a french garden

We have a very moderately sized patch for vegetables.  We grow only the vegetables that we know we will use.

The summer’s main crop is tomatoes that I have sown from seed that I kept back from the most successful tomato plant of last year.  I have three rows of tomatoes but as I do not have a proper green house, I cannot sow the seeds too early and so the tomato plants have still some way to go.

I must confess, I did plant two yellow tomatoes I grew from commercial seed and these seem to have produced the first standard sized tomatoes.

The Sungold cherry tomatoes on the Wigwam have already produced green fruit, so we should be starting to eat them soon.  I always plant Sungold as I have never tasted a cherry tomato that I find as sweet flavoured.

Some weeks ago our friend Michel asked if I had planted any French marigolds.  I said I had but strangely they had not come up so I was just going to rely on the self-seeders I knew would appear.  He was not satisfied with this and said I really needed them to protect my tomatoes and that he had plenty of little seedlings.  Kourosh duly planted a line of the seedlings and added a couple of my French marigolds for good measure.  We have now found we have a line of Cosmos sulphureus coming up so Michel has either got his seeds or planting markers mixed up!

Today I planted out fifty leek seedlings that Michel has given us.  It is more than I think I will need but at least I am pretty sure that they are leeks!

Elsewhere we have green courgettes…

…and a couple of yellow courgettes.

Last year I tried to grow butternut squash in a raised bed without much success.  This year I have raised more plants and the fruit has already started to form.

We also have another small patch that is given over to experiments and herbs.  The big blue untidy patch is Echium vulgare that I have grown from seed.  It is a biennial.  I have never grown it before and it seems like a long time to wait for the flowers.  The bees tell me it was worth it.

I grew Echium amoenum at the same time but I only managed to produce two plants into the second year to flower.  They flowered earlier, in May, and were supposed to provide me with flowers for herbal tea.  As you can see, there is not much to show for such a long wait.  However, the bees liked the Echium amoenum just as much and I reckon it might be easier to sneak them in somewhere in the garden so I have kept back the seeds for another try.  I think the E. vulgare takes up too much space.  The bees disagree.

We have been having cloudy, dull weather lately and I have been surprised by our little Judas tree producing red seed pods that are very decorative and something new, as the young tree had only this year started flowering.

I was delighted to see that our old bee house in the front garden has been taken over by some bees.  They are using the drilled holes and the bamboo tubes.  At the moment there is a lot of cleaning out going on.

I have no idea what they are but from the time of year they could be a species of leaf cutter bees.  Once they start to fill up their holes with eggs and start working nearer the end of their tubes I will be able to see them better.  Also once the nests are sealed it will give me a clue as I will be able to see what materials they are using to seal the nests. As you can see from the end of the bamboo tubes, they are very small (internal diameter of the tubes approximately 0.5-0.6 cm.).

The Magnolia grandiflora is getting bigger.  We have planted an apple tree to close to it and have decided to remove the apple tree in the autumn.   The white perfumed flowers only survive one day once they open just enough for the honey bees to gain entrance.  After that the bees come in groups of five or six and the petals and stamens soon hit the floor.

The bees provide never ending entertainment in the garden.  Watch this short video of the honeybees visiting the Magnolia flowers.

 

 


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The garden in the longest days

The hours of sunlight at the moment are at their annual peak.  It made me wonder what are my favourite plants in the garden at this time.  Obviously I can spend a long time watching the action on the lavender when it is sunny.

Our Fuchsia has become immense and performs a sterling service covering a difficult part of the front garden.

It has provided several babies that are well on their way to perform the same service in the back garden.

They are always full of bumble bees and so keep the garden from being too quiet.

The everlasting sweet pea plants seed themselves into the same area.  I love these as I have never been able to grow the more conventional sweet peas that do so well in the U.K.

The Larkspur comes up in shades of blue, white, pink and pale lilac wherever it has found a free patch of ground and I cannot imagine summer without them..

My Hydrangia this June is putting on a surprisingly good show having been well supplied with rain, for a change.

I do have some plants that do not attract bees.   The Pierre de Ronsard was one of the first flowers to be planted.

It was my husband’s choice for outside the front door.  This year it has been beautiful.  Once again, the plentiful rain must agree with it.

I have planted a number of Hypericum and the bright yellow flowers are lighting up a number of spaces that were dull.  These have improved the summer garden.

However, I think the stars of the summer garden are the Malvaceae, like the Lavatera above.

Hollyhocks are emblematic of the Charente Maritime and I try to have as many as I can squeeze in the garden.

This picture was taken just after 7 o’clock in the evening and already the Tetralonia malva bees were settling down for the night inside the Hollyhock.

