a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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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.


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End of April

This is our Persimmon tree. All the new leaf shoots have been frazzled by the frost we had a week or so ago but the damage is only becoming apparent now. Even the Redstarts are confused. They have been coming to survey the bird boxes in the Persimmon tree and I think they are puzzled that there are no leaves.

Not all the plants were affected and the Choisia Sundance is in great form while right beside it the Hydrangia is in a sorry state.

The flowering Ash tree (Fraxinus ornus) looks completery bedraggled with burnt leaves and some sad flowers.

This is what the flowering Ash looked like on 12 April 2019. It was not that the low temperatures were so low this year but our previous temperatures were so high, fooling the plants to think summer had come. This week the temperature has gone up to 29 degrees Centigrade here (84 degrees Fahrenheit), so the yo-yo-ing of weather continues with no rain.

We take advantage of the good weather to enjoy coffees outside. The tree peony is flowering.

The flowers are big, blowsy affairs with a touch of red in the centre. The flowers don’t last too long but at least we are getting sunshine to enjoy them.

Tucked away close bye are a group of blue and pink forget-me-nots. I would never have been able to tempt them to grow where they have appeared but the self-seeders always seem to find a place for themselves.

Poppies are the masters of self-seeding and our first red poppies are out and managing to attract some of the Anthophora bees away from the Cerinthe.

They are noisy bees.

Our first Camassia has flowered in our container. We have a big tub of Camassia near where we sit for coffee. Between the bumble bees and the Anthophora there is always a buzz.

The little tree frog outcompetes the bees. He perches on the lemon tree in its pot on the patio and watches us taking our coffee. I must get a recording of him as he has a powerful croak that belies his tiny size.


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Mid April in the garden

Blue skies and sunny days often bring overnight frosts and after the high temperatures we had two weeks ago most of the plants have suffered from frost damage. The leaves hang, a bit droopy and sad but they will recover.

We too are passing our second April in confinement, not so strict this time, we can go 10 kilometres from the house which is more then the one kilometer distance for one hour of exercise that we endured last year. Like the plants we will survive.

Nature continues and we have baby blackbirds in the garden. They do not fly away when you approach but this careless attitude will only last a few days and we do not have cats.

We have more and more Honesty (Lunaria annua) self-seeding over the garden. I love the colour and it seems to be able to find better places to grow than I would have imagined. It is perfect to attract all the pollinators.

The furry bee flies look cute but are parasites of solitary bees so I cannot help feeling a twinge of antipathy towards them.

This little bee had a slightly metallic sheen to it and it could be a Lasioglossom (perhaps morio)

Butterflies also take advantage of the Honesty and the orange-tip butterfly is especially photogenic.

I checked ot out onthe Butterfly Conservation web site. Guess what? It lays its eggs on Honesty in gardens. I have never noticed any caterpillars on them so the site must be correct that it prefers some of the wild flowers that are around just now. I’ll try and remember to keep my eye open for signs of caterpillars.

The last of the tulips are fully open now in my layered planter. So providing interest from the middle of February until late April is a worthwhile effort.

The last white tulips (Mount Tacoma) looked better on their own than while the pale pink (Candy Prince) were open. The pink was definitely a candy pink and looked pallid beside the pure white tulips.

Live and learn!


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Highs and lows

For the first time the first buds of our Wisteria in the front garden have been frozen. On the second of March I took a photograph of the first flower buds. I should have realised, as they normally flower at the beginning of April, that it was much too early. These first buds have now been freeze dried and crumble to the touch. The front garden looks strange without the Wisteria, They will flower again later in the season but it is never the same as the first flush of flowers before the leaves.

The Sophora japonica is typical of so many of the trees. They look O.K. until you examine them more closely and see their first leaves and shoots have been frozen.

Nothing has been seriously damaged, I don’t think. In fact, I am very proud of how the plants have stood up to our yoyo temperatures this spring. We have been having warm sunny days with temperatures going into the high 20 degree Centigrade with bright blue skies. Then we have had a few nights with temperatures going into the negative.

