a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

A present for the bees


Honey bee in Manuka in Malaga

While we were staying with our son in Malaga over Christmas, we once again, visited the beautiful botanical gardens La Concepción.  This time we saw the Manuka bushes in flower and saw how attractive the flowers were to the honey bees.  The Manuka plants are native to New Zealand and my internet research indicates that they are easy to grow, will tolerate temperatures down to minus ten centigrade and do not require wet soil.  This certainly sounded interesting.

Manuka trees in place-001

I was delighted to find I could order plants in France and decided to order from Gamme Vert as I could avoid the delivery charge by picking the plants up myself from their nearest shop.

We are running out of sunny spots in the garden so Kourosh decided to clear off  the turf to provide the plants with their personal flower bed.  They will probably have to share it as time goes by but for now it is all theirs.

Manuka trees planted

The plants all had strong roots and have had plenty of rain to allow them to settle into their new home.  The Manuka or Leptospermum scoparium “Martini” that I have chosen is due to flower in May to June.  I cannot say why the Manuka was flowering in December in Malaga but it may just flower there over a much longer period.

Honey bee in Neflier du Japon

I really do feel our bees deserve a present as they are out there as soon as there is a glimmer of sun in this unusually dull start to the year.  The Loquat or Eribotrya japonicais just about finished flowering and the cold seems to have finished off the older flowers.

Honey bee in winter heather

The bees, like this one, appear to be flying at temperatures that my indoor/outdoor thermometer reads as under ten degrees centigrade.

Pisse en lit

This is “Pissenlit” in the sunshine.  The temperature at the house was showing seven degrees so I decided to put an old fashioned liquid thermometer in the shade near the hives.

Winter flowering honeysuckle

The thermometer read seven degrees, so the sunshine must keep them warm enough to forage on nearby flowers.

queen bumble in winter heather

The queen bumble bees are said to be able to fly at the lower temperatures because their fluffy coats provide insulation but they should choose a shady site to continue their light hibernation or else they will be woken prematurely by the fickle winter sun.

The four hives-001

Let’s hope there are more sunny days coming up for the bees to stretch their wings and the gardeners to appreciate the spring flowers appearing.

To see the bees bringing in the pollen to “Violette Noire” have a look at this short video (1min30s) taken on the 6 of February.


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.

26 thoughts on “A present for the bees

  1. Lovely video. Busy bees. Thinking of getting bees. I an converting a cow meadow to wild flowers. Would only need a couple of jars of honey for us a year as we get some from family in Transylvania.

    Liked by 1 person

    • First step is to find out about beekeeping in your area by taking a beekeeping course or following a beekeeper friend for a year and helping with the work. It might surprise you how time consuming it all is (not to mention expensive) 🙂 If you have a garden you may have wild bees nesting there. I have nesting sites of Andrena cineraria and Andrena agilissima not to mention the boxes of Osmia and lots of other types. I think they are just as fascinating as honey bees ( See https://beesinafrenchgarden.wordpress.com/) Amelia


  2. Nice to see your garden color Amelia, we are in the middle of a snow storm. 9 inches a few days ago, with more falling today. Forecast Temps dropping to -11 Celsius. Brr! Not as bad as the middle of the country, but dramatic for Seattle and surrounds! The hellebore and primrose are thankfully buried in a snow blanket. I understand that Manuka honey has great anti bacterial qualities. Enjoy your sunshine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Manukau honey is said to be ‘the’ honey to buy if you can get it. It commands a high price here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have been given a taste of it some years ago by a beekeeper friend who brought it back from New Zealand. I rather liked the taste but Kourosh found it too strong. I believe it is used often for medicinal purposes. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good luck with your New Zealand Tea Trees. as they are called in Southern California, where they (along with many Australian plants) are ubiquitous. I believe I’ve seen them for sale in nurseries here in the Vaucluse (Provence). I didn’t know they were attractive to bees.
    bonnie in provence

