a french garden


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The heat goes on

The Chitalpa is still flowering and despite the heat and lack of rain the trees are bearing up.

I actually saw a bee venture into one of the Catalpa flowers but they are not really bee friendly flowers.

The Oregano has taken over a much too large part of the vegetable garden but I am in no mood to tame it, especially as its flowers attract the bees.  The garden has been neglected lately as the afternoon is my preferred time to wander around and work in the garden but most days it is too hot for me for the sun here is very strong.

The Oregano attracts butterflies as well.  I think this is a Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) but not so scarce here as the name might suggest.

I could not resist another shot of her fine tails.

The butterflies are not put off by the heat and there are Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui)  in the garden, this one here taking nectar from the lavender.

I’ve noticed more Skippers (this one probably Ochlodes sylvanus) which makes me think the butterflies are doing better than the bees this year.

You may find this caterpillar cute, it always reminds me of a “Push me pull me” from Doctor Doolittle as it is hard to know which end is which (the black pair of tufts on the RHS are at the front!).  It is a Vapourer Moth caterpillar and was not welcome on our Lagerstroemia.  It was carefully removed (the hairs can cause skin irritations) and placed where any damage it can cause would not be noticeable.

In the evening I used to see more Tetralonia bees in the Lavatera flowers, like this one settling down for the night.  Sometimes three or four would share the same flower – either a Lavatera or Hollyhock.  My Hollyhocks have not done well this year.  They do not get watered or receive special treatment and yet they are usually stars at this time of the year but this year they have been smaller and several sorry specimens have had to be cut down.

The Dasypoda with their huge bundles of pollen have been in the Cats’ears at the bottom of the garden but not with the same vigour.

It does look like it is going to be a bumper year for tomatoes this year and we have already had to reduce our four courgette plants to two.

So, walks are best taken in the evening, when there are no bees to be seen but being entertained by the hares that are leaping around at the moment.


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Rain and thunderstorms

It was so good to get all the windows open on the first cool morning after the heatwave and to feel a cool breeze blow through the house.  However, that was not all that came in the window.  I would have thought that the swallows would have chosen their nesting places and not still be looking over our living room as a potential new home.

It has been so hot and dry that I was concerned a lot of the plants would suffer.  The grass has dried up but we have left patches of cat’s ears for the bees.  The willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) in the middle of the picture provide a good screen for our sitting area and have kept green.  On the right the Chitalpa has started flowering as has the Magnolia on the left of the willows.

The Chitalpa is a cross between the Catalpa bignonioides (Indian bean tree) and Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow).  It does well in the sun in this exposed position which does not get watered.  My disappointment is that the flowers are not as visited by the bees as the Catalpa flowers but I prefer my Chitalpa as the Catalpa would grow too big for this spot.

The Magnolia grandiflora does not seem to mind the heat and the lack of water.  It is growing big now and the flowers are often high up but the perfume still floats down.

We do water the vegetables and that has been a nightly task.

The Borlotti beans have started to give pods and they will hopefully continue through the summer.

There is no lack of pollinators for the courgettes and we have already had so many that we will probably have to remove some of the plants to avoid a glut.

We water the flowers in the front garden and the Agapanthes are in flower just now.

Everything looks happier after several days of really good rain.

The first field of Sunflowers opened near us four days ago.

The flowers had already been spotted by the bees and we wondered if our bees had found them too.

A shot of the bees at the mouth of the hive confirms that the bees have been on the sunflowers as there are many bees covered with the tell-tale (tell-tail?) bright yellow pollen.

We are happy too and take great pleasure in leaving the windows open while we have a cup of tea and watch the rain pour down.

What funny creatures gardeners are!

 


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The heat goes on

I took this photograph from underneath our lime tree (Tilia cordata).  There cannot be a better place to be on a hot June day.  It is too hot to sit under a parasol but the branches of the tree stop the heat of the sun and the air is full of the perfume of the flowers.  If you want to grow a tree to give shade in the summer then I cannot think of a better choice.

This carder bumble bee would be the first to agree.  The lime tree provides nectar and pollen for the honey bees as well as other bees.

The olive tree is drawing in all the bees at the moment, too.

The main feature at the moment in the garden are still the poppies.

A lot are setting seed now and I go around putting bag ties on the plants with the colours that I like most so that I can have a good variety next year.

The Fallgold rasberries are producing well and are very sweet.  They taste too good to cook with.

The blackcurrants are ripening and will probably be prepared for making sorbet later in the year.

This year has been a bumper year for cherries here (but not in our garden)We have fortunately very generous friends and have not missed out on the cherry bounty.  Last Sunday we picked sour cherries which have made compote, jam and sorbet for us (we picked more than that basket!)

