a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Insignificant flowers

There is a patch of wild mint not far from the house that we often walk past, but because of the heat this summer we have taken to walking early in the morning.  It is very pleasant in the early morning but I have been missing my bees and butterflies at this early hour.  At last we have had sunshine and reasonable temperatures that have allowed me to check out the mint.

At this time of year it is the Adonis blue butterflies that are attracted to the mint.

The male is a bright blue and the female has brown wings with only a hint of blue on the hairs of her body.

The Knautia also attracts them.

The Knautia also attracts the wild bees but I think many of the wild bees have gone with the passing summer.

The Malva is also managing to flower despite the lack of rain.  I’ve had to pull many of these plants out of the garden and they have roots like parsnips – often branched.  They are difficult to remove for a gardener but perfect for storing moisture for the plant.  The Malva provide a late pollen and nectar source for the bees like this red tailed worker bumble bee.

Some wild flowers can be difficult to deal with in the garden but scabious in its more ornamental forms is welcomed by gardeners, often with the hope of attracting butterflies like this Meadow Brown.

The only colour I have seen in the wild scabious here is a very attractive shade of lilac.  It has not appeared spontaneously in the garden and I have never encouraged it by trying to seed it.  I am too nervous of past mistakes with other wild flowers.

We have had more clover this year and it has benefited from the rain we had a couple of weeks ago.  The red clover has flowerlets that are too long for the honeybees but perfectly acceptable for the bumblebees, like this carder.

The clover nectar must be good as usually I find the Clouded Yellow butterflies quite flighty and difficult to photograph but this one was intent on his food.  The clover often finds its way into the garden but never causes me any problems.

Just behind the wild mint patch there is a huge swathe of Cat’s Ears.  Now these do find their way into the garden.  In fact, just in front of our bee hives is being taken over by this weed.  We have made no effort to eradicate it as we are totally besotted by the Dasypoda bees that make the flower heads bounce around in the summer.

There is no sign of the Dasypoda this late in the year but the honeybees were gathering nectar from them and had bright yellow pollen on their legs.

All these flowers are quickly recognised as flowers by us but there are others that are not so obvious.

The plantain flower looks dry and sterile but look at that pollen being showered from its head by the arrival of the bee!  The bee has a huge lump of the ivory pollen already on her legs although she rests on the plantain for only a few seconds.

However insignificant, the seed head of the plantain, denuded of its petals and pollen makes an excellent resting place for a dragonfly surveying the area.

Now, whether the purslane is one of your preferred veggies or not, the little yellow flowers are quite insignificant but very much appreciated by the bees.

Just look at that bright yellow crystalline pollen on the bees legs!

I am quite happy to admire the large patches of purslane knowing that the masses of little black seeds, that will soon follow the flowers, will not be dropped on our garden.

 

 


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Comet Neowise over the garden

Yesterday was a beautiful day with the sky an all covering Charentaise blue.  We decided to look for the comet Neowise as darkness fell.

We localised the Big Dipper and there was the comet between the trees.

I have never taken photographs of comets or stars before so it was pretty hit or miss.  You maybe just able to see the shadow of our trees at the edges of the photograph.

This photograph is thanks to Picassa, but actually closer to what the eye sees.  The stars are showing as dashes as the world turns as I hold down my shutter release.

You should be able to see the comet for the next few days if you have clear skies.


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Garden visitors

The Hollyhocks are providing a lot of colour in the garden just now.  On the right of the Hollyhock is a Mullein or Verbascum.  Both plants self seed and we try to replant the seedlings in autumn where we feel they will best thrive.

This Lavatera was just a cutting potted up in the autumn.  So you can see how quickly it grows.

The flowers are beautiful and the leaves are a soft green.

The flowers attract all sorts of bees and pollinators for nectar.

The pollen is also sought after and I love to see the bees with this unusual colour of pollen.

The Hollyhocks are very popular with the bumble bees for nectar and pollen.

The bumble bees are the most amusing bees to watch.  They seem much more independent and get right in there if there is pollen to be collected.

Yellow Buddleia

I prefer this yellow buddleia to the more common variety with the lilac flowers.  This yellow buddleia attracts bees and other pollinators whereas I have only seen butterflies on the other one.

The blue perennial geranium is always covered with bees.  This is where we eat outside so all the potted plants provide us with plenty of visitors to watch.

The Liatris does not care whether it is in a pot or in the ground.

I think the most important item we provide in the garden, especially at the moment, is the water.  We have several dishes of water around the garden.

The birds drink the water and bathe in it and bring in their young.  We have been enjoying watching this young robin on a daily basis.

These boxes have been left in the hope that we might be able to use them to gather fruit in the autumn but when Kourosh attempted to tidy the outhouse, he found they had been put to good use.

