a french garden


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New plants, new places

Spring continues to be mild with plenty of rain to support the abundant new growth.  The large plum tree on the right has finished flowering and has started to put on leaf.

The willows are still bright but I am keeping my eye on them as the leaf buds are just visible and soon they will have to be reduced to stumps providing lots of canes.  More than I will be able to use.

The flowers of the apricot trees stand out on the bare tree discretely.

I have seen the first flower on the Cornus mas.  My plants are quite young but I am hoping for a better show this year.

The Coronilla glauca has more flowers and the ever green leaves a good addition to the hedge.

The Eleagnus ebbingei has produced a good crop of berries this year.  I have read that all the Eleagnus varieties have edible berries (I said edible not tasty) so I will have to have a nibble when they are ripe.

We have another plum tree in flower at the moment.  It is only small and is a shoot from a yellow plum tree that died and had to be cut down.  It is probably a shoot from the root stock and it will be interesting to see if we get any plums from it this year and what kind they will be.

We removed the vines from an area at the top of the garden to create another sitting area.  In the autumn we planted a Pyrus calleryana “Chanticleer”.  This tree has long been a favourite but we had not got a good position.  With the removal of the vines, we decided we could at last have this tree.  It has already produced some flowers but it will take some years before it will put on a show in the spring and shine in its autumn colours.

We have also been tempted to plant the ornamental apple tree Malus coccinella.  It too is quite small.

The little tree has managed to hold onto the little apples that are both decorative and hopefully feed the birds in winter.  I would be interested to hear from anyone with this tree on how keen the birds are on these fruits.

I grew this Loncera nitida from some small cuttings I took some years ago.  I have been very pleased with it as a ground cover plant and I have been transplanting rooted growth to areas I want to cover.  I hope these rooted transplants will take more quickly as the little white flowers are very attractive and much appreciated by the bees just now.

Elsewhere. the Hellebores continue to provide lots of colour.

They mix well with the heather and daffodils and provide good ground cover in the summer time.

The male Osmia cornuta continue to patrol the bee houses but it will be at least another two weeks before the females will come out, I think.  In the meantime they keep dry in the empty bamboo tubes when it is cold and wet and take nectar breaks when it is sunny.


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Mid January in the garden

The constant rain that was the garden’s lot before Christmas has eased up.  The temperatures have only teased around zero from time to time and the sunny days are rare but something that brings cheer.

When the sun does shine it is not the flowers but the willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) that light up the garden.  I planted them in January 2014.

I was so optimistic about the effect my Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox) would have in the garden when I planted it in February of 2015.  I planted it not too far from the back door so that I could enjoy the perfume.  It took util last year to flower and whereas the perfume is striking sampled from close, I do not find it wifts any distance as do my other perfumed shrubs.

It did not start flowering until last year and I find at this time of year the flowers become damaged in the rain.

Perhaps it is not happy.  I admit it is in a fairly shady spot in the summer and if any one has any ideas how I can improve its performance, I would love to hear.

The Winter Sweet cannot compete with the density of flowers on the Viburnum tinus which started opening in December.

All these flowers attract the bees and provide very valuable pollen.

Quantity is important when attracting pollinators and although the Anisodontea is still producing flowers of a very good quality, they are not attracting the number of insects they do in the summer.

This large clump of heather (Erica darleyensis) is always well visited but I have several other newer and smaller clumps around the garden but they do not receive the same attention – just yet!

Only the tips of the Mahonia are in flower now and the berries are beginning to set.

I thought the Japanese Medlar (Eriobotrya japonica) would have finished by now but I could still smell the perfume and found several still flowering bunches in the more sheltered areas of the tree.  It has been flowering all December and is worth its place in any garden solely for the perfume.

As one plant finishes its flowering season another one starts.  This primula is a bit quick off the mark.

But the prize for precocity (or stupidity) goes to the apricot tree – already in flower.  We planted our fruit trees as soon as we bought the house, with little knowledge but great enthusiasm.  I wish we had had the knowledge at that time to look for fruit trees more suited to this area.  We bought them tempted by the pretty pictures on their labels.

Our plum tree, we inherited, although it was very small and it flowers very early, it usually provides a great source of pollen and nectar for the pollinators and very good eating and cooking little plums.  It seems as determined this year to get going as soon as possible.

