a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

The bees in January 2018


After a long hot summer, we had a cold spell in December.  I feel the cold and in addition we attended a very interesting bee meeting with an interesting talk on the relative insulation value of the different types of hives and nucs.  That started me worrying about our bees and we decided that we should give them a bit of extra insulation.  They are already well insulated over the top of the hives.

Actually, the cold spell did not last long and in January I started watching the catkins of our purple hazelnut start to open.

There are a lot of hazelnuts (Corylus sp.) around us and we planted some in the garden as we read that these catkins are often the first source of pollen for bees.

I have another reason to keep my eye on the hazels at this time of year as it is now that they produce their tiny flowers.

Their petals (actually styles) remind me of the tentacles of sea anemones and it is surely a sign that spring cannot be far behind.  However, I have never seen a single bee on the hazel catkins.  Hazelnuts are wind pollinated but this does not stop the bees gathering the pollen.

Near some of the hazelnuts are gorse bushes and the bees will fly at least a kilometer from their hives in January to collect the pollen.  It is easy to see the orange pollen being taken into the hive and know where it comes from at this time of year.

The most pollen we see being brought into the hive in January comes from the Winter Flowering Honeysuckle.  There is a large bush about 20 metres from their hive and they visit this bush at amazingly low air temperatures.  It was only 9 degrees centigrade today but sunny and the bush was buzzing.

Today the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) was sharing with the honey bees and the queen buff-tailed bumble bee.

A bit further away is the Viburnum tinus which buzzes on sunny days like today.  Size does matter and it is now a very large bush.  Not a bad investment for one euro at a fête many years ago.

The V.tinus pollen is a pale ivory and we like to watch the hives bring it in.  Most of the pollen is the yellow Winter Flowering Honeysuckle pollen, then the V.tinus pollen and also some orange Gorse pollen.  You can watch the video (less than 1 minute) of our busiest hive “Poppy” bringing in the pollen today.

My heather (Erica darleyensis) gets plenty of attention.  I am trying to increase this Erica as it does so well here but it is not a rapid grower.

The bees like to keep you guessing and I had not thought these early crocus would be so tempting.

Just beside the crocus some Mullein leaves are shooting up (Verbascum thapsus).  I try to keep as many as I can in the garden because their flowers attract so many pollinators in the summer, especially in the early morning.

There are no flowers in January but I wonder if the dew droplets become impregnated with minerals from the Verbascums leaves.  Mullein has a long history as a herbal plant.

It does not look as if it will be long before our willow tree (Salix caprea) will have the bees exploring the fluffy buds.

Until then we should follow the example of our green tree frog sitting in the sunshine today and take advantage of the day, wherever we are.


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.

30 thoughts on “The bees in January 2018

  1. Loved the video of the bees entering the hive. My winter honeysuckle was also full of bees today as were all the Teucrium bushes around the garden. It does suddenly feel like spring is in the air doesn’t it?


  2. We have hazelnuts for the bees, as well. But we cannot compete with your January flowers! Oh my! Though we’re currently in a little warm spell, I am still looking out over a snowy field. Your photos give me the inkling of spring.


    • At least your bees can’t get confused. I just hope our bees can calculate that the days are still short and there could be a lot of cold weather to come before they get any silly ideas that spring is on its way. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not that I can comment on what bees know, but the fact that their not foraging on the hazelnuts may be a good sign. My understanding is that to start spring brood-rearing, they require high protein pollen (like from hazelnuts). So maybe they’re just stretching their legs and snacking. Our risk from a warm day is that they’ll go for a “cleansing flight” and land on the snow–where they’re doomed from that instant chill.


  3. Oh! That frog is . . . surprising! It took me a minute to figure out how it was oriented. It is so green and round!


    • We have an old well with ferns just outside our dining room door and they like to sit on the ferns and bask in the sun. They are amazingly difficult to see against the green leaves. They are quite vocal too, with deep voices. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s good to see the bees going about their business — or maybe that’s beesniz!


