a french garden


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Out of the bedroom window

Out of the bedroom window the leaves under the apricot tree testify that autumn is changing the garden.

With the tall “Sweet Lavender” aster now in flower,  the asters are still the main attraction.

The carder bees’ colour may be fading but they love the tiny flowers of the “Sweet Lavender”

The asters are the best place to see the bee action.

There are still a lot of butterflies around like this Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) and they join the bees.

I decided to visit my Mulberry as we have had no rain for some time and it was never watered during the dry summer.

The leaves change to a beautiful gold in the autumn and this year is no different, thankfully.

I was standing admiring the Mulberry when I noticed a huge dragonfly on the leaves basking in the sunshine.  I rushed back to the house, got my camera, came back and it was still there!  Such a difference from photographing bees or butterflies!

It is a Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) and much more impressive than the little brown damselflies that were in the garden at the same time.

Another find was a mass of these toadstools growing under the debris in a border I was clearing.  Sorry I had no time to find or speculate on a name as there is too much to be done outside at the moment.

I have decided to do more vegetables this winter.  So apart from the usual broad beans, brussel sprouts and leeks, I have added onions, carrots, cauliflower and Romanesco brocolli.  This is just an experiment brought on by following Notre petit jardin Breton.  They make so much use of their garden that I felt I should make more effort.  If the slugs and snails are unkind to me it could be a short experiment and I will stick to the easier option of tomatoes and courgettes in the summer.

I have been harvesting my surprise crop of Goji berries but I am still unable to develop a taste for them.  I decided to dry them as they are usually sold in “raisin” format.  I pricked them first and them set them to dry at a low temperature in the oven.  I managed to get them to look like raisins but they still remained too juicy to consider storing them.  They did taste marginally better.  The birds have not touched them yet.

The birds get pretty spoiled in the garden as Kourosh feeds them every morning and we have gleaned sunflower heads for them from the fields that have already been harvested.  Obviously they taste better than Goji berries.

It must all be a matter of taste or availability.  I have masses of this white erigeron growing all round the paths and walls but it attracts no pollinators.  Then I saw this honey bee feeding on it.  Will she have a problem when she gets back to the hive with the nectar?   Will her sisters say, “Why did you collect that when there are loads of asters out there?”

The Cosmos is still blooming…

and there is still plenty of sunshine to enjoy a break from clearing the borders.  October has been a good month in the garden, so far.

 

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The Death’s Head Moth visits

This is Poppy our largest honey bee colony, at the moment.  We have a muzzle in front of her to protect her, somewhat, from the relentless Asian hornets.  About ten days ago I caught sight of what I thought was a leaf on the floor of the muzzle but on closer inspection I could see it was an enormous moth.  Some bees were on its abdomen and the moth looked lifeless, as if it had given up without much of a battle.

I slid the floor open and recovered the moth.  There was no doubt to the identity of the moth but it was its beauty, even in death, that amazed me.

This is Acherontia atropos, the Death’s-Head Hawk -moth, le Sphinx tête de mort.

Velvet would go part way in describing its coat.  It made me think more of a tiger pelt.  I felt a great sympathy for this creature that has no compunction in entering  bee hives and stealing their honey (as a beekeeper my cheeks redden at this point.)  It has been noticed that four long-chain fatty acids are produced by these moths in the same concentration and ratio as in cuticle extracts of honey bees and it has been proposed that this could provide the moths with a “odour disguise” to escape detection as a non-bee intruder.

Dead moths have been found in bee hives, so whatever ploys are used by the moths, they are not always successful.  I do not think Poppy was duped by the intruder and it looked as if he was being stung by the bees.  The quantity of honey that even such a large moth would consume would not endanger the colony as the visit is a short, sharp raid.

I did call the moth “he” as I do believe he is male as I have found a curious brake mechanism that allows the male moths to couple their front and rear wings to allow greater flexibility in movement for mating.  He should also have fluffy male scent glands but he is so generally fluffy that I cannot say I could identify them.

