Leaves and flowers in November

Our Ash trees along our border are the first to lose their leaves and our Liquidambar the first to glow with autumn colour. In the foreground of the photo above, the Anisodontea is still producing its pink flowers and is still being visited by bees. Today the rain has stopped but there is not much sunshine.

The Eriobotrya japonica is full of flowers and attracts lots of pollinators, while the leaves of our white Mulberry tree have turned yellow and started to fall. This tree has been grown from seed. We hope it will produce tasty white mulberries that are very sweet. There are so many varieties of mulberries but they are not well known and it seemed the only way was to grow one from seed but it is not a method for the impatient gardener to replicate.

Stretching taller than our garden wall, the blue sage is visited daily by the bumble bees.

The pink sage close by is also visited by the bumble bees that pierce the long flower from the outside to reach the nectar. This piercing will be reused by the bumble bees and also facilitate an entry for the honeybees.

This honeybee is on the sage leucantha but the hole she is using will have been made by a bumble bee.

There is something else making holes in the flowers.

It is so little that it is difficult to tell what it is. Possibly a Painted Lady but I don’t think November is a good time to be a caterpillar. I have never seen a caterpillar on the sage flowers before.

At the moment I am raking leaves for the compost and sorting out the borders. Our old Veronica had died completely on one side and we felt it was well past pruning and hoping for new growth.

Out came the old plant and then we discovered a self-seeded new plant growing at its side. We have enjoyed watching the bees on the flowers of the old plant so we were pleased with this phoenix successor. In fact there were a couple of other little seedlings in the roots so those were potted too. Just in case!

Rain

From the middle of November we have been having rain, at last. That means less days sitting watching the garden in the sun and more time viewing it from the inside.

At least the Lagerstroemia is getting enough rain to drain the leaves of their precious nutrients and allow the dry shells to fall. Gradually the bark is becoming mature and starting to peel.

The Salvia leucantha is still going strong, and with the bees and its long stems in constant motion, it draws your attention as soon as you look outside.

The saffron has been harvested and although I did not think it was as plentiful as last year my harvest was 5.5 grams against 3.8 grams of last year.

We had an unexpected harvest from our Acca sellowiana or feijoa bush this year. Perhaps it was just the very hot summer but it was the first time that our plants had given fruit. We had planted them as the pretty flowers attract the bees and had not really expected them to give fruit and we were surprised at how good they tasted.

Our Eriobotrya japonica is in full flower at the moment but I can only smell the lovely perfume when I go to the bottom of our garden which has not been so frequent in this rainy period.

The flowers attract a lot of pollinators including the Asian hornet. I just hope the fruits will manage to set before we get really cold weather as we had no fruit last year.

Although this year we had hardly any apples or pears, at least our Malus has given fruit for the birds.

The birds come to have a bath even in the rain, so this is something else that we can watch from the window. I think this is a female black cap (Sylvia atricapilla).

Autumn Salvias

In the back garden the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) has changed to its autumn colour and today the leaves are falling waiting to be gathered in for composting.

My Hydrangea from the Savill Gardens in the U.K. is keeping dusty pink flower heads, the soft colours in keeping with the autumn tones.

In the front garden I am still enjoying sitting outside and eating lunch on a small portable table as the big one has been stored away as we felt the warm weather could not last – but it has.

Our Salvia leucantha growing in a pot in the patio supplies us with plenty to watch as the bumble bees love it.

The carder bumble bees are Kourosh’s favourite.

The hummingbird hawk moth is a constant visitor and has the right equipment to get to the nectar of these salvias.

This bright blue salvia is in a pot too but will get put into the garden as soon as it has finished flowering.

This salvia has a beautiful flower.

I find it grows too tall. The wall is about two and a half metres. I thought it might grow less when I moved it to the front garden last year as it gets a lot of sun here. It has grown just as tall in its new position and I just think it looks leggy. Any suggestions?

