a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Summer flowering trees

This is our Heptacodium. I love it. So why is it not in a prime position in the garden? Unfortunately, it goes down to poor planning. When we first planted it there was more light – not a lot, but more.

Now it is so hemmed in that I had difficulty getting a photograph that did it justice. Kourosh in the end obliged by using his phone!

We have another Heptacodium quite nearby just a bit off to the left of the other one. It too is suffering from the same problem of shade from the large Ash trees and now competition from the ever growing bushes of Hybiscus syriacus. I grew these plants, also known as Rose of Sharon, from seed when I first started the garden and never expected them to reach over two metres even with their annual pruning.

The Heptacodium does deserve a good position in a garden. The flowers are delicately perfumed and attract all manner of pollinators.

Having grown the Hibiscus syriacus from seed, I have a mixed bag of colours, ranging from white to various pinks and blues. I have never succeeded with cuttings and although they seed easily, I would recommend buying the plant already rooted if you wanted a specific colour.

Despite the abundant pollen they are not as attractive as one might imagine to pollinators. The bumble bees do like them and perhaps at this moment the pollinators are spoiled for choice in the garden.

I have seen the Rose of Sharon grown as a small tree around here and I think it is an excellent choice and is very easy to shape through pruning in the autumn.

The Lagerstroemia indica can be seen clearly and has been given a prime position in the front garden, largely as it was a present from friends. It has just started flowering.

There is no doubt about the flowers attraction to the pollinators so gives us plenty to watch over coffee on the patio.

In France, around here, most people call this tree Lagerstroemia although it has a common name “Lilas des Indes” or the Lilac of the Indes. I have also seen it written in English as Crape myrtle. Now I would read the first word in the same way as I would “crap”, which does not seem too flattering to me. It reminds me of the last post of Garden in a city where he bemoans the common name of “Hoary Vervain”.

In one corner of the vegetable garden we have grown Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) we like to grow this as it is a natural insecticide if it is cut and dried.

We are at last going through a warm sunny period so it is a good time to dry out the plants. When you cut the stems there is a strong medicinal smell but I do not find it unpleasant.

Despite the plant supposedly having insecticidal properties, the bees and other pollinators are attracted to the flowers.

“He’s behind you!”

Pollinators can be attracted to strange places. Kourosh managed to snap the above photograph from our patio whilst I was stalking the bees with my camera in our front garden.


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Open doors

We have specially planted our garden to welcome any creatures to share our space.

We put water out for the birds and bees.

We are entranced with the variety of wildlife that descend on the flowers.

…even though I have a preference for the bees.

However, yesterday morning while we were having breakfast with the doors open – a border collie bounced into the room. I immediately got up and shut the doors, expecting the owner to follow straight after. However, no one came.

She was not in the slightest disturbed to stay with us and eventually Kourosh went in search of the owner in the neighbouring hamlets and talked to as many of the nearby “doggy” people he could find. After that it was the Mairie and the gendarmerie without result.

By this time we were firm friends and she had completely trained us to give her plenty of cuddles. However, delightful as she was, in the afternoon we took her to the local vet who read her tag and was surprised that she had an appointment for a vaccination in one hour’s time!

So her owner was telephoned and turned up to claim her. Her owner lives in a hamlet two kilometres away. We discovered our little collie was called Stella.

It was rather difficult parting with her and I wonder if she will ever visit us again.


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July finishes

As July finishes the weather forecast predicts clouds, rain and lower than usual temperatures for the beginning of August.

This is not our usual August weather but no one is surprised as “normal” becomes a word to put behind you and take each day as it comes.

The baby birds in the garden at the moment keep us amused.

They seem to have adolescent bad hair days.

The young blackbird will soon change and become an elegant bird with sleek black feathers but the feathers on the head have stayed brown and mottled.

There are another two occupants of the front garden that have lived with us for six years now but never made it into the blog.

These are our two tortoises, Pegah in the front and Posht behind him. They were born in a friend’s garden in the nearby town of Saintes. Originally from North Africa their forebears were brought over as pets for children long since become adults.