Both the males and females are of similar size and this one measured 12 cm. (4.7 inches) across the wing tips and 6 cm. (2.4 inches) from top to tail.

Another curious fact about this moth is that it can squeak!  (That is when it is alive.)  There is a short video on YouTube (37 sec.) https://youtu.be/ITh0TgJ8a6Y if you would like to hear it.

I had already coincidentally taken a baby photograph of the moth in August.  Already a beauty, as caterpillars go.

In August I had no idea that I would find an adult in a hive.

They are not a welcome arrival in most peoples’ gardens.

When I invert the photograph the death’s head can be seen clearly and the image has always brought with it fear of evil portents.  The traditional solution is to asperge the site with holy water but Poppy is on her own against the hornets and devil’s moth, let’s hope she is not superstitious.


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My neighbour doesn’t have an ox

My neighbour does not have an ox that I covet but he does have a colony of Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) in front of these bushes.

He was concerned that our bees were coming out of the soil in his garden.  I had a good idea that it was a colony of Ivy bees and went round to confirm, taking my camera with me.  The colony had just started to appear with lots of males flying around frantically searching for females to mate with.  From even a short distance away they look very similar to honey bees and you have to look closely to see their banded abdomen.

I must admit that I did feel envious of having a colony of Ivy bees in your own garden.  I would appreciate them much more than he does.  His mother was born in the house and she had never noticed them.

This is a female, I think she is beautiful.

The bees, the butterflies and the flowers are all appreciating the sun and temperatures of 26 degrees in the afternoons after the cool, rainy start to September.

I am even mellowing and starting to appreciate the Tithonia rotundifolia – the tall, orange, sunflower-like plant in the above photograph.  It has gone on flowering and producing more heads than I thought it would, however, I cannot say it attracts pollinators more than a lot of the other flowers.

My aster Audrey is the big attraction in the garden at the moment.  This is a Brimstone butterfly ( Gonepteryx rhamni ).

This is a Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) and the most common butterfly around here in the garden and outside from early in the year.  The Asters attract a range of butterflies.

They also attract this cuckoo bee (Epeolus cruciger) which lays its eggs in other bees nests taking advantage of food stores left for the host bees young.  Most cuckoo bees are specific to one bee genus which in this case is the Colletes.

I cannot forget the honey bees that come to the Asters as they make the most noise.

After the Asters finish flowering they push out new rooted shoots to expand.  These are very easy to pull up and transplant and I have been able to increase my stock from the original single plant.

I know I am somewhat bee-centered but when you watch the antics of some other animals like this cabbage butterfly you wonder how the species survives.  This poor female butterfly was doing her best to raise her abdomen and co-operate but the male was perhaps not the best choice.

I think he managed eventually to accomplish his duty but it looked as if his big white wings were getting in the way.

Autumn is a busy time in the garden.  The Butternut squash have done well but we have not lifted them yet.

The tomatoes gave a super crop this year and my favourite is still Sungold as it is one of the first to fruit and the last to give up.  However, despite its superior flavour a lot of people prefer the look of small red tomatoes.  We grew a lot of “second hand” tomatoes which were raised by friends and planted in a random fashion that did not allow much comparison apart from saying they all tasted good and I have lots of tomato sauce frozen in the freezer for soups and other dishes in the coming months.

The strawberries keep producing too, although the raspberries are just about finished.

In fact, the vegetable garden has produced much more useful products this year than in other years and so I am inclined to adventure into new territory and I have planted onions for the first time.  Theoretically, I shall be using them as needed and not storing them.  Sarah Raven points out that to grow onions you should keep them free from weeds, we shall see – nothing ventured…

On the subject of food production – we have our first Gojii berries.

We planted the bushes as I read that the bees love the flowers.  Mmn. so far I have not seen the bushes crowded with bees but that might be because the bushes are still small, at least I had the consolation prize of being able to crop the fresh berries.  I had never tasted the fresh berries and being charitable I would call the flavour “disappointing”.

Perhaps a good choice of fruit for people who prefer a pretty colour to a full flavour?

 

 


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Cosmos and more Cosmos

The leaves have started to fall.

