a french garden


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The pompier called

Yesterday a sapeur pompier rang the door bell and I hurried out to open the garden gate as he stood outside in the sunshine.  He saw my bemused look and waved a copy of the calendar he was carrying.  The penny dropped and I invited him in explaining that I was having a hard time realising that Christmas was approaching, he joked  that they had decided to come round in the spring this year!

Just before Christmas every year the pompier comes with his calendar and you make a donation and receive the calendar.  It is all in a good cause for their benevolent fund.  Out of our local group of about thirty but there is only one full-time professional, the rest are part-time volunteers.  In France they are more than just fire fighters and are often the first at the scene to deal with any accidents.

This means that we will be receiving another calendar soon from our factrice or post lady who provides a brilliant, personalised service but this time the thank you will go straight to her.

It has reminded me that Christmas is fast approaching and I still have not made my recommendation of Dave Goulson’s superb book “A Buzz in the Meadow”.  He is very readable author and he will tell you more about bumble bees and other insects that you really didn’t realise you wanted to know about – until you read his book.

Goulson Buzz

For me the best bit was to find out more about his house in France and the surrounding thirteen hectares of land he hopes to make into a wildlife preserve.  He writes candidly about his unorthodox renovation of the house and the species rich environment he has uncovered.  The saddest story was when he decided to share his passion for butterflies with the locals by advertising a guided walk.  No-one turned up except one English lady and her daughter who lived near by.  I have to sympathise with him as I meet very few local people who are interested in what the British call, in general terms, “Nature”.  Some have worked all their lives in the open and never have noticed bees or dragonflies and shy away from snakes and lizards.  Enjoying nature seems to mean walking outside and enjoying the scenery but not being aware of life – plant or animal, with the exception of some large furry animals.

Goulson writes that his goal in writing this book is to make you go out and get down on your hands and knees and look.  He feels that if we learn to value what we have we will make an effort to preserve it.

Queen bumble bee

I’m sure he would enjoy watching the queen bumble bees visiting my Salvia.

Bumble bee with pollen

I’m sure he would be interested to see a worker bumble bee with pollen-laden legs on the Salvia in this picture taken on the 26th. November 2014.

bumble bee robbing nectar

The pollen laden legs mean that somewhere there is a bumble bee nest that is still active and raising young.  However, next week the temperatures are set to drop and it looks as if winter will begin in December.

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First published photograph

One of my photographs has just been published for the first time!

Two bumble bees on rose

O.K., O.K., I know it was only 7 x 5 cm. (3 x 2 inches) and the print quality was dubious but the original isn’t exactly Nature Photographer of the Year quality either.

However, it was in Buzz Magazine which is produced as a newsletter for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust http://bumblebeeconservation.org/.  I had replied in a Forum to another member who was wanting suggestions of what rose bushes to plant in her garden that might be suitable for bumblebees.  I have found that my climbing rose Madame Isaac Péreire attracts large numbers of bumblebees and some bees when it is in flower so I included a photograph with my reply with two bumblebees on a single rose.  The photograph was picked up by the editor and used in this issue of the Buzz newsletter.

I cannot think of anywhere I’d be happier to see one of my photographs.   They are a great organisation and provide news and information about bumblebees.

I had great fun photographing the bees on the rose last May, see the post Madame Isaac Péreire and remember you saw it first here on A French Garden!

 


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Early bumblebees

Really  early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

Really early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

I think I should give an early warning  here – this post  is about bumble bees and honey bees.  It is a sort of warning cum apology but the weather this week was amazing and the bees really took advantage of it.  I took these photographs on Tuesday 19 February in the warm sunshine although the air temperature did not go above 12 degrees Centigrade.

Early Bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

Early Bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

The winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is just about the end of its flowering season but there were three or four Early Bumble bees gathering nectar from the flowers.  The pollen baskets are visibly empty.

White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus Lucorum)

White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus Lucorum)

There was a White-tailed bumble but she (they) have been visiting throughout the winter.  It was the first time I had seen any Early bumbles.

What I noticed was that that the bumblebees appeared only to be taking nectar.  They were carrying no pollen.

Honey bee on honeysuckle

Honey bee on honeysuckle

There were not many honey bees on the Honeysuckle but they, on the other hand, were carrying its distinctive yellow pollen.