Some trees are tougher and can take the variable spring temperatures. The Elaeagnus umbellata is a very hardy, easy small tree that the bees love. I bought several small plants for 1euro70 in 2017. Now they are three to three and a half metres tall and I have changed their position from time to time as they have grown, to provide screening. The flowers are perfumed, what more could you want?

Actually, I also look for drought tolerance in my plants but the Elaeagnus ticks this box too. The rainfall has been up and down this year too. At the beginning of the year everywhere around us was flooded because of the heavy rains. Then the rain stopped and we have had no spring showers. The Cerinthe that usually produce flower after flower are not so productive and the leaves are yellowing. I notice the Anthophora starting to shop around the other flowers although the Cerinthe is his favourite. The ground is rock hard.

So we have started the year with floods but I just hope the rest of the year will not be as dry as last year.

There are so many flowering trees and shrubs. Our Amelanchier is a mass of white blossom.

No bees, though.

Not so the Malus or flowering apple, planted last autumn.

It too is a mass of blossom.

But the difference is that the bees love the flowers.

The flowers are very similar to our Golden Delicious apple tree that is in flower just now. The flowers of both Malus varieties are perfect for the bees but we can only handle so much fruit and the flowering variety is putting on a stunning show.

In fact, there is so much in flower at the moment, like the Lonicera tatarica.

Even the tulips that I would say do not attract bees have found favour with this little wild bee.

So what do bees do in the springtime when it is warm and there is an abundance of food?

They swarm!

We have had ten swarms in the garden between the 20 March and the 8 April. Please do not say we should practice swarm control. We only had three hives capable of swarming and we divided one of those. We could be responsible for say three but these are not cast swarms and are a good size.

We do have a lot of large rape seed fields around us and I have a suspicion that a professional beekeeper could have put his hives nearby and his swarms are coming to us.

It is either that or perhaps we are on a crossing of ley lines which is supposed to attract bee swarms? See Bees and Energy (Ley?) Lines by David Cushman.


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First swarm of 2021

The first swarm came into the garden on Saturday 20 March 2021. One day earlier than our first swarm last year. I do not know where it came from but it was not one of ours. We had divided our largest hive “Poppy” and put on a super. We did wonder If she could have swarmed but she is happily filling the super at this moment and the others are not ready yet.

We were happy to give this swarm a home.

The swarm had landed not too high on a cotoneaster and Kourosh held the hive under the swarm and I shook the bees into the hive. We added frames and placed it on a sheet to encourage any stragglers to crawl in.

Job done! Time for a cold drink and self-congratulations.

When we returned to check on the hive it appeared that all the bees were not in agreement of staying in their new home. We had to collect them in the bucket and pour them into the opened hive.

After a few more disagreements they gave up and settled in.

This is our friends’ hive so we put it in an outbuilding in the dark for two nights before we took them to our friends’ nearby hive area very early in the morning. Kourosh opened their entrance later in the morning and they have accepted their new home graciously.

The star of the garden at the moment is our flowering cherry “Accolade”. O.K. it isn’t very big but its our first flowering cherry and it is only its second year in the garden.

You really need to get a bit closer to appreciate the flowers.

Just beautiful!

The bees are in total agreement with our choice.

Talking of bees, I saw two carpenter bees mating holding onto the petals of the leucojum. I cannot remember seeing them mating before.

Yesterday I noticed a strange circle showing in the grass of our front lawn. Aliens? Fungal disease?

No, it was only Kourosh cutting the grass but not having the heart to mow down all the Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) flowers !


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Layered pot

Last autumn I wanted some addition cheer on the patio for the spring and I felt like experimenting with something new.

The basil and lemon balm had finished in a big aluminium tub so I turfed it all out and started to plant it with bulbs to come up in sequence (I hoped).

This was taken on 17 February 2021 and already the garden was starting to brighten up. I was getting slightly impatient with my new planter but now at least I had some crocus and the Hyacinths were poking through.

