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.
After a pleasant break in the Auvergne region of France, it was good to get back to the garden. We visited the Puy de Dôme, an extinct volcano towering 1650 metres high and providing an amazing viewpoint of the area. It is possible to access the summit by foot, or a charming train can take you up and down. We asked if it was possible to take the train up and then come down by foot. We were told this was quite possible but it was not mentioned that the “goats’ path” would not lead you back to where we started from but to another carpark at some distance from the main centre where we were parked. Luckily, we enjoy walking but the extra leg was more than we bargained for.
There had been some rain for the garden while we were away and the Cosmos had taken over a corner of the front garden as I had not had the heart to weed out the self-sown plants.
Today some of the flowers are finishing and it has attracted the Godfinches (Carduelis carduelis).
The adults are very brightly coloured with distinctive red heads.
I am not a birder but I think there were quite a few immature birds in the group.
Perhaps someone might know if these are females or young birds.
There was a constant movement of birds in the Cosmos – I can count five birds in the photo above.
We were amused to watch them patiently wait their turn until the sparrows finished splashing around and drinking from the bird bath.
Eventually the sparrows move on.
It makes me wonder if they are the same birds from the little nest that the goldfinches hid amongst the leaves of one of our Hibiscus syriacus at the front of our house in July.
Bag-ties are appearing in the garden as the seed heads appear and the blooms disappear. I will be able to find the plants when all the flowers have finished. I was pleased with my pot of Antirrhinums grown from seed this year. The seed I had gathered germinated well and now I am choosing my preferred light shades although I am sure the bees will have assured that the seeds are a good mixture of colours.
My yellow Cosmos self-seed everywhere, much to the pleasure of the bees, but I like to choose some of the more lemon shades and the doubles, as I think the orange is the predominant colour and might swamp out the variety. Anyway, it is always handy to have seeds ready to throw down if a space is free.
I did the same thing with the coloured Cosmos last year as this dark pink is the colour that tends to predominate from the self-seeded plants.
I should have thinned the self-seeded Cosmos but they are doing such an excellent job of shading my Caryopteris that I have let them be.
There was a beautiful tall Eryngium with bright blue flowers growing near us which I have been admiring and I managed to obtain a seed head.
The seed head is reminiscent of an artichoke but the hard outer coat was difficult to open, even with secateurs. Once inside though, I was so surprised with the softness of the downy seed heads. The seeds seemed to have been arranged within with such tender care, like eggs in a down lined bird’s nest.
Another plant with formidable roots is our Wisteria which is happily re-flowering in the heat.
The flowers attract the bees and especially the carpenter bees and the bumblebees.
It is also attracting the short-tailed blue butterfly, Everes alcetas, Provencal Short-tailed Blue. I hope you can see the little tails although this one is female and so not blue. I would like to have caught the blue male but he refused to come low enough for me to get a shot.
The Japanese anemones and the fuchsia are spared the hottest rays of the sun behind a north facing wall which has spared them the searing rays that have burnt other plants leaves.
The heat is continuing and I often find myself in the garden very late at night savouring the cooler air. This year there have been several glow worms in the front garden. I was concerned that the drought might have had a negative effect on their numbers so I was happy to see them but too tired to get a good photograph. I have better photographs of them here if you are interested. We often find them during the day in the garden too, so it is a good idea to know what they look like.
If autumn makes you think of falling leaves, then that’s what is happening in the garden now.
The grass is dried to a crisp, in fact it is tinder dry. There have been many forest fires in France set off by accidental sparks coming from farm machinery etc. The forest fire in the Landes region just south of here was started by a pyromaniac volonteer fireman and consumed 6,200 hectares of pine forest. Unfortunately, many other regions have suffered forest fires and the heat and drought continues.
It seems trivial after the fires to complain that my Liquidambar tree has yellow leaves that are carpeting the ground underneath it
The old plum tree that lost all its flowers in a late frost is now dropping its leaves. I hope this is its way to stay alive as there is no way to water these trees.
In amongst the desiccated grass there are still clumps of weeds like the cat’s ears that somehow manage to store enough moisture in their long tap roots to produce leaves and flower, and are much appreciated by the bees.
The Dahlias must survive thanks to their tubers and even manage to accept the scorching sun on their leaves better than the Hellebores which have become yellow leaved and exhausted looking.
The Japanese Anemones survive in the drought and the scorching sun. They are surrounded by a host of tiny bees and I should use them more but I find them so difficult to control.
I have patches of Yellow Cosmos in the front garden but these do need to be watered at the moment although I would say that they are moderately drought and heat tolerant.
It cheers me up to watch the variety of bees that they attract. This is a Megachile (centuncularis, I think). It is slightly larger than a honey bee and sometimes chooses a Cosmos already occupied by another bee knowing that the surprised bee quickly cedes its place. Pushy creature!
I can’t forget the honeybees!
I have not been working in the garden lately because of the high day time temperatures. We are now in our third period of “canicule”, that is a period of high day and night time temperatures that last at least three consecutive days. We have never had such a hot dry summer and it is forecast to last at least until Sunday.
I am glad for my pots of flowers near the door. This blue sage does well in a pot and I could always plant it our in the autumn.
My tub of Antirrhynums have been a great success and were very easy to grow from the seeds I collected last year. They attract the bumble bees that squeeze themselves inside.