  5. Good Morning, I always value your posts, thank you.
    Wonderful to see frogs in the garden. I do not see them in my area.
    I have no doubt that the bees are self medicating on the verbascum. Oh to have another lifetime to study such things!
    It has been non-stop rain and many high-wind events here on the coast of BC Canada.
    Regards Janine


    • I could not agree with you more! Although I was always interested in Zoology, I thought Botany was so dull. I thought liking flowers meant learning their names and collecting them – a bit like stamp collecting. I am only now realising the depth of the subject. This year we dried a lot of leaves and flowers to make our own tisanes with a taste nothing like those little paper bags you buy filled with some crushed leaves. I must admit I have started to add our own honey to the tisanes too although I drink my black tea and coffee without sugar. Amelia


  6. I so love the tree frogs, we have them here in the Vaucluse and I had them in the Herault as well. I saw one last year sitting on a green leaf, which was the green leaf design on an outdoor tablecloth! What is the botanical name, please, of your winter flowering honeysuckle? It sounds like it would be a great bee and bug plant this time of the year, if it will grow here. Thanks!!


    • I think it is Lonicera fragrantissima but I could go no further than that with the variety here as the nurseries are very vague. You might have to get it on the Internet as I went to two nurseries near me and they had not heard of it. I wanted to buy a plant quickly as a present and I had to go to the chain stores Gamme Verte and Jardiland. We do have a better nursery but it was too far to go so I opted for an Erica darleyensis that was full of flowers, instead. Honeysuckles are very tough and this one is supposed to be good until -15 Centigrade. Mine never gets watered now but a new plant would need care in the first year. Amelia


  7. I wonder if the bees gather wool from the mullein leaves to insulate the hive.
    That’s a fine shot of the female hazel flowers. They’re almost microscopic as you know, and can be very hard to get a good shot of. It’s nice to see flowers. I’m looking forward to seeing some here.


  8. I’ve been wondering whether to get some heather as local gardens near me have lots. I’ve yet to see bees on them though – perhaps in England it’s too cold for them to produce much nectar yet.


    • That’s an interesting thought. I have seen bees on lawn daisies and on those little blue flowers (Speedwell) in the summer time. At the moment I have plenty of both in the grass but I never see the bees on them now. Both the bees and the bumbles go on my heather and it has a long flowering season. I have a big clump that I can see every morning from my bedroom window and I really appreciate that in the winter. It is also a trouble free plant. It’s only downside is that it grows relatively slowly but that could be a plus if you have somewhere you need something neat. Amelia


  9. Stunning photos as usual – keep up the good work


  10. A lovely survey of the flowers out now in your garden, thank you. Here in Devon, the flowers that I have seen attracting bees are rosemary, bergenia and purple hebe, all by the sea which may be significant.


    • We are not too far away from the sea but I only have the prostrate rosemary which does not have many flowers at the moment. My bergenia has not attracted much interest either but I have not got really big clumps of it yet. I do notice that the quantity of flowers matters. Amelia


      • The place I go to watch winter bumblebees has large banks of hanging rosemary (popular with the workers) and large clumps of bergenia (several queens last week) so perhaps quantity is important. There’s also a lot of coronilla and sometimes they will feed off that.


        • I think there must be a reasonable quantity of nectar/pollen available in the lower temperatures before it is worth the risk of a visit. Yesterday I saw three queen buff tails in the honeysuckle although it was 10 degrees and cloudy. They must know exactly where it is. Amelia


  11. You are living the dream! So many books have been written about living (and gardening) in France. I enjoyed reading your blog and seeing the photos.


    • I am glad you enjoy sharing the garden but I do hope I have not romanticized living in France. We are very happy here because it suits us. Now my idea of a dream is visiting a beautiful garden and then retiring to a lovely tearoom with cakes, teas and coffee to mull over the experience. I do not think you can do that in France. 🙂 Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You have to look close to see the tree frog. Lovely to see the video of poppy hive bringing in the pollen.
    If you over insulated a hive is there a risk they could be tempted outside when it is too cold?


    • You have to think of the level of insulation they would have in a hollowed out tree, much more than in a thin wooden box, The insulation acts like our roof insulation and double walls for houses. The houses are not warmer – they just take less energy to keep them warm. For the bees it also serves to modulate the highs and lows of external temperatures they are subjected to here.


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