    Liked by 1 person

    • They are popular in California because they are right at home in the climate. Once established, they do not need much water at all. In fact, too much water will cause them to fall over, both by destabilizing the roots, and also by promoting superfluous and heavy foliar growth.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think they would do very well in Provence as they are supposed to be drought resistant when established and take any low winter temperatures. I found the flowers very attractive but, of course, it was their attraction for the bees that won me over :). Amelia


      • I will probably give them a try! Because they are so common where I used to live in San Diego I think of them as some boring big box store plant. Context is everything! I think of oleanders and agapanthus as “freeway plants” because that’s where you find them in Southern California. I think you are right about them doing well here near Carpentras. I have lots of solitary bees and some bee houses for them which seem to be working. I do what I can to help them out.
        bonnie in provence

        Liked by 1 person

        • You are so right, it is what you are used to! A lot of our garden plants would be considered as weeds where they have originated. If you do plant some it would be interesting to see how they behave in the different gardens. You might get a longer flowering period.


  5. Oh, now I’m tempted–though my climate is more extreme.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good to see your bumblebees out and about, do you also see workers in winter?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hallo Amalia, I have 9 manuka trees in my garden which I bought as tiny plants from BeeHappyPlants in south England in 2014. I started out with many more and just hope as winter passes that at least these 9 will stay alive. They hate having their roots touched so no teasing them apart when planting as is often advised in gardening instructions. Moving them once established is also very risky. They prefer acidic soil of pH6.0 or less. Chalky soil is a no go, also they can be wind sensitive. Up until 4 years of age they need to be covered with fleece during winter after that they are supposed to be able to take alpine cold if it comes. When spring temperatures start and sap begins to rise if that is followed by a cold period the trunk can burst. That happend to most of mine last winter. I thought that the bees in our garden would be delighted with them but they flower here at the same time as my 9 seven sons bushes and the liguster of which we have masses and our bees seem to prefer both of those above the leptospermum scoparium. Oh yes and it is not terribly difficult to start them from their own seeds, just takes a few years and lots of love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is interesting that your bees prefer the ligistrum and the Heptacodium over the manuka. This is something that you have to sort out with your particular climate and particular bees! My Heptacodium flowers late and it is the bumble bees that go for it more than the honey bees. It is always a competition between the best nectar/pollen producing plants in your area. In France all the books say the bees go straight to the Hazlenut tree pollen in the spring yet I have never seen a bee on the Hazlenut catkins! I’ll keep looking though. Amelia


    • This is very helpful info. I planted NZ tea trees (L. scoparium) in San diego, CA, the soil is alkaline, and they seemed to do okay. They are sold in nurseries there. But as you and the internet say, they don’t like alkaline soil. So maybe I won’t try them! As to the tender roots when planting, I don’t recall it being a problem, and I’ve tried to find something on the internet about how to plant them, but nothing! And then there is L. Laevigatum, the Australian Tea Tree. Which is a real tree. I think there is some confusion in the gardening world about this, as of course if you are not from the Antipodes you think they might be the same place! There’s a lot of bad geography out there. This is clearly a conundrum that needs further investigation!
      bonnie in provence

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hallo Amelia and Bonnie As Amelia knows the bee garden we are busy developing is located in north east Netherlands (Les Pays Bas) A village called Finsterwolde, heavy clay soil, I think zone 9. I have found this to be is a useful link: https://www.businessofbees.com/blog. Maybe you will enjoy it too. The lady at Bee Happy Plants told me not to touch the roots with my fingers and since then I have heard of peoples experiences of the plants dying within an hour if the roots are teased. Good Luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very interesting read, i use to work in a garden at a bee center. To be honest it got me interested in bees and at some point i will hope to do a bee keeping course, who know maybe one day i will have a hive. I also like gardening so i link them both together with bee friendly plants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think there is a very strong link between gardening and being interested in bees. I feel by having winter flowering plants very near my hives that it enhances their winter survival because they do forage on the warmer days here. It is good to start with the bee plants before the hive arrives in the garden. In the meantime you can watch the many different types of solitary bees that will be attracted to your pollen and nectar sources 🙂 Amelia


  10. I hope your manuka does well. Manuka honey is my favourite honey.

    Liked by 1 person

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