We are still waiting for proper rain to give the garden a good soak after this hot, dry summer.

Nothing is the same this year and now our spring flowering Prunus “Accolade” has started flowering.

Bag-tie time

Bag-ties are appearing in the garden as the seed heads appear and the blooms disappear. I will be able to find the plants when all the flowers have finished. I was pleased with my pot of Antirrhinums grown from seed this year. The seed I had gathered germinated well and now I am choosing my preferred light shades although I am sure the bees will have assured that the seeds are a good mixture of colours.

My yellow Cosmos self-seed everywhere, much to the pleasure of the bees, but I like to choose some of the more lemon shades and the doubles, as I think the orange is the predominant colour and might swamp out the variety. Anyway, it is always handy to have seeds ready to throw down if a space is free.

I did the same thing with the coloured Cosmos last year as this dark pink is the colour that tends to predominate from the self-seeded plants.

I should have thinned the self-seeded Cosmos but they are doing such an excellent job of shading my Caryopteris that I have let them be.

There was a beautiful tall Eryngium with bright blue flowers growing near us which I have been admiring and I managed to obtain a seed head.

The seed head is reminiscent of an artichoke but the hard outer coat was difficult to open, even with secateurs. Once inside though, I was so surprised with the softness of the downy seed heads. The seeds seemed to have been arranged within with such tender care, like eggs in a down lined bird’s nest.

The first seeds germinated after a few days, some in a pot and some outdoors. The seedlings are stocky and open like little solar panels during the day and close up in the evening. I will be planting these three on into larger pots as they develop tap roots that cannot be disturbed. Whether they survive to be planted out in the spring is to be seen but if it takes the Eryngium will survive if next summer is dry and hot.

Another plant with formidable roots is our Wisteria which is happily re-flowering in the heat.

The flowers attract the bees and especially the carpenter bees and the bumblebees.

It is also attracting the short-tailed blue butterfly,  Everes alcetas, Provencal Short-tailed Blue. I hope you can see the little tails although this one is female and so not blue. I would like to have caught the blue male but he refused to come low enough for me to get a shot.

The Japanese anemones and the fuchsia are spared the hottest rays of the sun behind a north facing wall which has spared them the searing rays that have burnt other plants leaves.

The heat is continuing and I often find myself in the garden very late at night savouring the cooler air. This year there have been several glow worms in the front garden. I was concerned that the drought might have had a negative effect on their numbers so I was happy to see them but too tired to get a good photograph. I have better photographs of them here if you are interested. We often find them during the day in the garden too, so it is a good idea to know what they look like.

Red Alert – canicule

Our department of the Charente Maritime (plus another eleven departments) have been placed on a red alert because of the predicted high temperatures – approaching 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Depending on where you live this may seem extreme or not.

It feels pretty hot to me but luckily we live in an old stone house that will stay cool until this stretch of extreme weather passes. We were booked to go with friends to an evening outside meal with music at our village tomorrow but all outside entertainment has been stopped including outside markets until the weather cools.

The bees are hot and fan in front of their entrances. The trees behind them protect them from the worse of the direct sun and there is insulation under the roof.

Kourosh thought of the old type of coolers that pushed air through wet straw and has sprayed the wooden entrances to increase the efficiency of the bees fanning.

We always leave plenty of water out for the bees and they need it, especially in the heat.

There is a particular crush around this local stone which is limestone and soaks up the water well.

It is not only the bees that appreciate the water and the bath is perfect for a morning dip for the robin.

It is too hot to go walking and too hot at the beach for me. I have checked out the Magnolia tree this morning and the bees had already set upon the flowers with gusto. The flowers do not last a day once they have opened.

Macroglossum stellatarum

The hummingbird hawk moth is back in the lavender.

I find it difficult staying inside and so check out the garden for only short periods.

There are little bees nesting in tiny tunnels in the house walls. I do not know what they are so that will give me something to think about. If you have any ideas please drop me a hint.

Snakes alive!

