a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

First days of May


House front

This is the time for the first and best bloom of the roses.  The climbing rose at the front of the house is Madame Isaac Pereire and has just started flowering.

Madame Isaac Pereire and bumble

The early bumble bees have claimed this rose as theirs.


The male early bumble bees have started to appear.  They will be looking for the new queens so their cycle will soon be finishing.  I will miss them, they are so quick and lively.  I will have to wait until next spring until the new queens appear and start their own nests.

Rosa Mutabilis on side

My Rosa Mutabilis is making a bid for freedom.  I planted her too close to the willows, which were cut short at the end of March, and now she is trying to escape from them before they shade her again.  The willows will win the race so I must really find a better place for her in the autumn.

Rosa Mutabilis

The colour of this rose changes as the flower matures.

Rosa Mutabilis and bee

Of course, the best feature is that the bees love the rose pollen.

Red hot poker and bee Kniphofia

It’s amazing how my view point of plants can change.  I was given some Knipofia or red hot pokers but never really liked them and I removed most of them.  Kourosh saved this one.  It is in a very poor position but it attracts a lot of honeybees.  It must have a lot of nectar as they stay inside the flower a long time and I often see two or three bees on the same flower.

Smerinthus ocellata Eyed Hawk moth 1

It is not only bees that we notice.  The “dead leaf” on the young willow shoots looked a very unusual shape – for a willow leaf.

Smerinthus ocellata

A closer look showed us a beautiful moth, Smerinthus ocellata, the Eyed Hawk Moth, I think.  It looks so clear in a photograph but the resemblance to a dead leaf is uncanny in the light of day.

Laurel hedge (1)

The bees are omnipresent in our lives at the moment.  Our neighbour opposite has a laurel hedge and I had warned her to tell me if she saw any strange insects flying near it because Asian hornets often nest low in hedges for their first small nest.  Two days ago she came to see me because of the flying insects and the noise of buzzing in the hedge.  I immediately got on my bee suit as the laurel was not in flower so I presumed a swarm had landed in the hedge.

She was quite right.  There was a lot of noise and it was honey bees!  I searched all through the hedge, it was empty in places, but there was no swarm and the noise was not in the one area but all over.

Laurel hedge (2)

Then we noticed that the bees were all doing the same thing.  They were on the underside of the very young shoots and lapping up the surface exudate.

The laurel is known as Laurier palme here.  I checked on it and its latin name is Prunus laurocerasus.  The leaves are actually toxic if you were to choose to chop up the leaves and make cherry-laurel water.  However, small doses of this water has been used in the past to give an almond flavour to pastries and sauces.  Traditional medicines have used the cherry-laurel as an anti-spasmodic and sedative and to treat coughs.  It contains hydrocyanic acid and I can think of better things to flavour my sauces with.

However, the bees want it.  Could it be an ingredient of propolis?  Propolis is what the bees use to fill any holes in their hives and has antiseptic, antibacterial and antioxydant properties.

Swarm in hawthorn

The bees are omnipresent.  They tax our ingenuity by swarming in tall Hawthorn trees but Kourosh has improvised with very long stick and a plastic bucket secured with packaging tape.  I did not think it would work – but it did.  We are at swarm number seven now.  It has been a busy time for the bees.

Tree frog.JPG

At the moment I look forward to a quieter life, like that of our little tree frog that sleeps under the plastic cover of our outdoor table.  He only wakes up when we lift of the cover to have our morning coffee.

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.

34 thoughts on “First days of May

  1. Love the moth and frog. I see the tiny green frogs here near Carpentras on and off. We also have those busy male bees. They hung out at my bee house waiting for the females to hatch, but have gone now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The little green frogs turn up in the strangest of places, often sunbathing in the garden. I do not think it would be bumble bees in your bee house but the solitary bees called Osmia, probably Osmia cornuta. My Osmia cornuta have finished but left lots of filled tubes in the bee house to hatch next spring. Amelia

      Liked by 2 people

      • Of course they are Osmia! They look a bit like your photo which mixed me up. Osmia = bumblebee, no. I read somewhere that the green frogs secrete some kind of a barrier so they don’t dry out. I had them at my house in the Herault and they would sit on leaves in the sun in the very hot weather, and I would mist them occasionally. Afterwards I found out they probably didn’t need misting ….

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Amelia,
    What a fabulous late spring post – wonderful flowers – really envious of the mutabilis, fascinating about the bees and the laurel exudate, and as for swarm seven and Khourosh’s bucket method of capture from a height – brilliant. On a practical point, and maybe for future personal reference, I’m intrigued how he managed – presumably after thrusting the bucket against the swarm holding branch – to get the branch down to the ground without the bees spilling out – probably a very silly question, but hope you see what I’m getting at! Are the swarms all ending up being relocated elsewhere?
    Best wishes and envy you the obvious warmth we had minus 6 here 2 nights ago.
    best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kourosh very carefully positioned the bucket underneath and around the swarm then loosened it with a pumping motion. That dislodged the bunch and they tumbled into the bucket. The bees are then poured into their new home. Frames are added and they are left until nightfall so that stragglers can be reunited. We are giving them to friends except for “to morro” (we found her in a hedge while out walking) which if all goes well will replace a hive that did not requeen after we divided it. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Amelia – really interesting – I’m guessing you’ll be getting viewed as the swarm gatherers, in your area, Have you found swarms you’ve collected noticeably healthier/ calmer, or the opposites, to your other hives, or were most acquired as swarms originally anyway?
        best wishes


        • Each hive has its personality and we have never had bees from a professional breeder. We can’t compare with bees bred as Buckfast or Italian or anything special. If I had my choice I would try and breed black bees but we would need to use an isolated drone apiary for that.