My two Heptacodium jasminoides (or miconioides) have started flowering. They are in a very hot dry part of the garden but they belong to the honeysuckle family so I hope they will not suffer to much. Once in full flower, they will be covered with bumble bees.
I have made use of the sun and heat and cleaned up the wax from the cappings of the honey frames. You can see how I did it if you look zigzag at the collage above ( I have no longer access to the carousel feature with my free site). I forgot to wash the cappings of excess honey but the wax still came out clean. Today I am processing my friend’s cappings and I have remembered to wash them first!
The shutters are closed while the sun is up. At least now the nights are cooler and we can air the house in the cool of the morning.
Most plants are showing signs of heat exhaustion and the lack of rain. The Chitalpa does not get watered but it has flowered for even longer this year, having had flowers since early June.
The plants in this patch of the back garden get sun most of the day. The lavender has survived for many years, although it has finished flowering for this year. I am not sure whether the Colutea will survive as all I can see is its seed pods with no leaves. Surprisingly, the Eucryphea has started to flower even although some of its leaves have been burnt by the sun.
I’m not sure what the yellow flowers are in this area. They are very tough perennials which grow out of tubers that must allow them to survive in the heat and dry.
They are very attractive to the honey bees and although I find them rather invasive, I do appreciate them during hot summers.
The cat’s ears in our “lawn” provide a splash of colour in the sunshine as the lawn is a crispy brown.
The honey bees love the pollen and have been bringing in this bright orange pollen to the hives.
The cat’s ear weed attracts the Dasypoda bees. They are also called pantaloon bees as their hind legs have such long hairs for collecting the pollen. These bees nest in sandy soil, digging tunnels into the ground to lay their eggs. I am sure I must have nests nearby but I have never discovered any.
The larger Tetradiumdaniellii (the bee-bee tree) has just started to flower on the top branches and there is a satisfactory buzz when I stand underneath it. The garden is managing in the heat better than I am but both of us would benefit from some refreshing rain.
Some plants tick all the boxes for me. Lavatera is one of my favourites. It does not ask for special treatment. It prefers full sun but can manage in partial shade and manages well through dry periods.
In June the plant is in full bloom, providing a mass of flowers.
This was the Lavatera near the house in April this year. It was already filling out and pushing out its soft green leaves.
Now in June it is covered in flowers and attracts all sorts of pollinators drawn by the nectar. It has a rapid growth. You can take advantage of this if you want to quickly fill up a space in the garden.
Unfortunately the rapid growth can lead to branches breaking with the weight of the leaves and flowers. Looks like we should have given it a more severe cutting in April. However, it is easily grown from a cutting. In the U.K. it is preferable to take a softwood cutting in spring but they grown well from cuttings taken in the autumn here as long as they are not exposed to harsh weather. We often find an offshoot at the base of mature plants too.
Our department of the Charente Maritime (plus another eleven departments) have been placed on a red alert because of the predicted high temperatures – approaching 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Depending on where you live this may seem extreme or not.
It feels pretty hot to me but luckily we live in an old stone house that will stay cool until this stretch of extreme weather passes. We were booked to go with friends to an evening outside meal with music at our village tomorrow but all outside entertainment has been stopped including outside markets until the weather cools.
The bees are hot and fan in front of their entrances. The trees behind them protect them from the worse of the direct sun and there is insulation under the roof.
Kourosh thought of the old type of coolers that pushed air through wet straw and has sprayed the wooden entrances to increase the efficiency of the bees fanning.
We always leave plenty of water out for the bees and they need it, especially in the heat.
There is a particular crush around this local stone which is limestone and soaks up the water well.
It is not only the bees that appreciate the water and the bath is perfect for a morning dip for the robin.
It is too hot to go walking and too hot at the beach for me. I have checked out the Magnolia tree this morning and the bees had already set upon the flowers with gusto. The flowers do not last a day once they have opened.
The hummingbird hawk moth is back in the lavender.
I find it difficult staying inside and so check out the garden for only short periods.
There are little bees nesting in tiny tunnels in the house walls. I do not know what they are so that will give me something to think about. If you have any ideas please drop me a hint.
On Wednesday morning we were just having a quiet coffee near the French window when there was a thump on the patio. We occasionally get birds bumping into the window and are always alert but this noise did not sound like a bird near miss.
Kourosh was fast off his mark with his camera!
“Snakes alive!” we said, (or we might have if our brains had been as quick off the mark.)
The “thump” was the ungainly landing of two coulouvres who had been passionately mating on our roof. These ones are Hierophis viridiflavus (I think) and could be called Whip snakes in English.
They are completely inoffensive and have always lived in the walls and roof of the house.
After realising where they were, one slid into the old well.
The other split and took off round the front of the house to look for a convenient hole to escape into.
We just hope that they do a bit of natural pest control as they shelter around the house. These two were close to two metres long and certainly looked well nourished.
Elsewhere in the garden the lime trees are in flower, if you manage to miss the delicious perfume you won’t miss the buzz of the bees.
In the front garden the olive tree is buzzing too with bumble bees…
and honey bees.
In the back garden the yellow raspberries are starting to ripen. They start before the red raspberries.
The raspberries are not ripening fast enough for me so I am picking the blackcurrants raw for my yoghurt and I find they go very nicely with a spoonful of our own honey.