On Wednesday morning we were just having a quiet coffee near the French window when there was a thump on the patio. We occasionally get birds bumping into the window and are always alert but this noise did not sound like a bird near miss.

Kourosh was fast off his mark with his camera!

“Snakes alive!” we said, (or we might have if our brains had been as quick off the mark.)

The “thump” was the ungainly landing of two coulouvres who had been passionately mating on our roof. These ones are Hierophis viridiflavus (I think) and could be called Whip snakes in English.

They are completely inoffensive and have always lived in the walls and roof of the house.

After realising where they were, one slid into the old well.

The other split and took off round the front of the house to look for a convenient hole to escape into.

We just hope that they do a bit of natural pest control as they shelter around the house. These two were close to two metres long and certainly looked well nourished.

Elsewhere in the garden the lime trees are in flower, if you manage to miss the delicious perfume you won’t miss the buzz of the bees.

In the front garden the olive tree is buzzing too with bumble bees…

and honey bees.

In the back garden the yellow raspberries are starting to ripen. They start before the red raspberries.

The raspberries are not ripening fast enough for me so I am picking the blackcurrants raw for my yoghurt and I find they go very nicely with a spoonful of our own honey.

Allium cernuum, feast or famine

Last year I wrote about my success with half a packet of Allium Cernuum seeds (See here More eggs). My first half packet had produced some precious bulbs but the second half, used a year later, had failed.

My natural assumption was that these were tricky to grow and that a bigger effort was necessary to provide me with the bulbs I wanted – not only in a few pots but in the ground.

I allowed the flowers to form seeds – no problem here as they attract all sorts of pollinators – and planted them out in a pot to overwinter outside.

Believing that the seeds were difficult to germinate, I sowed them thickly.
I think every seed must have germinated.
This is where I am at the moment with the pot. I have planted areas in the border. I have already given away one planted pot to a gardener friend and planted one pot for a friend that I will keep until next year when I hope it will flower.

As you can see, there is going to be excess. I hate to throw seedlings away but I think that quite a few will find their way to the compost.

Next year the pots will be much fuller than this one!

Slow down…

The back garden is a mixture of bare trees, leafing trees and blossom.

I don’t want the Nashi and the Accolade flowering cherry to finish.

In the front garden there is plenty of colour even although most of the daffodils have finished.

The Eleagnus umbellata trees are full of flowers and attract honeybees.

I would highly recommend Eleagnus umbellata if you were looking for a fast growing small tree. I bought 10 at 1.71 euros each and shared some with friends. That was in February 2017 and they have grown rapidly. I like them as trees but they can also be used as a hedge. They survive our dry summer weather which is a great plus.

Another beauty is the Malus coccinella, it was bought in February 2020 and is smothered in flowers just now (one of the Eleagnus umbella trees is behind it in this photograph, slightly to the right.)

I do not want the blossom of the Malus to finish but it will eventually be replaced with small ornamental apples that were appreciated and completely finished by the birds in the winter.

The weather continues to seesaw from our recent summer-like temperatures to overnight lows near zero. We took our lemon tree back inside yesterday, we knew that the it would only be a short warm spell at this time of year. Still the frog was able to sunbathe in its leaves some of the days. Can you see it so perfectly camouflaged? (Hint, towards bottom left.)

At least we are having more sun than was predicted but when I look at all the blossoms and flowers I feel like shouting at the garden – Slow down you move too fast, you’ve got to make the springtime last!

The dirty garden

Last Wednesday morning started in a strange way. Sitting at breakfast and looking out of the window – things looked different.

All I could think of was that someone had changed our window panes to yellow tinted glass while we were sleeping. They must have been very quiet but I could think of no reason for the change in hue. I had a quick look at BBC online as I thought there could have been a volcanic eruption somewhere but nothing was mentioned.

As the morning progressed the colour lifted and I had my second surprise when I started a bit of weeding in the front garden.