The borlotti beans are managing to hold their own against the poppies and large mullein (this is a type of Verbascum, I think thapsus).

I’ve let this plant seed around the garden because it is so attractive to the bees.  It is also reputed to be a medicinal plant but I have not tried it myself.

The vegetable garden has had extra stakes added for the tomatoes we have been given and could not bear to waste.  If it is a good year there will be plenty to make into puree.

Yesterday I saw that the sweet chestnut trees were flowering nearby and filling the air with their overpowering perfume.  It struck me that this year I seem to have been running to keep up with the seasons and when I checked with my blog mentioning the sweet chestnuts last year it was the beginning of July (The bees and Sweet Chestnuts).

The little pineapple shaped buds in the photograph are the female flowers of the sweet chestnut.  Sweet chestnut is often wind pollinated, for although it produces both male and female flowers on the same tree, flowers are successfully pollinated by the pollen from another tree.  I found it fascinating when I discovered that the nectaries producing the nectar that attracts pollinators are at the base of the male flowers which are held on the long catkins.  Bees and other pollinators can be useful to increase pollination when the pollen becomes damp in humid conditions as the grains become sticky and less easily carried by the wind.

There were a lot of galls on the chestnuts this year.  I picked one of the tree and found a tiny black insect inside.  It looks like the gall could be the oriental chestnut gall (Dryocosmus kuriphilus).  This is another exotic pest which first hit France in 2007.

Kourosh had put up a nest box under the carport this year, it can just be seen vaguely at the top left hand side of the photograph.  It was a brand new Christmas present and we were delighted that a pair of Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) inaugurated it.  This is the male and both male and female birds feed the young.

Kourosh could not resist taking a quick shot of the young birds just before they left the nest.  It was lovely to watch the parents flying to and from the nest but we did not see much of the babies.  It was all over so quickly but we can still hear them in the nearby bushes.


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A hot end to May

LHS garden

The left hand side of the back garden has shade in the afternoon.  Today the temperature in the shade went up to 34 degrees Centigrade but I was able to work in the shade as there was a light breeze too.

Shady place

Shady sitting places are needed in these temperatures.

Chelidonium majus (1)

There were a lot of weeds to clear out before the earth got too dry to move them.  Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus ) is a perennial and I was horrified to see how it can grow so quickly and produce its long seed pods ready to fling the contents onto the garden.

Chelidonium majus (2)

At least this weed – sorry interesting herbal plant – has flowers that are appreciated by the pollinators.

As a side issue, the strange orange fluid that the cut stems exude is said to cure warts and corns.  If anyone has had success using this fluid with any warts/corns I would love to know.

Elaeagnus angustifolia (1)

A more favoured yellow flower on my part is my senjed (Elaeagnus angustifolia ) which has flowered for the first time.  The flower is perfumed and I am curious to see whether I will get fruit here in France.

Elaeagnus angustifolia (2)

I planted the senjed in the autumn of 2013.  It has shot up this year and is now fighting for light with the overhanging branches of our large plum tree.  It was less than a metre when I got it and it cost just over five euros, so a good investment for such an attractive plant.

Carpenter Spanish broom

Another yellow perfumed flower has just opened further down the hedge – the Spanish broom.

It is a tall, gangly plant that is difficult to control – a bit like the Carpenter bees that are so attracted to it.  The Spanish Broom wins out on the perfume stakes with its strong perfume that will float in the air once all the flowers are open.

Potager

The vegetable garden has been planted with tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines this week.

Poppies in veg patch.JPG

Kourosh insists on leaving the self-sown poppies at the side of the vegetables which makes things difficult to keep tidy but watching the antics of the bees in the poppies provides great entertainment.

Red tailed queen

Likewise the Phacelia is allowed to run riot.  We have noticed this particularly beautiful red-tailed queen bumble bee in the Phacelia and I feel certain that it must already be a queen born this year.

IMG_8690

I think the flowers that self-sow in the garden make a better display than when I plant things.  These have all pushed through in a border that I was despairing about last month.

Kaki flower

Things can turn out better than expected in a garden.  The untimely frost earlier in the month damaged a lot of plants and although the some of the kaki flowers (persimmon) are brown tipped they look healthy enough to give fruit.

Veilchenblau roae (1)

Finally, a pollen gathering competition took place on the veilchenblau rose on the hedge this morning.

First prize went to Bombus Terrestris – an disputable first with a pure veilchenblau pollen pellet.

Veilchenblau roae (2)

Second was Apis mellifera (the syrphid fly was not in the competition but happened to be passing by.)

Veilchenblau roae (3)

Third place is shared equally by several different solitary bees.

