a french garden


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Saints de Glace

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.

Frozen vinesThe 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.

Frozen lagerstoemia

Our hydrangea is well protected against a stone wall, but some of its leaves are badly damaged.

Frozen hydrangea

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.

Kourosh


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Cognac Jardin Public revisited

water-jets

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).

bridge-moulded-logs

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.

grotto-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.

grotto-waterfall

I love the mystery of grottos and the sound of running water.

grotto

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?

folly

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.

arbotus-unedo-butterfly

I had seen all of the park before but what I noticed this time was the number of plants providing nectar for pollinators.

arbutus-unedo

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.

johnsons-blue

This honeybee is on a Johnson’s blue geranium and was spoiled for choice on the bee friendly flowers in the borders.

lonicera-maachii

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.

sophora-japonica

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.

black-walnuts

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.

statue

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.

salvia

I was so pleased to see the garden planted with such thought for the pollinators but it also gave me pause for thought.

topside

There were lots of little blue butterflies on the Erigeron.

img_7192

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?

park-activities

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.


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Special Mission – Year Two

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.

glow worm

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?

Sous apricotier

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.

Glow worm with snails

She was still there on Saturday night and we also noticed a lot of little snails ( of the Clausilies family, I think).

Un autre dans le jardin clignotant

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.

Deilephila elpenor.Elephant Hawk Moth

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.

 


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Is It Spring yet?

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.

sparrows waiting for breakfast

Eventually, I tell Amelia, I will go and feed the birds before I have my second cup of tea.

Sparrows

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.

Blue tit in the olive tree

Lately we have another little visitor, but that one can not fly.  He also comes to take his share of the breakfast.

little mouse

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.

Wren

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.

pair of Barn owls in the barn

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.

Barn owl (female)

So, the bees and the birds are all getting ready for the new season.  Our plum tree started to blossom just as February commenced.

Plum tree in blossom

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.

– Kourosh

 


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The story of noisy bees, bald brood and continuing hornets attack

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.

Asiatique Hornets nest

Asian Hornets’ nest

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.

Asiatique Hornets

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.

Anti- hornet muzzle at the entrance of bee hive

Anti- hornet muzzle at the entrance of bee 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.

IMG_0146

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 .

Empty frame

Empty frame

The next frame was well build up with honey.

Frames with the build up of honey

Frames with the build up of 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.

Poppy repositioned on super

Poppy repositioned on super

One other problem that we discovered in Violette was that there were bald brood on one frame.  The little pale heads look quite spooky.

Bald Brood

Bald Brood

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.

Repositioned bee hives with an empty super underneath the brood box

Repositioned bee hives with an empty super underneath the brood box

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.

Bees on aster

Bees on 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.

Trick bee

Trick bee

  • Kourosh

 

 


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August draws to a close

Garden

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.

Perennial sunflower

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.

Marshmallow

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.

A walk

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.

Brambles

The sight of brambles always spurs me on to make some jelly for the winter time.

Brambles and ivy

So the brambles were collected mid August early in the morning before the sun got too high.

Bramble jelly

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.

Chutney

As the apples started to fall off the trees I made chutney with them and red tomatoes.

Swallowtail Papillo machaon

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.

Lampides boeticus

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.

Long tail blue

From another angle you can see that the male is blue on his upper side.

Belle de Nuit

Belle de nuit (Mirabilis jalapa) is not one of my favourite flowers but it always pops up somewhere at this time of the year.

Yellow Belle de Nuit Mirabilis jalapa

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?

Frog in a hole

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.

Under tree

But the August highlight was when littlest grandchild came for a visit.

Apple grab

So many apples to eat!

 


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Glow worm update

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.

glow worm on grass

This time we found 14!  Much more fun than the last negative survey we had made.

Close up glow worm

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.

Male approaches female

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.

Glow worms Mating

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.