a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Definitely spring

The waters have receded to a more normal spring level and the daffodils are out. These are where we retire our daffodils when they get too crowded in other parts of the garden. I was not sure the bulbs would survive the dry, hot summer but they do and get enough rain and light in the spring to proliferate.

I love seeing the hazel flower – tiny as they are. There are two on the stem underneath the catkin.

I see the white-tailed bumble bee queens during the winter but it has to be spring before I see the queen Carder bumblebees. They love the dead red-nettle and there is plenty of it in the garden just now.

The biggest spring event for us is when the old plum tree flowers. It is a festival of perfume, buzzing and pollinators.

Such an opportunity for photographs.

Bees and plum blossom are so photogenic.

I could go on like this for some time, but I won’t.

I did say pollinators in the plum tree so I must insert my token butterfly. Probably a tortoiseshell.

I am not going closer than a tortoiseshell. I don’t think it was a small tortoiseshell but please feel free to leave a comment if you know what it is. Before anyone asks – I do not know what colour its legs were, I was lucky to get the picture I did.

Being a frugal type I decided to plant the hyacinth bulbs I had inside for their perfume, after the flowers had finished. My trusty garden tool is used for everything and I swing it around with wild abandon.

I was chilled to realise, when digging the hole, that I had nearly decapitated a hiberating toad. I think it must have been the root that saved him. I had to pick him up to make sure he still had four legs.

He sat quietly to the side while I redug a hollow under the root. He accepted his repositioning calmly and looked less upset than I was.

So all is well in the garden with the Carpenter bees swooping noisily onto the heather.

All the bees love the Hellebore and there are even more than ever this year.

But the biggest news today was that the Osmia cornuta males are emerging from the bee houses. I do love to watch them and if you would like to share you can see more of my photos at Bees in a French Garden.


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Walking in the Woods

A few days ago, our friends came over and picked us to go for a visit to the woods at Rioux about half an hour away from our home. Needless to say in the confinement of the car we all four wore our facemasks.

These special woods are covered with wild daffodils. Many of the daffodils were still in buds. Perhaps we arrived a few days early or as we saw later quite a few families had picked up bundles of flowers. That is why on arrival I did not notice the daffodils.

Walking actually into the woods, we did noticed hundredes of daffodils

There were also quite a lot of wild primroses

Another wild flower that I love to see in the woods around here is Asphodel. Now they are still shooting up.

This picture we took in previous years, of asphodels in flower. They are majestic – I feel.

I also love the flowers of Pulmonaria. They are favourite colour. The common English name is Lungwort, as the leaves somwhat reminds one of lungs.

I often see abandoned buildings in the countryside, like some archaeological site. I wonder about the family that must have lived in this one; the children that grew up and played in the forest.

All countrysides specially in remote rural areas look to me neglested and yet at the same time loved. An abandoned house or an old dead tree that perhaps the children used to climb or swing from it,

A little further and we came across a small farm. A beautiful horse lonely in a field

And a road sign that I must have missed when I learnt the highway code

First I noticed one lonely sheep, perhaps expecting a lamb,

And further along we saw the rest of the flock and one proud sheep with her lambs.

A most pleasant walk in the woods, despite the confinement.

Kourosh


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Bees in the heather

“That’s not a honeybee!”, said Kourosh. He was right! There were plenty of honeybees in the winter flowering heather but he was not one of them. Yesterday morning (16 February 2021) was warm and sunny and the cute little bee was not a honeybee. I thought he looked like a male bee because he had elegant long antenna and the furry face looked like some of the solitary male bees I have seen.

As I watched him another, slightly larger bee, alighted on some nearby heather flowers and he immediately leapt on top of her. Well, that settled the question rapidly.

You would think I would know what type of bees they are but these photographs are not good enough to identify them. There are just under 1,000 species of bees in France (20,000 species in the world).

However, it was a very special moment and it brought home to me that spring is coming. Everything is on the move and it is worth keeping your eyes wide open.

If anyone is interested I have more photographs in Bees in a French Garden.


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A pond for the garden

The rain has been more or less continuous this week but I am surprised that as soon as there is a break in the downpour the bees are out.

I suppose the Hellebores are ideally suited for this type of weather as the flower heads face downwards, keeping the pollen dry and making natural umbrellas for any bees caught out.

On Wednesday I saw the first bumble bee out for some time. She was very slow and obviously a young queen that must have woken very hungry from a dormant period. She walked over the flowers of the heather carefully taking the nectar.

It was not until I looked at the photographs, much later, that I realised that she was heavly infested with mites. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust say that these parasites may just be hitching a lift on bumblebees to take them to new nests and that they feed on nest debris. They suggest that heavily infested bumblebees could have the mites swept off them using a child’s paintbrush. I have never down this and I think it might not be so easy in practice.

The rain was forecast and we managed to get our pool in place in the hope of filling it with rain water. We have had a blue plastic sandpit hoarded for many years, and rather than buy a new piece of plastic we decided to reuse and recycle.

We already have a waterlily plant ready re-homing and the stone was placed to mark the spot.

This is our first real pond but we have already aspirations of what may breed here.

