a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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A rare event

We were sitting outside having lunch yesterday when we noticed beautiful colours in the sky above our olive tree.

We knocked on the door of our neighbours opposite and brought them outside to see the sky. I quickly took a photograph of the sky above our neighbour Annie’s house for her.

Kourosh took photographs on his phone too and sent them to Meteo France. Surprisingly, they sent us a beautiful reply explaining the phenomena. The general term is a  photométéore, which would include rainbows (I rather like this word, even if it is French and not English.) The phenomenon is rather rare and is associated with light being reflected by particles (water?) suspended on the surface of the clouds. So it is an iridescent cloud or irisation.

It was very beautiful and reminded me of watching the Northern Lights in Aberdeen.

Back in the garden I made a discovery that the clump of Oxalis, that I had planted years ago from some bulbs given free with a gardening magazine, was extremely attractive to the honeybees. I had never cared for it and it survived by finding a secluded spot here and there in the garden where it escaped being culled.

It is a strange flower and it will close in the middle of the day if there is not enough sunshine. It looks as if it is hiding (from me?) when it does that. When I looked closely the stamens held plenty of lovely yellow pollen.

Our wildlife pond continues to fascinate us. There are thousand of tadpoles now.

It is a great excuse to take a break and go and watch the tadpoles. Very relaxing. Have a look at this video and see what I mean.


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Discoveries in the garden

We have just had a week of intermittent rain. The garden looks green, the poppies are coming up everywhere and look very happy.

The bees are still getting out during the sunny spells, you can see the black pollen on her legs.

My choisia is full of flowers and is the most perfumed plant in the garden at the moment. It has a lot of yellow leaves. I do not know whether this is due to its near death experience last summer when it was very dry. Also it is badly situated under a large Ash tree.

I do not want to lose it. The bees would miss it too. Any comments would be welcome.

I inherited a clump of Arum lilies with the garden and I have split them and they are now in some shady spots. They love the rain but are remarkably resistant in the dry summer.

I have never associated them with bees. Then I noticed a bee go into the flower – but it did not come out.

It had been caught by a crab spider. Often I notice bodies of insects inside these flowers. They make excellent traps for spiders.

I had never thought of the arum lily (or any lily) being attractive to bees but I noticed that the bees were very interested in them.

They were disappearing into the base of the flower and gathering a pure white pollen.

Bees are content to share when there is room for all to forage. They seemed to be getting something from the yellow part of the flower although the white pollen was deep inside.

Our first bush peony (Festiva maxima) has just started to flower.

The bees were getting right in there and gathering plenty of pollen. The bees seem indifferent to red varieties of peony that I have. I will keep my eyes on the red peonies when they open but I am sure the bees ignore these ones.

The most exciting discovery was strings of spawn on top of the new little pond. Kourosh pointed them out but when we looked the next day they had disappeared! However, they had just sunk beneath the surface and were still there.

I think it could be possibly toad spawn as these are usually laid in strings. We do have toads. I see them when I am weeding and it makes me jump to see what looks like a lump of earth start to move – they are so well camouflaged. I always worry I might decapitate one with my weeding tool, they look such gentle creatures. Toads are useful for gardeners as they will eat slugs.

Yesterday they had just started to change into their tadpole stage. There seems masses of them so I hope some will survive.

I also noticed a strange creature in the photograph. I never did pond dipping as a child so I do not know what it is. It looks like the nymph stage of some insect, on the leftside of the photo. Pehaps a damsel fly? It is good that the little pond is attracting some life.


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Rain refreshes May

We have had rain and the garden and trees are looking much fresher. We have not had heavy rain but sunshine and showers suit me fine.

Our tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is in flower. It is called Tulipier de Virginie in french so the name is a give away for its place of origin. Unfortunately, a lot of french people call Magnolia grandiflora a tulipier because of its big white flowers that look like over sized tulips and it causes a lot of confusion. We have both plants in the garden but now is the moment for Liriodondron.