When he lifted off the top box it revealed a perfect little nest, carefully lined with feathers.  It was a very tidy construction and perhaps it might even be the nest where our baby robin was raised.

It is good to see nature being renewed.

This young marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus) was happy under some tiles until Kourosh found him.  He still has his crest from the aquatic stage as he is born in the water.  Now he has come onto land and will eat most of the things you would expect to find under tiles, like slugs, snails, earthworms and any insect that might pass by.  They are very gentle creatures and do not move rapidly on land.  It is nice to think that they help to keep the garden free of the things gardeners do not want.

Another gardener’s friend crept up behind Kourosh when he was painting the garden gate the other day.

Kourosh was a bit concerned to find him near a road and brought him into the garden to check him out as it was surprising to find a hedgehog in the day time.

I think it may be a young one just starting out in life.  I just hope he remembers the garden and stays here or at least visits frequently.

We do try and look out for all the animals that pass through our garden but this tree frog had a bit of bad luck.  We usually cover our wooden table in the evening with a plastic cover.  The other day we bundled it up quickly in the morning at breakfast time and put it inside.

It was not until the evening that we found we had bundled up our tree frog inside the cover.

“Not good enough!” is what that face says.

 

 


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Accepting choices in the garden

This is one of my arch enemies.  The snail is less voracious in the dry, summer weather when it lies in wait under plants or stones.  Otherwise, they can munch through a freshly sown line of parsley in one night.

At 6 o’clock in the evening the other day I saw a snail walking up our wall at eye level.  It was not raining and it seemed a curious behaviour.

On closer inspection, I noticed the snail was not alone.  I recognised one of my friends – a glow worm larva.

I never realised how voracious the larva could be, nor how persistant.  The larva nibbled the snail’s antenna causing the snail to curl up in a bid to escape.

The snail fell off the wall and broke on the stones beneath with the glow worm larva firmly attached.

Twenty four hours later the feast was still continuing.  The adult female glow worm does not eat and I am sure this one must have absorbed enough protein for its metamorphosis into the adult glow worm.

The same evening I checked the garden to see if there were any female glow worms signaling for mates.  There were.  I apologise for the poor photograph ( I have slightly better here, here, and here.

Seeing the fairy-like lights flashing in the night after dark in the summer is something I treasure.

But what if there were no snails in my garden?  What if I could somehow eliminate them and grow my parsley in peace?

Then no snails, no summer fairy lights.  I have to accept that to live with the snails has its benefits.


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Back to the bat

As I posted here on April 15 2020 , we had a bat lodging in our garden parasol.  Much as I was enjoying sharing the garden with wildlife, I did feel my need of the parasol was greater than his.

We did try to take a photograph of him leaving in the evening.  It was at this moment in the darkness we realized that it was not only difficult to see in the dark but impossible to focus a camera (live and learn :)).

We were able to take an improved photograph of him by flash.  Not great, I did say improved.

Here the photograph is turned upside down to help with identification because I do not think it is small enough to be a pipistrelle.

I think it is a Myotis species, one of the mouse-eared bats.  It has little bumps on its nose.

I found this site helpful https://nottsbatgroup.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Identification_of_British_Bats.pdf but I wonder if anyone out there has any ideas?

This is the best I can do to help Dromfit with an ID.


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Advantage bat

We have been getting summer weather almost continuously for the past month.  For instance, this afternoon it was 27 degrees centigrade (80 degrees F) in the garden.  We have been making the most of the garden and enjoy being able to have lunch outside – even if we may need a jacket.

Today was, in fact, too hot without sitting under a parasol, but the parasol had been requisitioned as a day-time roosting spot for a bat (Pipistrelle, I think.)

We have had a Pipistrelle roosting through the winter behind the shutters of the window facing the garden.  He disdained the bat box Kourosh had made  mounted on the wall.

Kourosh noticed that the gap he squeezed into behind the shutters was narrower than the gap recommended for the bat box.  So he made a custom-sized box specially for him and placed it slightly to the side of where he roosted.  Still he preferred the shutter.

So our choice today was to move under the apricot tree for shade.  We do try to give nature a home but sometimes I think they can push their luck.


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What do gardeners do when it is raining?

Ever since our Barbastelle bat first came to visit us in 2014 we have been thinking of ways to provide shelter for bats in the garden.  See “A furry visitor

A bat box seemed the obvious choice, as did a web search for information and help because we do not know a lot about these fascinating creatures.

One of the good sites we came across was the Bat Conservation Trust

This site provides not only loads of information but also plans for building your own bat box.  Many more plans can be found by searching the web.

Kourosh tackled his bat box on a cold, wet day last February.  He had bought his untreated wood and cut it up to the required dimensions in the workshop.

I popped in from time to time to provide the much needed encouragement and I was pleased to see he had managed to assemble it.

The roof of the box was added and the holes to attach the box were drilled inside the house, where it was warmer to work.

