a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Summer approaches in the woods

Everyday sees changes in the countryside.  The warmth, the cold, the rain, the sun all conspire to bring about subtle changes that made no two days the same but there comes a point where our coarse senses remark a change that cannot be ignored.

The vibrant, frenetic days of spring are past and summer is approaching.

I feel this in the woods as the canopy of the trees fills in and covers over, changing the flowers that grow underneath.  A few still linger, like the Asphodel but the Wood Anemones have totally disappeared leaving only their leaves as witness to their presence.

Only an odd violet can be seen here and there along the path.  I shall be sorry to see them go but I took my first photographs of the wild violets in my garden at the end of March so their season has not been short.

The Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum commutatum) is content to stay in the shady areas under the trees and so is just starting its flowering season.

Once open the elegant bells attract the bees and bumbles who feast on the pollen which they carry off in their pollen sacs which become  stunningly white.  I tried to get a photograph but they were too quick for me, trying to manoeuvre amongst the long stems of the Solomon’s seal which are over a metre tall.

I couldn’t miss the swarm of bees over a puddle in the middle of the path.  I had read that bees have a requirement for water but I could not understand what attracted so many of them to the same puddle at the same time.  When I got closer I discovered it was not the water that they were interested in but the mud it was providing for them!

They are Mason bees looking for a supply of mud to seal up their cache of eggs which could be somewhere in the woods in a hollow twig or convenient hole in a tree.  Mason bees belong to the genus Osmia, I cannot go further than that with identification but I do think they have really cute eyes!

The butterflies still accompany us on our walks like this Comma butterfly ( Polygonia c-album) and

the Red Admiral (Vanessa Atalanta) which always adds colour in the woods.

The Common Heath Moth (Ematurga atomaria) enjoys flying in the daytime in sunny spots but

the Speckled Yellow moth (Pseudopanthera macularia) was a bit more frisky.  It is always lovely to have their company even though they are less appreciative of ours.

These two seem a bit surprised to see each other alight so close to each other when there are so many flowers to choose from.

The Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) is in luxuriant bloom on the edges of the woods and roads and is being visited by an astonishing number of insects.  The bees and bumbles are visiting in substantial numbers.

Predators will always be attracted to to the abundant food supplies of their prey.  The European Hornet (Vespa crabro) did not find any bees on this fly past and rapidly left our presence.  They are an unloved species and their nests are frequently destroyed by humans, however, it is a protected species in Germany and a native European insect.

For me it just does not have the same appeal as a fluffy bumble bee clutching onto the clover flower and  sipping the nectar.


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Mme Isaac Péreire

Madame Isaac Péreire is an old Bourbon rose.  Bred by Armand Garçon de Rouen in 1880 and originally called “Le Bienheureux de La Salle”  it was re- named after a wealthy banker’s wife in 1881.  I can imagine the original Madame Isaac Péreire wearing a stunning silk dress of the same rich pink as the rose.  In fact the petals have a blush that is reminiscent of silk.  With its heavy, spicy perfume, described as smelling of raspberries, it is a remarkable rose.

It grows in our front garden against the stone wall and was in its first flush of flowers on Sunday.  The perfume in the garden was exquisite, the rose on one side and the Wisteria still producing new perfumed  flowers on the other.

The perfume of the rose attracts me to go and idle in the garden and to my surprise it attracts bumble bees too!  I had always understood that cultivated roses were not particularly attractive to bees, however, the open form of Madame Isaac Péreire allows them easy access unlike the closed  forms of the modern roses.

The centre of the rose is easily accessible.

The bees did not always fly directly to the centre but chose to explore a passage through the loose petals becoming invisible but easily detected by the echo of their humming in the petal maze.

There must be a generous pollen store in the  centre of the flower.

The bees were laden with heavy pollen sacs.

It was getting so busy that two bees were visiting the same flower.

There were buff-tailed bumble bees.

Red-tailed bumble bees.

Yellow bees.

And the most common bumble bee at the moment, which I cannot put a name to.

The Carpenter bee passed by as if looking for a piece of the action but did not join in, I think he was too big to slide through the silky petals.  There is still plenty of Wisteria for him to feast on.


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May in the garden

May has been a wet month so far.

This was what the woods looked like on the first of May.

It has not stopped the garden flourishing but it has cut badly into the time I have been able to spend in it.

The lilac has flowered largely unappreciated, whereas it usually provides welcome shade in addition to its balmy perfume.

The apple trees are flowering now, our youngest is the Belle de Boskop.

Our oldest is the Reine de Reinette, which has a similar flavour to a Cox’s apple.

The third is a Golden Delicious, which was also the heaviest cropper last year.

