a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Is it autumn?

The trees are starting to have brown leaves.

Some of the leaves are starting to fall.

The new little Tetradium daniellii, tree which flowered for the first time last year, has not flowered this year and its leaves are turning yellow.

Luckily, I have another established Tetradium and my new little tree turned out to be a female and the flowers produced seeds. I planted them last December, just to see what would happen and now I have a little seedling!

The Caryopteris in the front garden is still flowering well and attracting the bees. Last year we cut it back after it had flowered so there was a considerable number of cuttings. I don’t know if it was the correct timing but Kourosh put six cuttings in a pot and they all took!

We put the cuttings in various places in the garden to bide their time until finding permanent homes and now they are flowering! That is quite a success story, so it must be an easy plant to take cuttings from, so if you have some in your garden…

The cosmos add so much colour to the front garden at this time of year.

The cosmos make great landing spots for all types of bees.

They are also a good source of pollen.

This year I noticed the honeybees on the sedum before it was completely opened.

I associate sedum more with bumblebees and butterflies but this year has been different, perhaps because we had such a dry August.

This year we had less summer honey than last year. Now we are treating the bees against the varroa mite with thymol which is a natural extract of thyme oil. It has a strong smell and the bees do not like it but Violette makes the most fuss.

It was quite hot on Monday so Kourosh supplied her with a parasol but she was still unhappy. As long as it makes her scratch the horrible mites off, then it will be worth it.

This week white cosmos have started to flower everywhere in the garden. As they are mainly self-seeded I do not understand why the white coloured cosmos have flowered later than the pink/lilac ones.

A new season is coming but it is reassuring to find a baby marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus) in the garden. Everything has been so strange and disturbed this year that it is good to see that these newts have continued to breed in the garden.


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Blue flowering shrubs in August

Some years ago (2016),I bought two blue flowering shrubs for the bees at the same time. This one is called Vitex agnus-castus or also in France, Gatillier or if you prefer “Poivres des Moines” meaning monks’ pepper. Perhaps all that was too much for me given that the other blue shrub also has multiple names.

O.K. the flowers of Elsholtzia stauntonii are not a true blue so I think the description I was given when I purchased the plants was somewhat unclear and both plants took their time flowering for me. Elsholtzia stauntonii is also called “Menthe en Arbre” or tree mint which looking at the flowers clears things up a lot for me. The leaves are supposed to be aromatic but I had to really squash them between my fingers to release the odour – which for me was not mint or menthol. We have not had rain for a while so the poor plants are perhaps cutting back a bit on unessential perfume essences just to survive.

I find the flower of the Vitex more attractive but once again I was not able to sense the aromatic perfume that it is meant to exude without squashing the leaf between my fingers. I recommend you trying this, if you ever get the chance, as it is a interesting perfume and not at all unpleasant. I will have to wait until the berries appear and crush those to see if they are more aromatic. It was these berries that the monks were reputed to eat to calm any unchaste ardour. The berries are used in herbal medicine but sound too potent for the uninitiated to play with.

The Elsholtzia has been disappointing up until now to attract bees, perhaps the wild mint that we have allowed to grow in patches of the garden is enough for them.

The third shrub is beautiful at the moment and attracting lots more bees than the other two. It is the Caryopteris “Grand Bleu”. Each garden is different and I am sure the plants will behave a little differently in different soils and climates but gardeners do a lot to support wildlife in these times where the planet is so heavily stressed.

My main crop from the vegetable garden is tomatoes which usually grow so well here. This year has been a disaster as you can see from the empty wigwams and bare poles.

The tomato plants have succumbed to mildew. It was the fate of all the neighbours’ crops too. For the first year I have had to buy tomatoes to make coulis to freeze for the winter. The African marigolds have done well, perhaps we have them to thank for a healthy crop of butternut and the red Kuri squash.

At least we are going to be self-sufficient in squash for the winter this year.

The Cosmos provide a lot of colour in the garden at the moment. They are a magnet for the bees.

It is not only the honey bees that benefit from the nectar and pollen provided by the Cosmos, this is a little Halictus bee.

My Cosmos are very tall, and they often fall over or I break their stems accidentally. I wish that there were shorter varieties. Does anyone know of any shorter coloured Cosmos?

