a french garden


30 Comments

to Autumn

IMG_0006

Summer fading, winter comes–
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs

– (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Autumn mist and early morning frost arrived without warning.  It is strange how it was that only two weeks ago we spent the day on the beach.  But now the night temperature reached minus 3 degree c (26F).

IMG_0007

It is early morning and the sun is already making the tips of the trees golden.  Our girls (the bees) are all busy inside their hive at the end of the garden.  A few hours later I looked at them closely and they were still bringing in pollen.  So the queens must still be laying eggs.

IMG_0019

The liquidambar has lost a lot of its leaves, but still looks gorgeous.

IMG_0010

Phacelia  that self seeded was in full flower until yesterday, but now is frozen.

IMG_0012

So is the cosmos sulphureus. I guess we and the bees just have to accept the end of the summer flowers.

IMG_0018

The blackbirds have stripped the berries on quite a few of the cotoneasters in the garden but this plant still has plenty berries on it.

So for the time being we can occupy  ourselves with various chores inside the house.  In the afternoon Amelia and I will go for a long walk enjoying these bright autumn days.

“Come then, find your ball and racket,
Pop into your winter jacket,
With the lovely bear-skin lining.
While the sun is brightly shining,
Let us run and play together
And just love the autumn weather.”

Autumn Song by Katherine Mansfield

Wishing you also a happy autumn.

Kourosh

Advertisements


33 Comments

See saw seasons

October finally decided to be a proper autumn.

We had a morning mist and cold nights making me think of the bees clustering around their queen and young brood to keep them warm.

Even in the muted light the falling leaves of the Liriodendron or Tulip tree add colour to the scene.

The dull morning light showed up the traceries of spider web linking the buds of the Loquat tree.

The willow leaves are turning yellow and dropping and the young stems are beginning to look reddish.

The bright blue flowers of my leggy Salvia Amistad stand out even in the dull light.  This year I tried to control its height and I cut it down in May.  It did not appreciate the intervention and has deliberately thrown out shoots just as tall as in other years but with less leaves making it look leggy and not just very tall.  In addition, I thought that it was going to refuse to flower as it usually flowers at the end of August to the beginning of September.  However, it has grudgingly flowered now and I will leave it in peace next year as it has clearly demonstrated who is charge of plant height.

The bees don’t mind waiting.  Perhaps, the nectar is a nice treat at this time of year.  I notice though that they obtain the nectar by pushing between the calyx and petals.  Earlier in the year they can enter the flowers directly, as well.  The flowers might not be so turgid after the cold nights making it more difficult for them to try a frontal entry.

The bees have also got the Mahonia for nectar.  I thought that this bee was exceptionally black.  She must be from the Poppy hive as those are our blackest mongrels.

The plants are just as confused as I am and the Mullein has pushed out fresh flowers into the sunshine that has arrived with temperatures up to 23 degrees centigrade on the 2 November.

So it was lunch on the patio again but today the outside table has again been carried under cover as rain has been at last forecast for the weekend.

 


19 Comments

Saffron harvest 2017

I’ve looked forward to my saffron every October since I brought my six gift corms back from our visit to the Limousin in 2008.  I planted them as an experiment, as I had never seen saffron flowering before, and I was doubtful that I would succeed.

If any one has a similar climate to here, and a fancy to try growing saffron then I can attest to the pleasure of harvesting the short lived crop.  There is no need to start with so few bulbs as I did because the bulbs are not expensive.  Just make sure you are getting Crocus sativus and not the autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) which is toxic.

The one constraint is that you must be at home at the beginning of October when they first push through the ground and start flowering.  This year I gathered 78 flowers on the 5 October then 96 the next day, after that the numbers dropped  to the twenties and have just petered out to single flowers in the last few days.

Each day I pick out the three red pistils and put them on a plate to air dry.  I am pleased with my saffron harvest this year.  I cannot weigh it as I do not have a scale that is accurate enough for such a light weight but you can get an idea of how much I gathered from the picture of it on the dinner plate.

On the 15 October I was busy and it was 8 o’clock in the evening before I had time to gather the flowers.

I had just time to stop myself squashing a bumble bee on the first flower that I reached for. The bee did not budge and I carefully picked up all the flowers from the plants around it and I did not disturb it at all.  It remained fast asleep!  It is nice to see that it is not just me that appreciates the saffron flowers.


48 Comments

Out of the bedroom window

Out of the bedroom window the leaves under the apricot tree testify that autumn is changing the garden.

With the tall “Sweet Lavender” aster now in flower,  the asters are still the main attraction.

The carder bees’ colour may be fading but they love the tiny flowers of the “Sweet Lavender”

The asters are the best place to see the bee action.

There are still a lot of butterflies around like this Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) and they join the bees.

I decided to visit my Mulberry as we have had no rain for some time and it was never watered during the dry summer.

The leaves change to a beautiful gold in the autumn and this year is no different, thankfully.

I was standing admiring the Mulberry when I noticed a huge dragonfly on the leaves basking in the sunshine.  I rushed back to the house, got my camera, came back and it was still there!  Such a difference from photographing bees or butterflies!

