a french garden


24 Comments

An April to remember

The one strong feature of the garden in April is the perfume of the Wisteria as it pervades the garden and the house.

Of course, there is the noise of the Carpenter and bumble bees in the Wisteria that is part of April as well.

The Cerinthe is well established in the front garden now and pushes through unbidden each year.  I have a little in the back garden but it is so attractive for the bumble bees and Anthophora that I will collect the seed and throw more in the back garden.

I like to read under the olive tree where the Cerinthe have decided to grow thickly and the noise of the buzz pollination of the bumble bees can be distracting!

April is to watch the fruit trees flower one after the other.

It is to watch the Andrena fulva in the blackcurrant flowers again.

The Camassia bulbs in the pot in the patio have once again opened their flowers providing us with entertainment with our morning coffee outside.  I highly recommend three or four Camassia bulbs in a pot as a sure magnet for bumble bees.  They do not last long but I savour them while they flower.

Another relatively short flash of beauty is the tree peony which is going from strength to strength giving us more of its huge blossoms each year.

But despite all the expected pleasures there are always new discoveries.  This year I have seen bumble bees taking nectar from the white Spirea for the first time.  It is good to know that these bushes that do so well at the side of the garden can also be useful for the bees.

My one concern this April is the lack of rain and the low ground water level in the area.  Watering has now been forbidden until after 7 o’clock in the evening.  Winter and spring is the time for heavy rain here and we have had very little.  I would not expect any appreciable rainfall until next autumn.

This coupled with high day temperatures (often over 25 degrees centigrade) and some mornings with a thin layer of ice on top of the bird bath in the back garden make it an April to remember.

 

Advertisements


19 Comments

A confused spring

For the past couple of days we have had sunshine and temperatures going up to 26 degrees centigrade.  Sitting outside (in the shade in the afternoon) it feels more like summer.

The large plum tree has finished flowering and yet many of the trees like the Ash and Poplar still look skeletal from afar.

The Salix chermesina (foreground) have been cut down to leave pride of place to the Amelanchier.

I never had a species name for my Amelanchier but it is always full of blossom in the spring and I like its branched form.  Unfortunately the bees and pollinators are not impressed.

The peach tree is in blossom and…

the apricots have plenty of green fruit.  However, April can be cold here and frosts can be expected until the beginning of May, so I am not counting my apricots yet.

I have been starting to change the very bottom of the garden into a “Spring Walk”, inspired by Christina her Italian garden.  This part of the garden had been overrun and thick with brambles and ivy and had to be left on its own for many years.  Because of the trees there is little light in the summer but I thought I could introduce some spring flowers.

There were too many daffodil bulbs in the borders in other parts of the garden which had to be thinned out.  I thought that if they had prospered and multiplied with little care in the various borders then they might survive at the bottom of the garden, which is very dry in the summer.  The problem was there is little soil over the tree roots so it was a case of sticking them in during the autumn and covering them up with divots taken from clearing the borders.  Miraculously, they survived and have flowered.  We have also been trying to seed some of the woodland flowers from around us in this area for some years now.

We have been keeping the path strimmed roughly and after the daffodils  finished there was a beautiful path of dandelions.  It is not only here that the dandelions are prospering but all over the garden and over the fields outside.  I have never seen so many dandelions in the spring.  It must seem like manna for the bees and other pollinators.

I now have a request.  The white flowers look like snowdrops (sorry about the photograph but white flowers on long stems are past my photographic ability – just think big snowdrops) but I have forgotten their name.  I have a feeling I saw them in Cathy’s garden some years ago.  I don’t think this should be too hard for you gardeners out there.

Next I.D.!  This has been grown from a cutting from a dubious source.  It is not fast growing but it is very tough and makes excellent ground cover.  The leaves are small – check out the nettle in the foreground for scale.

This year it is covered with little white/pale lemon flowers which the bees like (which is the reason we took the cuttings in the first place.)  It is evergreen and keeps mainly a low profile put it has thrown up the odd higher shoot this year.  Perhaps this is a more difficult one to name?  Any help with the names will be welcomed.

I am always impressed with tough plants.  This picture was taken on the 14 March 2017.  This is my Anisodontea which was still flowering last December although the leaves were starting to go red in the cold and now it has started to flower again!  I think I will try and take some cuttings.