If you want to hold your own pollen gathering competitions remember to schedule them early as the best flowers are depleted of pollen by the afternoon.

 

 

 


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After the rain

These past few days we have had rain.  I’m happy, the garden is happy.

The garden smells so good too.  As I watch the bees on the Veilchenblau rose, I can smell an incredible mix of the rose, honeysuckle, Philadelphus and warm leaves.

The rain has been in such short supply this year that the flowers don’t mind getting wet and the poppy bends its top petals over its precious supply of pollen.

The bees are happy too and strip off the pollen before the petals have time to dry.

The warm weather tempted my peony Festiva Maxima to bloom for the first time.  It was a present from our daughter which we planted in 2008 but was in completely the wrong place, and there it remained until last year when I decided to move it (by this time I felt I had little to lose although I heard you could not move peonies.)

Five days later the petals were falling but it still looked beautiful like some ageing diva.

I believe this is Rigolotte, which was part of the same present and looking much happier in a sunny position.

Another first today was spotting a bee on the Erigeron.  The Erigeron self seeds in the cracks of the paths and at the base of the house walls but usually it does not attract the bees.

Nigella and Eschscholzia have self sown beside the patio, a bit gaudy but better than weeds.

The Eschscholzia is not as popular as the other poppies with the bees but it does provide them with a pretty colour of pollen.

I have been searching for my bee orchid that has been coming up every year in the front garden and was sad to find no trace of it, despite there having been two plants which produced seed.  But instead a new one has appeared in the back garden and has chosen to place itself beside the water tap, pushing its way through self seeded Centranthus.

Finally, I think the bees have been doing a bit of genetic engineering.  Above is my blue Cerinthe that has happily self seeded in the garden for many years.  It is beloved by the bumble bees and the Anthophora (the bee in the picture).

Today I found a Cerinthe with red flowers!  So I do not know what the bees were doing to the pollen that went on to produce this plant.  Maybe a little extra U.V. light onto the pollen, or an extra squeeze or nibble, surely not a virus?

I had to rescue it from a fair few encroaching heavy weeds and I will continue with the TLC to see what happens.


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Spring in February?

garden-long

Nothing looks greatly different in the garden since the big chill.  However, we had the big wind next with winds over 100 km. an hour and the winds were higher in the coastal regions.   This left our area without electricity.  We were out for just over 24 hours but depending on where you lived others lost their electricity for longer.  In areas with no piped gas, houses are frequently all electric.  So it is a good idea to keep in plenty of candles and a camping stove.  The really super-prepared have a little generator but we have stayed at the candles and camping stove level.

plum-blossom-ouside

Now we have sunshine and day time temperatures touching twenty degrees centigrade which has coaxed our plum tree to open its first flowers.

plumblossom-2

After the big wind some of the fine branches of the plum tree had broken and we brought in the twigs to enjoy watching the flowers open inside but they had hardly finished flowering inside before the tree itself had started to flower outside.

red-admiral

Some butterflies are out and from the freshness of this Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) it is a new season butterfly just hatched rather than one that has overwintered as an adult.

bombus-pratoris

The winter flowering honeysuckle welcomes different visitors now like this early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum) queen

carpenter-honeysuckle

and the Carpenter (Xylocopa violacea)

willow

It is not so visible from a distance but the willow tree at the bottom of the garden is opening out its buds too.

pussy-willow

The catkins are still at their attractive fluffy stage but soon the pollen will appear attracting the pollinators to this important plentiful source of early pollen.

hellebore-bee-pollen-1

The Hellebores are making a big impact in the garden now.  The bees make them a noisy attraction but the constant replanting of the self-sown seedlings is paying off.

hellebore-honey-bee

The different groups are spacing out their flowering times somewhat, depending on how much sun they receive.  I find the ones in full sun flower earliest.

bergenia

The Bergenia is starting to flower but I dragged it from one poor position last autumn to some other positions where I hope it will flourish.  It has not welcomed the change gladly.  Still there is always next spring.

bumble-new-heather-1

I was given a heather as a present but sadly with no idea of the species.  It was very pot bound, probably meant for impact rather than planting out.  I sawed of the bottom tangle of roots and sawed it in two.  I had just finished planting it when the bees appeared.  Well, that was one of my questions answered – the bees like it.  The heather I have had success with here is Erica x darlyensis which is more tolerant of chalky soils.  This one does not look the same as my others and has lilac flowers that fade to white.  I hope they will thrive in their new home.

honesty-lunaria-annua

It is only when you look closely that you see the changes in the garden.  The purple flower is self-sown Honesty (Lunaria annua), a bit early, I would have thought.

violet

The violets, both purple and white varieties, appear as weeds in the garden but are always welcome.

