a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Persimmon and Saffron

The Persimmon tree, at the front right of the photograph, is still hiding its fruits well.

You have to get right underneath it to realise that there are already ripe fruits on the tree. Of course, the birds found out first.

We did not realise how much fruit there was until one of the branches broke. We will keep the fruit indoors and hope that it ripens. Persimmons will ripen indoors and once they have fully swollen we will be able to bring them in. They are delicious to eat just as they are or to make them into a dessert with fresh yoghurt.

The first saffron bulbs have flowered although most of the bulbs have just broken the surface of the ground. From now on I start my daily collection of the pistils for air drying inside the house.

I had this planter full of basil and lemon balm but decided to change it to spring bulbs. I am going to see if I can grow different bulbs at different depths. So I started with hyacinths and tulips and then added crocus and muscari. I have never tried this before so we shall see what happens in the springtime.

To empty the container we had to tip it right over onto the grass and much to our surprise we found four marbled newts (Tritorus marmoratus) and what I think looks like a little toad. The newts are such gentle creatures and it was easy to displace them and suggest they found a better place to hibernate.

Autumn is being kind to us here and we have sunshine after the rain. The cosmos have almost finished flowering and I am itching to remove them to tidy up the garden. I have left the straggling plants as the seeds are appreciated by the goldfinches and warblers. I prefer to see the birds than to have a tidy garden.


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Life and death in the Asters

There are lots of asters in groups in the garden just now.

The queen bumble bees are the most amusing to watch. They are big and graceless. Speed a low priority attribute.

The Small Copper butterflies have enough time to play with such a bounty of available nectar.

It’s not just bees and butterflies that come to the asters, lots of different flies, like this hover fly, are attracted to them.

Of course, the honey bees don’t miss out either.

I’ve noticed the lizards keep a beady eye on the proceedings. There are plenty of wall lizards in the garden that must appreciate the little flies.

I was just about to take a photograph of the European hornet when a honeybee that I had not noticed suddenly disappeared.

After the sudden strike the hornet dropped lower into the asters and with commendable care and precision, started to dismember and package the prize. I was surprised at how rapidly the honeybee succombed to the hornets sting. There was no struggle as the bee hung limply in the hornets grip, pollen still attached to her hind legs. Once the bee was firmly installed in the hornet’s powerful mandibles, the hornet took off rapidly and easily. A redoubtable hunting machine.

So although the asters are a constant source of pleasure and amusement for me, the many visitors risk their lives for the nectar.

My French marigolds are till providing colour and nectar for the bees. I mentioned that I have read that they are edible.

I did not exactly risk my life to try one but I felt I really should. I was pleasantly surprised as (although a bit crunchy) they had a fresh herby flavour. I even convinced Kourosh to try one (it was easier than I had anticipated ;)). He said they had a similar flavour to fresh dill with a peppery plus.

It was after I ate the first one, which I had only given a brief flush under the water tap, that I started to think how much grit and insect life might be concealed tightly inside the flower head. They were pretty crunchy, after all, and grew quite close to the earth.

I decided to give them a quick flush and then soak them inverted in clear water.

Thankfully, no sediment or bodies dropped to the bottom.

I would recommend a thorough clean – just to be sure.


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Rain at last!

The rain has come too late to have much effect on the summer vegetables but in the end the tomatoes yielded enough fruit for our needs for sauce and late salads.  The butternut have yielded seventeen – not all very big but an improvement on the raised beds of last year.

At least now I feel confident enough to put in some brussel sprout plants.

Golden leaves carpet underneath the Liquidamber.  The leaves are golden as the Liquidamber has not changed colour yet and these are dry leaves it has cast off in an effort to survive the lack of water.

The Ginkco is turning yellow and the parched leaves give the garden a true autumnal feel.

In the middle of the photograph is the struggling hydrangea “Saville Garden” that I planted in 2014.  I really must find a better place for it.  there is just not enough moisture for it in this spot and even too much shade for a hydrangea.

The Nerine Bowdenii fair better as they have bulbes that allow them to survive through the dry months.

I’m glad they provide nectar for the bumble bees, too.

I’m not sure where this bumble bee has been to get so covered with pollen, I think he needs to stop and have a good groom.

The Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) is still coming to the asters.  I misidentified this last week as a blue.  In fact it is a native of Southern Africa but has been introduced with Pelargoniums for gardens.  Pelargoniums are hugely popular in France to be used in pots outside houses in France.  They do not survive the winter and so have to be re-bought the following year.  Good business for the suppliers but I personally prefer the perennial geraniums which are very easy to grow in pots or the soil and can be divided and propagated year after year.

And also, (I am sure you have guessed,) the bees and pollinators can use the perennial geranium flowers but not the pelargoniums.

A bee that I have seen often on the asters is Epeolus fallax.  It is a cuckoo bee; like the cuckoo bird it does not have its own nest but lays its eggs in the nest of other bees.  The cuckoo bees are usually parasites of a limited number of species and not just any bees in general.  The Epeolus are cleptoparasites of Colletes bees and I have found them at nesting sites of Ivy bees (https://beesinafrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/la-bourgade-revisited/).

However, the Ivy flowers are not open yet and the Ivy bees will not be building their nests yet.  So perhaps they are targeting another Colletes bee at the moment.

I saw this tiny bee sitting on the leaf of our potted lemon tree.  You can get an idea of how tiny it is as the photograph has made the leaf’s stomata visible.  I was not absolutely sure it was a bee but the photograph allowed me to see the three simple eyes placed in a triangular pattern on the top of the bee’s head.  It looks much more like a bee now, magnified larger than life-size.

The French marigolds (Tagetes patula) that I planted as companion plants in the vegetable garden are doing well now and are popular with the honey bees.  In France they are called “Oeillets d’Inde” which roughly translated means Indian carnations!  If you ignore the orange colour they do ressemble carnations.

I like to use flowers, like borage, on salads and cakes but I did not realise that French marigolds are edible too.  their petals can be used to colour desserts like fruit salad and have been given the name of saffron of the poor.  I have to look into this!

Temperatures have dropped considerably these past few days and it is hard to imagine that we were watching the sun set on the beach at Mescher-sur-Gironde a week ago.  The beach is only a half hour drive from the house and we were able to enjoy an evening swim with temperatures of 34 degrees as the sun was setting.

I do not think that will be repeated until next year.


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The last of the lavender

The lavender is just about finished in the garden now but this carder bumble bee seems determined to extract the last drops of remaining nectar.  There are several clumps of lavender in the garden and the lavender that was in full sun is well and truly grilled.  These clumps were in partial shade and flowered later.

The Russian sage is likewise pushing out the last flowers.

The Verbena bonariensis is losing the round shapes of the flower heads as the last flowers push forth.  Just as well for the short tailed blue butterfly (Everes alcetas), (actually  Geranium Bronze [Cacyreus marshalli] see Dromfit comment below)who is still around for the moment and is pleased to pose for photographs.

The sedum which I always think of as a butterfly trap has been disappointing.  I have not found it covered in butterflies as I had hoped, in fact I have found this year generally a poor year for butterflies in the garden.

However, just as I was mulling this thought over, a Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) came to my dahlia – something I have never seen before.  I think the butterflies just like to keep me guessing.

My fuschia have been coping very well with the heat and lack of rain.

On looking closer, though, you can see how damaged the inside petals are.  Any ideas what causes that?

There are always lots of bumble bees visiting the fuschia and their front legs grip tightly onto the petals so that they can get to the good stuff.  From the number of marks on the petals it looks like the fuschia provides generously for the bumble bees.

I don’t grow a lot of clematis but this “Helios” has always been a favourite of mine.  It grows on a north facing wall and is not abundant.  I would really like to find a better place to grow it as it cannot be seen to advantage – a project for next year.

My Leycestria has survived the heat well and is now producing its pretty deep red/black berries.  They can be eaten and have a caramel flavour.  Unfortunately, they often squash between your fingers as you pick them so they are not a good berry to harvest for enjoying later.  In France the common name is “Arbre aux faisans” or pheasant tree.  The perfume of the fruits are reputed to attract pheasants who are apparently extremely partial to these berries.  We have not been overrun by pheasants yet and none of the local birds seem interested in the berries and they are left to dry up on the plant.  I don’t know why.

It is the season to say goodbye to a lot of the bees.  I do not usually see the wool carder bees (Anthidium manicatum) now.

It is likely to be the last time I see this Megachile (probably centuncularis) if the predicted storms and rains arrive and keep the weather cool and wet.

It made me realise how long our carpenter bees keep us company as I don’t think a week of rain will keep them away.

