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.
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.
A few days ago, our friends came over and picked us to go for a visit to the woods at Rioux about half an hour away from our home. Needless to say in the confinement of the car we all four wore our facemasks.
These special woods are covered with wild daffodils. Many of the daffodils were still in buds. Perhaps we arrived a few days early or as we saw later quite a few families had picked up bundles of flowers. That is why on arrival I did not notice the daffodils.
Walking actually into the woods, we did noticed hundredes of daffodils
There were also quite a lot of wild primroses
Another wild flower that I love to see in the woods around here is Asphodel. Now they are still shooting up.
This picture we took in previous years, of asphodels in flower. They are majestic – I feel.
I also love the flowers of Pulmonaria. They are favourite colour. The common English name is Lungwort, as the leaves somwhat reminds one of lungs.
I often see abandoned buildings in the countryside, like some archaeological site. I wonder about the family that must have lived in this one; the children that grew up and played in the forest.
All countrysides specially in remote rural areas look to me neglested and yet at the same time loved. An abandoned house or an old dead tree that perhaps the children used to climb or swing from it,
A little further and we came across a small farm. A beautiful horse lonely in a field
And a road sign that I must have missed when I learnt the highway code
First I noticed one lonely sheep, perhaps expecting a lamb,
And further along we saw the rest of the flock and one proud sheep with her lambs.
A most pleasant walk in the woods, despite the confinement.
At 7:30 am today 27th April 2017, the temperatures dropped to minus 4.5 degrees C (24 degrees F). We see around us many vineyards devastated by the frost. The vines that had just flowered were frozen.
The last few weeks of really warm weather (up to 27 degrees C), have advanced the vines 12 to 15 days, compared with previous years, making them more vulnerable to the sudden frost.
The morning papers report that in our department of Charente approximately 25,000 hectares of vines have been damaged – in some areas up 80% of the vine flowers have been destroyed.
There is very little the farmers can do to protect their crop against low temperatures. However, from very early morning some farmers tried setting fire to straw bales near their vines to raise the nearby air temperature. Others called in helicopters to fly low over the vines, to create turbulence and avoid cold air staying low on the ground. This managed to increase the temperature by up to 2 degrees. But sadly even these efforts were not sufficient to avoid the extensive damage.
The French farmers as in other parts of Europe believe strongly in the Saints de Glace. The three important are: St Mamert (11 May), St Pancrace (12 May) and St Servais (13 May). They say in France: “Beware, the first of the ice saints, often you will see its trace. Before Saint-Servais, no summer; after Saint-Servais, no more frost.” There are even those who recommend caution planting fragile plants outdoor until 25th May (St Urban) as a frost can occur up to then. They say: “Quand la saint Urbain est passée, le vigneron est rassuré.” When St Urban is passed, the vineyard owners are assured.
Our pretty garden was also touched by the sudden frost. The potato crop is partially frozen and the lovely lagerstroemia that was so kindly given to us last autumn by Michel and his wife is frozen.
Our hydrangea is well protected against a stone wall, but some of its leaves are badly damaged.
A few other more fragile flowers and plants have also suffered, but my heart goes to the farmers that for the last twelve months have laboured really hard in their vineyards and have overnight lost so much.
It was a beautiful day in October, when mellow from a very enjoyable lunch we decided to enjoy the sunshine and walk through the park in Cognac. It was many years since we had visited the garden but although I noticed improvements, the structures that had delighted me years ago had been left intact (or preserved).
Water plays a major role in the garden which extends over 7 hectares (17 acres). The town bought the first part of the gardens (including the building now used as the Town Hall) from the Otard family. This family bought the close-by Chateau of Cognac (birthplace of Francis I) in 1796 and the same family are still producing Cognac and storing it in the cellars of the chateau.
I like the moulded tree struts of the bridge which is quite in keeping with the grotto in the distance.
The design of the gardens was the work of the landscape gardener Edouard André who started of life as a gardener at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris and was given the task of remodelling these gardens in 1892. He specialised in fountains and grottoes and worked internationally, including in Sefton in the U.K.
I love the mystery of grottos and the sound of running water.