It is not a flower that could easily be mistaken.

It was one of the first trees we planted because it had always fascinated me and I never expected it to get so big but it has plenty of space in the garden and I still appreciate its strange flowers.

This is one of our mullein plants (Verbascum thapsus), it is a common weed here and has grown spontaneously in the garden. However, we look out for the baby plants of this biennial in the autumn and transfer them to where we want them to flower the following summer. We try and fit in as many as we can because the plants will grow to be over one metre tall and are surmounted by a yellow flower head that is extremely attractive to bees and provides excellent pollen. The plants provide architectural interest and have long tap roots that allows them to easily survive dry summer conditions.

At the moment they are almost all being ravaged by the mullein moth (Cucullia verbasci). I could easily pick them off by hand but I am interested to see whether the mullein will recover, if left alone.

In addition, the redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) have started nesting under our carport, as they did last year.

That means a lot of mouths to feed for the parents and we see both parents entering the nest box with what looks like caterpillars. What kind of caterpillars they bring is impossible to tell.

We watch another bird from the utility and kitchen windows.

The hoopoe (Upupa epops) is a frequent visitor to the garden at the moment.

He drills into the soil with such energy that I sometimes wonder if he will come out with one of our moles at the end of his beak – not just a worm.

The redstarts keep a watchful eye on him when he gets too near their nest box and we have seen both parents mob him just to make the boundaries clear to all concerned.


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Plants and places

Sometimes you get it right – sometimes you are a bit off. Here, I am happy we have a Madame Isaac Periere rose just by our doors.

The rose is a deep rich pink and highly perfumed.

What is a bit off is the bright red poppies that I have sown underneath. Not a harmonious choice of colours at all.

The poppies will only be there in the spring and I would prefer to see the bees in them than to go for the colour match. I have also noticed that Anthophora “buzz” pollinate. I thought that it was a phenomenum unique to bumble bees but these Anthophora bounce on the flowers and buzz them to release the pollen.

One of the most difficult places in the garden are the shady, dry spots. I find the Arums cope well. They have huge tubers at their roots and they must store the moisture in the winter and survive on this during the summer.

The Tellima grandiflora manage to survive in the shade and dry and provide delicate flowers that are appreciated by the early bumble bees. They are good at providing a ground cover during the summer and self-seed but are never over powering and unwanted plants are easily removed or transferred.

I am not so lucky with the Iris. Just now, in this region, even the most reticent gardeners have beautiful displays of Iris in a host of beautiful colours.

These Iris are in the border of the front garden. I am not sure how they got there (Kourosh?)

These Iris are at the bottom of the back garden and have been taken over by weeds. There lies my problem. Iris are beautiful when in flower but they do not have the decency to disappear afterwards, like tulips or daffodils. Their rhizomes should be left open to the sun but other plants and weeds seem to find this a great place to grow in.

These Iris are growing outside our front wall and although they look charming at the moment, their ever increasing rhizome base makes it difficult to control throughout the rest of the year.

I do like Iris but I would love to hear how I could grow some or rather where the best place is to put them in a garden.

Some flowers I do not like. These are red hot pokers or Kniphofia. They are just not my colours. We were given a split for our early garden but even with few flowers, I asked Kourosh to dig them up. He did, but pleaded for their relegation to a stony, inhospitable site where nothing else could grow. I relented and then noticed that the bees like them!

I had thought the flowers too narrow to allow the bees to enter. I had not realised that the flowers widen as they mature and the bees can access the flowers. I have never seen any take the pollen.

Here you can actually see the drop of nectar that the bee is lapping with its tongue.

Well. despite the colour the Kniphofia has the right to a place in the garden!

We choose the plants but the frog chooses us. He is happy as we have had our first rain in ages and he likes to sit on the potted lemon tree and make his presence known.

Don’t jump!

Please do not go in there. It may look like fun but you always end up getting stuck in the spout.