And lastly, our first queen bumble bee has arrived in the garden and taken possession of the caryopteris bush.  She is a white tailed bumble bee and a considerable size with a bumbly comportment fit for a queen of her dimensions.  She has fallen asleep on the bush some nights but I am sure the light shower of rain this afternoon will alert her to find a dry spot under some leaves to start her hibernation.  We will not have seen the last of her this autumn and she will be back visiting the flowers on the better autumn days.


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Comet Neowise – Take 2

Last night I could not resist trying for an improved photograph of the comet Neowise.

I felt this would be a “historic” photograph for the garden, so the camera is pointing straight down the middle of the back garden.  I ramped up the ISO to 6,400, opened the lens to f4 and held the shutter open for 17 seconds.  This time gave me the most pleasing photo.

Strangely, the comet was more difficult to see with the naked eye last night although I think the photograph is better.

It is just as well we don’t have comets too frequently because I do not think I could cope with going to bed at 1 a.m. on a regular basis.


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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.


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Judas Tree

At this time of year there is often one special plant in the garden.  At the moment it is our Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum).

They can grow as multi-stemmed plants and we received ours as an off-shoot from a friend.  In fact, he gave us two and we now have three from one we split ourselves.

These trees can grow up to 10 metres tall and they do very well in our area.  I have seen beautiful examples of huge old trees.

The flowers arrive before the leaves and are a special pink colour.

The flowers are the same shape as sweet peas or the flowers of green pea plants.

The flowers attract all the pollinators but especially the Carpenter bees that have the muscle and force to pierce the flower head to reach the nectar.

The nectar in the flower must be really good as the honey bees go to a lot of trouble to push open the lower petals of the flower.

She really has to keep up the pressure and take her “shoulder” to it before she can get the flower to open.

You can see her licking her tongue here, obviously worth the effort.

Now the trees are starting open their leaves while keeping their flowers.  The fresh leaves are shiny and very attractive.

Definitely a star of the April garden!


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Confinement continues in the garden

The Wisteria is starting to flower in the garden.  A very special time as the perfume greets you whenever you step outside.

(We have Wisteria in the front garden,too.)

We are going into our fourth week in confinement.  President Macron made his announcement and explained the measures to be taken on Monday night, 16 March.  We had realised France would follow Italy’s advice and we had started our voluntary confinement the previous weekend.  In keeping with the spirit of the confinement we have only made rare trips to the supermarket for provisions during this period.

We content ourselves in the garden.  The Victoria plum tree is in flower, or it was sold as a Victoria plum but the plums are not like the U.K. Victorias.

The large plum tree has already set a considerable amount of fruit.  The mild weather was favourable both for the flowering and fruit setting time.

I saw this white butterfly on some Honesty.  I thought at first a Cabbage White but seemingly the veined wings point to a Green-Veined White, even the veins are not green.

It makes a pleasing contrast with the Honesty for a photograph.

I was pleased to see clumps of this dark-leaved variety appearing, I received the seeds from a reader.  They suite the garden well and I let them self-seed so I will never be without them now.

This fumitory has found a corner in the garden and will also do a bit of self-seeding.  I hope I do not regret removing it because it looks so pretty.

The Bluebells have started flowering at the bottom of the garden, taking over from the Muscari which is just starting to set seed.  The Stitchwort is very welcome as a wild flower that blends in well with my intentional plantings.

The bee fly is not so welcomed by me.  It is on Thyme here and can forage for nectar in a large variety of flowers as it has a long proboscis and a perfect landing technique.

These little furry flies from the Bombylius are parasites of solitary bees and as I have mining bees in different parts of the garden, I know they will be on the look out for the bees nests to  lay their eggs.

The garden is getting more attention than it ever has and we are having more coffee breaks than usual.

It never leaves our minds, though, of the people who are flat-out caring for others at the risk of their lives.  We salute them and support them by adhering to the rules set out to protect all of us.


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Isolation in the garden

Back potager

The vegetable garden remains untouched although it is not from want of time as we are now in our third week of isolation.

Back plum tree-001

Despite the unprecedented events in the outside world the large plum tree fills its branches with leaves to provide shade.  This is a favourite spot for outdoor eating, but when will be able to eat again under its leaves with friends and family?

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We are never the less so grateful for the warm weather and sunshine that allows us to watch as the tulips take over from the daffodil bulbs.  It is an unsettling feeling as I think of so many people obliged to stay in appartements or who find themselves alone.