We have a fair number of stones in our garden and Kourosh has produced some rockeries and dry stone walls; I wonder if I would be pushing it to suggest he try for a grotto?
The folly would be one step too far for our garden but looks perfect in Cognac. Otherwise called the neo-Gothic tower it was built in 1835 and is octagonal in shape. It is having work done on it at the moment and I believe it will have a moat surrounding it in the future.
I had seen all of the park before but what I noticed this time was the number of plants providing nectar for pollinators.
The arbutus unedo or Strawberry trees were full of this year’s blossom and last year’s fruit. I’ve read that honey from the Strawberry trees has a rich chocolatey/coffee flavour which I would like to try.
This honeybee is on a Johnson’s blue geranium and was spoiled for choice on the bee friendly flowers in the borders.
My only small complaint was that the labelling of the plants was variable but I suppose the gardeners are working towards the upkeep and beauty of the gardens – not trying to sell the plants. However, at the base of this tree was a large plaque announcing that it was a Sophora japonica. I was initially extremely surprised as I had never heard of the Sophora producing beautiful red berries.
However, taking a step to the rear I realised I had got a little too close and the real Sophora was hiding behind. A Google search at home indicates that it is Lonicera Maackii or Amur honeysuckle which produces these attractive red berries. This is an Asian species which has become invasive in some parts of the U.S.A. I found the berries very beautiful and the flowers are rich in nectar.
You could not miss the enormous American Black Walnut tree at this time of year as it was impossible to walk near it without sliding on the walnuts. I noticed that the fruits were smaller than our walnuts and the outer coatings were more yellow.
In December 1999 France was hit by a catastrophic storm which caused immense damage and 288 trees were lost in the garden. This statue called “Instinct” was carved from a fallen green oak tree that had lived for two hundred years. A fitting tribute to the memory of the trees lost in the storm.
I was so pleased to see the garden planted with such thought for the pollinators but it also gave me pause for thought.
There were lots of little blue butterflies on the Erigeron.
I think they may have been Lang’s short tailed blue butterflies ( Leptotes pirithous) but I am not sure. What I do know is that I have masses of Erigeron that self seeds in every nook and cranny in my garden and although it looks pretty I have never seen a bee or butterfly on the flowers. I wonder if it is the sole butterfly that likes Erigeron?
I will make a point of returning in the spring as many of the bedding plants were perennial and it was too late in the season to see them all to their advantage.
Cognac’s park provides ample room for everyone to enjoy the usual space for playing, running and other activities so well provided for in parks.
Last year we undertook a “Special Mission” to count glow worms on a route of 500 metres in length near our house. I posted about the Special Mission in July last year. We were contacted again this year and were on the road at 11.00 p.m. last Saturday.
I was a bit disappointed with the photographs I took but it was important to try, as seemingly they are often able to tell which species they are, even from fuzzy photographs. We saw eight females but no males and no couples mating. Last year we had found fourteen on our second attempt and we were able to photograph a couple mating. This year has been very dry so perhaps less snails for the larval food?
The previous day Kourosh had noticed a glow worm under the apricot tree in the back garden when he had been pulling back the weeds. So we checked if it was still there.
She was still there on Saturday night and we also noticed a lot of little snails ( of the Clausilies family, I think).
This one was in the front garden and she was producing a strong light but still no male.
I posted this just to give everybody a poke if they had intended to notify http://www.asterella.eu/index.php? in France (or indeed to notify the various organisation with similar projects in other countries) and might have forgotten to check their garden.
We do not often go wandering around after midnight but with the street light extinguished it is beautiful to watch the stars in a cloudless summer sky.
When we got back to the house we found an Elephant Hawk-Moth (Deilephila elpenor) waiting for us on the kitchen window ledge so perhaps we should take after dark walks more frequently.
Recently we have had a few rainy days and the mornings were misty. I have, therefore, been a the little late feeding our visitors with whom we share our garden. I was not talking about the bees for once, but the birds. Before Amelia and I even finish our breakfast, they gather outside our dining room hoping that I would hurry up and feed them.
Eventually, I tell Amelia, I will go and feed the birds before I have my second cup of tea.
The blue tits are my favourite – but don’t tell that to the sparrows; they might get jealous! The blue tit waits in the olive tree for her chance.
