Dreich, dreich, dreich

After the hottest summer we have experienced here our cotoneaster bushes yielded smaller and fewer berries. They are all gone now. I hope the birds will be able to find some other berries or rosehips to keep them going.

The autumn was long and deliciously warm. A dream for gardeners and walkers. Then came the cold – to be expected in the winter but it has been followed by the most prolonged period of rain and heavy cloud that we have ever experienced here.

Photography in the garden has been constrained by the low light conditions.

The Viburnum tinus is flowering but there is not much time for the bees to get onto the flowers between the showers even though we have been having temperatures as high as 17 degrees Centigrade.

I like the relaxed style that this bee is gathering pollen. Comfortably ensconced on an old leaf of the winter flowering honeysuckle, she can give her full attention to gathering the pollen.

The Mahonias buzz with the bees when the clouds part and we get some light. Usually the Mahonias are full of bumble bees. I usually see the bumble bees on the Mahonias even when the low air temperatures keep the honeybees in their hives at this time of year. This year I have seen fewer bumblebees during these warm, wet days. I do not know whether the very cold spell we had before Christmas has sent them into a deeper hibernation or if they prefer to avoid the wet weather.

I have an anemone blooming early in December.

These are the buds of my flowering cherry tree on the 26 December2022. It has obviously decided not to give up the idea of flowering.

Our sole patch of snowdrops flowered on the 26 December 2022. This is their second year, so it is a success story – however minor. At least the snowdrops are in tune with the season.

I had given up on trying snowdrops and planted Crocus sieberi “Firefly” to take their place as my first early bulb. This year the crocus flowered nearby the snowdrops on the 3 January 2023.

It is not possible that the snowdrops pushed up to maintain their position as the favourite in the winter garden.

But it does make you think.

Snow in a French Garden

We have been having a cold spell which has kept me out of the garden. It is not just the cold but the grey skies and lack of sunshine has left the leaves unraked. It is a job I reserve to keep me occupied in the garden when it is sunny.

Yesterday afternoon we had snow. The flurry did not last long and it had melted before the morning.

The Hellebores were covered with snow but are showing no sign of flowering.

This will be the first really cold weather for some of the new plants. The Azara looks like a mini Christmas tree but is hardy enough as we have only been having lows down to a minimum of minus three degrees Centigrade.

I have to thank Kourosh for these photographs because I stayed by the fire.

Leaves and flowers in November

Our Ash trees along our border are the first to lose their leaves and our Liquidambar the first to glow with autumn colour. In the foreground of the photo above, the Anisodontea is still producing its pink flowers and is still being visited by bees. Today the rain has stopped but there is not much sunshine.

The Eriobotrya japonica is full of flowers and attracts lots of pollinators, while the leaves of our white Mulberry tree have turned yellow and started to fall. This tree has been grown from seed. We hope it will produce tasty white mulberries that are very sweet. There are so many varieties of mulberries but they are not well known and it seemed the only way was to grow one from seed but it is not a method for the impatient gardener to replicate.

Stretching taller than our garden wall, the blue sage is visited daily by the bumble bees.

The pink sage close by is also visited by the bumble bees that pierce the long flower from the outside to reach the nectar. This piercing will be reused by the bumble bees and also facilitate an entry for the honeybees.

This honeybee is on the sage leucantha but the hole she is using will have been made by a bumble bee.

There is something else making holes in the flowers.

It is so little that it is difficult to tell what it is. Possibly a Painted Lady but I don’t think November is a good time to be a caterpillar. I have never seen a caterpillar on the sage flowers before.

At the moment I am raking leaves for the compost and sorting out the borders. Our old Veronica had died completely on one side and we felt it was well past pruning and hoping for new growth.

Out came the old plant and then we discovered a self-seeded new plant growing at its side. We have enjoyed watching the bees on the flowers of the old plant so we were pleased with this phoenix successor. In fact there were a couple of other little seedlings in the roots so those were potted too. Just in case!

Rain

From the middle of November we have been having rain, at last. That means less days sitting watching the garden in the sun and more time viewing it from the inside.

At least the Lagerstroemia is getting enough rain to drain the leaves of their precious nutrients and allow the dry shells to fall. Gradually the bark is becoming mature and starting to peel.

The Salvia leucantha is still going strong, and with the bees and its long stems in constant motion, it draws your attention as soon as you look outside.

The saffron has been harvested and although I did not think it was as plentiful as last year my harvest was 5.5 grams against 3.8 grams of last year.

