The poppies of May

Returning from an excellent yoga retreat led by Sonia Ama and Marion Duval we found the garden full of sunshine, bees and poppies.

The poppies pop up all over the garden and are appreciated by us and all the bees.

May is a time when so much blooms in the garden but this year the weather is hot and dry. Today is 33 degrees at 5 p.m. in the evening, there has never been such a hot May here since 1947. Already some of the plants are suffering but it is difficult to tell whether they are still suffering from the short, sharp frost we had in April or lack of water.

It is a time to tend the garden when it is cool enough to work and enjoy it when it is too hot to do anything else.

Our Blue Tits and Great Tits have returned to the bird table after raising their young. They are bringing their noisy fledglings to try to encourage them to feed themselves.

Check out this short 23 second video to listen to this pushy fledgling demanding to be fed.

The garden end of April 22

Looking down the back garden the row of blue boxes at the bottom is increasing.

The bees have kept us busy and there have been swarms and sunny days.

I am glad I planted the thyme under the cherry tree it keeps down the weeds and adds a splash of colour. I added two other varieties of thyme to the wild variety I found in the grass. I fought valiantly for some years to keep back the native variety but I have given up now and the other varieties have been completely smothered.

The bees seem indifferent to the different varieties and the thyme is always covered with honeybees, bumble bees and other wild bees.

Looking up from the bottom of the garden, our red Hazel is at its best just now. Its leaves don’t stay this colour but change to green, so we have to appreciate it at this time of year.

On the left of the photograph one of our Judas trees is coming into flower.

They are such beautiful trees and are pushing forth blossoms on their trunks as well.

We bought a Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’ in 2016. We did know that certain varieties had vicious spines but this variety is “inermis” – meaning unarmed in Latin or to put it another way, thornless.

So I was quite surprised to see these sticking out of the trunk. I hope it will not be repeated.

I was tempted to plant this tree for the bees as it has been vaunted as producing flowers with a high content of nectar. Now that I am looking closer into it, I find some sites telling me that it is dioïque and others that it is only the male flowers that produce nectar. So I do not really know what I am going to get as it has not flowered yet and it is getting very tall. It might be quite a delicate mission, if it ever flowers, to get up close enough to the flowers to find out if my tree is male, or female or can produce both types of flowers.

Some plants are much easier. My aquilegia spring up every year without planting or care and flower before I have time to notice them.

Other plants make themselves at home, whether you want them or not. When we first arrived here we had very little in the garden and a UK gardening magazine I had bought had offered free Oxalis bulbs stuck to the front cover. They were duly planted but I did not take to them. They looked too much like the weeds I was trying to conceal. I did nothing to propagate them yet they still keep on popping up here and there.

So I was delighted to see the carder bumble bees on them, I had never noticed they were attractive to bumble bees. Actually, they look rather nice with the Cerinthe and forget-me-nots.

The blackcurrants are in flower. I think this is a little male Osmia pollinating them for us.

At this time it is the little grey Anthophora bees that create all the noise in the Cerinthe with the bumble bees that are my favourites.

Meanwhile, April has been busy in the garden or rather the bees have been keeping us busy.

The bees do not always decide to swarm so low down but it allows for a gentle transfer into the hive which suits every one.

Green grass and daisies

After the frost and frozen leaves we are having days like summertime. In the back garden the grass is spring green and covered with daisies.

From the upstairs window you can see the grass covered with daisies.

When I see daisies I have an instinctive desire to make daisy chains. I asked two of my neighbours, separately, if they used to make daisy chains when they were children. The answer was negative and I have now initiated them into the art of making daisy chains. Is it a lost art or is it a “British” thing?

The odd butterfly takes advantage of the daisies but there is too much temptation from the blossom and other flowers for the bees to bother with them just now.

The main bee action is in the front garden on the Cerinthe, it is quite noisy with the bumble bees, Anthophora and Amegilla. It self seeds and is quite tough. Some of the seeds germinate in the autumn and survive the winter to bloom early in the spring here. For places with a cold winter you could sow in early spring, it is a magnet for bumble bees.

I have some bright yellow primulas beside the Cerinthe which adds a flash to the purple Cerinthe but they are largely ignored by the fickle bumble bees while there is Cerinthe available.

This is our ornamental apple tree which survived our frost quite well. Others of the frost bitten trees are recovering their leaves but there will be less of the early fruits this year.

Our lemon tree is outside once more as we had to put it back in our front bedroom to shelter it from the cold snap. As we lifted the pot to take it inside we had a good look in case the little tree frog was still hiding in it. We laughed a bit about the idea, but it is a bit of a walk round to the other side of the house so I did not think there was really a chance he would be in the pot. Nearly two weeks later we opened the front window and he was sitting on the trunk of the lemon tree. We felt really bad. We put the tree and the frog back in the usual place but we have not seen the frog since. I think he is sulking.