Lately we have another little visitor, but that one can not fly. He also comes to take his share of the breakfast.
Amelia is always telling me off for leaving too much seed on the ground. But honestly, it is not my fault. You might not believe that these little birds eat five kilos (over 11 pounds!) of seeds each week. If I forget they literally tap on the window or sit outside the French windows begging!
I know that this is not a brilliant picture, but the wren – another of my favourite birds – has found a little hollow in the ash tree outside the study.
Forgive me for another poor quality photo, but recently each time we have entered the so-called atelier, Amelia and I have heard more noise coming from the barn owl house. So, my curiosity got better of me and I climbed the ladder and stuck my camera rapidly in the entrance and had a quick shot. There you are. Our owl visitor has brought his girl friend to share his studio flat.
I had been warned and I withdrew my hand rapidly just as the male flew out touching my sleeve. As at that time I was not sure what picture, if any, I had managed to take, I had another sneaky shot. The female was there giving me a cold shoulder and hopefully guarding her precious eggs.
So, the bees and the birds are all getting ready for the new season. Our plum tree started to blossom just as February commenced.
I know it is too early, but often I like to walk to the bottom of our garden, beyond the beehives, in the woodland walk along the river Seudre, and I imagine that the winter is over. The river bank under the canopy of trees reminds me of Percy Bysshe Shelley:
I dreamed that, as I wandered by the way,
Bare Winter suddenly was changed to Spring,
And gentle odours led my steps astray,
Mixed with a sound of waters murmuring
Along a shelving bank of turf, which lay
Under a copse, and hardly dared to fling
Its green arms round the bosom of the stream,
But kissed it and then fled, as thou mightest in dream.
I had hoped that as the summer was almost over, the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) would ease their pressure on our poor bees. Sadly that has not yet been the case. A couple of weeks before the end of October I noticed an enormous nest right in the middle of our nearest town, only 4 kilometres away.
It must have been a good half a metre in diameter. I could easy see large number of our number one enemies circling around the entrance.
We have placed several hornet traps at the bottom of the garden and each day they trap numerous hornets, but I am afraid that the battle at the hive entrance continues unrelentingly. But we soldier on and several times a day Amelia and I stand guard with the shrimping nets and at each occasion catch a couple of dozen of hornets. But we cannot stay there all day. You can see the attack, just before Amelia catches the hornet in a short video clip.
Despite the temperatures during the day reaching as high as 20 C, the nights are cool and the preparation for winter must be made. We decided to treat all our four hives with Apilife Var against the varroa mites. The recommendation has been to treat whilst the temperature is above 20 C. It was also suggested to close the metal plate under the hives so that the treatment becomes more effective. For about a week in early September, however, the temperature here exceeded 35 C and the bees were definitely upset and we had to open the plate under the hive to let them cool down. We also found that two of the hives were covering the pieces of treatment material with propolis. The other interesting discovery was that Violette is definitely a hygienic colony and the varroa drop before and after treatment was almost nil.
Being my first year, I find it amazing how the behaviour of each hive is totally different. For example, when we approach Sunflower we can hear that inside the hive they are much more noisy than the others. They also appear to be very hard worker bringing in pollen all day long.
Although we are told that the threat by the hornets will soon disappear and apart from the queens, the rest will die naturally, we need to prepare ourselves for the following year. We have looked at several anti-hornet devices and eventually I decided to test a new anti-hornet muzzle (see short video).
The muzzle fits neatly at the entrance of the hive.
The bees were a bit confused and as I had not yet tightened the screw at the top, they decided to choose the easy way by entering their home just behind the top board of the muzzle. I felt sorry for them as they were coming home loaded with pollen so I removed the muzzle.
I bought two muzzles and I have asked our beekeeper friend Michel to try one as well. So, we will have to wait a little longer before giving a verdict on this device. If successful, I will install one on each hive.
Opening the hives for inspection we also noticed that two of the hives still have a frame at one side that was not touched at all, although there appears to be an overall adequate quantity of honey reserve .
The next frame was well build up with honey.
