a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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End of April

This is our Persimmon tree. All the new leaf shoots have been frazzled by the frost we had a week or so ago but the damage is only becoming apparent now. Even the Redstarts are confused. They have been coming to survey the bird boxes in the Persimmon tree and I think they are puzzled that there are no leaves.

Not all the plants were affected and the Choisia Sundance is in great form while right beside it the Hydrangia is in a sorry state.

The flowering Ash tree (Fraxinus ornus) looks completery bedraggled with burnt leaves and some sad flowers.

This is what the flowering Ash looked like on 12 April 2019. It was not that the low temperatures were so low this year but our previous temperatures were so high, fooling the plants to think summer had come. This week the temperature has gone up to 29 degrees Centigrade here (84 degrees Fahrenheit), so the yo-yo-ing of weather continues with no rain.

We take advantage of the good weather to enjoy coffees outside. The tree peony is flowering.

The flowers are big, blowsy affairs with a touch of red in the centre. The flowers don’t last too long but at least we are getting sunshine to enjoy them.

Tucked away close bye are a group of blue and pink forget-me-nots. I would never have been able to tempt them to grow where they have appeared but the self-seeders always seem to find a place for themselves.

Poppies are the masters of self-seeding and our first red poppies are out and managing to attract some of the Anthophora bees away from the Cerinthe.

They are noisy bees.

Our first Camassia has flowered in our container. We have a big tub of Camassia near where we sit for coffee. Between the bumble bees and the Anthophora there is always a buzz.

The little tree frog outcompetes the bees. He perches on the lemon tree in its pot on the patio and watches us taking our coffee. I must get a recording of him as he has a powerful croak that belies his tiny size.


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Mid April in the garden

Blue skies and sunny days often bring overnight frosts and after the high temperatures we had two weeks ago most of the plants have suffered from frost damage. The leaves hang, a bit droopy and sad but they will recover.

We too are passing our second April in confinement, not so strict this time, we can go 10 kilometres from the house which is more then the one kilometer distance for one hour of exercise that we endured last year. Like the plants we will survive.

Nature continues and we have baby blackbirds in the garden. They do not fly away when you approach but this careless attitude will only last a few days and we do not have cats.

We have more and more Honesty (Lunaria annua) self-seeding over the garden. I love the colour and it seems to be able to find better places to grow than I would have imagined. It is perfect to attract all the pollinators.

The furry bee flies look cute but are parasites of solitary bees so I cannot help feeling a twinge of antipathy towards them.

This little bee had a slightly metallic sheen to it and it could be a Lasioglossom (perhaps morio)

Butterflies also take advantage of the Honesty and the orange-tip butterfly is especially photogenic.

I checked ot out onthe Butterfly Conservation web site. Guess what? It lays its eggs on Honesty in gardens. I have never noticed any caterpillars on them so the site must be correct that it prefers some of the wild flowers that are around just now. I’ll try and remember to keep my eye open for signs of caterpillars.

The last of the tulips are fully open now in my layered planter. So providing interest from the middle of February until late April is a worthwhile effort.

The last white tulips (Mount Tacoma) looked better on their own than while the pale pink (Candy Prince) were open. The pink was definitely a candy pink and looked pallid beside the pure white tulips.

Live and learn!


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Highs and lows

For the first time the first buds of our Wisteria in the front garden have been frozen. On the second of March I took a photograph of the first flower buds. I should have realised, as they normally flower at the beginning of April, that it was much too early. These first buds have now been freeze dried and crumble to the touch. The front garden looks strange without the Wisteria, They will flower again later in the season but it is never the same as the first flush of flowers before the leaves.

The Sophora japonica is typical of so many of the trees. They look O.K. until you examine them more closely and see their first leaves and shoots have been frozen.

Nothing has been seriously damaged, I don’t think. In fact, I am very proud of how the plants have stood up to our yoyo temperatures this spring. We have been having warm sunny days with temperatures going into the high 20 degree Centigrade with bright blue skies. Then we have had a few nights with temperatures going into the negative.

Some trees are tougher and can take the variable spring temperatures. The Elaeagnus umbellata is a very hardy, easy small tree that the bees love. I bought several small plants for 1euro70 in 2017. Now they are three to three and a half metres tall and I have changed their position from time to time as they have grown, to provide screening. The flowers are perfumed, what more could you want?

Actually, I also look for drought tolerance in my plants but the Elaeagnus ticks this box too. The rainfall has been up and down this year too. At the beginning of the year everywhere around us was flooded because of the heavy rains. Then the rain stopped and we have had no spring showers. The Cerinthe that usually produce flower after flower are not so productive and the leaves are yellowing. I notice the Anthophora starting to shop around the other flowers although the Cerinthe is his favourite. The ground is rock hard.

So we have started the year with floods but I just hope the rest of the year will not be as dry as last year.

There are so many flowering trees and shrubs. Our Amelanchier is a mass of white blossom.

No bees, though.

Not so the Malus or flowering apple, planted last autumn.

It too is a mass of blossom.

But the difference is that the bees love the flowers.

The flowers are very similar to our Golden Delicious apple tree that is in flower just now. The flowers of both Malus varieties are perfect for the bees but we can only handle so much fruit and the flowering variety is putting on a stunning show.

In fact, there is so much in flower at the moment, like the Lonicera tatarica.

Even the tulips that I would say do not attract bees have found favour with this little wild bee.

So what do bees do in the springtime when it is warm and there is an abundance of food?

They swarm!

We have had ten swarms in the garden between the 20 March and the 8 April. Please do not say we should practice swarm control. We only had three hives capable of swarming and we divided one of those. We could be responsible for say three but these are not cast swarms and are a good size.

We do have a lot of large rape seed fields around us and I have a suspicion that a professional beekeeper could have put his hives nearby and his swarms are coming to us.

It is either that or perhaps we are on a crossing of ley lines which is supposed to attract bee swarms? See Bees and Energy (Ley?) Lines by David Cushman.