We had an unexpected harvest from our Acca sellowiana or feijoa bush this year. Perhaps it was just the very hot summer but it was the first time that our plants had given fruit. We had planted them as the pretty flowers attract the bees and had not really expected them to give fruit and we were surprised at how good they tasted.

Our Eriobotrya japonica is in full flower at the moment but I can only smell the lovely perfume when I go to the bottom of our garden which has not been so frequent in this rainy period.

The flowers attract a lot of pollinators including the Asian hornet. I just hope the fruits will manage to set before we get really cold weather as we had no fruit last year.

Although this year we had hardly any apples or pears, at least our Malus has given fruit for the birds.

The birds come to have a bath even in the rain, so this is something else that we can watch from the window. I think this is a female black cap (Sylvia atricapilla).

Autumn Salvias

In the back garden the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) has changed to its autumn colour and today the leaves are falling waiting to be gathered in for composting.

My Hydrangea from the Savill Gardens in the U.K. is keeping dusty pink flower heads, the soft colours in keeping with the autumn tones.

In the front garden I am still enjoying sitting outside and eating lunch on a small portable table as the big one has been stored away as we felt the warm weather could not last – but it has.

Our Salvia leucantha growing in a pot in the patio supplies us with plenty to watch as the bumble bees love it.

The carder bumble bees are Kourosh’s favourite.

The hummingbird hawk moth is a constant visitor and has the right equipment to get to the nectar of these salvias.

This bright blue salvia is in a pot too but will get put into the garden as soon as it has finished flowering.

This salvia has a beautiful flower.

I find it grows too tall. The wall is about two and a half metres. I thought it might grow less when I moved it to the front garden last year as it gets a lot of sun here. It has grown just as tall in its new position and I just think it looks leggy. Any suggestions?

We are still waiting for proper rain to give the garden a good soak after this hot, dry summer.

Nothing is the same this year and now our spring flowering Prunus “Accolade” has started flowering.

Sunflowers in October

The rape crop for next year has already been planted in fields nearby but the weather is so mild that the sunflower seeds that have fallen from the plants harvested in the summer have now started to grow and bloom in between the rape plants.

This must be an unexpected treat for the bees.

Elsewhere in the garden, Kourosh’s lemon tree is enjoying the exceptionally warm and sunny days and it looks as if we will be able to take all the lemons off the tree before it needs to be taken indoors. There is a crop of about fifty lemons which is not bad for such a small tree.

I will be gathering in my peppers “Havana Gold” in a day or two. I have two pots and I find them very decorative, especially at this time of year. They are just right for me as they provide a good flavour in sauces and soup without being too hot. I just wash and deseed them before freezing them to store.

The Asters are just about finishing so I will have to say goodbye to my little blue butterflies that come into the garden for the nectar from the asters. I have been so pleased with them that we are going to enlarge the border to provide more space for them for next year.

The Salvia leucantha steals the show in the garden just now. It is delicate but I am going to try again this winter to see if I can over winter it in the soil. I did not succeed last year so I must increase the protection.

This is another of the Salvias that has been flowering throughout the summer and is still going strong.

I noticed that whereas the bumblebees push straight into the Nerine Bowdenii flowers that the honey bees take a more indirect route and find nectar by prospecting around the outside base of the flowers. I find these flowers very rewarding. Once you take the trouble to plant the bulbs, they pop up to brighten the garden when other flowers are fading.

My Cosmos is overgrown and falling but I cannot tidy it up as the Goldfinches have it marked and return faithfully as they seem determined to have every last seed.

This morning on my way to take the photographs of the sunflowers, I spotted a “sanglier” (Sus scrofa) running across the vines into a wood. These wild pigs live in the woods in France and can cause damage if they root around in the garden, or if they run in front of a car because they can be very large.

Autumn days

The misty morning convinced me that autumn had finally arrived. The rain too has started but more in a drizzlying sort of half-hearted, mean-spirited, grudging manner.

In anticipation of a better rainfall I decided to sort out my pots of bulbs.

In Autumn 2020 I tried planting a layered pot with bulbs to come through in succession in the spring of 2021. I was very pleased with the effect and left the bulbs in place to see if they would reappear this year. They did, but the Muscari was over successful and I preferred the more orderly first year appearance.

The crocus and tulips have more than doubled and the muscari were so numerous that they were transferred straight away to the bottom of the garden which is very inhospitable in the summer but hopefully the muscari will invade and thrive in the spring.

