a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

More rain and floods

21 Comments

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?

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.

21 thoughts on “More rain and floods

  1. Here in the Vaucluse its acting like spring is near, but it shouldn’t be. The leaf buds on my tree peony look about to open and the V. tinus (we have a lot) is blooming. I trimmed a long cane from the R. banksia and there were flower buds on the end! We could still easily get freezing weather, which would be hard on the plants at this stage. We do have bees around, mostly the carpenter bees.
    bonnie in provence

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  2. Despite all the rain you seem well on the way to spring. Good that your garden does not flood. Like here (we had lots of snow and then rain) the trees will be loving it and the watertable will hopefully rise. I have never seen that on a plant before. Surely it will not be able to survive? I actually had some Polyanthus flowering in November, so there was definitely some confusion with the seasons!

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    • I had assumed that the new polyanthus plant would survive if it was cut off and planted. Well, there is only one way to find out – and there is more than one like that. I must admit I find it difficult to find a place for all the polyanthus that self-seed but in the interests of science (:)) I will try and find a place for these strange plants. Amelia

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  3. How sad that they’ve been removing the hedgerows, as it is exactly that kind of transitional planting that offers diversity, and holds the soils in floods. So far, we are having an exceptionally mild winter–though there’s a blow forecast that will finally give us winter chill. But even a mild winter here does not give us flowers and bees–our landscape still wears a cloak of white–just a thinner cloak. So I love to see the flowers your winters provide. And I’ve decided that my winters will be more bearable if I have cut flowers in my house, so I’ve worked it into the budget. I visited my bees yesterday, all wrapped tight in their insulated boxes in the lower realms of the barn. Because it is quiet in there, you can hear them–the low buzz of keeping warm in winter. It’s comforting to know that they are well, biding their time for spring.

    In spring, we do see the bees collecting pollen on the hazelnut catkins–but then our bees do not enjoy the wide spring menu that yours do.

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    • It’s good that you have your bees somewhere that you can visit easily. I find the buzz of the bees incredibly relaxing. I am glad you verified that bees will take hazelnut pollen. The variety of nectar and pollen that they collect all adds to the unique taste of the honey and it is never quite the same. Amelia

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  4. Hello Amelia, and sympathies with all that flooding, I had no idea that you were being hit again, or that you’re still under a 6pm curfew, though I guess with dark evenings just now, that’s not too onerous. Is there any end in sight to the curfew? I’ve never seen any bees on our Viburnums in the past, or Hazels either, but as you say I guess it depends on their other options. At least you do seem to be seeing some lovely sunshine as well, though and glad the bees seem to be thriving,
    best wishes
    Julian

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    • We have not had our usual quota of sunshine this year. It has been very grey skies in between the rain. There is no end in site of the curfew. It is an attempt to dampen the Covid infection curve without putting the country into a total lockdown. They cannot organise the vaccinations and it is only for the over 75s. Personally, I would prefer to see it go to the frontline workers. As you say the curfew does not effect us too much as everything is closed. It is the nurses, pharmaciens, supermarket staff and other essential workers that are out there unprotected at the moment. We are retired and keep, more or less, to the garden. Amelia

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      • Thanks Amelia, we feel equally fortunate to have our garden and relatively remote landscape to keep us occupied. Wales at last is seeing a decline in case numbers, and at last the little bit of ” news” we can bear to listen to, has the occasional more upbeat slant. But our weather is pretty grim. At least we can be cheered by our bee’s resilience whilst everything in the human world, at least on this side of the world, is going to pot,
        best wishes to you both,
        Julian

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  5. Lovely to see your spring shoots. In the Jura it is still winter and more snow on the way, but I got out in the garden this mild morning to stay distanced from the cable installation man and there was a distinct whiff of spring about the place !

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  6. Such high water levels so close to the house is sure to be a worry. I hope all goes well, water level drops etc.

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  7. I felt a bit sad for your apricots, but hope you enjoy the Nashi – new to me. Our river at the bottom of the garden has flooded too, first time in about 3 years (during which we’ve had bad drought during the summer). By the way – I wanted to see the bee video, but it’s listed as ‘private’ on YouTube. I haven’t noticed any bees yet in our garden, which is usually full of them – I guess it’s been too wet. Here in the Vosges we had our first sun yesterday morning – it felt like spring as I walked around. This morning, back to rain again.

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    • Thank you for letting me know about the video, it was my mistake, I had meant it to be public. as usual. We are a bit sad about the apricot tree too but each tree needs its own space and we find that they have an additional problem of over shading nearby plants. I find I have never enough space to plant what I would like to grow and yet I know that I have to keep maintenance down to a reasonable level. It is just working out what is reasonable that is difficult :). The flood/dryness cycle in France is worrying, I hope we are not in for a too hot and dry summer. Amelia

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  8. Hi Amelia. I saw the flooding in Charente-Maritime on the news. Glad to say there has not been a big impact here in the Dordogne, and I live on a hill. However, the rain here in December was twice the usual average – and the soil is waterlogged. At the beginning of January I planted an orchard in the garden. I dug the holes and many just filled up with water (the soil is high in clay) which I had to put the roots in and pile soil on top. I’m hoping the soil will dry out before the trees begin to explore with their roots. Two of the trees are apricots (as well as apple, plums and persimmon) – so now I’m wondering how they will fare in the new climate reality in south-west France. Anyway, experimentation is the fun of gardening – and I’ll report back in the summer how things are progressing.

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    • Our soil here is rather sandy, so it means careful watering of new plants if there is a dry summer. I do not know if clay soils keep the moisture better. Once the first couple of summers are over I expect they will have made their way in their new home. There is so much pleasure in planning a garden and I am sure you must have needed it recently. We are going to be planting more seeds this year as we feel we are going to have more time around the garden to look after them. Amelia

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  9. Hope the water keeps well away from your garden. It is also exceptionally wet here in Devon this winter. With regard to your polyanthus, before Christmas I saw a teasel seed head with new seedlings growing from the head, I wanted to follow its progress but someone cut it down.

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    • The water in the river is right up to the top but the land slopes away from the garden and there is a whole network of passages taking the water to the marshes although many fields are flooded. I have cut off the flower heads of the Polyanthus with the new plants and potted them up, I am sure they will take – and then I will have to find them new homes. Amelia

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  10. Oh my goodness! I hope your place stays free of the flood waters Amelia. It’s similar here: climate is becoming very difficult to garden in—flooding at times and drought and wildfires next. We keep trying to grow apricots with no luck. We’re having issues with bacterial infection on the fruit trees. This winter in Sonoma County California, we are still low on rainfall. If we don’t get more before the end of winter, we’ll likely be looking at drought this summer and dangerous wildfires again this fall. Loved your bee video and flower pix.

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    • Your comment puts my complaints into scale as we have had no wildfires here despite the dry summer. Despite the incessant rain the plants are not suffering at the moment and we will be glad to see the water table level replenished. Amelia

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