a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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A Week in Flowers, Day 7

Queen carder bumble bee on Aster, 22.9.21

It is only during the last few years that I have started growing Asters. I do not know quite how I missed them. Now they are a huge part of the flowers in my autumn garden. However, this year I was beginning to think that perhaps some of them were changing from flourishing to dominating. I don’t suppose it is too big a problem as it involves a short growing variety that will have to be controlled in the borders. The Asters attract all sorts of bees and butterflies. They provide an excellent reason to prolong your morning coffee break checking out what the Asters have attracted.

Saffron flower with bumblebee, 12.10.21

The Saffron flowers pop up in October. They provide the perfect resting place for tired bumblebees and I often find one still “in bed” when I look early in the morning.

This finishes my “Week in Flowers” hosted by Cathy of “Words and Herbs”.


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A Week in Flowers, Day 6

Honeybee in Altea, 7.8.21

When we first started this garden we had very few flowers. A neighbour gave me the seeds of her Altea (Hibiscus syriacus). There is a similarity between the flowers and the flowsy tropical Hibiscus. The H. syriacus is a hardy deciduous plant that stands up well to our hot dry summers. Because I grew mine from seed I have a variety of colours and I find the bushes work well as a hedging plant. They can be cut with impunity in the winter and shaped high, low or fanned. I have even seen it grown into a small tree in this area. I have also read that the flowers are edible but I have not tried them yet. Certainly they would be excellent for food decoration.

Carder bumblebee on Cosmos flower, 9.9.21

I love Cosmos flowers even though they herald the end of our summer. September is often a warm, sunny month in the Charente-Maritime – still beach weather. The coloured Cosmos self-seed but I try to add variety by sowing some fresh bought seed although I do not think they are so successful. I often end up finding little seedlings struggling here and there and transplant them to sunnier spots. Cosmos love the sun and I can never find enough sunny spots for them in the garden.


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A Week in Flowers, Day 5

Rose Veilchenblau 31.5.21

Now our summer is starting at the end of May. I have a confession to make – I am not a rose person!

I find they need too much care and fussing to get the most out of them. Kourosh looks after our roses and I just grumble a bit if they are not perfect.

Veilchenblau gets a special pass from me as I find it so special. Perhaps because it only flowers once in the season that I appreciate it more. Also the bees adore the flowers.

Verbena bonariensis 20.7.21

When the self seeded Verbena bonariensis is flowering throughout the garden it means that we are in mid summer.


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A Week of Flowers, Day 4

Manuka flowers, 5.5.21

We bought some Manuka bushes as a present for our honey bees and to see if we might get some interesting flavours in the honey. Well, so far it has worked in the reverse. We love the pink flowers but the honey bees have so far ignored them. At least some of the solitary wild bees appreciate them.

Hypericum, 9.6.21

My Hypericum has been grown from seed given to me by a friend who did not know the variety. It is probably “Hidcote” which is a very popular variety. The seeds were amazingly fruitful and the seedlings extremely sturdy, so I have a large reservoir of Hypericum plants I can pop into needy places in the garden. They reward you with prolific yellow flowers in the summer and require little care and attention.


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A Week of Flowers, Day 2

Hellebore, 25.2.21

In February the Helebore are flowering around the garden. I love these tough flowers. They will grow in shady spots and yet survive in sunny spots and take the beating summer sun. They like it in the garden and self-seed providing me with plenty of plants for ground cover in difficult spots.

Hyacinth, 1.3.21

By March the garden is filling up with the colour of the spring flowers. March is a colourful month. I have often grown Hyacinth in bowls indoors and they get a second life in the garden when I plant them out after their flowers pass.


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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.