a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Blue flowering shrubs in August

Some years ago (2016),I bought two blue flowering shrubs for the bees at the same time. This one is called Vitex agnus-castus or also in France, Gatillier or if you prefer “Poivres des Moines” meaning monks’ pepper. Perhaps all that was too much for me given that the other blue shrub also has multiple names.

O.K. the flowers of Elsholtzia stauntonii are not a true blue so I think the description I was given when I purchased the plants was somewhat unclear and both plants took their time flowering for me. Elsholtzia stauntonii is also called “Menthe en Arbre” or tree mint which looking at the flowers clears things up a lot for me. The leaves are supposed to be aromatic but I had to really squash them between my fingers to release the odour – which for me was not mint or menthol. We have not had rain for a while so the poor plants are perhaps cutting back a bit on unessential perfume essences just to survive.

I find the flower of the Vitex more attractive but once again I was not able to sense the aromatic perfume that it is meant to exude without squashing the leaf between my fingers. I recommend you trying this, if you ever get the chance, as it is a interesting perfume and not at all unpleasant. I will have to wait until the berries appear and crush those to see if they are more aromatic. It was these berries that the monks were reputed to eat to calm any unchaste ardour. The berries are used in herbal medicine but sound too potent for the uninitiated to play with.

The Elsholtzia has been disappointing up until now to attract bees, perhaps the wild mint that we have allowed to grow in patches of the garden is enough for them.

The third shrub is beautiful at the moment and attracting lots more bees than the other two. It is the Caryopteris “Grand Bleu”. Each garden is different and I am sure the plants will behave a little differently in different soils and climates but gardeners do a lot to support wildlife in these times where the planet is so heavily stressed.

My main crop from the vegetable garden is tomatoes which usually grow so well here. This year has been a disaster as you can see from the empty wigwams and bare poles.

The tomato plants have succumbed to mildew. It was the fate of all the neighbours’ crops too. For the first year I have had to buy tomatoes to make coulis to freeze for the winter. The African marigolds have done well, perhaps we have them to thank for a healthy crop of butternut and the red Kuri squash.

At least we are going to be self-sufficient in squash for the winter this year.

The Cosmos provide a lot of colour in the garden at the moment. They are a magnet for the bees.

It is not only the honey bees that benefit from the nectar and pollen provided by the Cosmos, this is a little Halictus bee.

My Cosmos are very tall, and they often fall over or I break their stems accidentally. I wish that there were shorter varieties. Does anyone know of any shorter coloured Cosmos?

We have lots of Cosmos sulphureus in shades of yellow – some darker than others and I find they do not grow so tall and are probably even more popular with the pollinators but I do like the variety of colour provided by the other Cosmos.

We have had no rain now for some time and I notice that some of the trees, like this cherry tree are accumulating yellow leaves. I do not think that it is just the lack of water.

This is a male red-tailed bumblebee. This to me signals the beginnings of autumn. The red-tailed bumble bee queens will be starting to produce new queens and males. These will mate and the new queens will have to survive the winter before she too starts a colony of bumblebees. The old queen will be slowing down and she will not survive long into the autumn.

In the Charente-Maritime it is warm and sunny and I am looking forward to autumn days in the garden with the autumn flowers. I hope you will enjoy a mild and mellow autumn in your garden.


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Summer flowering trees

This is our Heptacodium. I love it. So why is it not in a prime position in the garden? Unfortunately, it goes down to poor planning. When we first planted it there was more light – not a lot, but more.

Now it is so hemmed in that I had difficulty getting a photograph that did it justice. Kourosh in the end obliged by using his phone!

We have another Heptacodium quite nearby just a bit off to the left of the other one. It too is suffering from the same problem of shade from the large Ash trees and now competition from the ever growing bushes of Hybiscus syriacus. I grew these plants, also known as Rose of Sharon, from seed when I first started the garden and never expected them to reach over two metres even with their annual pruning.

The Heptacodium does deserve a good position in a garden. The flowers are delicately perfumed and attract all manner of pollinators.

Having grown the Hibiscus syriacus from seed, I have a mixed bag of colours, ranging from white to various pinks and blues. I have never succeeded with cuttings and although they seed easily, I would recommend buying the plant already rooted if you wanted a specific colour.

Despite the abundant pollen they are not as attractive as one might imagine to pollinators. The bumble bees do like them and perhaps at this moment the pollinators are spoiled for choice in the garden.

I have seen the Rose of Sharon grown as a small tree around here and I think it is an excellent choice and is very easy to shape through pruning in the autumn.

The Lagerstroemia indica can be seen clearly and has been given a prime position in the front garden, largely as it was a present from friends. It has just started flowering.

There is no doubt about the flowers attraction to the pollinators so gives us plenty to watch over coffee on the patio.

In France, around here, most people call this tree Lagerstroemia although it has a common name “Lilas des Indes” or the Lilac of the Indes. I have also seen it written in English as Crape myrtle. Now I would read the first word in the same way as I would “crap”, which does not seem too flattering to me. It reminds me of the last post of Garden in a city where he bemoans the common name of “Hoary Vervain”.

In one corner of the vegetable garden we have grown Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) we like to grow this as it is a natural insecticide if it is cut and dried.

We are at last going through a warm sunny period so it is a good time to dry out the plants. When you cut the stems there is a strong medicinal smell but I do not find it unpleasant.

Despite the plant supposedly having insecticidal properties, the bees and other pollinators are attracted to the flowers.

“He’s behind you!”

Pollinators can be attracted to strange places. Kourosh managed to snap the above photograph from our patio whilst I was stalking the bees with my camera in our front garden.


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Open doors

We have specially planted our garden to welcome any creatures to share our space.

We put water out for the birds and bees.

We are entranced with the variety of wildlife that descend on the flowers.

…even though I have a preference for the bees.

However, yesterday morning while we were having breakfast with the doors open – a border collie bounced into the room. I immediately got up and shut the doors, expecting the owner to follow straight after. However, no one came.

She was not in the slightest disturbed to stay with us and eventually Kourosh went in search of the owner in the neighbouring hamlets and talked to as many of the nearby “doggy” people he could find. After that it was the Mairie and the gendarmerie without result.

By this time we were firm friends and she had completely trained us to give her plenty of cuddles. However, delightful as she was, in the afternoon we took her to the local vet who read her tag and was surprised that she had an appointment for a vaccination in one hour’s time!

So her owner was telephoned and turned up to claim her. Her owner lives in a hamlet two kilometres away. We discovered our little collie was called Stella.

It was rather difficult parting with her and I wonder if she will ever visit us again.