a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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First swarm of 2021

The first swarm came into the garden on Saturday 20 March 2021. One day earlier than our first swarm last year. I do not know where it came from but it was not one of ours. We had divided our largest hive “Poppy” and put on a super. We did wonder If she could have swarmed but she is happily filling the super at this moment and the others are not ready yet.

We were happy to give this swarm a home.

The swarm had landed not too high on a cotoneaster and Kourosh held the hive under the swarm and I shook the bees into the hive. We added frames and placed it on a sheet to encourage any stragglers to crawl in.

Job done! Time for a cold drink and self-congratulations.

When we returned to check on the hive it appeared that all the bees were not in agreement of staying in their new home. We had to collect them in the bucket and pour them into the opened hive.

After a few more disagreements they gave up and settled in.

This is our friends’ hive so we put it in an outbuilding in the dark for two nights before we took them to our friends’ nearby hive area very early in the morning. Kourosh opened their entrance later in the morning and they have accepted their new home graciously.

The star of the garden at the moment is our flowering cherry “Accolade”. O.K. it isn’t very big but its our first flowering cherry and it is only its second year in the garden.

You really need to get a bit closer to appreciate the flowers.

Just beautiful!

The bees are in total agreement with our choice.

Talking of bees, I saw two carpenter bees mating holding onto the petals of the leucojum. I cannot remember seeing them mating before.

Yesterday I noticed a strange circle showing in the grass of our front lawn. Aliens? Fungal disease?

No, it was only Kourosh cutting the grass but not having the heart to mow down all the Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) flowers !


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Layered pot

Last autumn I wanted some addition cheer on the patio for the spring and I felt like experimenting with something new.

The basil and lemon balm had finished in a big aluminium tub so I turfed it all out and started to plant it with bulbs to come up in sequence (I hoped).

This was taken on 17 February 2021 and already the garden was starting to brighten up. I was getting slightly impatient with my new planter but now at least I had some crocus and the Hyacinths were poking through.

It was not until 1 March 2021 that I thought – yes this might work.

Three days later and I can even see the tulips coming through.

On the 9 March 2021 I judged the display to be at its height.

Today 19 March the display was starting to go over with the Hyacinths finishing.

I decided to measure the pot (51 centimetres or 20 inches diameter by 29 centimetres or 11.5 inches tall) and dig out my bulb packets as I was sure someone would ask me how many bulbs I had planted.

Starting at the bottom, I planted 8 early pink “Candy Prince” tulips and 8 late “Mount Tacoma” tulips. Hold on! There seems to be an extra packet of tulips unaccounted for. Where are the 8 double white late “Mount Tacoma” tulips?

It looks like there are more tulips to come! Better late than never.

Anyway, after the tulips I put a packet of 10 mixed Hyacinths. Then 10 Muscari and finally 20 Crocus “Sieberi”.

I’ve had a lot of fun planting and watching the bulbs grow. I don’t know whether they should be left until the autumn,then tipped out and sorted for planting elsewhere or whether they could survive to reflower in the pot next year.

I think there are too many bulbs to be left but I would really love to hear from anyone who has done this before or has some experience with spring bulbs.


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Little things…

We are still under a curfew at 18.00 to 6.00. The restaurants, cafes and places of entertainment are still closed. You can go clothes shopping but I was never too keen on that and my garden has a very relaxed dress code.

So I have more time to pay attention to smaller stuff. Every morning I check my seed trays. There is great joy if I actually see a change! This is a Cupressus sempervirens seed that has just burst through its seed coat. The little root is making a tentative exploration into the potting compost. The first leaves are still hidden inside the seed coat.

The beginning can be tough if the seed coating sticks onto the new leaves.

Once free of the seed coat the new leaves green up. It is hard to imagine this tiny thread like shoot becoming a tree.

I’ve never grown Morning Glory before but Kourosh saw a video of bees swarming around some Morning Glory so he has decided to grow these climbers around one of our apple trees.

At least their germination is amusing.

No tiny first leaves for them.

They open up like butterflies.

Very impressive first leaves!

Liatris seeds germinating

Then of course there is the problem of how sparingly to sow the seeds. This depends on cost and availability for me. Sometimes you will only receive 4-6 seeds and if it is something you really want it means individual pots and special care.

Last year I grew Liatris for the first time and I kept all the seed. I’ve had no one to share it with this year and as I had no idea if it would germinate, I put all my seeds into one small tray.

Yes, you guessed! I think every seed must have germinated. Of course, I was delighted when I saw the little shoots popping out from their tufted seed capsules. They will not flower this year but form bulbs and flower the year after.

Just after the seeds germinated I noticed they were selling summer bulbs in packets at our local supermarket. I had a look and bought a packet of 15 Liatris bulbs for 2 euro 50, at least these will flower this year. Growing Liatris from seed does not seem an economical proposition but I will be so proud of my home grown ones :).

I often think of a taunt that used to be thrown at people when I was a child – “Little things please little minds.”


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Spring unfolds

I feel spring in our garden starts when our big plum tree flowers and the bees fill the tree making the petals of the plum blossom fall like confetti. There are still some flower buds opening but the big display is over and the total white haze is giving over to hints of green as the leaves start to open.

The perfume is still distinct but another perfume is taking over, especially in the late afternoon, from the Osmanthus burkwoodii that you can see in the bottom right hand corner of the photograph.

The flowers of the Osmanthus burkwoodii are not large or flashy but are highly perfumed and much appreciated by the bees.

The other strong perfume in the garden at the moment comes from the Hyacinths. I used to regard Hyacinths as indoor bulbs and stubby things to grow in a garden.

But I have changed my mind now for they add colour and exquisite perfume so I plant them as near to the terrace as I can. Although I do admit that I have to farm out some of the excess ones to spots further away as they are happy to reflower in the climate here.

In the mornings I like to check my bee boxes before there is too much sun. This is when I can find the Osmia, either still asleep after spending the night cosy inside a hole or just thinking about starting off their day.

Each day brings something different to see. The Bombus praetorum queens are quicker than the bumbling white tailed bumble bee queens, which makes them more difficult to photograph.

This is a better photograph of her but I like the first one better.

This carder bumble bee is a beautiful ginger colour over her entire thorax and abdomen. She is on the Cerinthe which has just started to flower this week. The Cerinthe self-seeds and started growing in the autumn and has not been damaged at all by the mild winter.

The Wisteria has started to open its flower buds. It is a formidable plant. It looks as if the bud is taking off its winter coat.

Another welcome flower has appeared on one of our succulents. I do not know what it is and we have grown it from a piece we have acquired. The succulents are another group of plants that I have grown to appreciate more and more.

We have had so much rain this spring that the early flowers are thriving and I feel that the daisies are bigger this year. It should be a good spring for the bees.

Kourosh is taking no chances and, in case he can tempt any errant swarms, he has placed a small hive at the bottom of the garden.

Also at the bottom of the garden, in a piece of rough ground that we use to compost down the garden rubbish, I noticed a clump of short daffodils/narcissi. I am not very fond of these and they seem to multiply excessively, however, Kourosh likes them. I had to cull them last year and asked Kourosh to dispose of the excess bulbs. Now I know where he put them.