I have no sunny borders left to plant these bulbs so they have been deposited at random in a hole in the grass near our old plum tree. The theory is that they will flower in spring and then be cut down by the lawnmower once the leaves die back. Time will tell if this will work.

In the meantime, I have ordered a new set of bulbs for my now vacated tub and I look forward to planting those.

On a mission to sort things out, I decided to find a better place for my “Poire de Terre” (Smallanthus sonchifolius) that had been languishing for a couple of years.

Indeed, it did look quite like potato (pomme de terre, in French) except that the roots were more pear shaped rather than apple shaped. I saved a couple to cook before I planted the rest in a better position. Perhaps, I should have waited until I tasted them before replanting them as I cannot recommend them as a culinary plant. Has anyone else tried them?

I was on a roll here and my next victim was my liquorice that had been growing peacefully, untouched for a few years but was now throwing up new stems that I wanted to transplant and taste!

This was all I felt I could spare to put under my teeth. I think it has had a difficult life in my dry sandy soil. As I chewed the root hopefully, I could detect the same flavour that drifted up through the misty past from my childhood when we bought the roots from the chemist shop (pharmacy in the U.S.). The roots I had chewed as a child were thicker and more yellow inside, still with more water the plant may improve.

Overall I think I am better sticking to growing tomatoes and broad beans.

Life in the Asters

We have three large clumps of Asters in the front garden. I took these photographs last week when we were still waiting for the rain that has come at last. These Asters are pretty drought tolerant and are starting to spread invasively but I am going to enlarge the border to give them more space as they attract such an interesting variety of beautiful insects into the garden.

The Adonis Blue (Lysandra bellargus) female is brown.

It is the male butterflies that have soft blue wings.

The Blue Argus (Ultraaricia anteros) female has brown wings too but has fine blue hairs on her body.

The male underside is softer in colour and is well camouflaged until he flies.

This is a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui). I often confuse it with the Red Admiral, it is different, but at least it is in the same family.

This is a Queen of Spain (Issoria lathonia) butterfly. A regal name for a beautiful butterfly that even I could not confuse with another. The underside silver spots are really silver and iridescent. We used to see flocks of them by the roadside on our walks, but that was many years ago. I think the flocks of butterflies have been laid to rest by over use of pesticides.

This was a new find for me.

I could not find it in my butterfly book then as I looked at the thick head I realised it was probably a moth.

It is Autographa gamma. Although the moth and its caterpillar are nocturnal the moth frequently flies during the day so it looks like I could be seeing more of it as the caterpillar can feed on a lot of plants and the moth takes nectar from many garden plants.

I did manage to see where the letter gamma came from in its name. It is the little white mark like a thick “Y” on the mid wing.

The Asters provide me with a perfect viewing station for watching bees. Here this Dasypoda is just starting to gather pollen so the silky golden hairs on her hind legs are uncluttered with pollen and you can see them perfectly.

This is the best time for me to watch my little golden bee. One of my favourite bees.

It really is golden. I do not know if there are any ways to make this clearer in a photograph. (Tips?)

I think it is Seldonia subauratus but correct identification can only be realised by a much closer examination and I am quite happy to watch my golden bee without disturbing it.

This elegant bee is a male from the same family as my golden bee. I think it is a male Halictus scabiosa and a much more common visitor to the garden.

A less welcome visitor was what looks like to me an Epeolus fallax which is a cuckoo bee. This bee will follow an Ivy bee back to her nest and lay her eggs in with the Ivy bee’s eggs. As you can guess the cuckoo bee larva will then usurp the Ivy bees and hatch out the following year at the expense of the Ivy bee’s brood.

I just hope she does not find my Ivy bees in the back garden.

I have to finish with a – last but not least – mention of the honeybees and bumble bees that are omnipresent on the Asters.

Asters can become invasive but are drought tolerant. Once the flowers are finished your flower beds can be tidied up and why not pass on the new shoots to some friends?

The Potter Wasp returns

I heard her coming as I stepped outside of the front door.

The pot had already been covered and she spent the next two days adding layers of mud to weather proof her nest for the winter.

I was fascinated to see her bring the smooth mud ball, held against her thorax by her front legs and her head.

The mud ball was then smoothed into place, perhaps to resemble the stone wall surface?

This is the type of pot she is covering, so she is capable of a much finer work. I had watched a pot being built last October. Perhaps it was from that very pot that she has emerged this year.

Back home

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.