Honey bees on Viburnum tinus

Honey bees on Viburnum tinus

The Viburnum tinus was alive with honey bees but no bumblebees.  The bee on the top right of the flower is carrying the ivory coloured  pollen about the same size as the bud.

Honey bee on plum tree

Honey bee on plum tree

The plum tree was starting to buzz but it was all honey bees and they all seemed to be interested in gathering pollen.

I presume the bumblebee queens are woken up by the warm weather and feel the need to restock on their energy stores.  It is certainly too early for them to start nesting.

Thursday brought glacial winds and daytime temperatures of just over zero that even the Charente sunshine could not warm.  I hope the bumblebee queens are back tucked-up in the same place that they have spent the winter.

Cute Early Bumblebee

Cute Early Bumblebee

This photograph serves no purpose except that I found it cute!

Question carder

Question carder

On the other hand I was wondering if anyone had an opinion on this photograph.

Perhaps a carder

Perhaps a carder

Another bumblebee on the honeysuckle on Tuesday was not the same colour as the usual carder bees I see.

Carder?

Carder?

It was overall much redder in colour, toning to grey on the underside rather than a pale beige.  Perhaps it was her winter colours and she goes redder in the winter like some plant leaves!  I’d be interested to hear any ideas.

Peacock butterfly on plum tree

Peacock butterfly on plum tree

I found it strange that the bumblebees did not take advantage of the plum blossom.  The peacock butterfly seems satisfied and there are far more flowers on the plum tree than the honeysuckle.

Plum tree in flower

Plum tree in flower

There seems more than enough flowers for the bumblebees to share on the plum tree but they kept themselves to themselves on the honeysuckle.  The plum tree had only burst into bloom in the preceding few days whereas the honeysuckle has been flowering all winter.  Perhaps the queen bumblebees need to refill at a known nectar source rather than wasting energy foraging if they have a steady supply.  They are on their own at the moment unlike the honey bees who have their foraging bees that are able to alert the hive to a new source of nutrients.

 


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Bumble bee nests

Today was a very special day!  I cannot believe my luck.  I have always seen a lot of bumble bees in the garden and felt that there must be nests in the garden.  In the spring I saw the queens exploring in the undergrowth, searching for a promising hole but I have never found a nest until now.  Today I found two!  Je suis comblée!

Bumble leaving the nest

I was at the bottom of the garden under the trees when I noticed bumble bees emerging from the ground.  They were coming from the same spot, emerging slowly, picking their way through the ivy and leaf litter.

White-tailed bumble bee

I would identify it as a White-tailed bumble bee, Bombus lucorum, as none of the bees I saw had any hint of a buff band on their white tail, but please let me know if you disagree.

Returning to the nest

The return to the nest was pretty rapid so I apologise for the quality of the photographs as the bees were in motion.  When they left the nest they seemed to fly around it a bit as if to orient themselves before leaving.  When they returned it was much more of a bee-line entry (sorry about that).

Full yellow pollen sacs

It looks as if this lady has been visiting the sunflower fields which are all around us just now.

Full paler pollen sacs

Her sister has been visiting other plants and come back with less of a booty of a paler coloured pollen.  I have placed a stick near the nest, which can be seen on the left of the photographs, so that I can find it again amongst the under growth.

The second nest I cannot “lose” as it is in the side of the house wall.

Hole in the wall plus a head

I was very surprised to see a head appear from the side of the building.

Bumble emerging

They come out very rapidly.

I am confident of my identification here, a Red-tailed bumble bee, Bombus lapidarusius.

Full pollen sacs

She has had a successful pollen foray.  At 9.30 p.m. this evening there was still activity, I do not know yet when they start in the morning.

I will be very interested to watch the nests as I do not think that the breeding of the bumble bees is the same as in the UK.  The Bumble Bee Conservation Trust gives us a general picture of bumble bees nesting in the spring and the nest lasting until August when the new queens appear.  These queens will hibernate during the winter to start the process again in the following spring.  However, they note that since the 1980’s the buff-tailed bumble bees have become more-or-less continuously brooded in the south of England.  I suspect that this may be true of some of the bumble bees in France.

One of “my” bumble bees

Only a short bee flight away from her nest, I am sure that she is one of my bumble bees.