All my lovely Hellebores were diseased! It looked fungal to me.

Then to my horror I saw that all the other plant leaves had been attacked by the same disease. Here I started to get suspicious as I could not imagine the one fungus successfully attacking such a variety of plants. We are having a lot of tree pollen being blown around at this moment and the spots could be rubbed off like soft pollen but I did not think that was the answer.

Then I remembered the yellow light and searched on the French sites and found out that we had sand from the Sahara blown onto the garden. I had to wash my parsley well that day and it was strange to think that the sand from the Sahara was going down my sink.

Luckily our car was under shelter but there have been very dirty looking cars driving around and the car washes are busy! This is the first time I have encountered this phenomena but I believe it is not too unusual in the south of France.

Continuing on the strange theme, we saw this strange beast in our pond this week. Has anyone any idea what it is?

Just before noticing the beast, I thought a wall lizard had fallen in and drowned in the water, so I tried to scoop it out of the pond in case it might be still alive. The “lizard” swam off to hide in the pond weed! So, I have another question. Was the “lizard” a newt or do wall lizards swim?

This week the bulbs are filling the borders. The front garden is a mass of flowers. The late daffodils are mingling with the early tulips.

We have some Puschkinia bulbs in pots for the first time this year. They are not very showy, perhaps it is the way I have planted them. Perhaps they would be better to accompany another flower or would do better in the soil.

However, they attract the bees and provide us with bee entertainment when we are lucky enough to have the warmth to enjoy our coffee on the patio.

Even their leaves are smudged with dust and I could not find enough clean flowers in the garden to fill a vase for the house. So I had to content myself with a slightly soiled bunch of flowers.

In the top of the back garden there are three trees in flower. From left to right – the ornamental pear “Chanticleer”, the little pink cherry blossom “Accolade” and the Nashi.

We planted Chanticleer in the autumn of 2019 and it is now showing clearly its distinctive tall form.

The little Prunus “Accolade” was a impulse purchase in spring 2020. It is not a purchase we regret as the little tree is smothered in a mass of flowers.

The Nashi “Kosui” was only planted in January of 2021 but perhaps it will give us some fruit this year as it has plenty of flowers.

So much happens in the garden at this time of year. Even the evenings can be colourful.

March 17 2022 at 20h20

Beginning of March 2022

There is a lot I could be attending to in the garden just now. New shoots of the sedum are pushing through and I still have not cut down the old stalks.

The daffodils are in flower behind the bee hives and all the bulb are pushing through and filling the borders.

The old plum tree has almost finished flowering now but its flowers have not been damaged by wind or frost. The bees have mounted their daily search for nectar and pollen making the tree buzz from a distance.

As the bees forage in the flowers the petals fall like confetti on the ground around it.

The smaller new plum tree provides easier access for me to creep up on the bees and is just as popular as the large tree but cannot compete noise wise.

The Osmanthus burkwoodii (bottom RHS of photo) is perfumed but does not attract the bees to the same extent as the plum trees.

The bees do go on the Osmanthus and the perfume is rich and distinctive

We do not have Mimosa in our garden but our neighbours do – to the benefit of our bees. Mimosa trees are popular in this area. The flowers can be cut and stay well in vases indoors but not everybody likes their perfume.

Kourosh took this photograph on the 23 February and I noticed a little male wild bee on the flowers. Then on the 26 of February…

We saw the first Osmia cornuta males flying around our bee boxes willing the females to hatch and come out.

Now is the time for our willow at the bottom of the garden to become the focus of attention for the bees. The tree is covered in golden pussy willow which provides a very valuable pollen for the bees.

The weather stays much greyer than usual for the spring and we have had very little real rain although there are light showers and drizzle.

I need some more sunny days to inspire me to get more active in the garden.

In the meantime Kourosh has found a large (about 10 cm.) Morille in the vegetable patch. I believe it is edible if well cooked. I have left it and if we get more next year then I will think about looking up recipes.