a french garden


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Spring in February?

garden-long

Nothing looks greatly different in the garden since the big chill.  However, we had the big wind next with winds over 100 km. an hour and the winds were higher in the coastal regions.   This left our area without electricity.  We were out for just over 24 hours but depending on where you lived others lost their electricity for longer.  In areas with no piped gas, houses are frequently all electric.  So it is a good idea to keep in plenty of candles and a camping stove.  The really super-prepared have a little generator but we have stayed at the candles and camping stove level.

plum-blossom-ouside

Now we have sunshine and day time temperatures touching twenty degrees centigrade which has coaxed our plum tree to open its first flowers.

plumblossom-2

After the big wind some of the fine branches of the plum tree had broken and we brought in the twigs to enjoy watching the flowers open inside but they had hardly finished flowering inside before the tree itself had started to flower outside.

red-admiral

Some butterflies are out and from the freshness of this Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) it is a new season butterfly just hatched rather than one that has overwintered as an adult.

bombus-pratoris

The winter flowering honeysuckle welcomes different visitors now like this early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum) queen

carpenter-honeysuckle

and the Carpenter (Xylocopa violacea)

willow

It is not so visible from a distance but the willow tree at the bottom of the garden is opening out its buds too.

pussy-willow

The catkins are still at their attractive fluffy stage but soon the pollen will appear attracting the pollinators to this important plentiful source of early pollen.

hellebore-bee-pollen-1

The Hellebores are making a big impact in the garden now.  The bees make them a noisy attraction but the constant replanting of the self-sown seedlings is paying off.

hellebore-honey-bee

The different groups are spacing out their flowering times somewhat, depending on how much sun they receive.  I find the ones in full sun flower earliest.

bergenia

The Bergenia is starting to flower but I dragged it from one poor position last autumn to some other positions where I hope it will flourish.  It has not welcomed the change gladly.  Still there is always next spring.

bumble-new-heather-1

I was given a heather as a present but sadly with no idea of the species.  It was very pot bound, probably meant for impact rather than planting out.  I sawed of the bottom tangle of roots and sawed it in two.  I had just finished planting it when the bees appeared.  Well, that was one of my questions answered – the bees like it.  The heather I have had success with here is Erica x darlyensis which is more tolerant of chalky soils.  This one does not look the same as my others and has lilac flowers that fade to white.  I hope they will thrive in their new home.

honesty-lunaria-annua

It is only when you look closely that you see the changes in the garden.  The purple flower is self-sown Honesty (Lunaria annua), a bit early, I would have thought.

violet

The violets, both purple and white varieties, appear as weeds in the garden but are always welcome.

weeds

In fact, there are a lot of good stuff in the weeds in the garden.

wild-bee-2

The speedwell (Veronica (perhaps) persica) is covering the surrounding fields and the garden with a haze of blue but this little flower provides much needed pollen and nectar for the wild bees like the one above and also the honey bees.

pollinator-on-veronica

The hover flies too stop by for the nectar.

chimonanthus-praecox

Gardening is not for the impatient.  I have longed for a Chimonanthus praecox for my garden and now eventually I have a bush and it has flowered for the first time.  I do not know the species as I bought it in France where the species does not seem to matter much but I love it anyway.  My main criteria was the perfume and one sniff of the heady, sensual perfume told me I had a winner.  Also called wintersweet but I think of it as the ice flower although the weather at the moment is nearer to summer than winter.


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After the big chill

 

back-garden

Little has changed in the garden in the past weeks, but this says a lot for the hardiness and resilience of the plants as they have weathered a period of constant sub-zero overnight temperatures that dropped to minus eight degrees centigrade.

frost-on-primrose

Frost on primroses makes them look sugar-coated and they are tough as old boots but…

frost-on-loquat-19-1-17

The first flowers that I have ever had on my Loquat ((Eriobotrya japonica) were also frozen.

loquat-after-freeze

What has surprised me is that now after the freeze, it is continuing to flower.  The fresh buds have opened releasing their perfume and are still being visited by the bees.  The terminal leaves that surround the flowers have been badly damaged by the cold but the buds are obviously made of sterner stuff.

broad-beans-and-peas

The broad beans too have survived.  I confess to having covered them with a fleece and I do not think they would have survived without the extra help.  Just before we left at Christmas I hastily planted some peas which you can see to the right of the broad beans.  I reckoned the germination would be much poorer so I planted the peas close together (also I did not want to be left with half a packet).  It looks like every single pea has germinated so I will wait to see what the future brings but perhaps they should be thinned.

polygala-after-frost

The only obvious casualty is the Polygala.  I planted it last spring because it was supposed to be attractive to bees and butterflies but I was very disappointed as far as pollinating insects were concerned although the flowers are very pretty.  Perhaps it just gave up the struggle because I did not love it enough.

label

I was not idle during the freeze, I made labels for some of our plants.  Some are for plants that are small and could get lost, others are for those plants whose name always escapes you, and I have tried to date when they were planted so that I have a better idea of how long they take to grow.

violette-ruche

I took the opportunity during the bitter cold days when Violette was safely tucked up inside her hive to repaint her “au vent” or sun shade, which was peeling, and add a new Violette design on her front where the sun would damage it less.

violette-with-pollen

This week the amazingly mild temperatures have allowed all the bees out to gather nectar and pollen.

bee-gathers-nectar

The winter flowering honeysuckle is close bye and provides nectar for them.

1-bee-gathers-pollen-on-winter-honeysuckle

It also provides pollen, and they stroke the stamens lovingly to gather the much needed pollen.  The winter flowering honeysuckle gets my top mark for supporting pollinators during winter as the queen bumble bees visit it too.

mahonia-and-bee

We planted the Mahonia mainly for the bumble bees but I notice that the honey bees help themselves too.

viburnum-tinus

The Viburnum tinus is covered in buds that are slowly opening but not attracting any pollinators at the moment.

rosemary

The prostrate Rosemary has opened its first flowers with the promise of more to come soon.

hellebores

The Hellebores too are waiting in the wings.

snowdrops-1-2-17

My snowdrops are few and struggle hard to survive here but I am grateful a few determined individuals keep up the fight.

clematis-buds

Otherwise, the season advances with clematis pushing out tentative buds.

clematis-seeds

While higher up the seed heads from last year still decorate the stems.

stripped-cotoneaster

After the cold spell I noticed that all our cotoneaster bushes were stripped of their red berries.  We have several different varieties of cotoneaster in the garden but they all provide masses of flowers for the bees  followed by great autumn decoration for us, then on to become a winter larder for the birds.  All this from drought resistant, frost tolerant plants that are cheap to buy and can even be grown from seed.

cotoneaster-4-11-2014

I had to go back to the autumn of 2014 to get a photo of the cotoneasters before stripping but that’s what they look like – only bigger now.

cerinthe-in-lawn

Overall, the prolonged cold spell has had much less of an effect on the garden than I would have imagined.  I think the cold weather in January should delay any precocious blossoming or budding.  It has not helped me keep the Cerinthe in their place and a lot of them are making a break for it onto the lawn.  I am just debating whether to leave them there or dig them up and re-house them elsewhere. I need to keep a good stock of them in the garden to enjoy watching the Anthophora bees in the spring.