I have planted a pot of mixed Allium for the patio this year and they have just shot through. In the morning I noticed that the tips had exuded a ball of sap that twinkled in the light. There is always something new in the garden.

On the back wall of the front garden we planted an Akebia “Silver Bells” in November 2020. The flowers look very impressive in my close-up photograph but I am a little underwhelmed by it at the moment. Perhaps as it grows bigger and has more flowers I will change my mind.

At the same time we planted a Ribes odoratum nearby and I am more optimistic that it will be a success, although it has a bit of growing to do.

Bee swarm

In the meantime the bees are keeping us busy.

Hellebores

If I had only one word to describe the garden today it would be “Hellebores”. I did not do my usual moving of self-seeded plants last autumn but the plants I have moved in previous years are providing so many flowers after another dark, damp week here. The bees love them and gather the pollen until the flower ages and the stamens fall off.

The noisiest part of the garden is near the plum tree, although patches of Hellebore try to rival the plum tree for the highest “buzz” volume.

The plum tree opened up this week but today was the first sunny day that we could appreciate it properly. The flowers are full of honey bees, bumblebees and other pollinators.

We are told that hazel pollen is a very important early pollen for bees. I never see our catkins mobbed with bees like some of our flowers so I was glad to catch this bee this morning with a heavy load of hazel pollen.

Likewise I have recently added Cornus mas or Cornelian Cherry to the garden as the pollen is supposed to be high in protein so I was glad to see the bees on the flowers.

Eriobotrya japonica – will we have fruit this year?
The Viburnum tinus is just opening and will supply pollen to the bees for a long time yet.

Our first Camelia flower opened today. I hope we will be having more sunny days to enjoy it when it is fully opened.

Rain or sun we can watch our birds from the windows.

This plant tray stays outside our kitchen window and is the bathing place for the birds.

Kourosh thinks it is some type of warbler. Its feathers look incredibly downy.

Looking for colour in the February garden

I find the garden subdued this February. However, the cold and cloudy weather cannot stop the bulbs from pushing through.

The Hellebores have been well frosted this year.

But they are coming up in abundance now, untouched by the cold weather.

This is not the case of the anemones. This autumn I planted anemone bulbs expecting them to flower in the late spring. In fact, they started to flower in December but the cold and frost soon damages their petals. This has not bothered the bees who have little regard for the aesthetic qualities of the flowers they visit. Can you see the black pollen the bee has gathered from the anemone?

I am still disappointed with my Chimonanthus praecox. It’s common name is wintersweet because of its perfume but it needs to be planted in a sunny position to enjoy this wonderful perfume on sunny days. We have not had many of those days this year and, despite the plant being hardy, the flower are damaged by the rain and frost.

This year, more than ever, I have been grateful to my Choisia “Sundance” for bringing light into the garden.

Likewise, my willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) light up the back garden.

I have still left the old flowerheads of some of my sedum in places but I will have to cut them soon as there are shoots of the new plant already pushing through.

I quickly took a photograph to show the garden with a blue sky yesterday. There have been too few bright days recently and we are back to totally gray skies again today.

I am glad we decided to insulate the beehives again this year. I am not convinced that modern, conventional beehives offer the bees sufficient protection from the cold.

Our girls are off out of the hive, as soon as there is sunshine and the temperatures allows it. Some seem glad to just spread their wings in flight but others are busy bringing in pollen and nectar.

It’s cold

It’s cold. Sub-zero mornings followed by blue skies. By the afternoon it heats up to about eight degrees, so beautiful to walk in. However, I am glad we chose to insulate the hives again this year with an aluminium wrap as well as the usually top insulation.

Yesterday, 14 January 2022, we were out walking when we came across this patch of violets opening up in the sunshine at the edge of a wood.

I got down on my hands and knees and gave them a good sniff. They released a gentle perfume typical of violets. The air temperature never went above 8 degrees centigrade yesterday so although the perfume was not strong, I believe this would be because of the cold. Hopefully, we can return soon if the weather gets warmer and see if the perfume is stronger.

Another surprise was to see a few tiny snowdrops appear in the first few days of January. This has never happened before. I have tried over the years, I admit I never managed to find any “in the green” and at the beginning of the garden there were no Internet sites that I knew of, but I did plant any bulbs I could find. I have got some later snowdrops but last year I resigned myself to give up as we have lots of other lovely flowers. Kourosh, however, picked up a packet of snowdrop bulbs last year. I cannot remember where. Possibly a DIY store or a supermarket, but I completely ignored the purchase except to warn him that it was his job to plant them and find a place near the house as it was not worth planting snowdrops far away from the window. He obviously heeded my warning and the bulbs grew up – just to spite me!

