In praise of Lavatera

Some plants tick all the boxes for me. Lavatera is one of my favourites. It does not ask for special treatment. It prefers full sun but can manage in partial shade and manages well through dry periods.

In June the plant is in full bloom, providing a mass of flowers.

This was the Lavatera near the house in April this year. It was already filling out and pushing out its soft green leaves.

Now in June it is covered in flowers and attracts all sorts of pollinators drawn by the nectar. It has a rapid growth. You can take advantage of this if you want to quickly fill up a space in the garden.

Unfortunately the rapid growth can lead to branches breaking with the weight of the leaves and flowers. Looks like we should have given it a more severe cutting in April. However, it is easily grown from a cutting. In the U.K. it is preferable to take a softwood cutting in spring but they grown well from cuttings taken in the autumn here as long as they are not exposed to harsh weather. We often find an offshoot at the base of mature plants too.

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.

Weeds in the garden

I recall when I was very young often asking my father the names of various plants, specially the flowers of the beautiful wild weeds in the garden.  I remember him looking at me and saying: “Why do you call them weeds?  They are only another pretty flower that as yet we do not know their names.”

In our garden in France we do not to use chemical pesticides, and as much as possible we have learnt to live with the wild flowers.  There are patches, specially near the river bed that all sorts of wild plants grow.  They seem to add some special charm to the rustic nature of our garden.


There are, nevertheless a number of plants that I have systematically pulled out, as they tend to become  invasive.  One such weed is a little green plant with yellow flower that often grows in the crack of the walls.  It is pretty whilst it is in flower and is still small, but the plant soon seems to grow smothering anything else around it.


A couple of weeks ago when, in Amelia’s absence, I visited the Fête de Printemps at the neighbouring village, I noticed that one nursery lady had potted the very same plant and was selling them, each at 4 Euros!  I learnt that the little plant is called in French chélidoine, or the Chelidonium majus (greater celandine).

Greater Celandine

This plant does have a confusing name, as the greater celandine actually belongs to the poppy family, whereas the lesser celandine which frequently grows along the paths in early spring belongs to the buttercup family.  We have a clump of lesser celandine at the bottom of the garden which attracts a lot of bees and butterflies in the early spring, much to Amelia’s delight.

Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria
Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria

The orange colour juice (the latex) oozing out of the cut stems has been used throughout centuries for the treatment of warts, giving the common name of the plant as tetterwort.  Different parts of the plant have numerous pharmacological properties.  It is said to be analgesic, and the latex has also been used to cauterize small wounds.

Chelidonium majus – Greater celandine

The greater celandine is considered toxic and should be handled with a little care as it might be allergenic and cause dermatitis.  Nevertheless, I will not dig this little plant as ruthlessly as I used to do and remembering what my father told me, I have yet again gained greater respect for the weeds that often I do not know their names.

See you next year!

Purple crocus

I didn’t plant any bulbs this year.  In fact, I think I dislike planting bulbs more than weeding.  I am a great reader of labels and it causes me great anguish as I put the bulbs into the soil.  I worry – have I placed them too deeply or are they too near the surface.  I try to measure, I try to avoid disturbing the roots of other plants no longer visible.

White crocus

Then there is the weather.  The ground can often be dry and very unwilling to give way to my prodding and digging.


If planting bulbs is difficult – I find that not buying them is even more difficult and going a step further – restraining my husband from surreptitiously sliding a large packet into the trolley.


It’s during our visits to the UK after the bulb planting season has passed and the prices of bulbs are slashed and you feel almost obliged to re-home them.

Whte crocus

The illustrations on the packets of bulbs are so tempting.  You don’t think of crouching in the borders in the cold trying to find a space for the new arrivals.

Purple and yellow crocus

But last year I was strong and resisted temptation.

Lilac crocus

Now I feel I have been too harsh.  The crocus have been flowering from the 13 February and are just finishing now.  They provide patches of bright colour at what has been a dull time of year and have flowered even more plentifully than last year.

Spring bulbs

They are starting to be overshadowed by the other bulbs which are arriving now.


But by the time the daffodils arrive I am becoming much more blasé about the flowers opening out.


The crocus don’t smell as good as the hyacinth but they lift my spirits and they brighten the garden for more than a month.

Yellow crocus
I really regret all the muttering that went on as I planted the bulbs in previous years.  They have more than rewarded me for the time and money spent and hopefully I’ll see even more of them next year.