The cherry trees leaves are turning yellow, like a lot of other trees outside of the garden.

There are less apples and they are smaller than last year.

The flowers at the moment are the old favourites apart from the Tithonia rotundifolia “Torch” which is just behind the conifer trying to out grow it.  Kourosh sent away for the seeds which he had read were a magnet to bees.  I looked forward to seeing the bright red flowers he had described.

I was disappointed at their brash orange colour and felt we had been cheated.  I checked on the net only to find that this is their correct colour.  I do not want to be sexist but Kourosh’s approximation of colours is perhaps a “man thing” – and no he is not colour blind.

However, for anyone who wants a tall, sunflower-like multi-headed plant, I can recommend it.  Several plants in the back garden have done well and stayed unsupported in the sun.

My obedient plant (Physostegia virginiata) that was identified on the blog last year is doing very well in a hard place to fill in the sun.  It has doubled in area since last year so I am going to have to keep my eye on its spread.

The bumble bees have no problem with a rapid increase in its flowers.

The bumble bees are in love with the single dahlias.

The Cosmos attracts bumble bees…

Carpenter bees…

Solitary bees (perhaps Megachile willughbiella)…

of different species (perhaps Halictus scabiosae).

The Abutilon looks happier than ever this year.  This is the third year that a new shoot has risen from its frozen stalk.  I suppose I should cover it in the winter but I am reluctant to pander to plants that cannot cope with the weather.  It is my fault for attempting to grow a plant that is too tender for here.

It is beautiful, though, and the bees like it.

At least this year I have managed to acquire Sedum that are attractive to the bees and butterflies and with the drought conditions we have experienced this year, I will be trying to expand by dividing the plants.

The Asters are opening and signalling the end of the summer.  It has been a difficult, unpredictable year in the garden with extreme heat at the beginning followed by a cloudy, moody August and lack of rain from the beginning of the year.

 

 


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Some bee trees for the garden

At this moment the back “lawn” is covered in Catsears with Dasypoda bees making the heads of the dandylion-like flowers droop as they land.  I find these bees so attractive with their fluffy hind legs covered in masses of fine hairs stuffed full of the sulphur yellow pollen.

As much as the Dasypoda attract me to watch them, I have to admit that the honey bees are doing a good job of collecting the pollen as well.  Their hind legs contain large nougats of the bright yellow pollen and I wonder whether they manage to carry more pollen by mixing it into a paste with the nectar or whether the Dasypoda manage to transport more of the pollen on their hairy hind legs.

I am always keen to provide as many sources of pollen and nectar for the bees throughout the year and I realise that trees can provide interest and shade for the garden and also nurture for the bees.  Last year I purchased three trees from a local nursery at Corme Royale and planted them in the autumn.  Planting trees is a long term project and if you want the quickest results then planting bare root trees in the autumn is the way to go.

The trees were bigger than we had expected but all the side branches were cut off severely before being handed over.  Kourosh assured that they were well staked.  This is the Fraxinus ornus or flowering Ash.  It was the last of the three to break into leaf in the spring and I was despairing that nothing would appear from the stick we had planted.  It appears to have survived although we need to water it while it is taking root, however, other Ash trees in the garden do not need water so it will become independent.  Perhaps next spring the bees will have some flowers.

The second tree is a Gleditsia triacanthos “Sunburst” and is the staked tree almost in the centre of the photograph in quite a dry area.  We chose this variety as it is drought resistant and has no thorns.  Some varieties of Gleditsia possess impressive thorns strong enough to burst rubber tyres (seemingly).  This is the only tree that has suffered slightly and the highest leaves look a little wilted.

The third tree is a Koelreuteria paniculata and despite its name has prospered and produced flowers in its first year.

Close up the flowers remind me of tiny narcissi flowers.

I can also verify that the flowers attract the bees.

The surprise is that after the flowers have passed, these seed pods continue to provide a very attractive decoration.

So on the seventh of July, the baby Koelreuteria was filling out with flowers.

Now on the sixteenth of August it is pushing three metres tall (nearly 10 foot) and I can imagine what it would look like once it is grown-up.

