buds were unaffected and went on to open and flower.

heather-1

I tend to forget the heather.  I am still surprised that it does so well as I had got it into my head that I would not be able to grow heather in my chalky soil.  However, the E. x darleyensis varieties that I have survive very well but I could use them more effectively but I am not sure how.  Any good placement ideas that have worked for you?

cotoneaster

For colour, if not for perfume, the cotoneasters brighten up the garden in all weathers.  A seasonal picture to wish everyone a happy Christmas.

primroses

Even if you feel more like these primroses that have popped up as if to say “Is it spring yet?”

 


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We lost Iris

My camera endoscope ‘Potensic’ arrived by post which enabled me to inspect the inside of the hive Iris without opening it.  It comes with a 5 metres flexible tube that can be bent and pushed through the hive entrance.  It has a powerful light whose intensity can be adjusted easily by hand.  The camera was easy to use and quite effective.  It can be joined to a laptop or a smartphone to take still photos or videos.  I took a couple of pictures.  Sadly, the space between the middle frames looked empty.

snap_001The next day as it was sunny and the temperature was hovering around 16 degrees C (60 F), we decided to open up Iris.  I was saddened to see just three or four bees inside.  The outside frames were full of sealed honey, but no bees.

iris-with-dead-beesThere was  no doubt that they eventually succumbed to the attack by the Asian hornets. There were a few dead bees in the bottom of the hive, plus two dead hornet that had obviously been killed by the brave bees.

The other four hives were still busy, but despite the fact that December has arrived and the night temperatures have been for several nights around zero C, the Asian hornets had not stopped attacking the hives.  Amelia and I had searched the countryside around us during our walks but had not found any hornet nests.  But our friend Patricia told us a couple of nights ago that on cycling around she had seen a nest.  So off we went looking out for it.

img_0034There it was just over a kilometre from our house.  A nest at a height of some thirty metres from the ground.  Now that the trees had lost their leaves the nest was quite visible.  I could see the hornets coming and going.

It is important to note that unlike summer bees who live only 6 to 8 weeks, the winter bees live 3 to 5 months while the queen will be laying a very reduced number of eggs.  Therefore any attack on winter bees will deplete the colony more rapidly and as we found will be quite disasterous.  The other issue we have noted is that there is a misconception that by the end of October, the Asian hornets are all dead and any young queen is hidden in a hollow of a building or a tree until next Spring, when she creates a new colony.  We learnt to our horror that even the first week of December, they were attacking the bees.

After our walk in the country, we went over to see our neighbours Annie and Yvon.  He is the master of the hunt around here.  I showed him the photo and he agreed to come over in the morning with me and do what he could.  The next day we went to the site.  At that height, it is almost impossible to destroy the nest, but Yvon fired four shots in the middle of the nest, making a few large holes in it.  The idea being that the cold will do more damage and the birds will start attacking the nest, thus hastening its demose.  Firing into their nest is considered by many to be dangerous, ineffective and certainly should not be attempted in the summer time.

img_0040You can see one hornet near the top right hand side, and the nest entrance underneath where the hornets enter and leave.  It was a desperate attempt at a desperate situation.

This week the daytime temperatures have really climbed and Amelia and I have managed to have out lunch out in the garden.  She even shed her fleece!

The other four hives have been showing a great deal of activity, as you can see in this short video clip.

We felt sorry for the bees that were crowding around the entrance reducer of their hives.  They were busy bringing in pollen and naturally nectar.

img_0056Amelia felt really sorry for the girls and she asked me to take off the entrance reducer of Viollet, since we have not seen any hornets in the last couple of days.  Amelia has always had a soft spot for Viollet.

img_0074Some of the bees had huge sacs of pollen.  I can assume that although it was sixth of December, the hives still had brood.

We are fotunate that throughout winter there are still enough flowers for the girls to visit and bring in the nectar and pollen.  Gorse is a favourite at the moment, the photograph below was taken on the 7 December 2016.

img_7481Meanwhile. Viollet had finished her 2.5 Kilogram bag of fondant, so we replaced it at the same time as removing her entrance reducer.

One final observation.  When we returned from the UK in early November, we were devastated to see that despite the warm sunny days, the bees were mostly stuck inside their hives and reluctant to come out to face the hornet attack.  Panic and stress is as bad for the bees as it is for us.  So, although we sadly lost Iris, we are so glad that now the other four hives appear to be strong and all of them flying in and out in great numbers and are bringing in pollen.  We hope that the bees and all of us will have a good end to this year, or as the French say:  ‘Une bonne fin d’année’.  An early Merry Christmas to everyone. – Kourosh


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November finishes in the garden and December begins

willow-tree

November has been mild, not always sunny but mild.  The large willow at the bottom of the garden is still holding onto its leaves.

salix-alba-chermesina

I am starting to get the benefit from changes I have made in earlier years.  This year the four Salix alba Chermesina (or Scarlet Willow) that I planted in January of 2014 are just how I had imagined them.  Unfortunately, they have been so vigorous that they are covering the Mahonia “Soft Caress” that I planted in front of them.  I had not paid sufficient attention to the flowering period of this Mahonia which is much earlier than I had expected, about the beginning of October in my garden.  This does not qualify it as winter flowering, so I must find it a better place.

mahonia

Another 2014 addition was the Mahonia “Charity” which has put good growth on now and has lots shoots filled with flowers and buds.

bumble-bee-on-charity-2

The Mahonia is a magnet for bumble bees and it sounds like summer when I work nearby.

img_7404

I have a large patch of Phacelia not too far from the Mahonia but it does not have the same pulling power at the moment and the bees do not stay on the flowers so long.

anisodontea-in-bud

The star of the garden at the moment is the Anisodontea “El Rayo” ( I think the full name must be Anisdontea capensis “El Rayo”).  It was given to me by our friend Michel who could not remember the name and I understood it (wrongly!) to be a variation on Hibiscus syriacus which was attractive to bees.  As I have a lot of these Hibiscus I did not give it pride of place and it has only started flowering this autumn.

anisodontea-el-rayo-and-bee

It is well appreciated by the bees who go for the nectar and the pollen.

leycesteria-formosa

It is not only the flowers that provide colour in the garden now.  The berries of the Leycesteria formosa are a pink/purple turning almost black when ripe.  I don’t see a lot of ripe berries so the birds must be helping themselves.

vanessa-atalanta

On the 27 November it was warm enough for a Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) to stretch her wings and warm up on the house wall.

Cosmos November

I had not pulled out the old Cosmos to leave the seeds for the birds and to self sow but new flowers have appeared on the dried up brown stalks.

cosmos-sulphureus

Underneath, a Cosmos sulphureus had already decided to go for it and not bother waiting for spring to germinate.

wild-violet

Even a wild violet that had strayed into the garden had decided to flower.

1-frost-violet

But December brought our first frosts and cold weather turning the violet into an iced decoration.

1-branch-anisodentea

My new Anisodentea was completely frosted.

1-single-anisodentea

It looked completely charming.

1-frosted-mahonia

As did my Mahonia “Charity” with its delicate ice spikes attached to the flowers.  I had no doubt which of these flowers would survive the frosts as Mahonia is a well known winter flowering shrub but I was wrong!

After three continuous nights of frost the older flowers on the Mahonia have given up and turned white but the Anisodontea looks virtually untouched.  Today the honey bees were back on the flowers and a queen Bombus terrestris was availing herself of the nectar.

I have no idea how long the Anisodontea will continue flowering but today the temperatures were rising again and the forecast is good for next week.