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?”


43 thoughts on “Perfume and colour in the December garden

      1. It sounds like a kind region in terms of weather. Especially for gardeners and beekeepers like you two. After all these years, I still can’t believe how cold our weather in S. Ontario can get in winter. But this summer was very kind.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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      1. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘what do you think of the three B. humilis in the Bourdons de Belgique’? Mainly I thought ‘hmmm tricky little blighters’, but I knew that already. Where I lived in the UK we had all three carders on the saltmarshes, and I knew people who could identify them just by the pitch of their buzz!


  2. Janine

    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

    1. 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


  3. 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.

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  4. 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.

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        1. Mahonia does very well without direct sun and mine are in the shade of trees in the summer but they do very well in the U.K. I saw the bumblebees on the Mahonia in the Saville Gardens in January. The honeysuckle might flower less but it is not always sunny here :).


            1. The Mahonia might grow eventually to 4m and has prickly leaves, something to consider if you would have to pass it frequently. The Lonicera fragrantissima wiould only get to 2m. and is very easy to trim and keep in shape, so it depends on the size and placement of you spot 🙂


  5. Candelo Blooms

    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

    1. 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

        1. 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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