a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Is this the last bee swarm of the season?

For us, in this little corner of France Spring 2020 was a little unusual.  The winter was rather mild, and then we had quite a lot of rain in early Spring which together with warm weather pushed all the plants forwards – specially the nettles and other weeds.

So, during the self isolation period of the pandemic of Covid 19, Amelia and I spent a lot of time weeding, and gardening and weeding!

Bee on Glycine

But gardening has its rewards, as we could take our coffee breaks and smell the heady perfume of the wisteria along the fence.

Poppy and Bee

A few years I brought the seeds of a rather large poppy from Spain.  We simply named it the Barcelona Poppy,  It is now much appriciated in several spots in the garden.

Bee in Rose

Another favourite of mine is a rose bush called Phyllis Bide.  It has smallish flowers but very delicate colour.

Bee Swarm

During the cold months of winter the queen bees almost stop laying eggs as there is shortage of pollen and nectar outside,  But not in our garden.  Amelia has planted so many winter flowering plants that the bees pop out frequently for a little snack all through winter.  Of course outside in the open fileds there are also plenty of wild flowers like dandilions that are welcomed by the bees.   As the result the colonies grow quite fast and then nearly half a colony swarms forming a new colony.  We had our first swarm of the season on the 21st of March (the vernal equinox).  We collected it and placed it in a 6 frame nucleus hive.

Since that day until the 26th April, we had a total of 8 bee swarms all landing within a few metres of our beehives.  We know that at least two the swarms came from our own colonies.  Early last winter we lost two of our hives and so two large swarms were directly placed in hives.  Two other hives after swarming did not develop as well as we had hoped.  So after a couple of weeks that the newly arrival swarms had well developed, we mixed them with each of the less-developed hives after sugar dusting both colonies to help them accept the odour of each other.

Our friends who keep bees a short distance away also had similar experince and we gave them the other swarms.

Hives in Sring 2020

We had promised ourselves that we will not keep more than 3 hives at the bottom of our garden – OK, we said just 2 more in case we lose any.  But by end of April the bottom of the garden had become a nursery of hives and nucleus hives.

Field of Poppies

Each year, on 5th of May the Europeans commemorate the end of War in Europe.  On that day, I passed the centre of our village and noticed a field some half a kilometres long full of red poppies and it made me think of all those brave young men and women whose blood was spilled on the European soil.

Bee in Cotoneaster

The cotoneaster is now in full flower and you should hear the buzz of the honey bees as well as the bumble bees on them.  Sometimes when I pass the bushes, I wonder of there is a swarm, as they make so much noise.

Essaim 28.05.2020

Just when we thought the swarm season has finished, on 28th May we had another bee swarm very low on a branch of our loquat.

We are happy that we have now all our five hives active and we have placed super on them to hopefully collect some summer honey.  However, we did have to recombine 4 of the swarms with our colonies as they were weak.  We also gave four of the swarms to our friend as they lost four hives.  So, that is why I found this spring somewhat strange.

I hope that all is well that ends well.

Kourosh


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May sunshine, flowers and fruit

Bottle brush

This May has been so hot and sunny, following an extremely mild winter that some of our plants are doing unusually well, like the bottle brush (Callistemon spp.).

bee in rince bouteille

Kourosh had bought it for the bees and I was concerned it would be too tender to do well here.  This year it is well established and attracts clouds of bees, they do not seem to object to fighting their way through the spiky petals so the nectar must be good!

Pink flowered succulent

I have been trying to grow more succulents in the pots this year so that they are easier to care for in hot, dry summers.

Succulent flower

I am happy to see that many of the succulents attract pollinators, too.

echium amoenum

Not everything succeeds in a garden.  I planted seeds of Echium amoenum last year to harvest the flowers to make Gol Gav Zaban tea.  I only managed to grow two plants which are now flowering but I do not think all their flowers would be enough to make a cup of tea.  In the meantime the bumble bees appreciate them and I have to wait to see how the Echium vulgare, planted at the same time, does.

