a french garden


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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.


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Beginning of February

February sees me still struggling with a ‘flu/virus that I cannot seem to shake.

However, last Saturday I read Murtagh’s Meadow and she informed me that the first of February was Saint Brigit’s day and was considered by many in Ireland to be the first day of Spring.  Physically this made no difference to my cough but it did considerably lift my spirits.

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The hazlenuts outside of the garden are in flower and for the first time I saw bees gathering pollen from their catkins.  I have never seen this inside the garden and I have a sneaky feeling that our bees prefer other pollen.

Bee on Hellebore (1)-001

The Hellebore have started to open and get a lot of attention from the bees when the sun shines.

Bee in white Hellebore-001

I started with dark purple ones from my sister’s garden and bought some white ones little by little.

White Helllebore-001

The Hellebore self-seed liberally and I do my best to recuperate as many as I can.  I am hoping to get lots of crosses like the one above, but it takes time for the plant to mature and flower.  I am just getting to the fun part of the exercise.

Bumble bee on Hellebore-001

They seem ideal plants for me as they provide ground cover and will survive drying out and quite severe conditions during the summer.

Bee on snowdrop-001

I’ve struggled growing snowdrops but I now have an established clump in a very strange uncared for spot at the bottom of the garden.  I’ve never managed to grow them close to the house where they could be seen and enjoyed even in inclement weather.  Fickle flowers!

Plum tree

The plum tree is beautiful at the moment and full of all sorts of pollinators on the sunny days.  It is good to just stand underneath it and listen to them.

Plum tree canopy-001

It feels so good to go underneath it and look through the canopy of flowers – but it does not cure a cough.

Bee on plum blossom-001

I think the easy pickings on the plum tree distracts them from the less generous hazelnut trees.

Tree frog-001

In the meantime, I will take the example of our little green tree frog that finds a comfy spot to enjoy the winter sun whenever he can.

Bee on Speedwell-001

I still keep an eye on the Speedwell which is growing in the grass, happy in the moist spring conditions and untroubled by the lawn mower, yet.

Wild bee (1)-001

I have not seen the pretty grey wild bee again but this bee looks like an Andrena flavipes but if it is, she is flying a month earlier than Steven Falk suggests they might fly in the U.K.

Any comments or identification will be welcome.

 

 

 


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What’s in a name?

The incessant rain has been keeping me indoors and I really felt I wanted to accomplish something useful.  So I decided to  polish my halo and go through my camera memory card, removing blurred shots and trying to get some order into the ones that I want to keep as records.  I also mean to find names for bees and plants that I have not recognised.

This was a photo I had taken on 11 September 2019.  Our Asters attracted so many pollinators this year.  I am not very good with butterflies and I supposed it would be one of the tailed blues we get around here.

Wrong!

When I checked my “Butterflies of Europe” book by Tristan Lafranchis I found it was a Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) butterfly.  The reason for its name is pretty obvious but that brought me to the “Do you mean Geranium or Pelargonium?” question.  I was rather hoping that its food of preference was Pelargoniums, as I do not have any of these very popular plants and as most people buy them every year from the Supermarket or nursery, I did not feel too selfish about this cynical thought.

However, it seems that the caterpillars can be content with geraniums or pelargoniums as food.  I have plenty perennial geraniums in the garden, as the bees adore them.

In addition, I had not realised that they can be serious pests for the growers who supply the supermarkets and nurseries with pelargoniums.

I have yet to see any damage to my perennial geraniums but I will keep an eye out this summer.  It may just have been our exceptionally warm summer that allowed it to mature on imported Pelargoniums.

Apart from finding out the name of this butterfly, I also discovered that many Pelargonium species originate from South Africa whereas geraniums are mainly a European species.  Pelargoniums have been with us for a long time, they were introduced into Europe from the beginning of the seventeenth century.  The roots of Pelargonium triste had a local reputation of treating dysentery which interested the apothecaries of the time.

Not bad for a rainy day :).


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Grey Skies

We have had our first frost of the year.

The frost is supposed to give flavour to the brussel sprouts.

However, the heavy rain has flattened them.

The leeks are starting to rot in the sodden ground.

The river Seudre at the back of the garden has filled up and only usually reaches this level in the springtime.

The plants themselves are confused after the hot dry summer.  The bottle brush has decided it might like to flower again.

My tall dark sage is still in bud and I do not think will flower this year.  The Charente Maritime area is one of the sunniest in France but this autumn it has been clouds and rain and I have missed the garden.

The Cerinthe major has found it perfect for self-seeding and I have been able to pot up plenty of little plants without the need for sowing any seeds.

The olive tree has been harvested.  It has given us less than last year but enough for our own needs.  Actually it only gives olives on the half of the tree that gets most of the sun, the other side does not get sufficient sun to produce the fruit.