I often find them still abed up to 9 o’clock in the morning, so I must have plenty of Hollyhocks to provide them with shelter and me with the fun of finding them.


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Accepting choices in the garden

This is one of my arch enemies.  The snail is less voracious in the dry, summer weather when it lies in wait under plants or stones.  Otherwise, they can munch through a freshly sown line of parsley in one night.

At 6 o’clock in the evening the other day I saw a snail walking up our wall at eye level.  It was not raining and it seemed a curious behaviour.

On closer inspection, I noticed the snail was not alone.  I recognised one of my friends – a glow worm larva.

I never realised how voracious the larva could be, nor how persistant.  The larva nibbled the snail’s antenna causing the snail to curl up in a bid to escape.

The snail fell off the wall and broke on the stones beneath with the glow worm larva firmly attached.

Twenty four hours later the feast was still continuing.  The adult female glow worm does not eat and I am sure this one must have absorbed enough protein for its metamorphosis into the adult glow worm.

The same evening I checked the garden to see if there were any female glow worms signaling for mates.  There were.  I apologise for the poor photograph ( I have slightly better here, here, and here.

Seeing the fairy-like lights flashing in the night after dark in the summer is something I treasure.

But what if there were no snails in my garden?  What if I could somehow eliminate them and grow my parsley in peace?

Then no snails, no summer fairy lights.  I have to accept that to live with the snails has its benefits.


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The poppies are finishing

The poppies self-seed all over the garden, front and back, even in the cracks of the path.

The Californian poppies, Eschscholzia californica, look very gaudy in our garden and I do not find that they attract as many bees as the red wild poppies.

When the bees do go onto the Californian poppies, the pollen that they gather is a beautiful deep yellow/orange.

The favourite poppy for all the bees is the showy oriental poppy, a variety of Papaver somniferum but I find these pass over only too quickly, much to our regret and that of the bees, I suppose.

The common red poppies are called ” coquelicot in French and their botanic name is Papaver rhoeas.  Not all the red poppies are completely red, the photograph above shows a light white touch on the outer edge of the petals.

Some have vivid red markings in their centre and some have black pollen which can easily be seen in the cells of the honey bee hives at this time of year.

Some have frilly edges.

But all the poppies are loved by the bees for the pollen whether they are the wild bees like this Amegilla or honey bees from kept hives.

The slight differences in colourations like the different outer petals of this poppy…

the white border on this poppy were noticed by the Reverend William Wilks.  He also noticed coloured variants and from 1880 he tried by selection to produce colourful varients of the wild poppy.  These are called Shirley poppies because he was the vicar of Shirley in England.

There are also Iceland poppies, Papaver nudicaule, which are also coloured and can be bought as seed.  I have never tried any of these.

I think I will try and buy some Shirley poppy seed for next year to see what colours will come up.  I would be interested in anyone’s experiences with their poppy growing.


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May sunshine, flowers and fruit

Bottle brush

This May has been so hot and sunny, following an extremely mild winter that some of our plants are doing unusually well, like the bottle brush (Callistemon spp.).

bee in rince bouteille

Kourosh had bought it for the bees and I was concerned it would be too tender to do well here.  This year it is well established and attracts clouds of bees, they do not seem to object to fighting their way through the spiky petals so the nectar must be good!

Pink flowered succulent

I have been trying to grow more succulents in the pots this year so that they are easier to care for in hot, dry summers.

Succulent flower

I am happy to see that many of the succulents attract pollinators, too.

echium amoenum

Not everything succeeds in a garden.  I planted seeds of Echium amoenum last year to harvest the flowers to make Gol Gav Zaban tea.  I only managed to grow two plants which are now flowering but I do not think all their flowers would be enough to make a cup of tea.  In the meantime the bumble bees appreciate them and I have to wait to see how the Echium vulgare, planted at the same time, does.

Reine de reinette apples

Experience helps.  We have two Reine des reinettes apple trees in the garden.  I like the flavour very much and it reminds me of the U.K. pippin apples.  However, they have a tendency to set a lot of fruit.  At first we assumed a lot of the little apples would fall, in due course.  However, they do not fall and it results in lots of little apples.  Now, I knock off excess and leave no more than two at a time near each other.  Time consuming but worth it in the end.

Eleagnus angustifolia

We have planted an Eleagnus angustifolia on the hedge near the road.

Eleagnus angustifolia flowers

This year we have had plenty of the pretty yellow flowers, providing nectar for the bees and perhaps this year some fruit for us.

Loquat 1

This is the first year that our ” néflier du Japon ” (Eriobotrya japonica) or loquat has managed to hang onto its fruit through the winter.  I am looking forward to enjoying them and in the meantime I have been given a supply of the fruit by some friends whose tree is a bit more advanced than ours.

