a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

January 2022

36 Comments

The garden enters 2022 with trepidation.

Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta

I took some photographs in the garden on the 31 st. of December 2021 – the last day of the old year. It was a fittingly bizarre day with a temperature of 17 degrees Centigrade (62.6 F) and bright sunshine for the second straight day in a row. There were butterflies on the flowers.

And of course the bees were out and busy bringing loads of pollen into the bee hives.

We were able to sit and read outside as the sun descended and the birds were singing like a spring evening. It is still mild but the temperatures are moving towards seasonal norms. I just wonder how perturbed nature will be this year.

In the meantime the bees take advantage of the fine weather and I thank Philip Strange for reminding me that buff-tailed bumblebees can keep up nesting throughout the winter even in the south of England. Thus the pollen on the bumblebees legs.

She did not gather the pollen from the Mahonia – I have only seen the bees take nectar from the Mahonia.

This winter, despite some frosty mornings, the Anisodontea has kept its flowers and attracts the bees on sunny days.

As soon as the flowers open the bees push themselves inside. They often try when the flower is not completely open.

At the bottom of the garden we have planted an Arbutus unedo. It is a poor spot for a tree with such lovely flowers that are much appreciated by the bumblebees but it has survived and is producing flowers.

The tree is commonly called a strawberry tree, for obvious reasons. I took the photograph of the fruit on the 13 December but there are no more fruits on the tree. The birds have eaten them and, although they look delicious, the fruits are somewhat acid and bland. They can be made into jam as they are not poisonous, but I could think of easier ingredients for jams.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I took all these photographs on 31 December 2022 in the sunshine and unseasonable warmth. In the evening I noticed one of our little green tree frogs sitting enjoying the sun inside a planter on the patio. It is two days later and he is settling down for another night in the same place. The temperature is forecast to fall during the night.

Shall I take him out a blanket?

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 ownersโ€™ 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 โ€œgardenโ€ 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.

36 thoughts on “January 2022

  1. I had buff tailed bumblebees on the same day, in my hellebores. Also some other bees that looked more or less like honeybees, but were probably something else.
    bonnie in provence

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    • Honeybees like Hellebores so I think you are probably correct in your ID, it would be very early for solitary bees but with this strange weather and living in the south…you ever know. Amelia

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  2. All the best for a healthy and content 2022. Snow and high winds here just south of Vancouver BC. The three hives have toppings of snow . They were active last week collecting mineral water I think from the pots of soil near the hives.
    Winter jasmine is in flower and the Sarcococca budding – otherwise no food visibly available.
    I do hope they pull through this year.
    Take care Janine

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    • Happy New Year to you! Our bees go on the Sarcococca flowers but I have never seen any bees on the Winter Jasmine although it does give a bright splash of yellow to the winter garden. Do you insulate around your hives or are they made of thick wood? Amelia

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  3. You’ve had wonderfully bright weather, sunshine even! Here, in the south-east of Ireland, it has been dreadfully dull with heavy rain though mild. Best wishes for the New Year.

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  4. How lovely to see your flowers. Warm air has brought out a red admiral and a small tortoise shell here too, but def no frogs!

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  5. Hello Amelia,
    Looks like an amazing end to 2021 for you. How wonderful to have so many flowers still open and attracting so much interest. Very best wishes to you both for 2022, Julian

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  6. Lovely photos to brighten up our outside snow scene. Though we have a bit of thaw today. Yeh!

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  7. Happy New Year Amelia! I also plan to plant some Strawberry Trees. My neighbour has one. I see that they are distributed all along the west coast of France, particularly Landes. Also, they are the host plants of the largest butterfly in Europe – the Two Tailed Pasha. I saw Pashas flying when I was cycling along the coast north of Bayonne, through woodland with Strawberry Trees. I don’t expect we will see them in our gardens, as they prefer a dryer maquis habitat and would need a good tree population – but with global warming, who knows? (I love tree frogs, and I am very envious that they are residents in your garden).

