a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Gardening in January

16 Comments

Up until the end of December we had very mild weather but the weather forcast alerted us that things were about to change. The bees had been so happy up until now that we decided to insulate their hives as we had done in 2019.

We did not regret it.

The Anisodontea had kept flowering up until the first frosts but they have now received several sub-zero nights and single figure daytime temperatures. January has been a wintry month.

What surprises me is that the honey bees will fly to gather pollen and nectar on the winter honeysuckle at air temperatures of only 4 degrees centigrade when the sun is out. The nearest bush is about 3 metres away from the hives.

The Japanes Medlar (Eriobotrya japonica) is a few metres further on and with a few more degrees higher and in the sunshine the bees are into the flowers. These have not yet been destroyed by the frosty mornings. Will there be some left to give us fruit, like last year?

The winter flowering heather is further away and only tempts the bees on the warmer days. The bee’s head was dusty with pollen but she showed no inclination to gather it.

I do miss the bumble bees. I have not seen any since the beginning of the cold weather. The bumble bee queens must be tucked up, wisely hibernating where the deceitful sun cannot touch them and wake them up before the air temperature is high enough for them.

The weather is usually fine enough for walking here and very pleasant in the sunshine but when it rains…

Kourosh had bought me this book and I had put it away for when I needed a treat. Well, I needed a treat this January but although it is an excellent book it comes with a warning. I have never visited Sissinghurst and knew little about it but Sarah Raven has combined her writing with that of Vita Sackville-West to produce a fascinating read for a gardening enthusiast.

Actually, it was rather too good and here is the warning. It is not perhaps the best book to read within reach of your computer and online nurseries and seed suppliers. I did start more reasonably with pen and paper to make a provisional list but as the French say, “c’était plus fort que moi”. I prefer this phrase as it shifts the burden onto the temptation rather than saying “I” could not resist it as you would in English.

Anyway, I had decided no more plants until I had places for them. So…

Logically, that meant I’d have to create more space for planting. We settled on making the flowering Ash tree the focus for the new planting. The first thing was to move a big stone block we had found at the bottom of the garden up to the tree. That required a very big crowbar and the help of some friends.

That was Sunday and since then we have been busy removing the turf (almost finished, it is hard going.) It has left large piles of turf containing couch grass and perennial weeds. I say they will rot away, Kourosh says no.

We managed to move a Sarcoccoca confusa, an Abutilon, some Hypericum and an Aster before the rain started. I decided to wrap a fleece around the Abutilon but with mild wet weather it might be in with a chance.

We are still waiting for some plants we ordered but in the meantime in the rain.

It is back to thinking about what plants I could sow to cram into my new flower bed.

I can imagine me quickly being surrounded by seed trays this spring. I will not be going anywhere, that is for sure. At the moment there is a curfew beween six in the evening and six in the morning. It does not really affect us as all the restaurants, places of entertainment, gyms etc. are closed and meetings are banned so it leaves gardening with a pencil and paper and a lot of imagination.

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.

16 thoughts on “Gardening in January

  1. I love your seed box! I am trying hard not to plan yet so Feb doesn’t drag too painfully.

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    • My seedbox was a present from my grandaughter many, many years ago and has served faithfully since then. It is not big enough for the lumpy, self-gathered seeds that go in the other box. Amelia

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  2. It’s been much the same here. I regularly saw bumblebees and honeybees on winter honeysuckle and mahonia before the weather turned cold and wet but I havent seen a bumblebee for at least a fortnight now. I hope the winter active ones will survive.
    I used to live not far from Sissinghurst and it was a very pleasant weekend outing especially when the white garden was in full flower. I also remember a place nearby that sold lovely cherries in season!

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    • You seem to be missing the bumblebees too! I wish we lived near a garden that could serve as inspiration and leisure, Sissinghurst is so well-known. We were very spoiled when we lived in Aberdeen. Amelia

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  3. Despite our wintry weather I have also been thinking of seeds and have ordered some more seed trays for windowsills. I am also toying with the idea of another cold frame for seedlings. Love your seed box! Look forward to seeing what goes in the new bed. Is the stone block going to be a seat?.

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    • I will definitely be planting more seed trays this year and more pots for outside. You have got quite a bit of space in your new cold frame but can you ever have enough :)? The stone block has been transformed by the addition of a couple of smaller stones from the bottom of the garden into a rough bench. Nothing was planned so it is a bit “Flintstone” style or should I say “rustique”? Amelia

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  4. Though the temptations are high, gardeners are the lucky ones in this shutdown. We are busy, making little maps and lists…..

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  5. Is Japanese medlar similar to ‘common’ medlar? I know the Japanese medlar as ‘loquat’. I am familiar with it. However, I have never met a medlar. ‘Common’ medlar is not at all common here.

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    • You are not familiar with the common Medlar because it is a native of this side of the Atlantic. There are similarities with the loquat but the flowers of the Medlar do not have that wonderful perfume although the bees still like them. The fruit too is not so well-apreciated. The fruit is small and brown skinned and has a flavour of stewed apples (to me) when it is ripe in late autumn. I’ve got a picture of the fruit in our garden here https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/autumn-discoveries/. Amelia

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      • Stewed apples sounds good to me. I have seen trees (very rarely) available in a catalog, and will likely eventually get a pair, just to see what they are like, even if, ultimately, I dislike them. I will just keep them small if I want less fruit. I will grow loquat too, even though I am none too keen on them. They were common here for a long time, but were just seed grown trees. Now that they are becoming popular again, more productive cultivars are available.

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      • The medlars in your picture still look interesting to me. I was told that American persimmons were not goo, but could not get enough of them when I actually experienced them in Oklahoma. I grew a tree for my own garden, and will grow at least another for a pollinator. (They are supposed to be more productive with a pollinator.)

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        • I love all sorts of fruit. I find persimmons the most useful as they ripen slowly indoors in the winter and provide such a quantity of delicious fruits. The loquats appear in early summer when there is more fruit available and are not so easy to keep after they are ripe. I find the common medlars the most difficult to use and I prefer to eat them straight from the tree. They all have their different appeals.

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          • Exactly! As much as I enjoy the traditional fruits that used to grow in the orchards here, I am fascinated by some of the fruits that used to be appreciated in home gardens too. I can not grow all of them, so limit selection to those that do well here.

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  6. Here in the Vaucluse (Provence) we have the black bumblebees, (xylocopa violacea I think) flying now on days with no rain, and going into the holes they insist on making in our shutters. I like them very much!
    bonnie in provence

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    • I have not seen my Carpenter bees for a while, although I like them as well. They are not bumble bees even though they have furry bodies. There are coming up on 1,000 different species of bees just looking at France. There are two or three different species of Carpenter bees in France but I have only seen the one species up here in my garden. Amelia

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