Raspberry

The yellow raspberries are ripening…

IMG_3786

as are the cherries but as usual I am sure the birds will beat me to the cherries.

Peas

So far, so good with the peas.  Does anyone know if all peas can be eaten as “mange tous”?

Lichen moth

This gorgeous moth was resting on my bee house otherwise I would never have spotted the perfect lichen-like camouflage.

wasp & parasol

Our parasol continues to attract visitors.  This time it is a little wasp.  The two spikes in the photo are where Kourosh knocked off the beginnings of its nest.  Now we have given up and are letting it be.  It is not the stinging type of wasp.

Car wasp

Because the car was not moving over the confinement Kourosh noticed this wasp bringing in a green caterpillar and taking it inside the window slot.  It has been busy for some time.  We will no doubt see the result in a few weeks or perhaps next spring.  I am sure it could have found much more convenient and stable sites.  It does not seem overly perturbed when its nest disappears for an hour and then reappears.

Philadelphus

More sunny weather is forecast for the next few days so we will have plenty of time to enjoy the garden and our coffees under the trees and enjoy the perfume of the Philadelphus.  The restaurants and cafes will not open in France until 1 June 2020 and with the inconvenience of social distancing they are not as tempting to us as pre-Covid times.


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May in abundance

Robinier (2)

When we first started the garden each new plant that managed to flower was greeted with amazement and it received daily pilgrimages  so that we could wonder and admire it.

Robinier flowers

I must admit the Robinia (False Accasia) manages to still attract our attention with its perfume.

Choisia

As does the Choisya in the different places in the garden.

Arum

The groups of Arum are in shadier spots, and with the rain this spring, have done remarkably well but I have just noticed the abundance of their flowers this year.

Cherries

The cherries…

Plum

The plums and…

Raspberries

The raspberries are powering on, thanks to this warm, wet, thundery weather we are experiencing.

B.pratorum

Of course, many thanks to the bumble bees for the sterling pollination service for our raspberries.  The little Bombus pratorum are great pollinators in the spring.  This one is a male so that means their season will be finishing soon.

Eaten rose

It’s not always good news in the garden.  The flowers and leaves of a rose (‘Madame Alfred Carrière’) were badly eaten.

Caterpillar (1)

I decided to look for the culprit.  Here it is on the stalks of the leaves it has eaten.

Caterpillar (2)

This angle gives you a better view and the little feet at the bottom LHS of the photo are a giveaway.  It was such a good camouflage I could not squash it.  I think it was just about ready to pupate anyway.

Broad beans

The broad beans have succumbed to ants and blackfly that stopped them reaching their full potential.  I still got a decent crop and I have finished the grueling podding and preparing and have frozen my booty.

IMG_3631

We have decided we like the white Camassia we have in the pot, even though it was supposed to be dark blue.  I think they should really be planted out for next year in the garden but I will keep them in a pot for one more year and hope they will still flower.

Swallow on wire (2)

The swallows have returned and sit on the telegraph wire.

Swallow on wire (1)

They look fairly innocent and casual whereas, in fact, they are casing the joint.

Swallow in house

Leave the French windows open and in she comes!

Swallow on beam

We will have to stay vigilant until she chooses somewhere else.

We share the garden with nature but we draw the line at swallows nesting in the living room.


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Back to April showers

I’ve a great sympathy for this Anthophora bee that has taken to sheltering in one of the bee houses.  When it is cold and rainy she retreats back and waits until a ray of sunshine tempts her to check out whether the rain has stopped or not.

We have had rain and thunder and wind and rain… and some sunshine.

Our Viburnum opulus on the edge of the garden chose the warm sunny days to burst into flower.  Not only this is a fresh, generous shrub for the garden but the flowers look great cut for inside with roses.  It is called the guelder rose in the U.K.

In France it is known as “boule de neige” or snowball which I find is very appropriate.  A lot of the flowers have passed their best now and have lost their petals that transform into confetti that is taken by the wind to decorate the surrounding grass.

I have enjoyed a big pot of Camassia bulbs every April for a number of years.

They attract all sorts of bees and so provide our entertainment at coffee time.  I thought this year the bulbs were beginning to look very crushed in the pot and so they have been summarily deplaced to a hole made for them in the front garden.  I hope they will like their new home.  I have not made up my mind as to whether I should replace them with new bulbs in the autumn or choose something else.

I have also a large aluminium tub planted up with supposedly Camassia Leichtlini “caerulea” and Camassia cusickii (reputedly a short deep blue flower).  So far I have only seen this pale blue Camassia appear which looks as if it is going to be followed by a white flower.

