a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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First baby toad emerges

Yesterday we saw our first baby toad – almost adult, without a tail.

Taking a picture was non too easy as he was quite frisky.

Today I realised he was not alone and a group of them were becoming more adventuresome and coming right out of the water to use their newly developed lungs.

I went to get a little bit of netting to help them climb out the plastic pond more easily but I need not have bothered as they were already on the stones surrounding the pond and in the grass.

Now we are frightened to go near the pond in case we stand on them!

They still like to keep together and there are plenty of damp places around the pool under the stones. In fact, all around the pool you can see baby toads, despite there still being tadpoles in the pool.

We first noticed the eggs on 21 May 2021. However, it is possible there were other spawning events before or after that date. The other tadpoles may just be late developers. Seemingly, once the toads leave the water they only return eventually to breed. They have chosen a good time to enter the garden because it is warm and damp, which sounds perfect for baby toads.

I do not expect to find any slugs in the garden now!


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Self seeders

I often think that the plants that just decide to settle down and flower in my garden do better than the ones I seed and coddle and fret over.

I have a lot of Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) flowering in the garden at the moment (I must admit that I have moved some of the sef-seeders when they were small). I love the colour of the flowers and the height of the plant.

The pollen is a valuable source of pollen for the bees at this time of year. As the pollen is bright orange it is easy to see the bees bringing it into the hives. It is a biennial so it gives you plenty of time to pull out any unwanted plants and they lift out easily.

The tomatoes are way behind this year. I have no fruit on my main crop yet and only a few tiny green ones on the cherry tomatoes. After high temperatures at the beginning of June we have had cooler, cloudier weather with thunderstorms. One night 100 mm. of rain fell which is unheard-of in this area.

On the other side of the vegetable garden we have another small patch that is mainly for herbs.

This patch is at risk of being over powered by the Echium vulgare that has self-seeded and I have not had the heart to remove.

It is very difficult to remove plants that you know the bumble bees love so much.

In amongst all the Echium vulgare is Echium amoenum. If you look very carefully, you will be able to see one pink petal. My intention was to grow Echium amoenum for their flowers for a herbal tea. The Echium vulgare was in the same seed catalogue so I thought I would grow that for the bees. The plants are very similar but the E. vulgare is much taller and more robust but it is very difficult to tell the difference between them at the seedling stage when they self seed. So far this year the bees are doing much better than I am as I have not had enough flowers yet to make even a small cup of tea.

My geraniums that self seed everywhere have been a blessing. They have filled in a lot of difficult places in the shade and cover a multitude of sins.

This poppy is a self seeder from poppy seeds we brought from Barcelona over six years ago. They are usually a dark pink, but this one is a delicate pink and white mix. I must try to remember to pick a seed pod, it would be interesting to see what happens to these next year.

Another surprise comes from our wildlife pond where the water lily is spreading and should help to control over growth of algae. We had noticed another creature in the pond so Kourosh decided to have a closer look at it.

This little creature is about 4.5 mm. long and swims around like a little fish amongst the tadpoles. With the help of Google we have made a tentative ID as a damsel fly larva. I would be thrilled if we had damsel flies. We have often seen damsel flies and dragon flies in the garden in the summer.

Elsewhere in the pond the toad tadpoles are doing well. There are some now with four legs. Some have two rear legs with the front legs still budding from the body. Sorry about the quality of the photos but it is very difficult to get tadpoles to pose for the camera.

We discovered the eggs on the 21 May 2021 so it could be still another month until we finally see little toads emerging.

I do sometimes photograph other things in the garden apart from bees and beasties. This is a Painted Lady butterfly.

The butterfly even has a beautiful name, Vanessa cardui or La Belle Dame in French.


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Of Millepertuis and tadpoles

Hypericum perforatum owes its name to little transparent pockets in the leaves. These appear as holes if you look at a leaf against the light.

These flowers grow around where we live and they are just coming into flower just now and the will last until about mid August. In past times it was considered a magic plant with the ability to chase the devil away.

For the past couple of years I have collected the flowers to make a solarised oil. The flower heads are much smaller than the cultivated varieties. You can see the size of the flower compared to my hand and also the red staining of my index finger and thumb that I use to pull off the flower heads.

I stuff the flower heads into a glass jar and top up with sunflower oil and leave it in the sun. I have read you should not expose it to moonlight but I’ll leave that consideration to you.

Gradually the colour changes and after 22 days all the oil looked red.

All that has to be done is to decant the oil into a smaller container. I could not believe that it worked the first time I tried – it did seem like magic!

I love the gentle, soothing perfume, it makes a massage oil and also I use it to make body bars with our bees wax. The liquid is phototoxic and should never be applied to the skin that is going to be exposed to the sun. It would not surprise me if it could cause allergies and irritations in sensitive people.

Luckily, I have had no negative reactions to it but I would not recommend it generally. I do find the light perfume soothing and it is a pleasant memory of summer during the winter time.

I have got quite a lot of Hypericum bushes in the garden that are blooming at the moment. I am not sure of the variety as I grew them from seed given to me by a friend.

I have one bush of Hypericum inodorum whose flowers have longer stamens. The bees seem happy with both sorts. Notice the orange pollen on this bee. The bumblebees also collect quantities of this pollen. The flowers are not as attractive to the pollinators as Cotoneaster which is also blooming just now. However, the Hypericum flowers for a much longer time.

We discovered the toad spawn on the 17 May 21 and so exactly one month later our tadpoles are starting to look like little toads with tails.

It was only after I had taken the photograph that I noticed that the eyes had developed.

I have seen one or two with legs but this was the only one I could photograph.


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Rainbow sun

It was just over two weeks ago that we saw this beautiful cloud iridescence in our garden while we were having lunch.

Today was too hot for the garden so we took off to the beach and at 13.06 Kourosh noticed a rainbow around the sun.

He shot off a few snaps with his mobile phone, not expecting to capture anything but I think these photographs give you an idea of what it was like. Unfortunately, the colours are not as vivid as they were. In fact it appeared as a circular rainbow around the sun.

These photographs were taken at Meschers on the Gironde estuary at around 13.06. According to Wikipedia these are formed by ice crystals in cirrus clouds. Indeed, the sky was very blue but there were some very pretty wispy clouds around.

Now I am going to check out more frequently what is happening above me.


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A stowaway

The saffron has just about finished now and I am only getting two or three blooms a day. I took this picture on the 21 October 2020 to show the average daily “harvest” I was getting at this period.

I always leave collecting the saffron until late afternoon so that the bumble bees can enjoy them before I pick them. However, after I collected flowers, I got busy and left the bowl until the next morning.

In the morning I started to open up the flowers and put the pistils to one side to dry. Then I saw my stowaway!

A little bee was in the saffron! At least this time I can be sure of my identification down to the family level. It is a female from the Halictidae family as you can see the groove or rima at the end of her abdomen. She is likely a Halictus scabiosa as I see them frequently in the garden.

She had slept inside the saffron all night in the dining room and was still sleepy in the morning when I discovered her.

She had the intention of passing the night outside inside the flower until I had picked the flower with her fast asleep inside!

She flew off quite happily with a little bit of encouragement from me.

She could be an over-wintering queen.

I wonder if I will see her in the garden next spring?


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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.