Cerinthe (1)

I stalk my bees and find the Cerinthe are the noisiest flowers at the moment.  They are a great place to see the Anthophora, like the one above.

Cerinthe (3)

The Cerinthe are a great favourite with all the queen bumble bees at the moment.

Cerinthe (5)

I love these teddy bear shaped bees and remember searching in vain to discover what sort of grey bumble bee it was, and being so puzzled to discover that bumble bees did not come in grey.

Red dead nettle

Outside in the wild, Anthophora (and bumble bees) love red dead nettle, so it is a good time to see them at the moment.

Borage (2)

Only the Borage can attract similar numbers of bees just now.

Broad beans (2)

Our broad beans are doing very well this year.  I plant the seed in the autumn and often the young plants get hit by winter frosts but this year was the first year that we have had no sub-zero frosts in the garden.

Broad beans (3)

The broad bean flowers are a magnet for pollinators.  The Carpenters, like the one above, are particularly fond of them but all the bees come for nectar.  The beans are setting but the ground is getting dry as we have had no rain for some time.

Back walk

This has been our wettest winter and early spring.  The river at the bottom of the garden is still full of water.  Our daffodils put on a good show but it was too wet to enjoy them when they were at their best.

Hellebore (1)

Some plants seem more value than others.  Our Hellebore are still blooming in the shadier spots, they first started flowering at the beginning of February.

Hellebore (3)

When the flowers start to produce seed, the petals lose their colour but I still find them attractive with the softer hues.

Lily beetle (2)

I made an unpleasant discovery in the garden.  A lily has been infected by the lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii).  The only way to get rid of them is to squash them until they pop.  I recommend using some kitchen towel to perform the dirty deed.  It is best to surround the plant with a white paper kitchen towel because if you drop one, it will lie on its back and you will never find it on the ground.  I did this on three consecutive mornings and I have got rid of this infestation but I am sure others will follow and I am keeping my eyes on them for the moment.

Coronilla (4)

The Coronilla is another worthwhile shrub that is still flowering and providing nectar for the bees.

Coronilla (7)

Even very little ones.

Eleagnus umbellata (2)

In February 2017 we bought 10 Eleagnus umbellata for 1.71 euro each from the Pepiniere Bauchery online.  We planted 7 and gave 3 to friends and this year we are reaping the rewards.  They are pretty, small trees which survived well the drought of last year to flower profusely with these attractive white flowers, to the delight of the bees.

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Not all our trees have survived.  One of our two quince trees is dead and a young self sown plum tree that we had transplanted the previous autumn.

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After the intense heat and drought of last summer, I decided to grow more succulents in the pots and they have survived well through the winter.

Osmia cornuta (3)

Our Osmia cornuta continue their nest building oblivious to the trials outside in the human world.

Keep cool

We just follow the example of our little tree frogs and stay peaceful in the calm of the garden.

 

 


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Spring in February

For the moment the garden has decided it is opting for full on spring.

We have not really had a winter yet.  The borage decided to keep on flowering this year.  The bees did not complain.

The colour is supplied by the Camelias and everywhere the Mimosa trees are in full bloom.  That is everywhere but in my garden as I do not have the patience to deal with all the shoots they push up around their trunks.  The bees just have to go a bit further to find them in neighbours gardens.

Next door’s sheep have been producing a good crop this year, mostly twins.

My first Osmia cornuta arrived on the twelfth of February.

By the next morning lots of male Osmia were already checking out the holes in the bee holes hoping to find a female.  They will have to wait some time yet.  In the meantime they rest in the holes when they are not hungry or it is cold.

How many bees can you see in the photograph above?

I can see five.  Four in/on the log and one (rather blurred) sitting on the wall to the right of the bee house.

It is a delight at the moment watching the bees enjoy all the spring flowers.

This year I am enjoying finding the different hybrids of my self-seeded hellebore.

I still love my original dark purple…

but I like the variety of this delicate small petal variation.

The big pussy willow at the bottom of the garden is just starting to display pollen and as the plum tree nearer the house is starting to finish flowering, the bees will transfer their allegiance to the willow from next week, I think.

Next week I will be keeping my eye on the Japanese medlar and I wonder with this mild weather whether we will have medlar fruit this autumn for the first time.

Whatever happens the garden always keeps you guessing.