The winter flowering honeysuckle will keep the pollinators happy until the early fruit trees are in flower.

The bushes are not too high and so provide lots of entertainment watching the bees gather pollen.  The honeysuckle roots fairly easily and we have taken cuttings to give us now five bushes around the garden.

At the moment there is a lot of blue Speedwell (Veronica spp.) in the grass and the bees visit these tiny flowers.  They must have good nectar as this bee looked quite comical pushing its way into a flower that was not completely open.

I was surprised to see this wild bee on the Speedwell.  You can see how small she is as she fits comfortably into the little flower head.  I tried to see what she might be as I had managed to catch sight of the slit at the end of her thorax so I suspected the Halictidae family.  Steven Falk writes that bees in this group often nest underground and some have communual nests and even primitive eusocial communities.  So she could possibly be a fertilised queen getting ready to start her new brood.  Or are they like the bumble bee queens that come out of their shelters during the favourable days of winter to restock on fresh nectar?


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Some winners and losers of the dry summer

I’m going back into September here and the garden is dry.  Just as I was hoping to get a bit more out of the vegetable garden, I encounter our hottest, driest summer.

I was so concerned that there would be nothing left to flower even outside the garden for the bees that I chucked down loads of Cosmos and Cosmos sulphureus seeds in the vegetable garden as I felt I could keep them watered.  They were just seeds that I had gathered last year from the garden so I had plenty.

My attempt at growing chick peas was a failure but I did discover that you could eat them raw from the pod like green peas.

The Borlotti beans produced very little and the parsley refused to grow.

This is my sole butternut production.  I shall be dependent on my neighbour Annie for her pumpkins in the winter.

There have been notable successes.  The aubergines did well, as did the courgettes.

And these delicious little cucumbers kept producing all summer.

In summary the vegetables performed poorly but our pear trees produced more fruit this year although the apple trees produced hardly any apples.

The Comice pears above were very good but I think our Conference pears beat them on flavour.

The tomatoes survived as I watered them and they produced enough to eat in salad and make coulis to freeze.  The little Sungold did well on the wigwam we made.  The leeks and Brussel sprouts are planted for the winter but everything needs to be tidied and sorted for next season.

I think the bees probably think I should just stick to planting flowers.

The senna plants that I have grown from seed are doing well.  Whether they will survive the winter remains to be seen.

I watered late in the evening and by that time the senna had closed their leaves and gone to sleep which I find a very endearing trait.

I have noticed less leaf cutter bees in the garden this year.  They are such pretty bees with their abdomens bright yellow and full of pollen.  I have had no leaf cutters nesting in my bee houses either this year despite providing fresh bamboo tubes and drilled holes.  I do not know if the dry weather could affect them adversely.  I’d be interested in anyone else’s experience.

We will have to wait until next spring to see how a lot of the plants have survived.  I do choose drought tolerant plants.  There are some good surprises, like many shrubs such as fuschia will just look totally miserable yet survive.  Others have been disappointing and I will not plant anymore Tithonia rotundifolia which I thought was drought tolerant but does not grow well from seed unless it is well watered.

I am going to try to grow from seed, Tithonia diversifolia, which is a big brute of a plant and is supposed to be drought tolerant.  It is a perennial and I may live to regret it but it looked quite stunning when I saw it.

There were plenty of opportunities for tea and coffee in the garden, in the shade, and we shared these moments with the various garden visitors.  This bee seems to have recognised her stolen honey in the dregs of my lemon balm and mint tea.  She just cannot work out how it got there.


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The Garden Jungle

Bumble on dead nettle

The Garden Jungle is not a reflection on my garden it is the new book by Dave Goulson.  Or rather the full title is The Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet.

There is so much information presented in such a stimulating style that I recommend it for all gardeners everywhere.

Brown-banded bumble bee

Dave Goulson is a university professor, author of several best selling books and a keen amateur gardener.

Bombus praetorum.30.4.13

In addition, in 2006 he founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust which has had a tremendous impact on raising the awareness of the decline in Bumblebees in the U.K. in the past eighty years.  The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has spearheaded many successful projects in the U.K. and involves and encourages the public to become part of the conservation effort.