I have another tree in flower at the moment.  It too is a baby, coming up to two metres tall.  This tree has also grown very rapidly but I have no idea what it is.

For the past few years, each autumn I have bought some plants and trees, with some friends, from a small business that provides plants and trees reputed to provide a lot of nectar or pollen for the bees.  The owner keeps his own bees and has a charming habit of adding an extra few plants and also a “cadeau” plant with the order.  So far, so good but this year the gift plant did not have a label and has turned into a real surprise.  His catalogue is very small so I was sure I would be able to work it out.  He is not on the internet so I suppose I could write to him and send him a photograph but I was wondering  if anybody recognised the tree.  I have now found out that this is an  Amorpha fruticosa (see comments below).  It was listed in my catalogue as a shrub with pale blue flowers (?).

I have an Acacia growing close bye and the leaves look very similar, but Acacia flowers are white.  False Acacias can have pink flowers but these flowers are very deep purple.  It already flowered in April, despite its small size.  I would love to learn what it is called.


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First flowers for the Eucryphia!

The little stick on the right hand side is my Eucryphia nymansensis.  I planted it in November 2015 and I have been nurturing it with attention ever since.  It is one of the favoured plants that gets watered.  It is privileged with extra water because I can’t imagine that it is that happy finding itself in sandy soil that dries out quickly.  The Nepeta stalks covers most of its base and the Gaura does its best to protect it too.

That was why I was surprised to see what I thought could be a flower.  When I saw the brown tip I thought I had missed the flower and it had already started to dry up.  But no, the bud seems to burst its cap to flower.

As the flower opens the cap falls off.  I would have been disappointed to miss my first flowers.

I was very excited to see my first flower open and smell the perfume.  I was not disappointed.

We even had some rain and it did not destroy the flowers which dipped and let the rain run off.

Perhaps this is another reason that the bees love the Eucryphia flowers.  They can act as natural umbrellas.

Apart from the beauty of the flowers and their perfume, the flowers also attract bees.  This year I only had four flowers on my tree but I could see that it was going to be popular with the bees.  I hope it does some growing next spring and produces some more flowers next summer.


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The heat goes on

The Chitalpa is still flowering and despite the heat and lack of rain the trees are bearing up.

I actually saw a bee venture into one of the Catalpa flowers but they are not really bee friendly flowers.

The Oregano has taken over a much too large part of the vegetable garden but I am in no mood to tame it, especially as its flowers attract the bees.  The garden has been neglected lately as the afternoon is my preferred time to wander around and work in the garden but most days it is too hot for me for the sun here is very strong.

The Oregano attracts butterflies as well.  I think this is a Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) but not so scarce here as the name might suggest.

I could not resist another shot of her fine tails.

The butterflies are not put off by the heat and there are Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui)  in the garden, this one here taking nectar from the lavender.

I’ve noticed more Skippers (this one probably Ochlodes sylvanus) which makes me think the butterflies are doing better than the bees this year.

You may find this caterpillar cute, it always reminds me of a “Push me pull me” from Doctor Doolittle as it is hard to know which end is which (the black pair of tufts on the RHS are at the front!).  It is a Vapourer Moth caterpillar and was not welcome on our Lagerstroemia.  It was carefully removed (the hairs can cause skin irritations) and placed where any damage it can cause would not be noticeable.

In the evening I used to see more Tetralonia bees in the Lavatera flowers, like this one settling down for the night.  Sometimes three or four would share the same flower – either a Lavatera or Hollyhock.  My Hollyhocks have not done well this year.  They do not get watered or receive special treatment and yet they are usually stars at this time of the year but this year they have been smaller and several sorry specimens have had to be cut down.

The Dasypoda with their huge bundles of pollen have been in the Cats’ears at the bottom of the garden but not with the same vigour.

It does look like it is going to be a bumper year for tomatoes this year and we have already had to reduce our four courgette plants to two.

So, walks are best taken in the evening, when there are no bees to be seen but being entertained by the hares that are leaping around at the moment.