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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.