In fact, if each time you access Amazon through this link the association will receive a donation from Amazon on qualifying purchases (they raised £3,500 last year in this way.)

Bumble on Echinacae

So the bumblebee theme is in honour of Dave Goulson and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and also to recommend his new book as a great read.  However, the book is not just about bumblebees but concerns all of the natural life that you find in the garden.

Although written with his gardens in the U.K. and France in the background, his writing resonates across the continents.

Bumble on Sedum

I’ve read a lot of books about gardening for nature but this is definitely heads and shoulders above anything else I have read.

Anyone who has already read his other books will be familiar with his light-hearted, easy to read style but for those who have not read his other books, I also wanted to point out his credentials as a seriously well-informed writer.

Bumble Bramble pollen.jpg

This time I decided to go for the Kindle edition but I think I will also buy a paper copy.  It is a book that I know I will want to refer to and although the Kindle version does have an index it is rather that I am personally more adapt at the “flick” method when I want to retrieve information from a paper book.  I must get used to using the highlighters but until now I have reserved my Kindle purchases to light reading for beach or while travelling.

Clover pollen

I hope you enjoy reading this book wherever you are and whether you have a postage stamp size garden or a huge spread or whether your garden is still in your dreams.

 

 

 

 

 


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The garden versus the heat

bougainvillier

Perhaps it’s not so much the garden versus the heat but the plants staving off the lack of rain.  I have not watered the Bougainvillea, the Lavatera and the winter flowering honeysuckle at the front of the house.  They are not happy but surviving.

Wilting Hollyhocks

Strangely, the Hollyhocks, which I regard as reasonably drought tolerant do not have the same resistance.

Colutea pods.JPGThe heat has not bothered the Colutea and the seed pods are particularly pink this year.

Leeks chick peas and sprouts

I have to water the vegetable garden but I have covered the roots of the tomato plants with straw.

Strawberries, courgettesThe courgettes are indifferent to the heat as long as they are watered and my “Sungold” cherry tomatoes on the wigwam are already producing ripe tomatoes.  The strawberries, though, have given up producing any quantity of fruit.

First tomatoesThe little tomatoes are hidden by the French Marigolds which are considered over here to prevent any diseases in the tomatoes.  Interestingly, we call them French Marigolds and the French call them Indian Carnations (L’œillet d’Inde) and as they originate from South America… Anyway, a friend gave me the seedlings and they certainly look attractive but as to the therapeutic value, I am undecided.

TomatoesAnother winner on the heat front are the cucumber plants.  The seeds were given to us by a friend and they produce small, exceptionally tender cucumbers that Kourosh eats as a fruit, as well as allowing some to find there way into the salad bowl.  The small cucumbers are very refreshing in the heat.

Chick peas

The chick peas, too, have taken a leap forward with the heat.  This is the first time I have grown them.  I bought the seeds and I was bitterly disappointed when they did not survive as I had used the whole packet.  Not to be fazed, Kourosh put his hand in the cupboard and handed me my jar of dried chick peas.  Now I feel a little foolish for not having thought of that in the first place.

I was intending to cook them if I managed to produce any but a friend told me he used to buy them in the green and eat them.  So I have tried one and it is delicious!  A bit like peanuts!  I have not got a lot so I think I might just eat them raw.

Butternut.JPG

I do try to grow only things that I will eat and can either be consumed rapidly or support being frozen.  I love Butternut squash and they have proved very reliable to keep.  Last year they remained many months in a cool area without spoiling and if anything we were a bit short.

Raised bed

To extend our potential production of Butternut we tried a raised bed last year and again this year but, as you can see, the results are not convincing.  Perhaps raised beds are not a good choice for this area with low rainfall.

Gourds

We have planted some decorative gourds which is perhaps a bit frivolous.

All these pictures were taken at 8 o’clock at night because the temperature touched 40 degrees centigrade in the garden yesterday (Tuesday, 23 July) and it was too hot to take photographs during the day.

Borlotti beans

I know the Borlotti beans would like more water but it is difficult getting around everything and I feel so guilty as the dried grass crunches under my feet.

