a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Rain refreshes May

31 Comments

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.

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.

31 thoughts on “Rain refreshes May

  1. I also have a tulip tree in the garden. I see the first flowers have emerged high in the canopy, and I hope it flowers lower down so I can take a good look at them. Last year it completely defoliated during the drought, only to regrow leaves in September. Is yours also that susceptible to dry conditions? The redstart nest is fantastic – I’m very envious. I put a nest box up on my shed, but too late in the season – so I hope to be lucky next year (though I was still happy watching my blue tit parents flying in and out of the nest with caterpillars).

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    • We have not had the tulip tree suffer from the drought as badly as yours. Perhaps ours is more mature. We love our blue tits too and we always see the fledglings at the feeder but we have never had them in any of the nest boxes. In fact the adults keep a very low profile until they show off their fledglings. Amelia

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  2. Lovely hoope! Too wet here for more than the odd visitor. Your mullein moths will eat your plants unfortunately.

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  3. What a gorgeous hoopoe! And baby chicks too. I am very jealous.

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  4. Tulip tree is a grand one. It is not appreciated within its native range as much as it is here though. It happens to be one of the few eastern deciduous trees that performs well in Southern California. There may be as many of them there as there are here.

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  5. A very unusual tree, I have never seen one. Lovely wildlife as always in your garden.

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  6. Beautiful birds, we dont have these in Brittany.

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  7. Your photos are wonderful, you have excelled yourself!! Hoopoes are occasional visitors to sourh Devon but I have never seen one myself. Redstarts are beautiful birds, how lovely to have a nest close by.

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  8. I have tried several times to grow a tulip tree, but we’re just a little too far north. Maybe it’s something to look forward to with a warming climate.

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    • Possibly. I try to keep to species that are happy within our climate range. However, we have cracked with some Jacaranda tree seeds that we collected in Spain. One of the seedlings died last winter but we put it in a too exposed position. I’m going to be more careful this winter as I think trees can harden off as they mature. Amelia

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      • There’s another one I love–but cannot do here. Maybe if you plant it on the southside of a structure. Oh! Those lovely purple flowers. I’ve planted a few catalpa trees. They’ll do in our climate and have wonderful orchid-like flowers. They are messy trees–not something I’d put in a tidy city yard–but fine for here.

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  9. How wonderful to have the Liriodendron in flower; it’s a gorgeous tree! I gave up on it here after it had branches broken repeatedly by wind.

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  10. Love the Redstart nest and chicks. Mullein is not to common in the Chicago area. It can be a weed, but I noticed that the Chicago Botanic Garden has incorporated it into at least one of its mixed borders. Also it was used as an ornamental in several gardens we visited in the Denver area. Glad you got some rain, it’s a great feeling to see the garden get refreshed.

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  11. Good on you doing an ‘experiment’ with the mullein moth. I love mullein moth caterpillars – they are very striking

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  12. Your tulip tree flower is really lovely! What an imteresting and pretty bird the Hoopoe is. We haven’t seen one here but perhaps one day I will hear one… We also have redstarts nesting but far too high up in the barn for us to get a good look. You are lucky to see them!

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    • I think the redstarts will be very happy that they have chosen to nest under the carport as we have had quite a lot of rain recently, so they have had no problem keeping the chicks dry. This will not be the same where ever the birds have nested as we have had unusually high winds with even higher gusts for some days now. There are a lot of little broken branches in the garden. Amelia

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  13. What a fascinating magnolia! I didn’t know about that kind. Also fascinating to me is your hoopoe bird. I hadn’t known of them. I love its outfit!

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