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    • Hello Malcolm, I lived in the Herault for several years, and the strawberry trees were all through the garrigue. It is along the Orb River, not close to the coast. I’m in the Vaucluse now, and have one I planted in my garden, but haven’t noticed them in the garrigue here. I lived in western Oregon and also the coast of California, and the Arbutus unedo grew well there, although not native of course, but accepted both the dry alkaline soil of southern California, and the wet acid conditions of the Willamette Valley. They are lovely trees and very adaptable!
      bonnie near carpentras

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    • I had a quick look-up to see what a two tailed Pasha looked like and I certainly have not seen it here. It is unmistakable. I have not seen Strawberry trees growing in the wild near here so I do not think I would see them here. I have seen lots of Strawberry trees around Lake Carcan/Maubuisson which is also a beautiful area. I do wish we could have planted a couple more in better places. Amelia

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  8. Happy New Year to both of you! It has also been mild here but nothing like your 17 degrees! The main problem here has been the lack of sun and the recurrent damp/rain. Providing it is mostly dry, though, the bumblebees (workers and sometimes queens) are out wherever there are suitable flowers. Mahonia is most popular in the town with rosemary doing well at a site I visit by the sea. Winter jasmine seems to be ignored here too.

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    • I’m still mulling over your point about the bumblebees rearing brood. I have seen the pollen on their legs and that is for rearing brood but I do not see the workers. These are big ladies that I photograph and move like queens. Why do I not see workers? Amelia

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      • I hadnt realised that you were only seeing queens and I suppose that with pollen on their legs they must be setting up new nests? As you dont see workers, I assume there cannot yet be fully active nests. It will be interesting to see if workers appear in a few weeks. Will be interested to see updates, but timing will be weather dependent I think.

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        • I think the bumblebees are a lot hardier than I gave them credit for. I saw a Bombus pratorum a few days ago (bad photo but they are much faster). I checked with Falk and he says for the U.K. “Very rarely winter active”, so I should not really be that surprised to see one here and certainly I see them from February onwards. It is just having nests in the middle of winter yet not seeing the workers that surprises me.

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  9. I hope it doesn’t turn too cold Amelia. Your garden looks like spring is there already!

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    • I suppose we only usually go a few degrees under zero for short periods and that does not seem to bother the plants. All the bulbs are shooting up in the borders through the mulch of fallen leaves that has not had time to compost down. We will have cold spells for months yet and I really respect the plants that cope with this large temperature variation because it confuses me. Amelia

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  10. I think Dave Goulson also mentioned in his book Gardening for Bumblebees that the buff-tailed bumblebees will come out in mild winters for food, and it’s great that you’ve got plenty of nectar and pollen for them (though you make an interesting point about the pollen being for rearing a brood). Things are really changing climatically aren’t they? Maybe too fast for some creatures to keep up with, we’ll have to see. We were hoping for snow in the Ardennes for a trip we’re going on soon, now I’m not so sure, skiing may be off! Happy New Year to you!

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    • Happy New Year to you, I am sure there will be plenty of cold weather left of us this winter. I just wish I could adapt to the cold weather as well as the plants do. I seem to get grumpier as the temperature decreases. Amelia

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  11. It was so hot wasn’t it? In Creuse it was t-shirt weather. I love your bee shots and for them a great opportunity to take home more pollen. We had quite a few bees this year in the thistles and other wildflowers in our field. I had to mow this year as the grass was taking over. Hopefully the wild flowers will battle on till I can get my new ride on mower and collect the cuttings. Happy New Year. Just a quickie..if you go to my blog…you will see on my latest post bees too. ๐Ÿ

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    • I never cut the grass, my feet don’t reach the pedals. This is completely K’s territory. Who is it that decides what the minimum human leg length should be? Amelia

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      • I know..none of these garden things, tractors, mowers are made for women. I struggle to start the mower…I hurt my back last time, so husband has to start it and we tie the handles together to keep it running.dangerous really when I remove the cutting box but no way I can keep calling him. I drive a huge van too and again…bonnet opening, oil etc..all the caps are hard to remove. I go purple with rage! Lol.

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  12. OMG that is the cutest little tree frog! He’s found a good spot. Yes, I think a knitted blanket of moss would be fitting. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Your frog pond must be thriving! I love reading and seeing your observations of the bees and bumblebees. There are so few people I know that really observe nature like that. I often wonder whether the creatures observe us much better than we observe them. Probably our crows here have a discussion board and a vocal alert system when we take out our compost. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  13. The weather is certainly showing changes to our environment, I just hope the wildlife can change with it.

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