a french garden


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The canicule

A canicule (the dog days), in French, is a period of time when the daytime and the night time temperatures are extremely high.  We are having a canicule.  That means that what few apricots that the sudden late frost left us are now ripening fast.

The tomatoes are growing at an amazing speed.

The first lavender is just opening its buds and I steal some of the stalks from the bees in the early morning.

I look up, lavender in hand to see a hot air balloon between our Ash trees and I wave.  (A hot air balloon?  Is it the heat?)

Pull up!  Pull up!  I hope you know where you are going!

I knew where I was going.  The garden is too hot during the day so we may as well take advantage of living near the sea.

 

 

 

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The heat goes on

I took this photograph from underneath our lime tree (Tilia cordata).  There cannot be a better place to be on a hot June day.  It is too hot to sit under a parasol but the branches of the tree stop the heat of the sun and the air is full of the perfume of the flowers.  If you want to grow a tree to give shade in the summer then I cannot think of a better choice.

This carder bumble bee would be the first to agree.  The lime tree provides nectar and pollen for the honey bees as well as other bees.

The olive tree is drawing in all the bees at the moment, too.

The main feature at the moment in the garden are still the poppies.

A lot are setting seed now and I go around putting bag ties on the plants with the colours that I like most so that I can have a good variety next year.

The Fallgold rasberries are producing well and are very sweet.  They taste too good to cook with.

The blackcurrants are ripening and will probably be prepared for making sorbet later in the year.

This year has been a bumper year for cherries here (but not in our garden)We have fortunately very generous friends and have not missed out on the cherry bounty.  Last Sunday we picked sour cherries which have made compote, jam and sorbet for us (we picked more than that basket!)

The borlotti beans are managing to hold their own against the poppies and large mullein (this is a type of Verbascum, I think thapsus).

I’ve let this plant seed around the garden because it is so attractive to the bees.  It is also reputed to be a medicinal plant but I have not tried it myself.

The vegetable garden has had extra stakes added for the tomatoes we have been given and could not bear to waste.  If it is a good year there will be plenty to make into puree.

Yesterday I saw that the sweet chestnut trees were flowering nearby and filling the air with their overpowering perfume.  It struck me that this year I seem to have been running to keep up with the seasons and when I checked with my blog mentioning the sweet chestnuts last year it was the beginning of July (The bees and Sweet Chestnuts).

The little pineapple shaped buds in the photograph are the female flowers of the sweet chestnut.  Sweet chestnut is often wind pollinated, for although it produces both male and female flowers on the same tree, flowers are successfully pollinated by the pollen from another tree.  I found it fascinating when I discovered that the nectaries producing the nectar that attracts pollinators are at the base of the male flowers which are held on the long catkins.  Bees and other pollinators can be useful to increase pollination when the pollen becomes damp in humid conditions as the grains become sticky and less easily carried by the wind.

There were a lot of galls on the chestnuts this year.  I picked one of the tree and found a tiny black insect inside.  It looks like the gall could be the oriental chestnut gall (Dryocosmus kuriphilus).  This is another exotic pest which first hit France in 2007.

Kourosh had put up a nest box under the carport this year, it can just be seen vaguely at the top left hand side of the photograph.  It was a brand new Christmas present and we were delighted that a pair of Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) inaugurated it.  This is the male and both male and female birds feed the young.

Kourosh could not resist taking a quick shot of the young birds just before they left the nest.  It was lovely to watch the parents flying to and from the nest but we did not see much of the babies.  It was all over so quickly but we can still hear them in the nearby bushes.


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A hot end to May

LHS garden

The left hand side of the back garden has shade in the afternoon.  Today the temperature in the shade went up to 34 degrees Centigrade but I was able to work in the shade as there was a light breeze too.

Shady place

Shady sitting places are needed in these temperatures.

Chelidonium majus (1)

There were a lot of weeds to clear out before the earth got too dry to move them.  Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus ) is a perennial and I was horrified to see how it can grow so quickly and produce its long seed pods ready to fling the contents onto the garden.

Chelidonium majus (2)

At least this weed – sorry interesting herbal plant – has flowers that are appreciated by the pollinators.

As a side issue, the strange orange fluid that the cut stems exude is said to cure warts and corns.  If anyone has had success using this fluid with any warts/corns I would love to know.