Often the “wisdom” of nature and natural creatures is vaunted and compared favourably to our blundering passage through this life. I am not too convinced of the consistency in this innate knowledge. Two days ago Kourosh alerted me to a bumblebee asleep at the front of our house in the winter honeysuckle. It was early evening, the sun was getting lower and the temperature falling – and yet she slumbered on. We could not leave her there. If she has returned to her snug nest she would have escaped the sub zero temperatures but not staying out in the open.

I popped her into a plastic box and put her in an unheated bedroom and she did not move until I brought her into the dining room after midday the following day. I dropped some honey into the box. I would like to point out that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust advises not to use honey but to make sugar syrup but I was not sure she was alive at this stage – and it was easier. As she warmed up she made for the honey and mopped it up and took a second helping.

I took her into the sunshine and let her take wing, which she did with a disgruntled buzz rather than a thank you.

The Chimonanthus praecox is just starting to flower. It has more flowers this year. I hope it will be more impressive. We have put it in a shady position and do not benefit from its perfume as much as I anticipated. Once, more of the flowers are open I will cut some flowering twigs and bring them inside.

I saw my first Bombus pratorum queen, or early bumblebee, on 7 January 2022. That is early. The photo is not great but she is very quick and I was pleased to at least capture her with the date on camera.

I hope she did not misjudge the weather and has made a warm nest somewhere.

January 2022

The garden enters 2022 with trepidation.

Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta

I took some photographs in the garden on the 31 st. of December 2021 – the last day of the old year. It was a fittingly bizarre day with a temperature of 17 degrees Centigrade (62.6 F) and bright sunshine for the second straight day in a row. There were butterflies on the flowers.

And of course the bees were out and busy bringing loads of pollen into the bee hives.

We were able to sit and read outside as the sun descended and the birds were singing like a spring evening. It is still mild but the temperatures are moving towards seasonal norms. I just wonder how perturbed nature will be this year.

In the meantime the bees take advantage of the fine weather and I thank Philip Strange for reminding me that buff-tailed bumblebees can keep up nesting throughout the winter even in the south of England. Thus the pollen on the bumblebees legs.

She did not gather the pollen from the Mahonia – I have only seen the bees take nectar from the Mahonia.

This winter, despite some frosty mornings, the Anisodontea has kept its flowers and attracts the bees on sunny days.

As soon as the flowers open the bees push themselves inside. They often try when the flower is not completely open.

At the bottom of the garden we have planted an Arbutus unedo. It is a poor spot for a tree with such lovely flowers that are much appreciated by the bumblebees but it has survived and is producing flowers.

The tree is commonly called a strawberry tree, for obvious reasons. I took the photograph of the fruit on the 13 December but there are no more fruits on the tree. The birds have eaten them and, although they look delicious, the fruits are somewhat acid and bland. They can be made into jam as they are not poisonous, but I could think of easier ingredients for jams.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I took all these photographs on 31 December 2022 in the sunshine and unseasonable warmth. In the evening I noticed one of our little green tree frogs sitting enjoying the sun inside a planter on the patio. It is two days later and he is settling down for another night in the same place. The temperature is forecast to fall during the night.

Shall I take him out a blanket?

Sunny November

We are still in autumn. The Koelreuteria tree in the front garden has lost its leaves but other trees are still holding onto theirs. When a breeze disturbs them, a snow of dead leaves floats down.

The weather has been fine with plenty of opportunities for walking.

We keep waiting for winter to set in and on Wednesday we had lunch outside on the terrace of our favourite restaurant by the sea. The sun was shining and people were sitting in the sun in T-shirts. We have had several “last” lunches outside this year!

Wednesday brought so much sunshine that this small copper butterfly settled on our Mme. Isaac Pereire rose in complete denial of the calendar date.

During the day the blue skies warm up the garden with strong sunshine.

However, the nights with clear skies bring low temperatures and we have found ice on the birds’ water dish in the morning.

I have decided to coddle my abutilons this year. I swore I would never keep fragile plants in the garden. The abutilons have been with us for years, their leaves freezing in winter and then shooting again in late spring. Now I feel they have been so courageous to survive that they are going to get some help.

We have also got a Salvia leucantha that will need protection soon.

I just cannot manage to do justice to this beautiful flower when I take a photograph. It too will get special attention.

The lemon tree is still outside. It will go into the spare bedroom with gro-lights during the day but I could not deprive it of the beautiful sunshine we have been having lately. We do protect it with a fleece at night if the skies are clear.

Today is cloudy and more autumnal.

I hope nevertheless to be able to still enjoy some more days sitting in the garden drinking our tisane, See who joined us on Wednesday morning.

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.

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.