It was not until 1 March 2021 that I thought – yes this might work.

Three days later and I can even see the tulips coming through.

On the 9 March 2021 I judged the display to be at its height.

Today 19 March the display was starting to go over with the Hyacinths finishing.

I decided to measure the pot (51 centimetres or 20 inches diameter by 29 centimetres or 11.5 inches tall) and dig out my bulb packets as I was sure someone would ask me how many bulbs I had planted.

Starting at the bottom, I planted 8 early pink “Candy Prince” tulips and 8 late “Mount Tacoma” tulips. Hold on! There seems to be an extra packet of tulips unaccounted for. Where are the 8 double white late “Mount Tacoma” tulips?

It looks like there are more tulips to come! Better late than never.

Anyway, after the tulips I put a packet of 10 mixed Hyacinths. Then 10 Muscari and finally 20 Crocus “Sieberi”.

I’ve had a lot of fun planting and watching the bulbs grow. I don’t know whether they should be left until the autumn,then tipped out and sorted for planting elsewhere or whether they could survive to reflower in the pot next year.

I think there are too many bulbs to be left but I would really love to hear from anyone who has done this before or has some experience with spring bulbs.


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Little things…

We are still under a curfew at 18.00 to 6.00. The restaurants, cafes and places of entertainment are still closed. You can go clothes shopping but I was never too keen on that and my garden has a very relaxed dress code.

So I have more time to pay attention to smaller stuff. Every morning I check my seed trays. There is great joy if I actually see a change! This is a Cupressus sempervirens seed that has just burst through its seed coat. The little root is making a tentative exploration into the potting compost. The first leaves are still hidden inside the seed coat.

The beginning can be tough if the seed coating sticks onto the new leaves.

Once free of the seed coat the new leaves green up. It is hard to imagine this tiny thread like shoot becoming a tree.

I’ve never grown Morning Glory before but Kourosh saw a video of bees swarming around some Morning Glory so he has decided to grow these climbers around one of our apple trees.

At least their germination is amusing.

No tiny first leaves for them.

They open up like butterflies.

Very impressive first leaves!

Liatris seeds germinating

Then of course there is the problem of how sparingly to sow the seeds. This depends on cost and availability for me. Sometimes you will only receive 4-6 seeds and if it is something you really want it means individual pots and special care.

Last year I grew Liatris for the first time and I kept all the seed. I’ve had no one to share it with this year and as I had no idea if it would germinate, I put all my seeds into one small tray.

Yes, you guessed! I think every seed must have germinated. Of course, I was delighted when I saw the little shoots popping out from their tufted seed capsules. They will not flower this year but form bulbs and flower the year after.

Just after the seeds germinated I noticed they were selling summer bulbs in packets at our local supermarket. I had a look and bought a packet of 15 Liatris bulbs for 2 euro 50, at least these will flower this year. Growing Liatris from seed does not seem an economical proposition but I will be so proud of my home grown ones :).

I often think of a taunt that used to be thrown at people when I was a child – “Little things please little minds.”


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Spring unfolds

I feel spring in our garden starts when our big plum tree flowers and the bees fill the tree making the petals of the plum blossom fall like confetti. There are still some flower buds opening but the big display is over and the total white haze is giving over to hints of green as the leaves start to open.

The perfume is still distinct but another perfume is taking over, especially in the late afternoon, from the Osmanthus burkwoodii that you can see in the bottom right hand corner of the photograph.

The flowers of the Osmanthus burkwoodii are not large or flashy but are highly perfumed and much appreciated by the bees.

The other strong perfume in the garden at the moment comes from the Hyacinths. I used to regard Hyacinths as indoor bulbs and stubby things to grow in a garden.

But I have changed my mind now for they add colour and exquisite perfume so I plant them as near to the terrace as I can. Although I do admit that I have to farm out some of the excess ones to spots further away as they are happy to reflower in the climate here.