This photograph was taken in 2015 from “Many Happy Returns”. I hear our frogs at the moment but I do not see them.

This is from “A February of Contradictions”. These little green tree frogs or Reinettes (Hyla meridionalis) are ever present in the garden but I have never seen their tadpoles.

This photograph is from last year in “Persimmon and Saffron”, the little newts (Tritorus marmoratus) were hiding together under one of my pots.

If they adults are cute the babies are even cuter see July last year “Garden Visitors”. Will they breed in the new pond?

We do not see the salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) so frequently but I found this baby one near the Manuka last year “Back to April Showers”. Note the rubber gloves. The salamander can exude an irritant from its skin, I still like its sleek form and yellow stripe.

I do not expect to attract a European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) but if he has already come here (“There‚Äôs an Emys orbicularis, in the garden”) – why not?

So the rain continues to fall and the stones get piled around the edges to conceal the shape. In the middle of the pool the stone has already attracted some wildlife. You can just see two black marks.

I have never noticed these before and I think they are Devil’s Coach Horse beetles (Ocypus olens). They are detrius feeders and I can attest to the fact that they are not good swimmers. Never the less when we rescue them, flicking them onto the grass, we find them back on the stone or floating inanimate in the water the next day.

So the rain has filled our pond and we have been able to put the water lily in its new home with a few weeds from the bee’s water bowl. We would like to add some more plants especially something tall to attract the dragonflies but it is a bit early yet for that.

We will not be adding fish as they will likely make short work of any spawn or tadpoles.

Our robin was in good voice today and I am sure he feels it will not be long until springtime here.


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More rain and floods

At the bottom of our garden the river has been rising.

France is now under a curfew at 6.00 p.m. in a winter that has been exceptionally dull and rainy. Many parts of France are suffering from floods. These winter floods are becoming recurrent and coupled with hot dry summers as the world climate becomes more perturbed.

The river Seine in the Paris region has flooded some houses so frequently that there is a plan by the municipality to buy the houses and revert the area back to nature. We wonder at the planning permission when we see films of the houses washed away by the rain and flooded by the high tides.

This is the road leading to our house. The house is just behind the line of trees on the right.

Looking from the same spot to the left of the road, the fields are completely under water. More and more in this area, the trees and hedges are cut down to give larger fields to cultivate maize, sunflowers, rape and cereal.

This is the canal that was dug about 70 years ago to make sure the road was not flooded. The land rises towards the house and the water passes into the vast stretches of marshland around the Seudre as it heads for the sea. Our little river is on the left of the photograph and although both strips of water are moving fast, I don’t expect it to get high enough to overflow into the garden.

This is a nostalgic photograph of one of the last apricot flowers from our garden. We have cut down the last apricot tree and I gathered the twigs and brought them inside to watch them blossom for the last time.

The highs and lows of our spring temperatures here mean that we seldom get a good crop of apricots.

However, our apple and pear trees are more successful and Kourosh has wanted a Nashi for some years after he found a tree with the delicious fruit nearby in an untended garden. The fruit was delicious, it looked like an apple but was extremely juicy with a flavour reminiscent of pears.

So the decision was taken to cut down the apricot tree (see stump on the left of the new Nashi.)

Kourosh had tried to graft the unknown fruit onto our apple trees. The grafts were unsuccessful and I wonder if this is because that despite its appearance of a sleek, round apple the Nashi is Pyrus pyrifolia – a pear.

So despite the rain we took the decision to buy a Nashi. We were able to source a Nashi “Kosui” and we hope it will thrive in its new home.

The garden seems to have decided to push forth with vigour. The Hellebores are shooting up and I have so many this year I did not mind cutting some for a table decoration. Anyway, the bumblebees are not awake yet so they won’t miss them.

My Cornus mas or Cornelian cherry has just started flowering but the plants are not big enough to attract the bees – not enough flower heads to make it easy work for the bees.

On the other hand my bushes of Viburnum tinus are large and full of bees – so size does matter.

Every year I patrol our hazel catkins to get a photograph of the bees gathering pollen which my French sources say is one of the most important sources of pollen in the spring for bees. I have never seen a bee on the hazel catkins. So I was quite excited when I read in theFebruary 2021 issue of BeeCraft magazine that the bees will ignore it if other pollen is freely available.

So the bees can be choosy too!

The size of the actual flower does not count for the bees. We have lots of tiny blue speedwell growing in the grass and the bees visit them assiduously. The visit does not last long so once again it will be the quantities of flowers that attracts.

The girls are very busy at the moment. We put a layer of insulation over the brood box in December as we had freezing temperatures. We do not intend to remove it yet as it is only the beginning of February and colder weather is forecasted.

Nevertheless, the girls seem determined to get cracking. The short video (30 seconds) shows the different colours of pollen being taken into the hives. I like to watch them and guess where the pollen comes from.

As I have mentioned everything seems to be powering ahead to grow in an unseemly haste. These polyanthus have sprung into new plants on the seed heads of their old flowers.

Is it a vegetative growth or have the seeds decided to germinate on the flowerhead? It seems a good strategy on the part of the plant to find a less crowded place to grow – at least a flower stem’s length from the parent plant. I have never noticed this before. Is it common?