Another new plant is my Lonicera tatarica which is covered in these delicate dark pink flowers.  All the bees like it but they are a bit spoiled for choice with the number of flowers available for them at the moment.

The Viburnum tinus has masses of blossom and is that bit earlier to flower.  We have divided the shoots from our large bush to provide hedging for the side of the garden so we should have even more flowers next year.

I used to love the chrome yellow flowers of Forsythia in the spring and I have several plants but since I have become interested in the bees it has dropped low on my list of favourites.  I see very few bees on the flowers – but there will always be the one to keep you guessing!

Our bat is still with us and is enjoying the sunny weather.  It let me get a good photograph to show the white tips of its black fur.  I had read that the Barbastelle bat’s have white tips to their black hairs but they are not always apparent in the shade.  It flies off on its adventures at dusk, just as night falls.

Just now the moment is around 21.00 hours and we watch it take flight, never knowing if it will be the last time we wave it goodbye – for this year.


38 Comments

The good and bad in November

all-well

We were two weeks in the U.K. and returned home to sunshine to find all was well with the garden.

broadbeans-up

The broad beans had popped through while we were away.

courgette-for-soup

The courgettes had, not unexpectedly, finished but had left us three courgettes which went into some soup.

brussel-sprouts

The brussel sprouts are great.  You either love them or hate them and I love them.

img_7326

The medlar are still hard and their leaves look better from a distance providing a splash of yellow.

cotoneaster

I was pleased that the cotoneaster were full of berries.  After such a dry summer I thought the birds might be in short supply of food for the winter but it has not been the case.

eriobotrya-japonica

Our first loquat or Eriobotrya japonica flowers are progressing happily.

altea

The “Althea” which our friend Michel has given us is still flowering.  It is not a Hibiscus syriacus as those have larger flowers and have long since formed fruit and succumbed to the autumn.  The honey bees know it is not, as they are attracted to its flowers.  Perhaps it is a variety of Lavatera.  It is a much finer shrub with softer and more delicate leaves than the Lavatera I have.

elaeagnus

For me the star of the back garden just now is the Elaeagnus.  The wonderful perfume can be smelt metres away (I must check exactly how far) even when temperatures are as low as ten degrees centigrade.  I admit the flowers are far from stunning but it is all worth it for that delicious perfume.  In addition, the flowers provide nectar for the over wintering queen bumble bees.

clathrus-ruber

Not far away in the grass is the basket fungus Clathrus ruber with a diferent odour.  I am fascinated by its complex globe structure but you would not want to stay too close too long.  The rotting smell, thankfully, does not carry too far so I am quite happy when it pops up in the autumn.

clathrus-ruber-egg

Close beside it another fruiting body has pushed out of the soil.  This “egg” shape will eventually split and I will be treated to another red basket display.

mr-blackbird

The birds in the front garden have started feasting on the first ripe Persimmon.  We have since removed the ripest fruit to finish ripening in the house but we have left the birds their share too.  The greener ones will continue ripening slowly on the tree and we will collect these later.

mrs-blackbird

This foray looked like a family affair with Mr. and Mrs. blackbird although I thought male blackbirds had much yellower beaks than this male.

muzzle-trial

Our pleasure at returning home received a shock when we visited the bees.  The Asian hornets that had seemed fewer this year had profited from our absence and targeted the bees.  We saw hornets exiting from “Iris” which we fear lost.  We immediately put on a muzzle on the front of Poppy to see if it would protect her.  We chose her as the front of her hive is flat and so easier to fix the muzzle.  We have not decided whether this is helping or not.

8-hornets-001

Despite rain, which we thought would protect them, we found eight hornets had entered the muzzle in front of Iris.  There were not eight dead bees in the trap so perhaps they immediately took fright.  Once they realise they are trapped, the hornets lose their hunting instinct and will seek an exit until they die exhausted.

I phoned a friend to see how she was getting on and discovered she had experienced a surge in the hornet attack in the past two weeks (just when we were in the U.K.!).  She fears she has lost at least two of her four hives.

Sad news to end on.