It is a Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) and much more impressive than the little brown damselflies that were in the garden at the same time.

Another find was a mass of these toadstools growing under the debris in a border I was clearing.  Sorry I had no time to find or speculate on a name as there is too much to be done outside at the moment.

I have decided to do more vegetables this winter.  So apart from the usual broad beans, brussel sprouts and leeks, I have added onions, carrots, cauliflower and Romanesco brocolli.  This is just an experiment brought on by following Notre petit jardin Breton.  They make so much use of their garden that I felt I should make more effort.  If the slugs and snails are unkind to me it could be a short experiment and I will stick to the easier option of tomatoes and courgettes in the summer.

I have been harvesting my surprise crop of Goji berries but I am still unable to develop a taste for them.  I decided to dry them as they are usually sold in “raisin” format.  I pricked them first and them set them to dry at a low temperature in the oven.  I managed to get them to look like raisins but they still remained too juicy to consider storing them.  They did taste marginally better.  The birds have not touched them yet.

The birds get pretty spoiled in the garden as Kourosh feeds them every morning and we have gleaned sunflower heads for them from the fields that have already been harvested.  Obviously they taste better than Goji berries.

It must all be a matter of taste or availability.  I have masses of this white erigeron growing all round the paths and walls but it attracts no pollinators.  Then I saw this honey bee feeding on it.  Will she have a problem when she gets back to the hive with the nectar?   Will her sisters say, “Why did you collect that when there are loads of asters out there?”

The Cosmos is still blooming…

and there is still plenty of sunshine to enjoy a break from clearing the borders.  October has been a good month in the garden, so far.

 


27 Comments

My neighbour doesn’t have an ox

My neighbour does not have an ox that I covet but he does have a colony of Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) in front of these bushes.

He was concerned that our bees were coming out of the soil in his garden.  I had a good idea that it was a colony of Ivy bees and went round to confirm, taking my camera with me.  The colony had just started to appear with lots of males flying around frantically searching for females to mate with.  From even a short distance away they look very similar to honey bees and you have to look closely to see their banded abdomen.

I must admit that I did feel envious of having a colony of Ivy bees in your own garden.  I would appreciate them much more than he does.  His mother was born in the house and she had never noticed them.

This is a female, I think she is beautiful.

The bees, the butterflies and the flowers are all appreciating the sun and temperatures of 26 degrees in the afternoons after the cool, rainy start to September.

I am even mellowing and starting to appreciate the Tithonia rotundifolia – the tall, orange, sunflower-like plant in the above photograph.  It has gone on flowering and producing more heads than I thought it would, however, I cannot say it attracts pollinators more than a lot of the other flowers.

My aster Audrey is the big attraction in the garden at the moment.  This is a Brimstone butterfly ( Gonepteryx rhamni ).

This is a Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) and the most common butterfly around here in the garden and outside from early in the year.  The Asters attract a range of butterflies.

They also attract this cuckoo bee (Epeolus cruciger) which lays its eggs in other bees nests taking advantage of food stores left for the host bees young.  Most cuckoo bees are specific to one bee genus which in this case is the Colletes.

I cannot forget the honey bees that come to the Asters as they make the most noise.

After the Asters finish flowering they push out new rooted shoots to expand.  These are very easy to pull up and transplant and I have been able to increase my stock from the original single plant.

I know I am somewhat bee-centered but when you watch the antics of some other animals like this cabbage butterfly you wonder how the species survives.  This poor female butterfly was doing her best to raise her abdomen and co-operate but the male was perhaps not the best choice.

I think he managed eventually to accomplish his duty but it looked as if his big white wings were getting in the way.

Autumn is a busy time in the garden.  The Butternut squash have done well but we have not lifted them yet.

The tomatoes gave a super crop this year and my favourite is still Sungold as it is one of the first to fruit and the last to give up.  However, despite its superior flavour a lot of people prefer the look of small red tomatoes.  We grew a lot of “second hand” tomatoes which were raised by friends and planted in a random fashion that did not allow much comparison apart from saying they all tasted good and I have lots of tomato sauce frozen in the freezer for soups and other dishes in the coming months.

The strawberries keep producing too, although the raspberries are just about finished.

In fact, the vegetable garden has produced much more useful products this year than in other years and so I am inclined to adventure into new territory and I have planted onions for the first time.  Theoretically, I shall be using them as needed and not storing them.  Sarah Raven points out that to grow onions you should keep them free from weeds, we shall see – nothing ventured…

On the subject of food production – we have our first Gojii berries.

We planted the bushes as I read that the bees love the flowers.  Mmn. so far I have not seen the bushes crowded with bees but that might be because the bushes are still small, at least I had the consolation prize of being able to crop the fresh berries.  I had never tasted the fresh berries and being charitable I would call the flavour “disappointing”.

Perhaps a good choice of fruit for people who prefer a pretty colour to a full flavour?

 

 


36 Comments

Cosmos and more Cosmos

The leaves have started to fall.

