a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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It’s cold

It’s cold. Sub-zero mornings followed by blue skies. By the afternoon it heats up to about eight degrees, so beautiful to walk in. However, I am glad we chose to insulate the hives again this year with an aluminium wrap as well as the usually top insulation.

Yesterday, 14 January 2022, we were out walking when we came across this patch of violets opening up in the sunshine at the edge of a wood.

I got down on my hands and knees and gave them a good sniff. They released a gentle perfume typical of violets. The air temperature never went above 8 degrees centigrade yesterday so although the perfume was not strong, I believe this would be because of the cold. Hopefully, we can return soon if the weather gets warmer and see if the perfume is stronger.

Another surprise was to see a few tiny snowdrops appear in the first few days of January. This has never happened before. I have tried over the years, I admit I never managed to find any “in the green” and at the beginning of the garden there were no Internet sites that I knew of, but I did plant any bulbs I could find. I have got some later snowdrops but last year I resigned myself to give up as we have lots of other lovely flowers. Kourosh, however, picked up a packet of snowdrop bulbs last year. I cannot remember where. Possibly a DIY store or a supermarket, but I completely ignored the purchase except to warn him that it was his job to plant them and find a place near the house as it was not worth planting snowdrops far away from the window. He obviously heeded my warning and the bulbs grew up – just to spite me!

Often the “wisdom” of nature and natural creatures is vaunted and compared favourably to our blundering passage through this life. I am not too convinced of the consistency in this innate knowledge. Two days ago Kourosh alerted me to a bumblebee asleep at the front of our house in the winter honeysuckle. It was early evening, the sun was getting lower and the temperature falling – and yet she slumbered on. We could not leave her there. If she has returned to her snug nest she would have escaped the sub zero temperatures but not staying out in the open.

I popped her into a plastic box and put her in an unheated bedroom and she did not move until I brought her into the dining room after midday the following day. I dropped some honey into the box. I would like to point out that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust advises not to use honey but to make sugar syrup but I was not sure she was alive at this stage – and it was easier. As she warmed up she made for the honey and mopped it up and took a second helping.

I took her into the sunshine and let her take wing, which she did with a disgruntled buzz rather than a thank you.

The Chimonanthus praecox is just starting to flower. It has more flowers this year. I hope it will be more impressive. We have put it in a shady position and do not benefit from its perfume as much as I anticipated. Once, more of the flowers are open I will cut some flowering twigs and bring them inside.

I saw my first Bombus pratorum queen, or early bumblebee, on 7 January 2022. That is early. The photo is not great but she is very quick and I was pleased to at least capture her with the date on camera.

I hope she did not misjudge the weather and has made a warm nest somewhere.


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January 2022

The garden enters 2022 with trepidation.

Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta

I took some photographs in the garden on the 31 st. of December 2021 – the last day of the old year. It was a fittingly bizarre day with a temperature of 17 degrees Centigrade (62.6 F) and bright sunshine for the second straight day in a row. There were butterflies on the flowers.

And of course the bees were out and busy bringing loads of pollen into the bee hives.

We were able to sit and read outside as the sun descended and the birds were singing like a spring evening. It is still mild but the temperatures are moving towards seasonal norms. I just wonder how perturbed nature will be this year.

In the meantime the bees take advantage of the fine weather and I thank Philip Strange for reminding me that buff-tailed bumblebees can keep up nesting throughout the winter even in the south of England. Thus the pollen on the bumblebees legs.

She did not gather the pollen from the Mahonia – I have only seen the bees take nectar from the Mahonia.

This winter, despite some frosty mornings, the Anisodontea has kept its flowers and attracts the bees on sunny days.

As soon as the flowers open the bees push themselves inside. They often try when the flower is not completely open.

At the bottom of the garden we have planted an Arbutus unedo. It is a poor spot for a tree with such lovely flowers that are much appreciated by the bumblebees but it has survived and is producing flowers.

The tree is commonly called a strawberry tree, for obvious reasons. I took the photograph of the fruit on the 13 December but there are no more fruits on the tree. The birds have eaten them and, although they look delicious, the fruits are somewhat acid and bland. They can be made into jam as they are not poisonous, but I could think of easier ingredients for jams.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I took all these photographs on 31 December 2022 in the sunshine and unseasonable warmth. In the evening I noticed one of our little green tree frogs sitting enjoying the sun inside a planter on the patio. It is two days later and he is settling down for another night in the same place. The temperature is forecast to fall during the night.

Shall I take him out a blanket?


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A Week in Flowers, Day 7

Queen carder bumble bee on Aster, 22.9.21

It is only during the last few years that I have started growing Asters. I do not know quite how I missed them. Now they are a huge part of the flowers in my autumn garden. However, this year I was beginning to think that perhaps some of them were changing from flourishing to dominating. I don’t suppose it is too big a problem as it involves a short growing variety that will have to be controlled in the borders. The Asters attract all sorts of bees and butterflies. They provide an excellent reason to prolong your morning coffee break checking out what the Asters have attracted.