Part of the front garden was covered with these “weeds” which I thought were allium bulbs last year.  I thought I must have forgotten planting them but they are not decorative alliums as they produced no flowers (that I saw).  They smell strongly of onions and are very invasive.  The roots seem to be able to elongate and produce new nodules vegetatively.  Does any one have an idea of what they might be?

The future looks wet.  I must learn to relax and accept the weather like our little tree frogs.


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The flowers in November

The rain still continues and everything in the garden is wet.

It does not stop the bees and other insects flying in between the downpours.

The low light makes it difficult to take sharp photographs.

Everything is getting sodden.   Luckily, I have already gathered plenty of Cosmos and other seeds.  These are French Marigold (Tagetes erecta), that are late in setting seed and have stated germinating still attached to the flower heads.

I grew these flowers near my tomatoes this year.  They provided lots of colour in the vegetable garden and are reputed to attract beneficial insect such as hoverflies and at the same time the roots secrete a substance to repel certain nematodes.  I cannot affirm that they make a considerable difference but they are held in high esteem in this area.

There is still plenty of Borage left in the vegetable garden, and elsewhere, and that is a magnet for all pollinators.  It is also so handy for decoration of salads and drinks.

We always have a clutter of pots at our front coffee spot.  This allows us to keep an eye on the fragile and admire our favourite flowers of the moment.

The Salvias are in their glory at the moment, especially the Salvia leucantha.  We have one in a pot on the patio and another in the garden but they do not photograph well and you need to see a close up photograph to see what the eye actually sees.  The flowers look as if they have been fashioned from velvet.  They are constantly visited by the bees.  This carder bumble bee is piercing a hole in the flower to “steal” the nectar.

Another flower we are monitoring in a pot on the patio is the Ajania.  This is new to us this year and I am waiting impatiently to see if the flowers will open fully.  It has grown well and I am thinking of trying it as ground cover next year as it has grown well in the pot.

Some flowers get attention and care yet this Alyssum grows on its own every year, seeding into the cracks in the front path and the base of the wall.  It completely looks after itself and releases its own special honey scent in the warm evenings and is still flowering.

Perhaps tough love can work as I have succeeded in keeping two Abutilon plants.  They die completely from the surface in winter and reappear in late spring.  They are not too tall yet, but I have my hopes, and it is nice to have their flowers so late in the year.

The bees still manage to get out to forage for nectar and pollen despite the rain.  They have to “faire avec” as we all have to during these rainy days.

Thus saying, I was surprised to see a cricket perched on top of my pink rose in the front garden.  It does not seem a good place to be camouflaged from hungry birds. In addition, it is not very far away from our bird feeder.

More surprisingly it was still there the next day!  Is it the same one or is it cricket time?

 


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The October Garden

After months of drought now everything is wet!   The Nerine bowdenii has shot up with rain, totally unconcerned with the dry summer as it lay dormant underground.  But the petals are sodden.

The little cyclamen have pushed through undeterred by the dry summer.  Certainly autumn flowering bulbs and tubers are good drought resistant plants for the garden.

The bees go out for nectar and pollen when the rain stops but this poor bumble bee was quite soaked from the wet petals.

The Tulip tree or Liriodendron did not get watered during the summer but the autumn rains have been sufficient to allow it to put on its usual autumn show.

Since we have had rain the Chosia ternata “Sundance” has started flowering.  I find the Choisias do very well in the garden and as well as the C. ternata (basic?) I have a Choisia ternata “Aztec pearl”. which I prefer as I like the finer leaves.  Yesterday, I saw a Choisia ternata “White Dazler” in a nursery.  It was covered in white, very perfumed flowers that the bees seemed to be appreciating as much as I was appreciating the perfume.  I paused from purchasing as I do not have a place ready for it at the moment, and it was 35 euros.  Has anyone experience with this variety?

My Osmanthus heterophyllus “Goshiki” has also come through the summer to provide us with loads of perfumed flowers but it does live in a shady spot and did not have to withstand any scorching.

Today was sunny and in the low twenties Centigrade and it was so good to get into the garden after all the rain, even though the work to be done is a bit daunting.

The good thing about sunny days in the garden is that you are never alone.

Today a grasshopper joined us for morning coffee.

Then we were amused while we had lunch on the patio by the antics of another green insect.  This time better camouflaged, in amongst my potted Salvia uliginosa.

This is the Praying mantis doing her special photo pose, with me taking her from her best side.  They seem such clumsy creatures that do not seem to know quite what to do with such long legs.

Kourosh is a fan of Praying mantis and the insect did not object to being handled gently.  Some people keep them as pets.  I’m glad Kourosh seems to be satisfied with keeping his bees.