There are always plenty of tasty green leaves to tempt the tortoises. They nibble and go and eat a wide variety of plants. I have noticed my sedum leaves being consumed.

In the spring the poppies are in high demand.

It is not only leaves that they eat but the flowers too. Given the opioids in all parts of the poppy, I imagine that they pass a very happy, contented springtime in the garden.

In the summer we cannot help but give them the odd treat of banana or watermelon but I have read that they should not be given an excess of fruit so I limit our treats to tomatoes.

I am not sure quite how the nutritional requirements are derived because they seem to have similar habits to goats and will browse on anything that takes their fancy. I feel they would eat any fallen ripe fruit that might come their way.

In fact, although these tortoises are reputed to be completely vegetarian, they very happily eat snails – shells and all!

Perhaps it is because these are French tortoises.


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The summer garden

We don’t have a big vegetable garden. I like to have plenty of tomatoes for eating and also for freezing as sauce. This year they are very behind. It is the same tomatoes that I have been growing for some years but they are about a month behind their usual growth but it is the same for everybody else nearby. Instead, we have plenty of lettuce this year – just one cucumber plant grown from seed but you can’t win them all.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have sown parsley without success, so far (any hints gratefully received). I have planted my leeks for the winter as I am already thinking of winter soups.

It looks as if we are going to have at least one butternut.

I also grew some Uchiki Kuri plants from seed as I thought they were the same as the French Potimarron. I was also in search of the fragrant pumpkin flowers I raised in the garden one year. So far, I have not noticed any perfume from these flowers but it is very fleeting and maybe I was not around at a propitious time. I’ll keep sniffing them as the season advances.

Kourosh has always fancied a climbing grape vine. A friend brought us this vine and assured us it was a type that would climb. It looks as if we may get our first grapes from it this year.

The vegetable garden is hard work. I would rather be watching the Megachile bees building their nests in the bee house. These are leaf cutter bees and they seal off each cache of egg and pollen with either a piece of leaf or chewed bits of leaf. You may see some suspicious circles on your plant leaves as if someone has been at them with a little hole punch. I hope you don’t grudge them these little bits of leaf as it does not harm the plant.

Actually, it is tough to have favourites as I love finding the Tetralonia bees still asleep in the summer mornings tucked inside the flower of a Hollyhock.


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Green grows the grass

I had to take this photograph from upstairs to show the grass still green in the middle of July. Usually this space is more brown than green at this time of year, certainly last year we had had no rain for a long time and the grass was brown. This year the grass has been so wet that it could not be cut.

So many plants had made their home in the grass. The wild mint and Achillea make it perfumed to walk on but it has all been cut now to let me move in the garden without wearing wellington boots. The plants are doing well outside in the wild spaces and the side of the roads.

The bees are spoiled by the abundance of clover and other flowers that are blooming just now. The rain has stopped here and we are promised sunshine. At the moment the clouds are still plentiful but they are white ones and they let the blue sky through.

With the grass cut and fair weather in sight it is time to get to work in the garden again. That often means weeding and of course the weeds have been growing too.

I’ll be looking for places for some of the new plants that I have started off in patio pots. I have only the one colour of Fuschia in the garden and although it has done very well and we have split and replanted it throughout the garden, I am hoping this “Blue Sarah” Fuschia will prove as hardy.

The Carpenter bee has already given it her seal of approval even if she is “stealing” the nectar by boring into the source rather than bothering to go in by the conventional entrance. The hole she has opened will stay and be used by smaller, short-tongued bees, like some of the bumbles and honey bees, to give them easy access to the nectar.


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Roses and peonies

The roses are making their presence felt in the garden. This is the first rose Kourosh planted, Pierre de Ronsard.

It was a complete unknown to us as unfledged gardeners but it is a very popular rose. People here often think it is an old variety because it is named after the poet Pierred de Ronsard who lived four hundred years ago and wrote the famous poem “Mignonne, allons voir si la rose”. He looks at the fragility of the rose and encourages life to be taken while it can and be enjoyed – advice that holds good today.

In fact, this rose was created by the rose grower, Louisette Meilland in the 1980’s.

Phyllis Bede was created earlier by the rose grower Bede in 1923.