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Turning a page on May

My last fruit tree is in blossom now.  It blossoms very late in the season and it also fruits late in the year.  My persimmon tree is in the front garden giving us shade with its dense, dark green thick leaves.  I picked the fruit a little early last year in early December as the bright red fruit is too tempting for the birds and they ripen well indoors in the cool.  My crop lasted into February (see my post Last Persimmons of the Season ).

Throughout May everyday something seems to appear and break into flower, unfortunately it can appear under some of the more exuberant growth and get lost.  My Nigella self-seeds and fills the borders, just as the forget-me-nots did a few weeks ago.  I find it difficult to pull them out and control them more harshly as it has not been long since there were so few flowers in the garden, and then the bees love the forget-me-nots.

The perfumes in the garden have changed too.  The Wisteria has finished flowering and it is now the turn of the Philadelphus to perfume the air.  I have several different types planted but they are all beautiful and much appreciated by the bees.

The Spanish broom is very fragrant and I have planted several along the back hedge.  I grew it from seeds where it was growing on coastal paths.  It is drought tolerant and can take plenty of sun.  It grows very rapidly so I will have to be more severe in my cutting back as it is getting too leggy.  The broom is the plant of choice at the moment for the carpenter bees along with the Jasmine.

Flowers also bring back memories.  These poppies were grown from seeds that I brought back from the Manoir de Bagnegrole in the Perigord where I spent a wonderful holiday.  The gardens were magnificent and we found 12 types of wild orchids growing on their lands behind their gardens.

We have one Pyramid orchid in the front garden and another in the back garden which we cherish but it is hardly up to Bagnegrole standards!

I have  honeysuckle in several places in the garden and  its heavy perfume fills the air in the sunshine and can waft for some distance on the breeze.

I have noticed some queen bumble bees around, I am a bit surprised as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust http://bumblebeeconservation.org/ says to look out for them in July.  We may be a whole month earlier over here or it maybe it is an early year for queens to appear.

I have several oriental poppies in the garden and it amuses me to see the bees with coal black pollen sacs like this one above.  It looks as if they are flying with little sacks of coal around their legs.

We have a good number of ladybirds in the garden but this year they are out classed by an abundance of chafers which are much too big for them to tackle.

This is a rose chafer on the rose but the other chafers seem just as happy to gorge on the centre of the roses leaving them empty of their stamens and pollen.  Hopefully, the bees are smaller and have already been there, done that and had all the best pollen.

I have geraniums wherever I want some ground cover or need a space filling as they are very tolerant and grow quickly.  This little bee is demonstrating how much he loves my geraniums.

This one was enjoying messing around in my clumps of Nigella it looks as if he has a problem getting his pollen in the right place or maybe he just doesn’t care.


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Sage

My sage is extremely popular with the bumble bees at the moment.  It is full of flowers and is another plant that gives rich rewards for very little attention.  It likes sunshine, a soil that does not stay damp (no problem with that in my sandy soil) and seemingly does not like limestone (I do not think it is that fussy as I am in a limestone area and it has not complained.)  It was unaffected by the two straight weeks of sub-zero temperatures we had last winter and will stand the full sunlight of the Charente-Maritime which is very strong.

The red tailed workers are the most common visitor to the sage flowers although they have other flowers to choose from.

As far as using it as a herb, it is a flavour I do not appreciate so for me it is purely decorative and a great filler of difficult places.  However, it has been valued in the past for its properties to encourage longevity.  Dutch merchants could trade three chests of Chinatea against one chest of sage leaves in the seventeenth century.  A sage sandwich is said to help digestion, although I cannot see myself tucking into a sage sandwich after a heavy meal.  Sage tea is supposed soothe coughs and colds, combat diarrhoea and be a nerve and blood tonic.

More recent claims report sage as a mood enhancer and memory improver (http://www.nature.com/npp/journal/v31/n4/full/1300907a.html).  Maybe I should start eating the leaves.

Putting its herbal and culinary properties to one side, I think that sage is a very useful perennial for difficult dry spots in the garden that might defeat tender plants and it attracts and nourishes the bees as well.  I have my sage growing almost like a shrub on a sunny, dry spot on the outside fence of the garden where not much else could thrive.