We have lots of Cosmos sulphureus in shades of yellow – some darker than others and I find they do not grow so tall and are probably even more popular with the pollinators but I do like the variety of colour provided by the other Cosmos.

We have had no rain now for some time and I notice that some of the trees, like this cherry tree are accumulating yellow leaves. I do not think that it is just the lack of water.

This is a male red-tailed bumblebee. This to me signals the beginnings of autumn. The red-tailed bumble bee queens will be starting to produce new queens and males. These will mate and the new queens will have to survive the winter before she too starts a colony of bumblebees. The old queen will be slowing down and she will not survive long into the autumn.

In the Charente-Maritime it is warm and sunny and I am looking forward to autumn days in the garden with the autumn flowers. I hope you will enjoy a mild and mellow autumn in your garden.


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More eggs

Some years ago I planted Allium cernuum bulbs and loved the flowers but larger plants grew over them and they perished.

A year ago I decided to plant seed and keep them in a pot. This is the result of the second year of my half packet of seeds. They came up so well that I decided to plant the other half of the seeds this spring – but I forgot to stratify them with a cold period. The second sowing has not germinated so I better look after these bulbs!

They are also called Nodding Onion and you can see the family resemblance in the papery covering of the flower bud.

Of course I grow them to watch the bumblebees that love them.

I love her heart-shaped pollen load!

The pot stays on the steps so that we can watch the bees from the living room.

I noticed that my blue geranium was not looking too happy and I decided to release her from the pot. The temperatures are shooting up this week to 35 degrees Centigrade (95 F) so I am starting to reduce my pots if possible.

It was a bit of a struggle to get the pot bound plant out of the small top of the pot (bad design!) but as I struggled I noticed things falling on the earth!

I think these are lizard eggs. A number of years ago I found similar eggs and kept them inside in moistened vermiculite until they hatched – and they were lizards. This time I have just covered them with soil and hoped for the best.

At the moment the Philadelphus and the Linden tree are competing for most perfumed plant in the garden.

We have several Philadelphus in the garden, all very beautiful and all very perfumed but none of them attract the bees; strange.

The fledged Redstarts have flown the nest and we see them in the back garden but Kourosh noticed that a redstart was visiting the nest box again. On the first of June he tried for a photograph and found one newly laid egg!

On the fifth of June he tried to see if she had more eggs but – oops, she was in residence. On the eight June she has a clutch five eggs. They are a prolific pair as the last chicks had only left the nest a few days before she started laying again.

Our excitement this week was that our Melia azedarach tree has flowered for the first time. Kourosh planted seeds he had collected from beautiful trees we had seen flowering in Girona in Spain. We did not know what they were and it was only through help on this blog we found out what the tree was called.

There are not many flowers on the tree yet but it is a start.


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Rain refreshes May

We have had rain and the garden and trees are looking much fresher. We have not had heavy rain but sunshine and showers suit me fine.

Our tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is in flower. It is called Tulipier de Virginie in french so the name is a give away for its place of origin. Unfortunately, a lot of french people call Magnolia grandiflora a tulipier because of its big white flowers that look like over sized tulips and it causes a lot of confusion. We have both plants in the garden but now is the moment for Liriodondron.

It is not a flower that could easily be mistaken.

It was one of the first trees we planted because it had always fascinated me and I never expected it to get so big but it has plenty of space in the garden and I still appreciate its strange flowers.

This is one of our mullein plants (Verbascum thapsus), it is a common weed here and has grown spontaneously in the garden. However, we look out for the baby plants of this biennial in the autumn and transfer them to where we want them to flower the following summer. We try and fit in as many as we can because the plants will grow to be over one metre tall and are surmounted by a yellow flower head that is extremely attractive to bees and provides excellent pollen. The plants provide architectural interest and have long tap roots that allows them to easily survive dry summer conditions.

At the moment they are almost all being ravaged by the mullein moth (Cucullia verbasci). I could easily pick them off by hand but I am interested to see whether the mullein will recover, if left alone.

In addition, the redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) have started nesting under our carport, as they did last year.

That means a lot of mouths to feed for the parents and we see both parents entering the nest box with what looks like caterpillars. What kind of caterpillars they bring is impossible to tell.

We watch another bird from the utility and kitchen windows.

The hoopoe (Upupa epops) is a frequent visitor to the garden at the moment.