Hydrangea umbrella

The ornamental plants are on very reduced rations.  Basically, new plants and some favourite plants get watered sparingly.  I do not want my Hydrangea “Saville Gardens” to die so the parasol will at least prevent the leaves from being scorched.

Sleeping senna

I collected Senna seeds from a beautiful plant in Spain and the seedlings look very healthy and at home in the heat.  I love the way that they close their leaves at night as if they are sleeping.

Water

Water is such a precious and limited resource.  We have several containers for water throughout the garden.  The bees claim this as theirs but there are others for the birds to drink and wash in.  As I write temperatures remain high but a storm is forecast for Friday so hopefully it will bring rain and cooler temperatures.

 


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A rainy day story

After a spell of sunny, mild weather that made gardening a delight, we are experiencing some rain.  Now, I am always happy to see the rain, and it is so important for the fast growing plants in spring, but it does not take the edge of the spring fever encountered by gardening addicts who are confined indoors.

Their enthusiasm has to find another outlet.

Well, we had just cut the willows and I know they should be dried and re-soaked but…

Beginning (1)

We decided to start off by bringing our aluminium planter indoor.  It is still holding the remains of dead basil plants and the re-surging shoots of Melissa officianalis (makes excellent herbal tea!).

We stuck seven sturdy cut willow stems around the planter to provide the correct diameter of base for the structure.

1st row (1)

We had to move it to give us more room for the weaving and we started to make a woven base and then tied the top of the wigwam.

Second band

There had been no design plan so the second row was added “by eye”.

3rd row

Then the kitchen steps were called into play and the last two woven layers added.

End

It popped easily out of the planter and is completely self-supporting and two and a half metres tall.

We were rather surprised that we have managed our first attempt and we have more supports planned.  We don’t really need such tall ones it just seemed a shame to waste such tall willow.

One precaution we have taken is to store our wigwam inside the atelier for the moment as we are pretty sure that if we stuck it in the ground just now it would probably start growing – and that is not the objective.

 

 


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Gardening is patience

Distant willows

One of the brightest sights in the back garden in the winter is the morning sun shining on the willows, about half way down the back garden.  They light up the garden when there is very little else but it is now time for their annual haircut and I was reflecting on how long it can take to get the required effect in a garden.

Salix alba January 2014

This was what they looked like in January 2014 in my blog https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/onward-in-january/

willows up close

This is what they look like in February 2019.

The garden takes time to take form.

Comma butterfly.JPG

It takes time for the winter flowering honeysuckle to get to a size to attract the butterflies like this Comma,

Clouded yellow butterfly.JPG

and the Clouded Yellow butterfly (Sorry, Brimstone, thanks to my sharp readers)

Bombus pratorum queen

and the bumble bees, even in February.

Male Osmia cornuta 22.2.19

I saw our first Osmia cornuta on the 22 February.

Osmia cornuta 23.2.19

Now the bee boxes are patiently searched every day, waiting for the females to emerge.

2 male Osma cornuta 23.2.19

Sometimes hope turns to disappointment when the emerging bee turns out to be just another male emerging.

They will need plenty of patience to keep up their enthusiasm until the females will eventually emerge, often in mid-March.

hazelnut flowers

There are signs of good things to come.

Hazelnut flowers close

This year there are a lot of flowers on the hazelnut tree but whether we will eat many or not remains to be seen.  The red squirrels around here keep to the areas with pine trees.  We are not in these areas but I have a feeling some of them spend an autumn break in our garden when the hazelnuts ripen as the hazelnuts disappear, shells and all, every year.

Wild bee 23.218

We have plenty of wild bees in the garden too this spring.

Sharing dandelion.JPG

It is not just the garden plants that give plenty of nectar.  The dandelions are great for all the bees and this one is also being shared with a clouded yellow butterfly.

Nomada

But already the mining bee nests are being patrolled by the Nomada bees that are “cuckoo bees” and will lay their eggs in the mining bees’ nests so that their eggs are provisioned by other bees just as the cuckoo is brought up by other birds.

N0 2 arrives.JPG

But patience can be rewarded as the sheep in our neighbour’s field has discovered.  Number two lamb took time in coming and was a bit smaller.

It was worth it.JPG

But the tired face says that it was all worth it.