In the mornings I like to check my bee boxes before there is too much sun. This is when I can find the Osmia, either still asleep after spending the night cosy inside a hole or just thinking about starting off their day.

Each day brings something different to see. The Bombus praetorum queens are quicker than the bumbling white tailed bumble bee queens, which makes them more difficult to photograph.

This is a better photograph of her but I like the first one better.

This carder bumble bee is a beautiful ginger colour over her entire thorax and abdomen. She is on the Cerinthe which has just started to flower this week. The Cerinthe self-seeds and started growing in the autumn and has not been damaged at all by the mild winter.

The Wisteria has started to open its flower buds. It is a formidable plant. It looks as if the bud is taking off its winter coat.

Another welcome flower has appeared on one of our succulents. I do not know what it is and we have grown it from a piece we have acquired. The succulents are another group of plants that I have grown to appreciate more and more.

We have had so much rain this spring that the early flowers are thriving and I feel that the daisies are bigger this year. It should be a good spring for the bees.

Kourosh is taking no chances and, in case he can tempt any errant swarms, he has placed a small hive at the bottom of the garden.

Also at the bottom of the garden, in a piece of rough ground that we use to compost down the garden rubbish, I noticed a clump of short daffodils/narcissi. I am not very fond of these and they seem to multiply excessively, however, Kourosh likes them. I had to cull them last year and asked Kourosh to dispose of the excess bulbs. Now I know where he put them.


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Definitely spring

The waters have receded to a more normal spring level and the daffodils are out. These are where we retire our daffodils when they get too crowded in other parts of the garden. I was not sure the bulbs would survive the dry, hot summer but they do and get enough rain and light in the spring to proliferate.

I love seeing the hazel flower – tiny as they are. There are two on the stem underneath the catkin.

I see the white-tailed bumble bee queens during the winter but it has to be spring before I see the queen Carder bumblebees. They love the dead red-nettle and there is plenty of it in the garden just now.

The biggest spring event for us is when the old plum tree flowers. It is a festival of perfume, buzzing and pollinators.

Such an opportunity for photographs.

Bees and plum blossom are so photogenic.

I could go on like this for some time, but I won’t.

I did say pollinators in the plum tree so I must insert my token butterfly. Probably a tortoiseshell.

I am not going closer than a tortoiseshell. I don’t think it was a small tortoiseshell but please feel free to leave a comment if you know what it is. Before anyone asks – I do not know what colour its legs were, I was lucky to get the picture I did.

Being a frugal type I decided to plant the hyacinth bulbs I had inside for their perfume, after the flowers had finished. My trusty garden tool is used for everything and I swing it around with wild abandon.

I was chilled to realise, when digging the hole, that I had nearly decapitated a hiberating toad. I think it must have been the root that saved him. I had to pick him up to make sure he still had four legs.

He sat quietly to the side while I redug a hollow under the root. He accepted his repositioning calmly and looked less upset than I was.

So all is well in the garden with the Carpenter bees swooping noisily onto the heather.

All the bees love the Hellebore and there are even more than ever this year.

But the biggest news today was that the Osmia cornuta males are emerging from the bee houses. I do love to watch them and if you would like to share you can see more of my photos at Bees in a French Garden.


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Bees in the heather

“That’s not a honeybee!”, said Kourosh. He was right! There were plenty of honeybees in the winter flowering heather but he was not one of them. Yesterday morning (16 February 2021) was warm and sunny and the cute little bee was not a honeybee. I thought he looked like a male bee because he had elegant long antenna and the furry face looked like some of the solitary male bees I have seen.

As I watched him another, slightly larger bee, alighted on some nearby heather flowers and he immediately leapt on top of her. Well, that settled the question rapidly.

You would think I would know what type of bees they are but these photographs are not good enough to identify them. There are just under 1,000 species of bees in France (20,000 species in the world).

However, it was a very special moment and it brought home to me that spring is coming. Everything is on the move and it is worth keeping your eyes wide open.

If anyone is interested I have more photographs in Bees in a French Garden.