a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Perfume and colour in the December garden



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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


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


Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

43 thoughts on “Perfume and colour in the December garden

  1. Wow. You still have blossoms in your garden. What region do you live in? We are covered in snow here in Ontario.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Looking out at fields of icy white, I am envious of your December blooms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a while since I have seen fields of white as we do not always get heavy snow even in a U.K. winter. As a child I looked forward to having snow for sledging, I did not think over much of flowers. Amelia

      Liked by 2 people

      • Winter has settled on us officially now. Another five inches last night, two more expected tonight. From here, until about the end of January, we can expect some nearly every day. Our bees are bundled and insulated, like us, dreaming of spring.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Your Carder Bumble keys to B. pascuorum from what I can see in the photo — 1. May have black hairs on abdomen and thorax (the photo shows some black hairs on both); 2. some black hairs on abdominal segments 1-5; 3. Hairs on ventral surface not all or mostly black. Also the long hairs on the hind metatarsus appear to be black.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I forgot to say, they will fly into November in a normal year, so in an abnormal year like this, I have no problem with B. pascuorum in December.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the report on your garden. You have so much more in bloom than we do now. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a prosperous (i.e., lots of honey) New year.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good Morning from a cold Vancouver BC. It was -18C on the wall of our garden shed this morning. I cannot imagine our bees will survive this cold weather. Snow expected tomorrow.
    We are zone 9A and our Arbutus Unedo thrives on the water side of the house where bitter winds blow from the east.
    The only thing blooming is the winter jasmine. The Anna’s hummingbird appreciates it as well as the feeder we keep for them.
    Regards and thank you for posting a breath of sunshine in the flowers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never lived in such a cold area. I hope your bees are fine because I know they are very resilient. I have read about new types of insulated beehives which the bees take to very well. It may be worth considering those.
      I admire the Arbutus unedo even more now knowing that yours can survive your temperatures! Amelia


  7. You’re so lucky to have a winter garden. There is no such thing here.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve said this before, but it’s just amazing what a wonderful climate you have there that produces such beauty in the dead of winter. We’re into the white, gray, and brown phase of winter here in the Minnesota “garden”, so it’s a treat to look at someone else’s colorful garden.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m amazed that there are still bees about where you are. I miss my fluffy little friends, especially as there are a number of blooms for them to feed from still. The primroses aren’t quite out and I haven’t checked on the heather (it had been smothered by still blooming borage) but I’m amazed myself at how much is alive and well at this time of the year.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Is if Spring yet, ha I’m with the the primroses! Lovely selection you are sharing with the bees

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So that’s how to spell Elaeagnus! Happy holidays (as we must say), Amelia. RH

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The medium tree-like mahonia are putting on a good show at present and I saw terrestris workers yesterday on a mahonia in Totnes. Kevin Thomas in Falmouth is reporting hortorum as well as terrestris on mahonia.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. We love loquats and so do the birds and the bats! They have such beautiful shiny brown seeds and their flesh is quite delicious! Winter Honeysuckle is another favourite and is such a long-lasting and generous flowering shrub! Superb photos as always! Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and 2017! x

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Still honeybees on mahonias here, Amelia. Shouldn’t the workers have been killed off by the very hard frosts we had a couple of weeks ago? Whatever, it was a pleasure to see and hear them. Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    • B. terrestris, the buff tailed bumble bee nests under ground and seems to be able to carry on through southern England winter conditions where there is sufficient forage available. It is so good to hear them on warmer sunny days. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, OK. I was pretty certain that they were honeybees but admit to not looking too closely!


        • Sorry I did not read what you wrote correctly. Honeybees will not be killed off by a hard frost. They can live quite happily up a mountain either naturally inside a tree (eg) or inside their hive covered in snow. They survive all through the winter even for months keeping warm in a huddle and eating their stored honey. So seeing honey bees is less surprising than seeing say bumble bees. In cold climates it is only the fertilised young queen bumble bee that survives by hibernating until spring.


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