We took all the unbuilt frames and replaced them with solid wooden partitions with additional insulation. Another action was based on something that we read Brother Adam used to do and that is placing a super under the brood box during the winter. The idea is that it provides a volume of still air, keeping the brood box warmer and also reducing the humidity from the ground.
One other problem that we discovered in Violette was that there were bald brood on one frame. The little pale heads look quite spooky.
I am told that there are different factors that can give rise to bald brood. It can be due to wax moth infestation but we have seen no sign of this. Violette has always had a very low varroa count so this maybe part of her hygienic behaviour to open larval cells containing varroa and destroy them. We treated her with the others but the drop was very low. The bees sense something strange and uncap the cell, but in most cases the larvae do emerge as an adult bee. We will need to keep a close eye on her, but I would appreciate any comment or suggestion.
You can see that whilst I repositioned all the four hives, Amelia was faithfully keeping guard with the shrimping net.
The good news is that there are still flowers in the garden and the bees have been busy bringing the pollen from the cosmos, the odd dahlia and the aster.
The story will continue, but meanwhile the bees keep us smiling when we watch their antics, like the bee below who did not want just to walk through the door.
August has been hot. The garden has survived. We have had two recent thunderstorms with rain to relieve the parched plants. I am creating a new border on the left hand side and had new plants and cuttings that had to be watered, I just had not the time to go round all the established plants but all have survived except for my fragrant Skimmia that I had raised as a cutting from Aberdeen. I did water it but it could not take this year’s temperatures and fierce sun.
What has done well for this hot, dry year is the perennial sunflower. They grow two metres tall providing a temporary hedge and provide lots of nectar and pollen for all takers.
My cutting of the wild Marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis) that grows near here has done well. Now I have the pleasure of watching the bees gather the pink pollen in my own garden.
It has been the rare days when it has been cool enough for me to go out for our usual walks. I have missed that this year.
The sight of brambles always spurs me on to make some jelly for the winter time.
So the brambles were collected mid August early in the morning before the sun got too high.
I like making jelly as I make the jelly the day after I strain it which splits the preparation time into more manageable segments. I’ve still got some juice that I have frozen awaiting the quieter (?) days in the winter.
As the apples started to fall off the trees I made chutney with them and red tomatoes.
I became gradually suspicious of the baby Caryopteris my sister gave me last autumn. It started off very small but in recent weeks has had an amazing growth and has produced very distinctive flowers. I shall forgive her as I would never have got such a good shot of the Swallowtail butterfly and we need something to temporarily screen the hives from the road. The buddleia will be transplanted in the autumn.
On the subject of butterflies – I thought I knew what these were when I saw the little tails on their wings. I thought they were short-tailed blues but in fact they are long-tailed blues (Lampides boeticus) – not that their tails look very long to me.
From another angle you can see that the male is blue on his upper side.
Belle de nuit (Mirabilis jalapa) is not one of my favourite flowers but it always pops up somewhere at this time of the year.
This will probably be due to furtive seed sowing by my husband who does like them, especially the yellow ones. The perfume is very distinctive. Wikipedia says it is similar to tobacco flowers, which I disagree with. It reminds me of something I cannot place, with a “cheap perfume” odour. Has anyone any other descriptions of its perfume?
I sympathised with our little tree frog who escaped out of the heat into a hole in the wall of the house. I have never seen him there before.
But the August highlight was when littlest grandchild came for a visit.
Yesterday I was contacted by the Observatoire des Vers Luisants that is the Observatory of glow worms. I was asked if I would be willing to repeat my “Special Mission” looking for glow worms on the same route any day from yesterday until the weekend. I happily agreed as I find glow worm searching fun.
This time we found 14! Much more fun than the last negative survey we had made.
We had been asked to take photographs if possible. That is not so easy! My built in flash is all I have got and so Macro shots have too tight a field of focus.
Kourosh resorted to his old Canon PowerShot SX210IS which leaves a small black mark on the photos (cut out here). He managed to capture the winged male edging up the ivy leaf towards the female.
And then mating.
We even found three glowing away in our front garden – but they did not count. I wonder if it was the 15 mm. of rain that fell during thunderstorms Sunday night/ Monday morning? Everything feels better now.
Any advice on taking photographs of glow worms would be appreciated.