The Medlar tree is also in flower.  I planted it specially as I love Medlar fruit and they are difficult to buy or even find in the shops.  I love the flavour and the fruit arrives very late in the autumn when almost everything else is finished.

It is not widely appreciated yet it is a lovely tree and has lovely flowers.  What more could you want from a tree?

It still has to put up with the indignities of being assaulted by a Rose Chafer (Cetonia aurata).  According to Wikipedia they feed on flowers, nectar and pollen but the upside is that their larvae are detritivores consuming decaying vegetable matter and so just what I need in my compost heap.

The second of May saw the arrival of the first tree peony flower.  I did not realise it was such a hardy plant, it is only its second summer in the garden and I did not expect it to have survived this year’s harsh winter.  A gold star for tree peonies.

But May is really the month for the roses here, before it gets too hot for them.  The first rose opened in the garden was ‘Mme Isaac Péreire’ which climbs up the sunny wall in the front garden.  The perfume is an old-fashioned rose perfume and very strong.

Next was ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ climbing over the arch in the back garden.  You cannot have a french garden without French roses.   ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ has her own beautiful perfume.  The pleasure of a garden for me is as much how it smells as how it looks.

Lastly the bumble bees love  the Lamiastrum for the nectar and pollen and I love it as it covers up the weeds only too numerous and vigorous at this time of year.


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What colour is a white wood anemone?

The butterfly path leads through the woods.  On either side are wild flowers, hence the butterflies at this time of year and the bees and bumble bees and lots more if you stop and look.  That’s just it, you have to stop and look.

You can take a deep breath, look all around and get the general impression of the pleasant woodland scene but it is not until you really look that you see things.

For one thing there are the wild anemones.  I have always loved anemones and to find so many growing wild never ceases to thrill.  They grow in ones and two’s by the side of the path and then spread out into clearings that they have colonised, taking advantage of the extra sunlight.

The species most commonly found in the UK and europe is Anemone nemorosa, the wood anemone.  They are usually white and in fact I had never seen any other colour until my eye was drawn to a particular patch enjoying the spring sunshine.

From a distance I thought it might be some other flower, a vinca perhaps.  But no, it was a coloured anemone and the more I looked the more different forms I found.

Pale blue anemone.

Pink anemone.

The differences in the flowers were subtle like the pink veining in a mainly white anemone.

Lilac anemone.

The wood anemone generally has six petals but here I found double flowers.

Double white anemone

I have done a little research and my anemones are not unique, unusual but not unique.  The wood anemone, anemone nemorosa, does occur in shades of pink and blue and lilac and can have variations in the number of petals.

Why does this particular patch carry such a high rate of mutation?  Last spring was particularly warm and sunny, did they get more U.V. radiation?  The soil is limestone so I cannot imagine much natural radiation from the soil. Is it down to sheer chance?

Whatever the reason I was thrilled to note the variation and I will keep my eye on this patch next year.


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I love my quince tree.

One of the first trees we planted was a quince, quickly followed by a second one just in case the first did not make it.  I am particularly fond of the first one.  It is a more compact little tree with round fruits.  The second quince is a different variety with a more elongated shape and more elongated fruits.

These are real quince trees Cydonia oblonga.  They are in their glory now.  Unlike the apricot, cherry and plum trees their blossom is preceded by the softest green leaves.

This year we were lucky with the weather and the blossoms opened in the warm spring sunshine.

The buds of the blossom are a darker pink but are a perfect match for the downy green leaves.

The petals of the open flower are veined with a darker pink.


The flowers are not in clusters like cherry blossom but are the perfect size for a bumble bee to curl up in.

The edible quince flowers later than the flowering quince, Chaemomeles .  Shrubs of the  Chaemomeles family produce a small fruit similar to the much larger edible quince which are edible but rarely used as they tend to be to small to use conveniently.

They give a much more flamboyant blossom of dark pink and are often prized in a garden as they flower so early in the season.  My neighbour Annie’s flowering quince produced blossom at the end of March.

We had huge bouquets of these beautiful flowers in jugs in our houses which were an absolute picture – but it comes at a price.  They can be very invasive shrubs and difficult to keep within bounds in a small garden.  They are extremely thorny whereas the edible quince has no thorns.

I think I have been traumatised by a flowering quince that I inherited in this garden.  It had been allowed to take over a large area of the front garden.  It was not as simple as removing all the branches above the ground with a chain-saw.  The roots were so compact that they formed a huge trunk-like mass that continued some distance under the ground and was extremely difficult and time-consuming to remove.  In addition, the residual roots managed to sprout new growth every spring for several years which I cut off assiduously, in terror that the thing might re-appear and flourish anew.

However, the bees love the flowering quince which provides them with much needed nourishment at this early time in the year.