Elaeagnus angustifolia (1)

A more favoured yellow flower on my part is my senjed (Elaeagnus angustifolia ) which has flowered for the first time.  The flower is perfumed and I am curious to see whether I will get fruit here in France.

Elaeagnus angustifolia (2)

I planted the senjed in the autumn of 2013.  It has shot up this year and is now fighting for light with the overhanging branches of our large plum tree.  It was less than a metre when I got it and it cost just over five euros, so a good investment for such an attractive plant.

Carpenter Spanish broom

Another yellow perfumed flower has just opened further down the hedge – the Spanish broom.

It is a tall, gangly plant that is difficult to control – a bit like the Carpenter bees that are so attracted to it.  The Spanish Broom wins out on the perfume stakes with its strong perfume that will float in the air once all the flowers are open.

Potager

The vegetable garden has been planted with tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines this week.

Poppies in veg patch.JPG

Kourosh insists on leaving the self-sown poppies at the side of the vegetables which makes things difficult to keep tidy but watching the antics of the bees in the poppies provides great entertainment.

Red tailed queen

Likewise the Phacelia is allowed to run riot.  We have noticed this particularly beautiful red-tailed queen bumble bee in the Phacelia and I feel certain that it must already be a queen born this year.

IMG_8690

I think the flowers that self-sow in the garden make a better display than when I plant things.  These have all pushed through in a border that I was despairing about last month.

Kaki flower

Things can turn out better than expected in a garden.  The untimely frost earlier in the month damaged a lot of plants and although the some of the kaki flowers (persimmon) are brown tipped they look healthy enough to give fruit.

Veilchenblau roae (1)

Finally, a pollen gathering competition took place on the veilchenblau rose on the hedge this morning.

First prize went to Bombus Terrestris – an disputable first with a pure veilchenblau pollen pellet.

Veilchenblau roae (2)

Second was Apis mellifera (the syrphid fly was not in the competition but happened to be passing by.)

Veilchenblau roae (3)

Third place is shared equally by several different solitary bees.

If you want to hold your own pollen gathering competitions remember to schedule them early as the best flowers are depleted of pollen by the afternoon.

 

 

 


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After the rain

These past few days we have had rain.  I’m happy, the garden is happy.

The garden smells so good too.  As I watch the bees on the Veilchenblau rose, I can smell an incredible mix of the rose, honeysuckle, Philadelphus and warm leaves.

The rain has been in such short supply this year that the flowers don’t mind getting wet and the poppy bends its top petals over its precious supply of pollen.

The bees are happy too and strip off the pollen before the petals have time to dry.

The warm weather tempted my peony Festiva Maxima to bloom for the first time.  It was a present from our daughter which we planted in 2008 but was in completely the wrong place, and there it remained until last year when I decided to move it (by this time I felt I had little to lose although I heard you could not move peonies.)

Five days later the petals were falling but it still looked beautiful like some ageing diva.

I believe this is Rigolotte, which was part of the same present and looking much happier in a sunny position.

Another first today was spotting a bee on the Erigeron.  The Erigeron self seeds in the cracks of the paths and at the base of the house walls but usually it does not attract the bees.

Nigella and Eschscholzia have self sown beside the patio, a bit gaudy but better than weeds.

The Eschscholzia is not as popular as the other poppies with the bees but it does provide them with a pretty colour of pollen.

I have been searching for my bee orchid that has been coming up every year in the front garden and was sad to find no trace of it, despite there having been two plants which produced seed.  But instead a new one has appeared in the back garden and has chosen to place itself beside the water tap, pushing its way through self seeded Centranthus.

Finally, I think the bees have been doing a bit of genetic engineering.  Above is my blue Cerinthe that has happily self seeded in the garden for many years.  It is beloved by the bumble bees and the Anthophora (the bee in the picture).

Today I found a Cerinthe with red flowers!  So I do not know what the bees were doing to the pollen that went on to produce this plant.  Maybe a little extra U.V. light onto the pollen, or an extra squeeze or nibble, surely not a virus?

I had to rescue it from a fair few encroaching heavy weeds and I will continue with the TLC to see what happens.


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The loss of a beehive.

On 7th May, we lost our brave Violette.

