a french garden


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Of cold days and Hellebores

Mid morning today the temperature was not above four degrees Centigrade.  Such a quiet garden.  The Viburnum tinus had no visitors.

At least the willow buds (Salix caprea) are protected from the cold by their white, silky fleece.  There is no urgency for them to open as the wild bees will be still safely tucked into their nests in hollow stems or tunnels in the ground or perhaps in our house walls.  The honey bees will be in their hives while the cold prevails.

I think of the nectar and pollen that the willow will provide but for the willow the season will arrive and its pollen will be dispersed and seed will be set irrespective of the bees and other pollinators because it is wind pollinated.  The bees can help a bit but they depend on the willow much more than the willow depends on them.

The Hellebore are providing colour in the cold weather, oblivious to the chill.

My mainstay Hellebore is a dark purple plant.  I inherited several seedlings of them from my sister’s garden in the U.K. and it has taken some years to establish clumps of them around the garden.

She has been generous with her seedlings and whereas I was hoping my deep purple might revert, I think it is relatively stable.  This spotty pink is probably another of her seedlings.

This one has green markings but but is more likely to have come from a later seedling of my sister’s than a natural hybrid.

The Hellebore self-seed so well I thought I might try my hand at pollinating a white Hellebore with a dark one and collecting the resulting seed.  I opened a white bud and liberally rubbed pollen from the dark red Hellebore, closed the bud and tied thick red wool around the flower head.  I get ten out of ten for enthusiasm and enterprise but the poor flower is brown and shows signs of a too rough treatment.  I’ll try again but more gently.

I did treat myself to a named variety last year in the U.K. –  Helleborus Harvington.  Unfortunately, I have just discovered this refers to the Hellebore bred by Hugh Nunn at Harvington and there are many varieties of beautiful Hellebore that he has bred.  So I still do not have a named variety.

Luckily, I love all my Hellebore.  I do not mind that for the most part they hang their heads and conceal the beautiful interiors.

The bees care little about the position of the flower heads either.

I took the photographs of the bees on the Hellebore on 2 February and you can see the ivory pollen she has gathered.   The Hellebore are generous to the bees and also provide them with nectar.  I, in my turn, am rewarded with lots of Hellebore seedlings that I lift and tend in seed trays over the summer until I find a suitable place for them.

I am finding them very useful in the garden as they can be put under the shade of deciduous trees and will take being baked in the summer when they are established.

Hey girls!  I really am trying to make sure there is enough for everyone.

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Rain, rain

Last night on the news it said that this January in France has seen the highest rainfall in a hundred years!  I must admit everyone around is bemoaning the clouds and the rain although, as a gardener, I tend to see the bright side of all this as everything was too dry last year.  In addition, we have had no local flooding – not yet anyway.

Most of the winter flowers seem happy to cope with the rain, humidity and low light conditions but not my Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox).  The wet fading flowers are being attacked by black mold, however, on the rare days we get the sunshine the wonderful perfume of the Wintersweet flowers permeates the air.

The Wintersweet only started to flower last year and this is last year’s photograph of the beautiful, waxy petals of the  flower.  I will have to wait another year to see it in full flower.

The birds on the other hand do not appear to mind the rain and the Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) come down to forage in our “lawn” ignoring the sparrows and the bird food on the patio.  This photograph has been taken through the window while it was raining so the quality is not excellent.

The grass is shooting up as high as the finch’s head and making him bedraggled.

I wondered what they could be eating until I saw that the grass is already producing ample flower heads and the grass seeds are easily seen sticking to its beak.  I had never considered that the grass seed would be so attractive to them.

Hey you two!  There is a new birdhouse all ready hanging in the apricot tree on the side of the garden that you prefer.  Take a look in while you are here.


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Help for small gardeners

I take my composting seriously (sad but true).  So I decided to buy myself a pre-Christmas present in December and was excited when the box arrived a few days later.

I had coveted this strange item ever since I had “had a go” with it in a natural gardening open day.

To make good compost rapidly I have been told the compost needs to be mixed frequently and I have seen videos of large compost heaps being attacked vigorously with garden forks.

I do not have sufficient strength to dig into piles of vegetable matter and in addition we keep our compost in wooden containers to keep it tidy and to conserve the warmth of decomposition.  You would need to be tall to be able to fork through these compost boxes or be happy to demantle them every few days, which is not an easy job.

I do not usually feature the composting site on the blog, for obvious reasons.  I’ve had to leave the tops open as once I had used my Brass compost mixer (for those interested in etymology, brasser means to mix or toss in French), I noticed that the mixture was quite dry in parts.

In short, I am delighted with it.  I can burrow into my compost heap creating tunnels leading to the bottom layers and distributing the extracted cores on the top and sides.  This is a video of the inventor showing how it works.

The mixer is produced by the ESAT de l’ODET near Quimper which is run by the Association for the paralysed in France (l’Association des Paralysés de France).

I think all I have to do now is put on the top and wait for some warmer weather to speed up the composting – and of course, keep turning it with my new brass compost every few days.

 


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Frost

The last day of November brought frost to the garden.

For some flowers like the rose above and the pink Anisodontea it will herald the end to their flowering season.

The Mahonia will shrug off this slight inconvenience…

as will the winter flowering honeysuckle.

The frost will help keep the other Camelia buds tightly closed for a few months yet (I hope).

The flowers of the Loquat tree shrug off the frost and later were happy to diffuse their perfume and supply the passing queen bumble bees with nectar in the afternoon sunshine.

My Viburnum davidii looked attractive with its frosted flowers but I thought it was a spring flowering plant (?).  I must admit it has had a hard life.  In an effort to care for it I gave it a good dose of horse manure a couple of years ago.  Unfortunately, I had not left the manure long enough to compost down and the leaves promptly started to crinkle and look burnt at the edges.  The plant has only just recovered and is perhaps still reeling from my over zealous attention.

Its not just the flowers that look good frosted.  The Linden tree still holds some of its fruits.  I pick the flowers for their delicious tea but I have to leave some for the bees.

This cotoneaster looks particularly good as some of its leaves have turned red.

This is the only cotoneaster bush that still has berries.  All the others have been stripped completely, which seems a bit early for us.  I cannot understand how they could miss this bush.  The berries are bright enough.

They say Medlars taste better after a frost but we have already been eating ours and I have never noticed an appreciable difference in the taste.  We must take them in now, or at least a good portion, to finish ripening inside.  We will leave a share for the birds who have already been sampling a few of them.

I always feel sorry for the bees when it is cold, but their hives are in a very sheltered spot of the garden and they were able to get out for a while in the afternoon sun.

 

 


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to Autumn

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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).

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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.

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

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

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

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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


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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.

 


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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.