The finished product looked the perfect new home for a bat!  (Well, we thought so.)

Kourosh was insistant that it should be painted to blend in with the house and decorated to be pleasing to humans after all the work he had put in.  For bats that appear to have a penchant for white painted shutters this may be a good ploy.

We felt that having the box ready in February would give the bats plenty of time to settle in this year.

However, so far we have had no takers.  We look regularly of tell-tale signs of occupation, but so far it is unoccupied.

However, this September the same white shutter, so favoured by the Barbastelle bat, was adopted by a Pipestrelle bat.

There is no accounting for taste!

We are still waiting to see if the bat box will eventually tempt any bats.  In the meantime I wonder if I have tempted anyone to have a go at building their own bat box?


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Summer visitors

We are expecting most of our summer visitors, like this hoopoe, but when they arrive it adds a zest to the garden.  I suppose it gives a touch of exoticism to the garden as I have never seen them in the U.K. where they would be very uncommon visitors.  This year we have had a pair in the garden, perhaps they like the hot weather we have been having.

The young green Woodpecker has been visiting us lately and whereas we often here them we see them less often.  Perhaps they are less shy when they are young.

The birds do not have to be exotic to raise a smile, we like to see the blackbirds with their young.

We are pleased when the sparrows have raised their second brood.

The Redstarts keep us amused with their splashing in the water dishes.  They will take off at the end of the summer to the West African Sahel (that’s the bit that borders the Sahara, to save you looking up Wikipedia, as I had to.)

There are also the new finds like this Tussock moth that I cannot remember seeing before.  I think it has a bit of growing to do and it will probably support this growth by munching through some of our tree leaves.  The trees seem to have enough leaves to spare so I am not worried.  Let’s just hope it is not some new species that will now defoliate the entire tree cover in the Charente-Maritime.

When feeling endangered it curls up in a tight ball causing its rear tuft of hair to protrude.  It makes the tuft of hairs look very much like an extremely sharp beak and I am sure it will give most birds and predators pause for thought.

Kourosh found this bright blue beetle on the cut trunk of a tree in the garden.  Very eye catching and easy to find on the web.  It is a Rosalia alpina.  According to what I can find out, the adult can be between 15-38 mm.  So we must have got an extra large sample!

It was a very frisky specimen and I could not get it to stay in place inside my white box.  The larvae spend two or three years growing in dead wood so this is one of the species of insects that you could hope to support in a garden that left some dead wood lying around.  When trees are coppiced or pollarded this provides good sites for the females to lay their eggs, but as these practices are becoming more rare…

Of course, the Dasypoda bees mean summer time too.  I love to watch them bounce around from flower to flower.  Or rather, they are more measured in their flight, it is the flower heads that bounce around as they land and depart.  Soon she will fill up the silky hairs on her back legs with pollen and the fine hairs will be lost from sight amongst the heavy load of pollen.

One of our hives surprised us by swarming mid June.  It was co-operative enough to use the much favoured branch of our quince tree.

This let us get things sorted out quite quickly and the bees accepted their new home.

The young queen, who was left at home to start over and build up a new colony, is having a difficult time to get things going so late in the season.   Still, the departing swarm left her a super of honey so you cannot say that they were not generous.

We are not the only ones to receive visiteurs in summer, the bees get their share too.

 

 

 


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We give Nature a home…usually

We plant flowers that all the bees like – not just the honey bees.

It is not too difficult finding the flowers for us and the bees.

I love Wisteria and it was good to see that a female blackbird has chosen the Wisteria growing on the wall of our outbuilding to make a nest.

Another blackbird has chosen to nest in a cherry tree in the back garden.  (A blackbird nesting in a cherry tree?  Not much hope for our cherries.)

Some accommodation is specially made and it is not only this Anthophora that has made use of this bee house.

The Barn Owls have taken to their adapted trunk high up in the outhouse.

Some accommodation, like the window shutter, is improvised and is a home for the Barbastelle bat.

Of course, good accommodation includes bathing facilities, much appreciated by the Redstarts.

However, when a swallow chose our living room it received a resounding shout of “Out!”, and the doors were firmly kept closed until it had chosen another nest site.


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Not such a daft old bat

Sadly our annual bat visitor left us two days ago.  It was sad to look and find an empty space behind the shutter.  I checked the shutter on the other side of the French door but I knew he did not like that side.  No bat on the wall or on the shutters.

Then it occurred to me that it had started to rain two days ago.  So Kourosh was duly dispatched to the atelier with a torch because if anyone could find a needle in a haystack it would be him.

So, not very far away from where he had roosted last year, our bat had remember that there was a good place to shelter in inclement weather.

It does mean that the photographs are not so good as he is quite high up and the angle of the photograph is directly underneath him.

I’m glad he has not left us yet.  The weather is forecast to improve next week.