The cherry trees leaves are turning yellow, like a lot of other trees outside of the garden.

There are less apples and they are smaller than last year.

The flowers at the moment are the old favourites apart from the Tithonia rotundifolia “Torch” which is just behind the conifer trying to out grow it.  Kourosh sent away for the seeds which he had read were a magnet to bees.  I looked forward to seeing the bright red flowers he had described.

I was disappointed at their brash orange colour and felt we had been cheated.  I checked on the net only to find that this is their correct colour.  I do not want to be sexist but Kourosh’s approximation of colours is perhaps a “man thing” – and no he is not colour blind.

However, for anyone who wants a tall, sunflower-like multi-headed plant, I can recommend it.  Several plants in the back garden have done well and stayed unsupported in the sun.

My obedient plant (Physostegia virginiata) that was identified on the blog last year is doing very well in a hard place to fill in the sun.  It has doubled in area since last year so I am going to have to keep my eye on its spread.

The bumble bees have no problem with a rapid increase in its flowers.

The bumble bees are in love with the single dahlias.

The Cosmos attracts bumble bees…

Carpenter bees…

Solitary bees (perhaps Megachile willughbiella)…

of different species (perhaps Halictus scabiosae).

The Abutilon looks happier than ever this year.  This is the third year that a new shoot has risen from its frozen stalk.  I suppose I should cover it in the winter but I am reluctant to pander to plants that cannot cope with the weather.  It is my fault for attempting to grow a plant that is too tender for here.

It is beautiful, though, and the bees like it.

At least this year I have managed to acquire Sedum that are attractive to the bees and butterflies and with the drought conditions we have experienced this year, I will be trying to expand by dividing the plants.

The Asters are opening and signalling the end of the summer.  It has been a difficult, unpredictable year in the garden with extreme heat at the beginning followed by a cloudy, moody August and lack of rain from the beginning of the year.

 

 


24 Comments

Some bee trees for the garden

At this moment the back “lawn” is covered in Catsears with Dasypoda bees making the heads of the dandylion-like flowers droop as they land.  I find these bees so attractive with their fluffy hind legs covered in masses of fine hairs stuffed full of the sulphur yellow pollen.

As much as the Dasypoda attract me to watch them, I have to admit that the honey bees are doing a good job of collecting the pollen as well.  Their hind legs contain large nougats of the bright yellow pollen and I wonder whether they manage to carry more pollen by mixing it into a paste with the nectar or whether the Dasypoda manage to transport more of the pollen on their hairy hind legs.

I am always keen to provide as many sources of pollen and nectar for the bees throughout the year and I realise that trees can provide interest and shade for the garden and also nurture for the bees.  Last year I purchased three trees from a local nursery at Corme Royale and planted them in the autumn.  Planting trees is a long term project and if you want the quickest results then planting bare root trees in the autumn is the way to go.

The trees were bigger than we had expected but all the side branches were cut off severely before being handed over.  Kourosh assured that they were well staked.  This is the Fraxinus ornus or flowering Ash.  It was the last of the three to break into leaf in the spring and I was despairing that nothing would appear from the stick we had planted.  It appears to have survived although we need to water it while it is taking root, however, other Ash trees in the garden do not need water so it will become independent.  Perhaps next spring the bees will have some flowers.

The second tree is a Gleditsia triacanthos “Sunburst” and is the staked tree almost in the centre of the photograph in quite a dry area.  We chose this variety as it is drought resistant and has no thorns.  Some varieties of Gleditsia possess impressive thorns strong enough to burst rubber tyres (seemingly).  This is the only tree that has suffered slightly and the highest leaves look a little wilted.

The third tree is a Koelreuteria paniculata and despite its name has prospered and produced flowers in its first year.

Close up the flowers remind me of tiny narcissi flowers.

I can also verify that the flowers attract the bees.

The surprise is that after the flowers have passed, these seed pods continue to provide a very attractive decoration.

So on the seventh of July, the baby Koelreuteria was filling out with flowers.

Now on the sixteenth of August it is pushing three metres tall (nearly 10 foot) and I can imagine what it would look like once it is grown-up.

I have another tree in flower at the moment.  It too is a baby, coming up to two metres tall.  This tree has also grown very rapidly but I have no idea what it is.

For the past few years, each autumn I have bought some plants and trees, with some friends, from a small business that provides plants and trees reputed to provide a lot of nectar or pollen for the bees.  The owner keeps his own bees and has a charming habit of adding an extra few plants and also a “cadeau” plant with the order.  So far, so good but this year the gift plant did not have a label and has turned into a real surprise.  His catalogue is very small so I was sure I would be able to work it out.  He is not on the internet so I suppose I could write to him and send him a photograph but I was wondering  if anybody recognised the tree.  I have now found out that this is an  Amorpha fruticosa (see comments below).  It was listed in my catalogue as a shrub with pale blue flowers (?).

I have an Acacia growing close bye and the leaves look very similar, but Acacia flowers are white.  False Acacias can have pink flowers but these flowers are very deep purple.  It already flowered in April, despite its small size.  I would love to learn what it is called.