weeds

In fact, there are a lot of good stuff in the weeds in the garden.

wild-bee-2

The speedwell (Veronica (perhaps) persica) is covering the surrounding fields and the garden with a haze of blue but this little flower provides much needed pollen and nectar for the wild bees like the one above and also the honey bees.

pollinator-on-veronica

The hover flies too stop by for the nectar.

chimonanthus-praecox

Gardening is not for the impatient.  I have longed for a Chimonanthus praecox for my garden and now eventually I have a bush and it has flowered for the first time.  I do not know the species as I bought it in France where the species does not seem to matter much but I love it anyway.  My main criteria was the perfume and one sniff of the heady, sensual perfume told me I had a winner.  Also called wintersweet but I think of it as the ice flower although the weather at the moment is nearer to summer than winter.


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After the big chill

 

back-garden

Little has changed in the garden in the past weeks, but this says a lot for the hardiness and resilience of the plants as they have weathered a period of constant sub-zero overnight temperatures that dropped to minus eight degrees centigrade.

frost-on-primrose

Frost on primroses makes them look sugar-coated and they are tough as old boots but…

frost-on-loquat-19-1-17

The first flowers that I have ever had on my Loquat ((Eriobotrya japonica) were also frozen.

loquat-after-freeze

What has surprised me is that now after the freeze, it is continuing to flower.  The fresh buds have opened releasing their perfume and are still being visited by the bees.  The terminal leaves that surround the flowers have been badly damaged by the cold but the buds are obviously made of sterner stuff.

broad-beans-and-peas

The broad beans too have survived.  I confess to having covered them with a fleece and I do not think they would have survived without the extra help.  Just before we left at Christmas I hastily planted some peas which you can see to the right of the broad beans.  I reckoned the germination would be much poorer so I planted the peas close together (also I did not want to be left with half a packet).  It looks like every single pea has germinated so I will wait to see what the future brings but perhaps they should be thinned.

polygala-after-frost

The only obvious casualty is the Polygala.  I planted it last spring because it was supposed to be attractive to bees and butterflies but I was very disappointed as far as pollinating insects were concerned although the flowers are very pretty.  Perhaps it just gave up the struggle because I did not love it enough.

label

I was not idle during the freeze, I made labels for some of our plants.  Some are for plants that are small and could get lost, others are for those plants whose name always escapes you, and I have tried to date when they were planted so that I have a better idea of how long they take to grow.

violette-ruche

I took the opportunity during the bitter cold days when Violette was safely tucked up inside her hive to repaint her “au vent” or sun shade, which was peeling, and add a new Violette design on her front where the sun would damage it less.

violette-with-pollen

This week the amazingly mild temperatures have allowed all the bees out to gather nectar and pollen.

bee-gathers-nectar

The winter flowering honeysuckle is close bye and provides nectar for them.

1-bee-gathers-pollen-on-winter-honeysuckle

It also provides pollen, and they stroke the stamens lovingly to gather the much needed pollen.  The winter flowering honeysuckle gets my top mark for supporting pollinators during winter as the queen bumble bees visit it too.

mahonia-and-bee

We planted the Mahonia mainly for the bumble bees but I notice that the honey bees help themselves too.

viburnum-tinus

The Viburnum tinus is covered in buds that are slowly opening but not attracting any pollinators at the moment.

rosemary

The prostrate Rosemary has opened its first flowers with the promise of more to come soon.

hellebores

The Hellebores too are waiting in the wings.

snowdrops-1-2-17

My snowdrops are few and struggle hard to survive here but I am grateful a few determined individuals keep up the fight.

clematis-buds

Otherwise, the season advances with clematis pushing out tentative buds.

clematis-seeds

While higher up the seed heads from last year still decorate the stems.

stripped-cotoneaster

After the cold spell I noticed that all our cotoneaster bushes were stripped of their red berries.  We have several different varieties of cotoneaster in the garden but they all provide masses of flowers for the bees  followed by great autumn decoration for us, then on to become a winter larder for the birds.  All this from drought resistant, frost tolerant plants that are cheap to buy and can even be grown from seed.

cotoneaster-4-11-2014

I had to go back to the autumn of 2014 to get a photo of the cotoneasters before stripping but that’s what they look like – only bigger now.

cerinthe-in-lawn

Overall, the prolonged cold spell has had much less of an effect on the garden than I would have imagined.  I think the cold weather in January should delay any precocious blossoming or budding.  It has not helped me keep the Cerinthe in their place and a lot of them are making a break for it onto the lawn.  I am just debating whether to leave them there or dig them up and re-house them elsewhere. I need to keep a good stock of them in the garden to enjoy watching the Anthophora bees in the spring.