Reine de reinette apples

Experience helps.  We have two Reine des reinettes apple trees in the garden.  I like the flavour very much and it reminds me of the U.K. pippin apples.  However, they have a tendency to set a lot of fruit.  At first we assumed a lot of the little apples would fall, in due course.  However, they do not fall and it results in lots of little apples.  Now, I knock off excess and leave no more than two at a time near each other.  Time consuming but worth it in the end.

Eleagnus angustifolia

We have planted an Eleagnus angustifolia on the hedge near the road.

Eleagnus angustifolia flowers

This year we have had plenty of the pretty yellow flowers, providing nectar for the bees and perhaps this year some fruit for us.

Loquat 1

This is the first year that our ” néflier du Japon ” (Eriobotrya japonica) or loquat has managed to hang onto its fruit through the winter.  I am looking forward to enjoying them and in the meantime I have been given a supply of the fruit by some friends whose tree is a bit more advanced than ours.

Raspberry

The yellow raspberries are ripening…

IMG_3786

as are the cherries but as usual I am sure the birds will beat me to the cherries.

Peas

So far, so good with the peas.  Does anyone know if all peas can be eaten as “mange tous”?

Lichen moth

This gorgeous moth was resting on my bee house otherwise I would never have spotted the perfect lichen-like camouflage.

wasp & parasol

Our parasol continues to attract visitors.  This time it is a little wasp.  The two spikes in the photo are where Kourosh knocked off the beginnings of its nest.  Now we have given up and are letting it be.  It is not the stinging type of wasp.

Car wasp

Because the car was not moving over the confinement Kourosh noticed this wasp bringing in a green caterpillar and taking it inside the window slot.  It has been busy for some time.  We will no doubt see the result in a few weeks or perhaps next spring.  I am sure it could have found much more convenient and stable sites.  It does not seem overly perturbed when its nest disappears for an hour and then reappears.

Philadelphus

More sunny weather is forecast for the next few days so we will have plenty of time to enjoy the garden and our coffees under the trees and enjoy the perfume of the Philadelphus.  The restaurants and cafes will not open in France until 1 June 2020 and with the inconvenience of social distancing they are not as tempting to us as pre-Covid times.


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May in abundance

Robinier (2)

When we first started the garden each new plant that managed to flower was greeted with amazement and it received daily pilgrimages  so that we could wonder and admire it.

Robinier flowers

I must admit the Robinia (False Accasia) manages to still attract our attention with its perfume.

Choisia

As does the Choisya in the different places in the garden.

Arum

The groups of Arum are in shadier spots, and with the rain this spring, have done remarkably well but I have just noticed the abundance of their flowers this year.

Cherries

The cherries…

Plum

The plums and…

Raspberries

The raspberries are powering on, thanks to this warm, wet, thundery weather we are experiencing.

B.pratorum

Of course, many thanks to the bumble bees for the sterling pollination service for our raspberries.  The little Bombus pratorum are great pollinators in the spring.  This one is a male so that means their season will be finishing soon.

Eaten rose

It’s not always good news in the garden.  The flowers and leaves of a rose (‘Madame Alfred Carrière’) were badly eaten.

Caterpillar (1)

I decided to look for the culprit.  Here it is on the stalks of the leaves it has eaten.

Caterpillar (2)

This angle gives you a better view and the little feet at the bottom LHS of the photo are a giveaway.  It was such a good camouflage I could not squash it.  I think it was just about ready to pupate anyway.

Broad beans

The broad beans have succumbed to ants and blackfly that stopped them reaching their full potential.  I still got a decent crop and I have finished the grueling podding and preparing and have frozen my booty.

IMG_3631

We have decided we like the white Camassia we have in the pot, even though it was supposed to be dark blue.  I think they should really be planted out for next year in the garden but I will keep them in a pot for one more year and hope they will still flower.

Swallow on wire (2)

The swallows have returned and sit on the telegraph wire.

Swallow on wire (1)

They look fairly innocent and casual whereas, in fact, they are casing the joint.

Swallow in house

Leave the French windows open and in she comes!

Swallow on beam

We will have to stay vigilant until she chooses somewhere else.

We share the garden with nature but we draw the line at swallows nesting in the living room.