  3. The bees are finding extra floral nectaries on the laurel, some plants have these as an extra source of nectar even when the plant is not flowering. One theory is that they are used to reward ants, which then protect the plant from predators- https://adventuresinbeeland.com/2014/11/06/4th-honey-bee-products-and-forage-revision-post-the-location-and-function-of-the-extra-floral-nectaries-of-broad-bean-cherry-laurel-cherry-and-plum/

    I just love that rose climbing up your house, it is perfect. And how ingenious of Kourosh to make the swarm catcher. I could do with one of those too right now!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have Rosa mutabilis, it’s a real beauty. I read Le Dauphiné on line and I was amazed to read that three horses were killed by ‘Les Abeilles tueues’ in the region of the Rhone yesterday. I didn’t know we have Killer Africanised honey bees in Europe, or do you think they were Asian hornets?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds very strange, I checked the story – poor horses! People should be able to tell the difference between bees and hornets, I suppose they saw dead bees. Usually both the bees and hornets would only “attack” if their nests were threatened. Even with the hornets problems arise when, for example, someone goes through a nest with a strimmer. It is very unusual for any insects to attack on this scale unprovoked. I don’t think beekeeping here could survive an additional blow like Africanised bees being introduced. Amelia


  5. I loved your pictures. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I wondered whether there were aphids on the laurel and the bees were taking the sweet liquid they excrete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No aphids. There are still great numbers of the bees on the young shoots. As Emily explains above there are special plant nectaries and these are situated in Laurel exactly where I observe the bees lapping up the exudate. The bees look for more than sugar for food. They need the basic materials that will help them make the propolis and the wax. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well Amelia, I am envious of your roses, they are deer food here, and I just stopped trying to grow them. My solitary mason bees have hatched well after a winter as cocoons in the refrigerator, a good mix of males and females and the girls are filling up the bee tubes like there was no tomorrow. The porch has a permanent hum. Apple trees have blossom so things are aligned after a very long cold winter. My babies will be done in a week or so. But this year I also have a few leafcutter cocoons from the wild, truly beautiful to look at. I do not know the Latin names, hoping they will also emerge and do their thing later in the summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have got some pretty scary beasts over your side (thinking of the bears) and anything that can eat roses has my respect.
      I love the leafcutters too. Usually they use leaves to block up their holes but one year one finished with a pink rose petal. So pretty!


  8. How wonderful is nature’s camouflage.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Marvellous observations Amelia. I never realized hawk moths camouflage as dead leaves during the day. I assumed they rested against tree barks. But your photo clearly shows it. If I were a bird, I would fly past without a second look! I read that they use apples as a host plant (in addition to sallows and willows), so this summer you may find some of their beautiful caterpillars on your trees. And I’m very jealous of your garden tree frogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The caterpillars will have plenty of choice here as there are plenty of willows and apple trees for them to choose from. The moth, if it was the same one, changed its perch and sat on the end of a cut log near a bee hive. It was really a thin cut branch but it perched on the end of it for a few days. I suppose this means it flew at night and came back to the same perch in the evening. Amelia


  10. Seven swarms! Oh my! One is a concern. Two sort of makes one wonder. The third is a problem! We had three hives in one building. The beekeeper who took them could not explain why. Two more tried to move in where two hives were removed! It is only in the building, but no other. My colleague in Los Angeles, who happens to be afraid of bees, had a few swarms move into his garden over the years, but I sort of think that it is because it is because they like all the vegetation there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that it is the availability of food and lodging that attracts the bees. David Cushman, who is now deceased, but was a very well respected authority on bees in the U.K. thought it was Ley lines. Interesting. Amelia

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is compelling. I am certainly no entomologist, but while doing my internship in the Santa Clara Valley, I noticed something odd about the many Monterey pines we removed during that summer. (Monterey pines were popular in the 1950, but not so much before or after, so most were in about the same age range, and therefore dying at the same time.) In the summer of 1988, MANY Monterey pines were deteriorating and needed to be removed. As they deteriorated, they became infested with a variety of insects, particularly the Western pine bark beetle. Trees that were well structured and formerly healthy were most likely to succumb quickly. However, the most disfigured trees that should have been distressed and appealing to the insects seemed to be more resilient. I noticed that they were disfigured because they had been pruned for clearance from electrical cables above. One of my colleagues, who is not an entomologist either, mentioned that the beetles might be repelled by an electromagnetic field generated by the utility cables. We really did not know. Other insects, particularly carpenter ants, seem to be attracted to fuse boxes.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Fascinating story about cherry-laurel water, it was a new one to me.
    You mentioned red hot pokers, when I was growing up they seemed very fashionable in UK gardens but I rarely see them nowadays.


    • I’m working on the laurel to see if it could be used to deter ants from near the bee hives. It is a bit inconclusive at the moment. You are right about red hot pokers being fashionable, I had forgotten about that. I think I found them too stark and gaudy. It is amazing how the bees can make me review my opinions 🙂 Amelia


  12. I saw Rosa mutability being grown as a climber against a warm wall for the first time last week. It was massive!

    Liked by 1 person

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