a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

Blue flowering shrubs in August

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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.

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.

17 thoughts on “Blue flowering shrubs in August

  1. Interesting look around your garden. We had a dreadfully hot summer too – and our trees and shrubs were really showing the effects. Yellowed leaves, fallen leaves, compact habit instead of more free flowing. Lack of rain caused all that. We’ve since had almost 3 weeks of rain, easily 150 mm so far this month.
    Plants and trees are replenished, new growth is emerging to replace missing leaves on a couple of trees. Birch trees are typically susceptible to weather conditions and are the first to demonstrate with leaf changes.
    If the weather situation repeats next year, then we both will see even more problems. Let’s hope we get more predictable and temperate weather.
    When I used to grow tomatoes, I realized how thirsty they always are for water. Of course there’s a breaking point, too much is just as bad as not enough. Possibly insufficient rainfall and inadequate supplemental watering of your tomatoes and those of neighbors have caused them to under-achieve this year. If you give a plant what it wants, it usually rewards you 🙂
    I didn’t have supplemental water via garden hose this year, for the first time. I don’t want to get caught out like that again, ever!
    Next year, our remodeling project should be completed, and then the well water pump can be turned back on. without that well water, we were subject to only rainwater – and that proved to be very wanting this summer!
    The autumn colors have started early this year because of that lack of rain. Red tinges on climbing plants, pink blushes on the hydrangeas, etc.
    I’ve discovered that Nepeta (cat mint) is a bee magnet, even more so than anything else we grow – which is quite a lot! Do you have any in your garden? It’s usually very inexpensive, comes in a variety of heights and some variations in color. I recommend it! And it’s got that mint fragrance with just a gentle touch. Impressive!
    Enjoy the rest of the month!
    Kate

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    • Rain is so important in the garden and I love to be in the garden after the rain as we are usually short of rain here. This year it was the inverse and we had so much cloud and rain in July which is usually a sunny, dry year. It was this wet, cloudy period that ruined the tomato plants and must have spoiled so many peoples holidays as we are a tourist area. I love Nepeta for the bees as it attracts all types and can survive in very dry conditions. I would compare it favourably to lavender for although lavender is a magnet for bees it has such a short season compared with Nepeta. Amelia

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  2. Seems that, wherever you go, people are having problems with tomatoes this year.

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  3. My tomatoes were also pulled up a month ago after the rain brought blight! It is colder in our bit of the Alsace than Scotland and we are having to light the stove in August. What a strange year. Your garden looks lovely though!

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    • It does not surprise me. I am often jealous when I see the weather forecast and watch the rain sweeping across the country towards the north east and missing us completely. It has been such a strange year but now we are back to hot and dry again. Amelia

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  4. This is so nice, I love it.

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  5. Sorry to hear about your tomatoes! All our veggies and the whole garden is having trouble this year due to the historic drought. We are finally getting some tomatoes, but we may loose our entire berry patch and more. Several buddleias have died that weren’t well-established yet. Luckily, we’re not near any wildfires at the moment. Got some smoke passing over from time to time though. It’s been so depressing, frankly, and that is the reason I haven’t done a blog for awhile.

    Your vitex is lovely. It is sometimes called “Chaste Tree” here for the reason you mentioned. I hope it was helpful to the monks. 😉

    I think there is such a thing as a dwarf cosmos. I’m so thrilled to have been introduced to the Red Kuri squash from you. Thank you! I always love reading your garden posts. -lisa

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  6. Thank you for your comments. I was thinking about you when I read about the fires. I found them depressing, then there were some for three days in the south of France…When will the world wake up? When buddleias die it is really severe. Our raspberries are fruiting for the second time but are complaining at the same time and some of the canes are dying. We have had no rain at all this August so I am looking forward to some autumn rain for the garden. Amelia

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    • Oh dear! I hadn’t heard about the ones in the south of France. It seems like so many places are either drowning in too much water or drying up or burning up from the lack of it. I hope your area and ours gets some much needed precipitation. Thank you for being such a wonderful honeybee steward!

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      • 3,500 hectare of forest burnt in mid August in the south of France with 2 dead and 24 injured. As I write another fire is in progress in the Ardeche. Greece too has suffered, the island of Evia had to be evacuated. The climate id erratic. Remember, we love our honeybees and care for them as one might keep a herd of goats for their milk. It is the wild bees that need our help and we can only help them by caring for the countryside..

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  7. Here it is the time of lavender with huge clumps overhanging paths and borders in many places around the area. I see bumblebees attracted to the flowers in large numbers and many, as you say, are males.

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