a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


16 Comments

Back to April showers

I’ve a great sympathy for this Anthophora bee that has taken to sheltering in one of the bee houses.  When it is cold and rainy she retreats back and waits until a ray of sunshine tempts her to check out whether the rain has stopped or not.

We have had rain and thunder and wind and rain… and some sunshine.

Our Viburnum opulus on the edge of the garden chose the warm sunny days to burst into flower.  Not only this is a fresh, generous shrub for the garden but the flowers look great cut for inside with roses.  It is called the guelder rose in the U.K.

In France it is known as “boule de neige” or snowball which I find is very appropriate.  A lot of the flowers have passed their best now and have lost their petals that transform into confetti that is taken by the wind to decorate the surrounding grass.

I have enjoyed a big pot of Camassia bulbs every April for a number of years.

They attract all sorts of bees and so provide our entertainment at coffee time.  I thought this year the bulbs were beginning to look very crushed in the pot and so they have been summarily deplaced to a hole made for them in the front garden.  I hope they will like their new home.  I have not made up my mind as to whether I should replace them with new bulbs in the autumn or choose something else.

I have also a large aluminium tub planted up with supposedly Camassia Leichtlini “caerulea” and Camassia cusickii (reputedly a short deep blue flower).  So far I have only seen this pale blue Camassia appear which looks as if it is going to be followed by a white flower.

This cistus has been grown from cuttings and we have no regrets as it has produced the same attractive crinkled-paper leaves as the parent plant.  And of course, it provides lots of pollen for the bees at this time.

I have several Choisia in the garden and my “Sundance” in the front garden is a real favourite, lighting up a shady corner, especially in the winter.  However, perhaps it is showing its age but the foliage did not look so good this spring and I think it is getting out of shape.  So should I replace it or will a severe pruning and cutting out of the old branches rejuvenate it after the flowers have gone?

The good weather allowed us to work a lot in the garden and get to grips with the weeds that have benefited from our mild wet spring.  For the first time I came across a Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) in the garden, hiding under some dry leaves near some logs.  They are slow moving creatures and nocturnal so it is not surprising that I have only seen dead ones on the roadside.  They can grow up to 25 cm. (nearly ten inches) in length.  They can only prey on slow moving species like earthworms, slugs and snails so that makes them a welcome inhabitant of the garden as the slug and snail population at the moment is in full boom.

You can get an idea of the size of this baby on top of the gardening gloves.  They can exude an irritant from their skin so it is best not to touch them with bare hands.

The fire salamander was thought to be able to regenerate in fire and even extinguish fire; these beliefs being traced back to Aristotle and Pliny.  Francois I of France was born in Cognac Chateau in 1494 and he took the Salamander as his emblem.  Cognac is less than 50 kilometres from here and there are plenty of references to Francois I and his salamander in Cognac and throughout France.

His device was “Nutrisco et extinguo” or even ” nutrisco et extingo”, which although not quite correct latin means that the aspiration is to nourish the good fires of virtue, love, and faith, while reminding that he is the king with the power to extinguish all that he deems incorrect.  Quite a neat sentiment.

Returning to the garden, I notice that the Judas tree has started to produce pea pod shaped seed cases.  April is finishing but the garden seems to be speeding ahead helped by the rain and mild weather.


5 Comments

Back to the bat

As I posted here on April 15 2020 , we had a bat lodging in our garden parasol.  Much as I was enjoying sharing the garden with wildlife, I did feel my need of the parasol was greater than his.

We did try to take a photograph of him leaving in the evening.  It was at this moment in the darkness we realized that it was not only difficult to see in the dark but impossible to focus a camera (live and learn :)).

We were able to take an improved photograph of him by flash.  Not great, I did say improved.

Here the photograph is turned upside down to help with identification because I do not think it is small enough to be a pipistrelle.

I think it is a Myotis species, one of the mouse-eared bats.  It has little bumps on its nose.