I am just glad it is in Annie’s garden and not mine.

A large part of my decision to plant a quince tree was for their fruit.  I love quinces but they are not always as easy to source as many other fruits.  They are also generally under appreciated.

I love to see the yellow fruit with its downy coat hanging on the tree in autumn but I do not eat it raw.  My quince are too hard and tough.  That is not to say there are no varieties that can be eaten raw.  I have eaten a raw quince in Isphahan, Iran which although very firm was fragrant and delicious but the quinces of Isphahan are famous and quinces probably originated in Iran.

I use my quinces to make jelly,  jam and compote.  The quince jelly can be eaten like a jam but also marries very well with savoury flavours such as meat and cheese.  A cheese plate can be given an immediate upgrade by serving it with a splash of home made quince jelly.   I also make a Persian  lamb sauce with quince and serve it with steamed rice.  The quince segments can be blanched in the autumn and frozen for use later in savoury dishes.

At the end of this month I’ll be putting up my coddling moth traps, lured with pheromones.  Unfortunately, it is not only me that enjoys the quinces and the fruit is attacked by these moth larvae which bore right into the core leaving an ugly brown trail through the flesh.  I was pleased with the result last year and hope it will work as well this year.  I am not too precious about any damaged fruit and would prefer to cut away damaged fruit than have perfect fruit all of the time at the expense of using systemic pesticides or spraying indiscriminately.

I love my quince tree.


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Walk with me in the woods

Yesterday was cooler and cloudy in the morning but still inviting enough for a walk in the nearby woods.  As a bonus the clouds parted in the afternoon and the sun was warm.  There is always more activity along the way if it is sunny and the photographs seem more full of life.

We saw plenty of life.

The wild flowers are in abundance now.  The wild violets are still going strong but must surely be finishing soon.

New flowers are coming up every day and line the roadside.

Not even the dandelions can leave you untouched as they are the centre of attraction for bees and chafers.

The fresh green of new plants and flowers is covering the still open floor of the woods.

Inside the woods the flowers bloom in the sunny clearings that have not yet been shadowed by the trees which are only starting to open their leaves.

Th wild anemones take advantage of their days in the sunshine before the trees cover them with shade.  But today I notice a special patch with colours I have never seen before.  The wild anemones are usually completely white single flowers but this patch has delicately shaded flowers of pale violet, blue, pink and even some double flowers.

Every walk reveals a new discovery.

The butterflies cross our path.

The bumble bees are delirious with the abundance of Pulmonaria to provide them with nectar.

Sometimes the butterflies take a break on the ground.

I even caught this bumble dozing in the sun on a dry leaf.

So many of the plants are new to me.

This is White-asphodel, Asphodelus-albus.

It is such a majestic plant I find it hard to imagine it growing wild, I am more used to finding daisies and buttercups.  I would love to learn more about the wild flowers in my area.

Some are instantly recognisable like this wild strawberry but others are not.

Each walk brings a new discovery something we have never seen before, like these two bees mating in the Asphodel.  Taking time to watch and discover.  There is so much to discover.


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A little rain

The garden has suffered from extremes of weather this year.  After beginning mild the winter closed with two weeks of freezing temperatures in February with temperatures dropping as low as -15 degrees centigrade.

Now fear of drought is the issue having had very little winter and spring rain.  It is raining lightly today with storms forecast so I am glad I have taken photographs of the trees in blossom.

The young pear tree in the front garden has been very generous with its blossom this year.

The cherry and the apricot in the back have been full of blossom.

The wisteria against the white atelier wall is full of flowers that perfume the back door area.  The wisteria in the front garden is in bud but without the additional warmth of a wall has not yet flowered.

All this beauty!

But practicalities call, the soil is now soft from the rain and it is an ideal moment for weeding before the weather deteriorates further.


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The garden from far and near

The weather continues to be warm and has completely seduced us into believing that summer has arrived.  It hasn’t arrived but I am seduced.  I cannot help wandering around the garden completely distracted by each new happening.  A serious gardener would get a grip on herself and spend more time on the important tasks of weeding and sowing.

Instead I am enjoying.

The essential gardners’ “cuppa”.

Last year’s pansies re-appear in the aluminium tub.


Actually the flowering quince is in Annie’s garden up the road which is still a French garden…

My first redstart of the season.  Only summer visitors but very welcome.

The first leaves of the edible quince are a downy soft green.  The beautiful flowers will come later.

I love pansies.

The blue tits visits are less numerous, it happens every year, they must be busy nesting.

Our first asparagus shoot.

The radish and salad is making an appearance.

The forget-me-nots have arrived, self-seeded in the borders.

At least someone is working.