He drills into the soil with such energy that I sometimes wonder if he will come out with one of our moles at the end of his beak – not just a worm.

The redstarts keep a watchful eye on him when he gets too near their nest box and we have seen both parents mob him just to make the boundaries clear to all concerned.


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Plants and places

Sometimes you get it right – sometimes you are a bit off. Here, I am happy we have a Madame Isaac Periere rose just by our doors.

The rose is a deep rich pink and highly perfumed.

What is a bit off is the bright red poppies that I have sown underneath. Not a harmonious choice of colours at all.

The poppies will only be there in the spring and I would prefer to see the bees in them than to go for the colour match. I have also noticed that Anthophora “buzz” pollinate. I thought that it was a phenomenum unique to bumble bees but these Anthophora bounce on the flowers and buzz them to release the pollen.

One of the most difficult places in the garden are the shady, dry spots. I find the Arums cope well. They have huge tubers at their roots and they must store the moisture in the winter and survive on this during the summer.

The Tellima grandiflora manage to survive in the shade and dry and provide delicate flowers that are appreciated by the early bumble bees. They are good at providing a ground cover during the summer and self-seed but are never over powering and unwanted plants are easily removed or transferred.

I am not so lucky with the Iris. Just now, in this region, even the most reticent gardeners have beautiful displays of Iris in a host of beautiful colours.

These Iris are in the border of the front garden. I am not sure how they got there (Kourosh?)

These Iris are at the bottom of the back garden and have been taken over by weeds. There lies my problem. Iris are beautiful when in flower but they do not have the decency to disappear afterwards, like tulips or daffodils. Their rhizomes should be left open to the sun but other plants and weeds seem to find this a great place to grow in.

These Iris are growing outside our front wall and although they look charming at the moment, their ever increasing rhizome base makes it difficult to control throughout the rest of the year.

I do like Iris but I would love to hear how I could grow some or rather where the best place is to put them in a garden.

Some flowers I do not like. These are red hot pokers or Kniphofia. They are just not my colours. We were given a split for our early garden but even with few flowers, I asked Kourosh to dig them up. He did, but pleaded for their relegation to a stony, inhospitable site where nothing else could grow. I relented and then noticed that the bees like them!

I had thought the flowers too narrow to allow the bees to enter. I had not realised that the flowers widen as they mature and the bees can access the flowers. I have never seen any take the pollen.

Here you can actually see the drop of nectar that the bee is lapping with its tongue.

Well. despite the colour the Kniphofia has the right to a place in the garden!

We choose the plants but the frog chooses us. He is happy as we have had our first rain in ages and he likes to sit on the potted lemon tree and make his presence known.

Don’t jump!

Please do not go in there. It may look like fun but you always end up getting stuck in the spout.


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End of April

This is our Persimmon tree. All the new leaf shoots have been frazzled by the frost we had a week or so ago but the damage is only becoming apparent now. Even the Redstarts are confused. They have been coming to survey the bird boxes in the Persimmon tree and I think they are puzzled that there are no leaves.

Not all the plants were affected and the Choisia Sundance is in great form while right beside it the Hydrangia is in a sorry state.

The flowering Ash tree (Fraxinus ornus) looks completery bedraggled with burnt leaves and some sad flowers.

This is what the flowering Ash looked like on 12 April 2019. It was not that the low temperatures were so low this year but our previous temperatures were so high, fooling the plants to think summer had come. This week the temperature has gone up to 29 degrees Centigrade here (84 degrees Fahrenheit), so the yo-yo-ing of weather continues with no rain.

We take advantage of the good weather to enjoy coffees outside. The tree peony is flowering.

The flowers are big, blowsy affairs with a touch of red in the centre. The flowers don’t last too long but at least we are getting sunshine to enjoy them.

Tucked away close bye are a group of blue and pink forget-me-nots. I would never have been able to tempt them to grow where they have appeared but the self-seeders always seem to find a place for themselves.

Poppies are the masters of self-seeding and our first red poppies are out and managing to attract some of the Anthophora bees away from the Cerinthe.

They are noisy bees.

Our first Camassia has flowered in our container. We have a big tub of Camassia near where we sit for coffee. Between the bumble bees and the Anthophora there is always a buzz.