This cistus has been grown from cuttings and we have no regrets as it has produced the same attractive crinkled-paper leaves as the parent plant.  And of course, it provides lots of pollen for the bees at this time.

I have several Choisia in the garden and my “Sundance” in the front garden is a real favourite, lighting up a shady corner, especially in the winter.  However, perhaps it is showing its age but the foliage did not look so good this spring and I think it is getting out of shape.  So should I replace it or will a severe pruning and cutting out of the old branches rejuvenate it after the flowers have gone?

The good weather allowed us to work a lot in the garden and get to grips with the weeds that have benefited from our mild wet spring.  For the first time I came across a Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) in the garden, hiding under some dry leaves near some logs.  They are slow moving creatures and nocturnal so it is not surprising that I have only seen dead ones on the roadside.  They can grow up to 25 cm. (nearly ten inches) in length.  They can only prey on slow moving species like earthworms, slugs and snails so that makes them a welcome inhabitant of the garden as the slug and snail population at the moment is in full boom.

You can get an idea of the size of this baby on top of the gardening gloves.  They can exude an irritant from their skin so it is best not to touch them with bare hands.

The fire salamander was thought to be able to regenerate in fire and even extinguish fire; these beliefs being traced back to Aristotle and Pliny.  Francois I of France was born in Cognac Chateau in 1494 and he took the Salamander as his emblem.  Cognac is less than 50 kilometres from here and there are plenty of references to Francois I and his salamander in Cognac and throughout France.

His device was “Nutrisco et extinguo” or even ” nutrisco et extingo”, which although not quite correct latin means that the aspiration is to nourish the good fires of virtue, love, and faith, while reminding that he is the king with the power to extinguish all that he deems incorrect.  Quite a neat sentiment.

Returning to the garden, I notice that the Judas tree has started to produce pea pod shaped seed cases.  April is finishing but the garden seems to be speeding ahead helped by the rain and mild weather.


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Back to the bat

As I posted here on April 15 2020 , we had a bat lodging in our garden parasol.  Much as I was enjoying sharing the garden with wildlife, I did feel my need of the parasol was greater than his.

We did try to take a photograph of him leaving in the evening.  It was at this moment in the darkness we realized that it was not only difficult to see in the dark but impossible to focus a camera (live and learn :)).

We were able to take an improved photograph of him by flash.  Not great, I did say improved.

Here the photograph is turned upside down to help with identification because I do not think it is small enough to be a pipistrelle.

I think it is a Myotis species, one of the mouse-eared bats.  It has little bumps on its nose.

I found this site helpful https://nottsbatgroup.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Identification_of_British_Bats.pdf but I wonder if anyone out there has any ideas?

This is the best I can do to help Dromfit with an ID.


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Judas Tree

At this time of year there is often one special plant in the garden.  At the moment it is our Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum).

They can grow as multi-stemmed plants and we received ours as an off-shoot from a friend.  In fact, he gave us two and we now have three from one we split ourselves.

These trees can grow up to 10 metres tall and they do very well in our area.  I have seen beautiful examples of huge old trees.

The flowers arrive before the leaves and are a special pink colour.

The flowers are the same shape as sweet peas or the flowers of green pea plants.

The flowers attract all the pollinators but especially the Carpenter bees that have the muscle and force to pierce the flower head to reach the nectar.

The nectar in the flower must be really good as the honey bees go to a lot of trouble to push open the lower petals of the flower.

She really has to keep up the pressure and take her “shoulder” to it before she can get the flower to open.

You can see her licking her tongue here, obviously worth the effort.

Now the trees are starting open their leaves while keeping their flowers.  The fresh leaves are shiny and very attractive.

Definitely a star of the April garden!


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Advantage bat

We have been getting summer weather almost continuously for the past month.  For instance, this afternoon it was 27 degrees centigrade (80 degrees F) in the garden.  We have been making the most of the garden and enjoy being able to have lunch outside – even if we may need a jacket.

Today was, in fact, too hot without sitting under a parasol, but the parasol had been requisitioned as a day-time roosting spot for a bat (Pipistrelle, I think.)

We have had a Pipistrelle roosting through the winter behind the shutters of the window facing the garden.  He disdained the bat box Kourosh had made  mounted on the wall.

Kourosh noticed that the gap he squeezed into behind the shutters was narrower than the gap recommended for the bat box.  So he made a custom-sized box specially for him and placed it slightly to the side of where he roosted.  Still he preferred the shutter.

So our choice today was to move under the apricot tree for shade.  We do try to give nature a home but sometimes I think they can push their luck.