 


27 Comments

Autumn has started

back-garden-2

Autumn has started with temperatures of 27 degrees centigrade and sunshine.  We have had one heavy rainfall and I am pleased to see that most of the trees look like they have come through the dry summer.  I think the two consecutive wet winters and spring had filled up the ground water as I did not (could not) water the trees but only the vegetable garden and some of the young plants.

belle-de-boskop

This is our Belle de Boskoop.  I like the large, crunchy apples of the Belle de Boskoop but even counting on our other three apple trees, we are going to have no storage problems for the apple harvest – there is just enough to keep us going for eating and a bit more for compote to freeze.

pear

The pear harvest is also meagre but I am not complaining as I am only too happy that they have survived.

cyclamen

What did surprise me was that some cyclamen shot through the soil a few days after the rain.  The corms had lain in the baking soil until the rain and the season stimulated the flower production.  The leaves are appearing slowly like an afterthought.

red-poppy

Not all plants have such a good synchronisation with the seasons and this poppy that has self seeded from the spring ones has skipped a few months.

swallow-tail-caterpillar

I thought this Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) caterpillar on my fennel stalks had missed the boat for this year but checking in Wiki I found out that the later broods can overwinter as pupae which is what I presume will happen to this one.

heptacodium-micanoides-1

One of my great disappointments in the garden is the Heptacodium micanoides that I planted to replace the shrub I bought (and lost ) as Heptacodium jasminoides.  I raved about this shrub Heptacodium jasminoides, the bumble bee tree in 2012 and again The last days of September in 2013.  I have two healthy H. micanoides now but neither of them are perfumed.  Not surprising, you say, as they are different species but as far as I can understand the difference is only a name change, as there is only the one representative of the genus.  The second difference is that although the bumble bees are attracted to the shrub it is not pulling in the bees like my first Heptacodium.  Any ideas?

hibiscus-trionum

Last year I had a beautiful patch of Hibiscus trionum, or Flower of an hour.  I had hopes that here they might be perennial, or at least self-seed, but despite the mild winter I have found only one flower.  Never mind, I kept the seeds from last year so they can be sown again in the spring in the ground or in pots.

21-9-16-midday

On the topic of puzzles – what is this honey bee doing?  I had cut the basil I grow in a pot on the patio about a week ago to dry the leaves but I left the stalks as they are quite happy to push out some more leaves.  While having our lunch we noticed bees around the pot and one bee in particular seemed to be treating a damaged leaf like an ice lolly.

bee-on-basil

The long tongue was slid over the back and then the front of the leaf.  It was just after midday and their was no obvious moisture on the leaf and I wonder if they can extract oils from the leaves?  No wonder their honey tastes so good!

bee-on-cosmos-sulphureus

The bees are also through the Cosmos sulphureus.  They must keep their options open as when we go walking we are greeted first by the smell of the ivy flowers and then the noise of the bees overhead.  The ivy is just opening here and the flowers that receive more sun, such as the ones on the tops of the trees, open first.  It is the last great feast for all the pollinators.

male-ivy-bee

The male ivy bees (Colletes hedera) which nest in a dry path not far from the house are searching hopefully for females that are just starting to appear.

lindas-pretty-pink-flower

Back to the garden and another puzzle.  This is called “Linda’s pretty pink flower”.  We saw it in a friend’s garden and we were delighted to be given one for our own garden.  Linda had momentarily forgotten the name and I forget to ask her whenever I see her!  Can anyone help out here?

 


33 Comments

The heat goes on

cosmos-1

It has been a difficult summer in the garden.  The best laid plans have been scuppered by the heat and lack of rain.  I had sown Cosmos suphureus seeds by the vegetable garden to have lots to plant for a bright August garden.  However, the heat and lack of any rain did not allow me to move anything.

rudbeckia-and-cosmos

It’s not all doom and gloom, I did manage to coax some Rudbeckia and Cosmos to flower in the front garden and the bees still enjoyed the flowers even if they were in the wrong place.

too-much-pollen

There are hardly any Hollyhock flowers left so the bees are obliged to visit the Hibiscus syriacus.  They are not as popular as the Hollyhocks and I wonder if it is because their pollen is a lot stickier?  This male bumble had to spend a long time grooming after his drink of nectar.