Despite the small size of the flowers, this rose charms her way into the hearts of her admirers.

The rose that is in its glory now is flowering well in a shady place under trees and also on a hedge in full sun. It is the oldest hybrid of all three previous roses, being created in 1909 by the German rose grower Schmidt. Veilchenblau means blue violet in German which is a clearly descriptive name.

The rose perfumes its surroundings.

It attracts the bees to gather its pollen so I can enjoy the perfume as I take my photographs.

This rose has no name but flowers continuously from now until the winter. It has a just perceptable fragrance but it the best rose to cut and has a beautiful shape of petals.

Kourosh has taken a cutting of this rose just in case of disasters.

If the rose flowers do not have a long life the peonies have an even shorter spell of glory. Mme Emile Debatene is an elegant, feminine peony.

My red peonies have no name and owe their existance to a moment of weakness in our local supermarket. I have no idea of the name but she is a blowsy, hot bloom that needs an exotic name.

I was glad to note that the peonies share their pollen with the bees too. This bumble bee had fallen asleep on the job and I took the photograph as she looked so cute.

Her nap was shortly disturbed by a curious hoverfly who could not be satisfied by one of the other peonies that were free.

Which all goes to show that even in the countryside, inside a peony flower – you are not free from unwanted disturbance.


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A rare event

We were sitting outside having lunch yesterday when we noticed beautiful colours in the sky above our olive tree.

We knocked on the door of our neighbours opposite and brought them outside to see the sky. I quickly took a photograph of the sky above our neighbour Annie’s house for her.

Kourosh took photographs on his phone too and sent them to Meteo France. Surprisingly, they sent us a beautiful reply explaining the phenomena. The general term is a  photométéore, which would include rainbows (I rather like this word, even if it is French and not English.) The phenomenon is rather rare and is associated with light being reflected by particles (water?) suspended on the surface of the clouds. So it is an iridescent cloud or irisation.

It was very beautiful and reminded me of watching the Northern Lights in Aberdeen.

Back in the garden I made a discovery that the clump of Oxalis, that I had planted years ago from some bulbs given free with a gardening magazine, was extremely attractive to the honeybees. I had never cared for it and it survived by finding a secluded spot here and there in the garden where it escaped being culled.

It is a strange flower and it will close in the middle of the day if there is not enough sunshine. It looks as if it is hiding (from me?) when it does that. When I looked closely the stamens held plenty of lovely yellow pollen.

Our wildlife pond continues to fascinate us. There are thousand of tadpoles now.

It is a great excuse to take a break and go and watch the tadpoles. Very relaxing. Have a look at this video and see what I mean.


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Mid April in the garden

Blue skies and sunny days often bring overnight frosts and after the high temperatures we had two weeks ago most of the plants have suffered from frost damage. The leaves hang, a bit droopy and sad but they will recover.

We too are passing our second April in confinement, not so strict this time, we can go 10 kilometres from the house which is more then the one kilometer distance for one hour of exercise that we endured last year. Like the plants we will survive.

Nature continues and we have baby blackbirds in the garden. They do not fly away when you approach but this careless attitude will only last a few days and we do not have cats.

We have more and more Honesty (Lunaria annua) self-seeding over the garden. I love the colour and it seems to be able to find better places to grow than I would have imagined. It is perfect to attract all the pollinators.

The furry bee flies look cute but are parasites of solitary bees so I cannot help feeling a twinge of antipathy towards them.

This little bee had a slightly metallic sheen to it and it could be a Lasioglossom (perhaps morio)

Butterflies also take advantage of the Honesty and the orange-tip butterfly is especially photogenic.

I checked ot out onthe Butterfly Conservation web site. Guess what? It lays its eggs on Honesty in gardens. I have never noticed any caterpillars on them so the site must be correct that it prefers some of the wild flowers that are around just now. I’ll try and remember to keep my eye open for signs of caterpillars.

The last of the tulips are fully open now in my layered planter. So providing interest from the middle of February until late April is a worthwhile effort.

The last white tulips (Mount Tacoma) looked better on their own than while the pale pink (Candy Prince) were open. The pink was definitely a candy pink and looked pallid beside the pure white tulips.