I found this site helpful https://nottsbatgroup.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Identification_of_British_Bats.pdf but I wonder if anyone out there has any ideas?

This is the best I can do to help Dromfit with an ID.


20 Comments

Judas Tree

At this time of year there is often one special plant in the garden.  At the moment it is our Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum).

They can grow as multi-stemmed plants and we received ours as an off-shoot from a friend.  In fact, he gave us two and we now have three from one we split ourselves.

These trees can grow up to 10 metres tall and they do very well in our area.  I have seen beautiful examples of huge old trees.

The flowers arrive before the leaves and are a special pink colour.

The flowers are the same shape as sweet peas or the flowers of green pea plants.

The flowers attract all the pollinators but especially the Carpenter bees that have the muscle and force to pierce the flower head to reach the nectar.

The nectar in the flower must be really good as the honey bees go to a lot of trouble to push open the lower petals of the flower.

She really has to keep up the pressure and take her “shoulder” to it before she can get the flower to open.

You can see her licking her tongue here, obviously worth the effort.

Now the trees are starting open their leaves while keeping their flowers.  The fresh leaves are shiny and very attractive.

Definitely a star of the April garden!


16 Comments

Advantage bat

We have been getting summer weather almost continuously for the past month.  For instance, this afternoon it was 27 degrees centigrade (80 degrees F) in the garden.  We have been making the most of the garden and enjoy being able to have lunch outside – even if we may need a jacket.

Today was, in fact, too hot without sitting under a parasol, but the parasol had been requisitioned as a day-time roosting spot for a bat (Pipistrelle, I think.)

We have had a Pipistrelle roosting through the winter behind the shutters of the window facing the garden.  He disdained the bat box Kourosh had made  mounted on the wall.

Kourosh noticed that the gap he squeezed into behind the shutters was narrower than the gap recommended for the bat box.  So he made a custom-sized box specially for him and placed it slightly to the side of where he roosted.  Still he preferred the shutter.

So our choice today was to move under the apricot tree for shade.  We do try to give nature a home but sometimes I think they can push their luck.


14 Comments

Confinement continues in the garden

The Wisteria is starting to flower in the garden.  A very special time as the perfume greets you whenever you step outside.

(We have Wisteria in the front garden,too.)

We are going into our fourth week in confinement.  President Macron made his announcement and explained the measures to be taken on Monday night, 16 March.  We had realised France would follow Italy’s advice and we had started our voluntary confinement the previous weekend.  In keeping with the spirit of the confinement we have only made rare trips to the supermarket for provisions during this period.

We content ourselves in the garden.  The Victoria plum tree is in flower, or it was sold as a Victoria plum but the plums are not like the U.K. Victorias.

The large plum tree has already set a considerable amount of fruit.  The mild weather was favourable both for the flowering and fruit setting time.

I saw this white butterfly on some Honesty.  I thought at first a Cabbage White but seemingly the veined wings point to a Green-Veined White, even the veins are not green.

It makes a pleasing contrast with the Honesty for a photograph.

I was pleased to see clumps of this dark-leaved variety appearing, I received the seeds from a reader.  They suite the garden well and I let them self-seed so I will never be without them now.

This fumitory has found a corner in the garden and will also do a bit of self-seeding.  I hope I do not regret removing it because it looks so pretty.

The Bluebells have started flowering at the bottom of the garden, taking over from the Muscari which is just starting to set seed.  The Stitchwort is very welcome as a wild flower that blends in well with my intentional plantings.

The bee fly is not so welcomed by me.  It is on Thyme here and can forage for nectar in a large variety of flowers as it has a long proboscis and a perfect landing technique.

These little furry flies from the Bombylius are parasites of solitary bees and as I have mining bees in different parts of the garden, I know they will be on the look out for the bees nests to  lay their eggs.

The garden is getting more attention than it ever has and we are having more coffee breaks than usual.

It never leaves our minds, though, of the people who are flat-out caring for others at the risk of their lives.  We salute them and support them by adhering to the rules set out to protect all of us.