The biggest single event in the garden must be when the prune tree flowers.

It is pretty impressive and is the earliest tree to have blossom in the immediate area and gets a lot of admiration from the neighbourhood.

For me it not only provides plums, as all good plum trees should, but provides shade for us to eat under in the summer time and the blossom provides loads of pollen and nectar for the bees.  So it was with great care and consideration that it received its annual pruning a couple of weeks ago.  The result was that a lot of small branches hit the ground and I noticed that the first swellings of the  buds were just visible.  I gathered some up and put them in a vase.

Plum twigs in vase
Plum twigs in vase

It just took over a week before I had a preview of the blossom that will eventually cover the tree.

Opening plum flower
Opening plum flower

So while the rain continued to pour outside I could appreciate my plum blossom and also get to grips with some close-up photography.  I took this using my Christmas present tripod, which allowed me to dispense with flash.

Getting closer to the twig
Getting closer to the twig

What I really wanted to try was to get closer, not just crop a photograph.

The stamens can be seen
The stamens can be seen

I wanted to see the stamens and the pollen that the bees would be collecting.

The anthers are visible
The anthers are visible

Here the four anthers can be seen amongst the stamens

Opening flower
Opening flower

I cannot justify buying a Macro lens but I have bought a reversing ring and that has allowed me to take these photographs with my lens fitted back to front on the camera.  It has its limitations, but for 18 euros including postage (it would be cheaper in the States or UK, I’m sure) it is worth it.

Abstract bud
Abstract bud

I’ve had lots of fun and whereas the depth of field can be a challenge I like the abstract feel of some of the shots.


Perhaps I’m going too far here for some, but I like it.

I doubt whether I’ll be able to take any bees or bumble shots outside like this – but I can always try when it gets warmer!

Field of sunflowers

This is a special time in the Charente- Maritime region.  The sunflower fields are in full bloom.  I look forward to the sunflower season in this area, as you drive around you can see acres of sunflower fields.  It is a fairly flat region and you can see the yellow fields stretching off to the horizon to meet up with the blue sky.  The main crop is still the grape vines but the grape vines are overshadowed by the display of sunflowers just now.

There is a small sunflower field, nestled in between the vines,  just 200 metres from the house and I decided to keep a record of it flowering.

The sunflower, Helianthus annuus, or tournesol in French, turns towards the sun.  Well, sort of, they had me fooled.

Seemingly they do follow the sun as they are growing and while the shoots are flexible enough.  However, once they are in flower their stiff stems are too inflexible to continue the motion and the heads point towards the rising sun.  Certainly mine turned their backs on the setting sun and are facing a constant SE.

Thoughts on my modern rose

When we bought our property in France we inherited a pink modern rose in the front garden.  It had no perfume and managed to scratch me every time I  needed to turn on the water hose.

I was all for getting rid of it.  My husband, who likes roses more than me, pointed out that we had hardly any flowers in the garden – beggars can’t be choosers.

I excepted his logic but I told the rose that its days were numbered once we came over to live permanently.

We had the house and garden for four years before we moved and were properly able look after the garden.  The rose survived remarkably well for an unloved, uncared for plant.

The rose starts to flower early in the season and goes on late into the year, flowering abundantly when there are few flowers around to cut to bring inside.  It lasts very well when cut and looks excellent even as a single stem in a rose vase.

It never seems to suffer from the usual rose afflictions and now that it receives more care (from my husband) I have noticed that it does have a very light, delicate perfume.  It looks both good in bud and when it is fully open.

To cut a long story short, I find I cannot do without it for table decorations but I do feel I have been somehow manipulated by it.  Despite its lack of natural harmony – providing perfume and nectar and pollen- I do not want to do without it.

If it was only a modern rose and not other things that we find we cannot live without.

I was reading a blog yesterday and there is concern that there may not be enough natural resources for the bees that are being kept in London U.K., that there are too many bees for the amount of forage in the city.  Yet there are 3000 parks and open spaces in London.  The five Royal Parks in Central London cover 498 hectares and counting the three Royal Parks in the suburbs it mounts up to 1478 hectares of Royal Parks alone.

Could more be done to provide forage for the bees?  Are there choices that could be made in the choices of trees, bushes and plants to maximise their usefulness?  Or is it tidier to have mown lawns surrounded by clipped Yew trees.

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 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.


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 (  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.