hibiscus-moscheutos

I have been given another Hibiscus which our friend Michel had grown from one in his garden.  This one has a much lighter open growth and has more than one stem.  In addition, the honey bees like it.  It has five petals and a shorter pistil proportionally to the H. syriacus.

annies-red-robin

Gardners love to share their treasures and when my cousin and his wife, Annie, visited us from Seattle in the summer of 2014, Annie brought seeds of Red Robin tomatoes that she had saved from year to year for twenty years.  I was delighted when this spring I got a large crop of seedlings.  I planted them throughout the garden and then watched as they failed to thrive and disappeared (homesickness?).  The only clump that survived was under the olive tree, I do not think they could take the full sun this summer.  Now I have tasted these tiny tomatoes I have decided to collect my own seed and I think I will be able to choose better places for them next year.

cotinus

Then there are the gifts of unknown species.  This was given to me by my sister as “You know that tree with the red leaves” – (you will note the plant does not have red leaves.)  It has taken me a year but I have deduced that it could be Cotinus.

caryopteris

At the same time she had potted up a cutting of – “You know that plant with the blue flowers that the bees like”.  It was quite a small cutting and the bees like quite a lot of blue flowers.  Never the less, it was a good cutting and it survived tucked away forgotten under larger neighbours until its blue flowers poked through a few days ago and I saw the first Caryopteris I’ve ever had.

anemone

I’ve even forgiven her for giving me pots of her Japanese anemones when I was starting the garden.  I found them so invasive that I have spent the last years systematically, but unsuccessfully, rooting them out.  Today I noticed a bumble bee on one that had cunningly concealed itself under my large fuchsia.  Perhaps if the bees like them I could permit a few to survive.

lagerstroemia-indica

I freely admit I am totally biased when it comes to plants that provide for wild life, especially bees.  At this time of year in France many of the streets in town centres are lined with Lagerstroemia indica, usually the pink flowered trees.  They are popular garden trees as well, but I had found them gaudy.  I was very surprised to see how beautiful the bark was in winter.  I craved the beautiful bark in winter but the pink flowers were still too gaudy for me until Michel pointed out how the flowers attracted the bees.

bee-line

It changed my perspective on the tree and it did not seem quite so gawdy but instead appeared an ideal tree to brighten the garden in summer and add interest with its bark in winter.  Is this opinion shift common in gardeners?  Do we mellow to certain plants over time?

lagerstroemia-indica-2

So last week we were delighted to receive a present of  a pink Lagerstroemia indica which was planted with great care in the front garden.  Now I have to wait to see how long it will take for the formation of the fascinating bark.


35 Comments

Hot August Days

parched grassAugust has been hot and  dry.  Rain showers have passed to the north of us and to the south of us but we remain parched.  The trees must be able to reach lower damper soil with their roots but even they are tiring.  The leaves are starting to change to autumn colour because of the drought stress and the apples are falling.

weeded look

I have to water the young plants and the judicious watering is creating a well-weeded took as even the weeds are succumbing.

Saville gdns hydrangia

My “Savill Garden” hydrangea has survived and flowered for the first time but only the cared for plants can make it through the hot sun and dryness.  Even the lavender requires some water.

Canna

Only the Canna has survived and flourished without watering.  I don’t actually like it and years ago I presumed I could kill it if I never watered it.  Not so.  Now I keep it as it provides a trouble free hedging and it is easily controlled by pulling out the new plants once a year either in autumn or spring.

A gold star goes to a tough, yellow flower that I was given, I think it must be a perennial sunflower.  This on the other hand is a favourite as the bees adore it.

B.sylvarum.. (1)

I could do with a help on the I.D. here.  Even the bees are getting bleached in the sun!  I would like to know if this is a Shrill Carder bumble bee or just a very bleached other carder.

B.sylvarum.. (2)

Here is a side shot if it helps.

Whip snake long view

One creature that was enjoying a hot sunny spot in the garden was this Western Whip snake or couleuvre.

Whip snake portrait

They are not venomous and very shy, not hanging around when disturbed.  I was surprised, therefore, to see it later in a different part of the garden.  Coincidently, it was near a hose each time.

garden hose

In view of the colour of our garden hose, I wonder if it was just looking for a friend?