Live and learn!


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Definitely spring

The waters have receded to a more normal spring level and the daffodils are out. These are where we retire our daffodils when they get too crowded in other parts of the garden. I was not sure the bulbs would survive the dry, hot summer but they do and get enough rain and light in the spring to proliferate.

I love seeing the hazel flower – tiny as they are. There are two on the stem underneath the catkin.

I see the white-tailed bumble bee queens during the winter but it has to be spring before I see the queen Carder bumblebees. They love the dead red-nettle and there is plenty of it in the garden just now.

The biggest spring event for us is when the old plum tree flowers. It is a festival of perfume, buzzing and pollinators.

Such an opportunity for photographs.

Bees and plum blossom are so photogenic.

I could go on like this for some time, but I won’t.

I did say pollinators in the plum tree so I must insert my token butterfly. Probably a tortoiseshell.

I am not going closer than a tortoiseshell. I don’t think it was a small tortoiseshell but please feel free to leave a comment if you know what it is. Before anyone asks – I do not know what colour its legs were, I was lucky to get the picture I did.

Being a frugal type I decided to plant the hyacinth bulbs I had inside for their perfume, after the flowers had finished. My trusty garden tool is used for everything and I swing it around with wild abandon.

I was chilled to realise, when digging the hole, that I had nearly decapitated a hiberating toad. I think it must have been the root that saved him. I had to pick him up to make sure he still had four legs.

He sat quietly to the side while I redug a hollow under the root. He accepted his repositioning calmly and looked less upset than I was.

So all is well in the garden with the Carpenter bees swooping noisily onto the heather.

All the bees love the Hellebore and there are even more than ever this year.

But the biggest news today was that the Osmia cornuta males are emerging from the bee houses. I do love to watch them and if you would like to share you can see more of my photos at Bees in a French Garden.


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My Tetradium daniellii or Bee-Bee tree

Tetradium daniellii is such a mouthful of a name for a tree. Especially as this tree can be known as Evodia or “Arbre à miel” or “Arbre aux abeilles”. I first heard it mentioned by bee keepers in France who talked in reverential  tones about trees they had seen, but it appeared rare here, and I had never seen one.

I decided to buy one but this proved difficult to source here until I found one listed on the online site Planfor. Here, I made a mistake with my button finger and ended up with an 11 cm. plant! It was duly planted in November of 2014. I did source another larger tree in a pot from another nursery but that tree did not survive, so I had little hope for the 11 cm. stick.

I was wrong to be pessamistic. After a slowish start the tree grew rapidly but I had no idea of how long the tree would take to produce the first flowers. In July of 2018 we had the first flowers from the Bee-Bee tree.

What impressed me most was that the honeybees were attracted to the flowers almost before they opened and worked at the flowers to gain access to the nectar.

I think you can almost see the bee smiling.

The little flowers contain large amounts of nectar and also provide a yellow pollen. It is impressive to see the number of bees of all sorts that the tree attracts.

So this year in January 2020 we bought another Tetradium darlienii from the same online nursery, but with more confidence we invested in a larger potted plant.

We were very excited to see it push forth its new shoots at the end of January. Such pretty new leaves too!

So this year we have had two surprises. Firstly, it flowered in the summer time and secondly the flowers produced seeds!

The seed pods are an attractive pink colour.

As the seeds ripen the pods open to reveal the black seeds. These are reputed to be eaten by the birds but I quickly gathered mine. I will be interested to see if I can germinate them in the springtime.

So why has my first Tertradium not produced any seeds?

Some sources say that the Tetradium daniellii is dioecious – that is that you get male and female flowers on the same plant. That would surely mean that I should have already had seeds on my older tree.

Other sources say that the tree is monoecious – that is individuals either produce male or female flowers.

That would mean that my first tree produces only male flowers and my new tree produces only female flowers.

However, yet other sources say that individuals can be monoecious or dioeceious. So my first tree could be male and my second produce both male and female flowers.

Luckily the bees do not care as both male and female flowers produce the nectar and pollen that they seek.