The little tree frog outcompetes the bees. He perches on the lemon tree in its pot on the patio and watches us taking our coffee. I must get a recording of him as he has a powerful croak that belies his tiny size.


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Highs and lows

For the first time the first buds of our Wisteria in the front garden have been frozen. On the second of March I took a photograph of the first flower buds. I should have realised, as they normally flower at the beginning of April, that it was much too early. These first buds have now been freeze dried and crumble to the touch. The front garden looks strange without the Wisteria, They will flower again later in the season but it is never the same as the first flush of flowers before the leaves.

The Sophora japonica is typical of so many of the trees. They look O.K. until you examine them more closely and see their first leaves and shoots have been frozen.

Nothing has been seriously damaged, I don’t think. In fact, I am very proud of how the plants have stood up to our yoyo temperatures this spring. We have been having warm sunny days with temperatures going into the high 20 degree Centigrade with bright blue skies. Then we have had a few nights with temperatures going into the negative.

Some trees are tougher and can take the variable spring temperatures. The Elaeagnus umbellata is a very hardy, easy small tree that the bees love. I bought several small plants for 1euro70 in 2017. Now they are three to three and a half metres tall and I have changed their position from time to time as they have grown, to provide screening. The flowers are perfumed, what more could you want?

Actually, I also look for drought tolerance in my plants but the Elaeagnus ticks this box too. The rainfall has been up and down this year too. At the beginning of the year everywhere around us was flooded because of the heavy rains. Then the rain stopped and we have had no spring showers. The Cerinthe that usually produce flower after flower are not so productive and the leaves are yellowing. I notice the Anthophora starting to shop around the other flowers although the Cerinthe is his favourite. The ground is rock hard.

So we have started the year with floods but I just hope the rest of the year will not be as dry as last year.

There are so many flowering trees and shrubs. Our Amelanchier is a mass of white blossom.

No bees, though.

Not so the Malus or flowering apple, planted last autumn.

It too is a mass of blossom.

But the difference is that the bees love the flowers.

The flowers are very similar to our Golden Delicious apple tree that is in flower just now. The flowers of both Malus varieties are perfect for the bees but we can only handle so much fruit and the flowering variety is putting on a stunning show.

In fact, there is so much in flower at the moment, like the Lonicera tatarica.

Even the tulips that I would say do not attract bees have found favour with this little wild bee.

So what do bees do in the springtime when it is warm and there is an abundance of food?

They swarm!

We have had ten swarms in the garden between the 20 March and the 8 April. Please do not say we should practice swarm control. We only had three hives capable of swarming and we divided one of those. We could be responsible for say three but these are not cast swarms and are a good size.

We do have a lot of large rape seed fields around us and I have a suspicion that a professional beekeeper could have put his hives nearby and his swarms are coming to us.

It is either that or perhaps we are on a crossing of ley lines which is supposed to attract bee swarms? See Bees and Energy (Ley?) Lines by David Cushman.


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Layered pot

Last autumn I wanted some addition cheer on the patio for the spring and I felt like experimenting with something new.

The basil and lemon balm had finished in a big aluminium tub so I turfed it all out and started to plant it with bulbs to come up in sequence (I hoped).

This was taken on 17 February 2021 and already the garden was starting to brighten up. I was getting slightly impatient with my new planter but now at least I had some crocus and the Hyacinths were poking through.

It was not until 1 March 2021 that I thought – yes this might work.

Three days later and I can even see the tulips coming through.

On the 9 March 2021 I judged the display to be at its height.

Today 19 March the display was starting to go over with the Hyacinths finishing.

I decided to measure the pot (51 centimetres or 20 inches diameter by 29 centimetres or 11.5 inches tall) and dig out my bulb packets as I was sure someone would ask me how many bulbs I had planted.

Starting at the bottom, I planted 8 early pink “Candy Prince” tulips and 8 late “Mount Tacoma” tulips. Hold on! There seems to be an extra packet of tulips unaccounted for. Where are the 8 double white late “Mount Tacoma” tulips?

It looks like there are more tulips to come! Better late than never.

Anyway, after the tulips I put a packet of 10 mixed Hyacinths. Then 10 Muscari and finally 20 Crocus “Sieberi”.

I’ve had a lot of fun planting and watching the bulbs grow. I don’t know whether they should be left until the autumn,then tipped out and sorted for planting elsewhere or whether they could survive to reflower in the pot next year.