Bumble bee mint

Outside of the garden the wild mint is in flower and attracts loads of bees and butterflies.

honey bee mint

I have let our mint flower in the garden too and notice our bees on the flowers.  Does this meant that our honey will have mint overtones?

honey bee gaura

The Gaura is the favourite flower of the honey bees in the garden at the moment.  The pollen is all carried away by mid-morning but I notice the bees fill-up on the nectar while collecting the pollen.

Artemisia absinthium

I am fascinated by my Artemisia absinthium bush.  This is the plant used in the production of absinthe and known commonly as Wormwood as it was used in the treatment of intestinal worms.

What fascinates me is that I never see an insect on it: not a fly, or bee or butterfly.  Yet it has pleasant little yellow pom-pom flowers that remind me of Mimosa.  It was at one time used for strewing on floors to keep insects away or for folding into materials to protect them from damage by mites.

I have tried rubbing it in my hands and it has a not unpleasant odour and I wonder how it would fare as an anti-mosquito treatment.  I think I will cut the branches and try it in the cupboards this winter as an anti-moth remedy.

Sphinx caterpillar

This caterpillar did not come from my garden.  My neighbour Annie brought it down to me as she knew I would be interested.  It was 12 cm. long and 2 cm. tall (?), a real chunky chappy.  I recognised it as a Sphinx caterpillar but as it happened our beekeeper friend, Michel, was here too and correctly explained that these caterpillars grow into Death’s head hawkmoths; moths that love honey and can invade bee hives.  I must admit I was a bit sceptical of moths attacking bee hives but check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death%27s-head_hawkmoth.

Poor bees they have a lot to put up with!

 

 

 

 


36 Comments

A February of contradictions

Frozen molehill.JPG

It has not really been a cold month, with hardly any frost but in the middle of the month there was a hard one that froze the molehills, making cunning trip traps for me as I made my way down the garden.  It has been a good winter for the moles.

Frozen daddodils

The frost tried to beat the spring flowers into submission but the daffodils take it in their stride.

Broadbeans

Not so the broad beans that should not be flowering yet.  They are less hardy and have lost their first flowers to the cold.  Will we have a broad bean harvest this year?  It depends on the weather that will follow on.

Frozen HydrangeaSome plants look even better frosted.

Budding HydrangeaBut maybe it is time to clip the old flower heads to let the sun reach the new shoots.

Choisia Sundance

The Choisia Sundance is a star of the winter garden whether frosted or not it adds a splash of colour even in the dull winter days.

Frozen garden

The frosted back garden is quiet.  Although I prefer the cold to the higher than average rainfall we have been having this month.  February has been unusually wet and grey.

Bee on plum flowers.JPGBut it has not prevented the big plum tree from flowering and on the sunny days I can hear a comforting buzz from the bees collecting the pollen and nectar.  The butterflies also visit but not in great numbers.  Last year we had very few plums as the weather was very similar and the newly pollinated flowers were destroyed by a subsequent frost.  I notice that the tree has been opening its flowers slowly so perhaps like this there will be more chance that some fruit will hold if the cold returns.

Hazel flowers

The hazel trees started to push open their discrete flowers in February.  The catkins were already open and presenting their pollen to the wind and any passing bees that might be interested.  I have read that the hazel pollen is a precious source of protein for the bees at this time of year but try as I might I’ve never seen any bees on them let alone steal a photograph.  Those sneaky bees!

Bee in Hellebore

It’s not hard to find bees on the Hellebores, in fact, you’ll hear them first.  The pollen is a dull grey/beige but it must taste good as it is very popular.

Hyacinthe bee

The Hyacinths too are popular with both the honey bees and the queen bumble bees.  But even the bees get lulled into a false sense of spring with a few sunny days.  I found a frozen bumble bee queen one frosty morning futilely  sheltering inside a hyacinth flower.  Why had she not taken better shelter for the night?

Colletes 17.2.2016

The solitary bees have started to appear but I wonder if they regret their early arrival during the rainy days.

Reinette

The Reinettes (Hyla meridionalis) seem content with the situation.  They croak happily on the patio when it is raining and sit serenely soaking up the rays when it is sunny.  It is so good to feel the winter sun after the gloom.