Saffron flower with bumblebee, 12.10.21

The Saffron flowers pop up in October. They provide the perfect resting place for tired bumblebees and I often find one still “in bed” when I look early in the morning.

This finishes my “Week in Flowers” hosted by Cathy of “Words and Herbs”.


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A Week in Flowers, Day 6

Honeybee in Altea, 7.8.21

When we first started this garden we had very few flowers. A neighbour gave me the seeds of her Altea (Hibiscus syriacus). There is a similarity between the flowers and the flowsy tropical Hibiscus. The H. syriacus is a hardy deciduous plant that stands up well to our hot dry summers. Because I grew mine from seed I have a variety of colours and I find the bushes work well as a hedging plant. They can be cut with impunity in the winter and shaped high, low or fanned. I have even seen it grown into a small tree in this area. I have also read that the flowers are edible but I have not tried them yet. Certainly they would be excellent for food decoration.

Carder bumblebee on Cosmos flower, 9.9.21

I love Cosmos flowers even though they herald the end of our summer. September is often a warm, sunny month in the Charente-Maritime – still beach weather. The coloured Cosmos self-seed but I try to add variety by sowing some fresh bought seed although I do not think they are so successful. I often end up finding little seedlings struggling here and there and transplant them to sunnier spots. Cosmos love the sun and I can never find enough sunny spots for them in the garden.


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A Week in Flowers, Day 5

Rose Veilchenblau 31.5.21

Now our summer is starting at the end of May. I have a confession to make – I am not a rose person!

I find they need too much care and fussing to get the most out of them. Kourosh looks after our roses and I just grumble a bit if they are not perfect.

Veilchenblau gets a special pass from me as I find it so special. Perhaps because it only flowers once in the season that I appreciate it more. Also the bees adore the flowers.

Verbena bonariensis 20.7.21

When the self seeded Verbena bonariensis is flowering throughout the garden it means that we are in mid summer.


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A Week of Flowers, Day 4

Manuka flowers, 5.5.21

We bought some Manuka bushes as a present for our honey bees and to see if we might get some interesting flavours in the honey. Well, so far it has worked in the reverse. We love the pink flowers but the honey bees have so far ignored them. At least some of the solitary wild bees appreciate them.

Hypericum, 9.6.21

My Hypericum has been grown from seed given to me by a friend who did not know the variety. It is probably “Hidcote” which is a very popular variety. The seeds were amazingly fruitful and the seedlings extremely sturdy, so I have a large reservoir of Hypericum plants I can pop into needy places in the garden. They reward you with prolific yellow flowers in the summer and require little care and attention.


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A Week of Flowers, Day 3

Eleagnus umbellata, 30.3.21

One of the joys of sharing gardens through the blogs is finding the gems that are perfect for your own garden. We bought several of these trees in 2017 and they thrive well in our garden with these pretty flowers in the spring. Eventually, we hope that they will produce fruit.

Honesty (Lunaria annua) flowers, 14.4.21

I have a beautiful dark leaved variety of Honesty that self seeds where it fancies, much to the delight of all the different types of bees. I love it too. A large part of my delight in seeing it flower every year comes from thinking of the friend who sent me the seeds.


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A Week of Flowers, Day 2

Hellebore, 25.2.21

In February the Helebore are flowering around the garden. I love these tough flowers. They will grow in shady spots and yet survive in sunny spots and take the beating summer sun. They like it in the garden and self-seed providing me with plenty of plants for ground cover in difficult spots.

Hyacinth, 1.3.21

By March the garden is filling up with the colour of the spring flowers. March is a colourful month. I have often grown Hyacinth in bowls indoors and they get a second life in the garden when I plant them out after their flowers pass.


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Week of Flowers, Day One

Winter flowering Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima 17.1.21

I decided to start my week of flowers by looking back to the beginning of the year. The Winter Honeysuckle is a perfumed star of our winter garden.

Early flowering plum tree, 25.2.21

The plum tree opens its flowers with its own special perfume in February.

Thank you Cathy for hosting, “A Week of Flowers, 2021”.


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Dark November

Chantecleer

November has become a cold dark month. We have been touched by a tragedy in our little hamlet that rocks the foundation of your thoughts and leads to introspection.

Willows

We gardeners who love our gardens and share them with the many visitors that pass through them have something truly precious. Others lack our interest, and November can be a dark time without interest or a kindred spirit to share hopes, exchange ideas and bask in the comfort of being with people of similar ideas.

It is difficult to reach out to people who have a different nature but we are all different. It is wrong to be too pushy but it is also wrong to relent too quickly.

I will try to open my eyes wider, to be more inclusive, to think more of others, not to be misguided by false smiles and easily obtained assurance that all is well. Perhaps, we can all make that phone call, email or coffee invitation that we have been putting off. Will it make a difference? I do not know.

In the meantime, Cathy of “Words and Herbs” has suggested we join her in a week of flowers, starting on the 1st December. It can be a difficult month but I admire her positive spirit.