I think there are too many bulbs to be left but I would really love to hear from anyone who has done this before or has some experience with spring bulbs.


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Little things…

We are still under a curfew at 18.00 to 6.00. The restaurants, cafes and places of entertainment are still closed. You can go clothes shopping but I was never too keen on that and my garden has a very relaxed dress code.

So I have more time to pay attention to smaller stuff. Every morning I check my seed trays. There is great joy if I actually see a change! This is a Cupressus sempervirens seed that has just burst through its seed coat. The little root is making a tentative exploration into the potting compost. The first leaves are still hidden inside the seed coat.

The beginning can be tough if the seed coating sticks onto the new leaves.

Once free of the seed coat the new leaves green up. It is hard to imagine this tiny thread like shoot becoming a tree.

I’ve never grown Morning Glory before but Kourosh saw a video of bees swarming around some Morning Glory so he has decided to grow these climbers around one of our apple trees.

At least their germination is amusing.

No tiny first leaves for them.

They open up like butterflies.

Very impressive first leaves!

Liatris seeds germinating

Then of course there is the problem of how sparingly to sow the seeds. This depends on cost and availability for me. Sometimes you will only receive 4-6 seeds and if it is something you really want it means individual pots and special care.

Last year I grew Liatris for the first time and I kept all the seed. I’ve had no one to share it with this year and as I had no idea if it would germinate, I put all my seeds into one small tray.

Yes, you guessed! I think every seed must have germinated. Of course, I was delighted when I saw the little shoots popping out from their tufted seed capsules. They will not flower this year but form bulbs and flower the year after.

Just after the seeds germinated I noticed they were selling summer bulbs in packets at our local supermarket. I had a look and bought a packet of 15 Liatris bulbs for 2 euro 50, at least these will flower this year. Growing Liatris from seed does not seem an economical proposition but I will be so proud of my home grown ones :).

I often think of a taunt that used to be thrown at people when I was a child – “Little things please little minds.”


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Spring unfolds

I feel spring in our garden starts when our big plum tree flowers and the bees fill the tree making the petals of the plum blossom fall like confetti. There are still some flower buds opening but the big display is over and the total white haze is giving over to hints of green as the leaves start to open.

The perfume is still distinct but another perfume is taking over, especially in the late afternoon, from the Osmanthus burkwoodii that you can see in the bottom right hand corner of the photograph.

The flowers of the Osmanthus burkwoodii are not large or flashy but are highly perfumed and much appreciated by the bees.

The other strong perfume in the garden at the moment comes from the Hyacinths. I used to regard Hyacinths as indoor bulbs and stubby things to grow in a garden.

But I have changed my mind now for they add colour and exquisite perfume so I plant them as near to the terrace as I can. Although I do admit that I have to farm out some of the excess ones to spots further away as they are happy to reflower in the climate here.

In the mornings I like to check my bee boxes before there is too much sun. This is when I can find the Osmia, either still asleep after spending the night cosy inside a hole or just thinking about starting off their day.

Each day brings something different to see. The Bombus praetorum queens are quicker than the bumbling white tailed bumble bee queens, which makes them more difficult to photograph.

This is a better photograph of her but I like the first one better.

This carder bumble bee is a beautiful ginger colour over her entire thorax and abdomen. She is on the Cerinthe which has just started to flower this week. The Cerinthe self-seeds and started growing in the autumn and has not been damaged at all by the mild winter.

The Wisteria has started to open its flower buds. It is a formidable plant. It looks as if the bud is taking off its winter coat.

Another welcome flower has appeared on one of our succulents. I do not know what it is and we have grown it from a piece we have acquired. The succulents are another group of plants that I have grown to appreciate more and more.

We have had so much rain this spring that the early flowers are thriving and I feel that the daisies are bigger this year. It should be a good spring for the bees.

Kourosh is taking no chances and, in case he can tempt any errant swarms, he has placed a small hive at the bottom of the garden.

Also at the bottom of the garden, in a piece of rough ground that we use to compost down the garden rubbish, I noticed a clump of short daffodils/narcissi. I am not very fond of these and they seem to multiply excessively, however, Kourosh likes them. I had to cull them last year and asked Kourosh to dispose of the excess bulbs. Now I know where he put them.