For those of you that might be interested to know, in April I wrote that our favourite hive, Violette, swarmed.  The swarm arrived happily in a nuke that we had placed on the roof of the old chicken coop and subsequently we transferred her to the end of the garden where we keep our hives.

Violette BeehiveTwo weeks later we noticed a small bundle of bees on the ground, in front of Violette.  We suspected that the new queen was among them as I had read that sometimes on return from her nuptial flight she is so tired and heavy that she cannot fly well.

Queen bee outside the hive with her courtSo I decided to gently pry the bees to see what I could find.  “There she is!”, Amelia noticed.

Queen bee outside her hiveI lifted the queen gently and placed her in front of the hive entrance.  She walked in and soon the rest of the bees followed her inside.  Unfortunately, this happened three times, over two days.  Each time she appeared to have tumbled out of the hive.  Something strange was definitely happening.

So a couple of days later, on Sunday 7th May, we prepared the smoker to open up Violette.  There was no need to use the smoker, as the hive was completely empty.  No bees to be found, dead or alive.

I spoke with a couple of very experienced beekeepers who told me that they too have had hives completely empty.  They believe that whilst outside the hive they must have been poisoned and subsequently died.   We found three closed queen cells in Violette and opened them to see fully formed queens, abandoned by the bees.  There was no visible sign of disease on the bees before.  We found it strange that a week earlier the hive was full of bees and then nothing.  No bees!

The swarm that we had collected from Violette in a six frame nuke, however, was so busy that for a couple of nights we saw some bees staying outside the hive at night.  It appeared that there was no room in the inn.

Nuke with too many beesAs we had the smoker ready we opened up the nuke, and found out that she had very large brood on both sides of five frame, and a lot of bees moving around.  We quickly transferred to a full ten frame hive, plus a super.  She is now called Iris.

Iris Bee hiveViolette’s frames were all destroyed in case of any illness, or transfer of any possible poison.

But nature is what it it is and we have to accept that sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.

The two pairs of blackbirds in the back garden appear to have each raised two chicks and the fledglings are ravenous.

Black bird with fledglingsThe large poppy seeds that I planted at the edge of the vegetable garden last year and they did not grow then, are now in flower and are loved by the bumblebees as well as our honey bees (and of course by us!)

PoppiesThe phacelia that self-seeded from last year’s planting is also well loved by bumblebees and the honey bees.

IMG_0180So as consolation, I made a cup of coffee for Amelia with a little chocolate bunny.  “But who is sitting in my chair”, she cried!

IMG_0128The little tree frog, our daily visitor, was nonplussed by our intrusion.

Tree frog

Kourosh


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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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Saints de Glace

At 7:30 am today 27th April 2017, the temperatures dropped to minus 4.5 degrees C (24 degrees F).  We see around us many vineyards devastated by the frost.  The vines that had just flowered were frozen.

Frozen vinesThe last few weeks of really warm weather (up to 27 degrees C), have advanced the vines 12 to 15 days, compared with previous years, making them more vulnerable to the sudden frost.

The morning papers report that in our department of Charente approximately 25,000 hectares of vines have been damaged – in some areas up 80% of the vine flowers have been destroyed.

There is very little the farmers can do to protect their crop against low temperatures. However, from very early morning some farmers tried setting fire to straw bales near their vines to raise the nearby air temperature.  Others called in helicopters to fly low over the vines, to create turbulence and avoid cold air staying low on the ground.  This managed to increase the temperature by up to 2 degrees.  But sadly even these efforts  were not sufficient to avoid the extensive damage.  

The French farmers as in other parts of Europe believe strongly in the Saints de Glace. The three important are:  St Mamert (11 May), St Pancrace (12 May) and St Servais (13 May).  They say in France: “Beware, the first of the ice saints, often you will see its trace.  Before Saint-Servais, no summer; after Saint-Servais, no more frost.”  There are even those who recommend caution planting fragile plants outdoor until 25th May (St Urban) as a frost can occur up to then.  They say: “Quand la saint Urbain est passée, le vigneron est rassuré.”  When St Urban is passed, the vineyard owners are assured.

Our pretty garden was also touched by the sudden frost.  The potato crop is partially frozen and the lovely lagerstroemia that was so kindly given to us last autumn by Michel and his wife is frozen.

Frozen lagerstoemia

Our hydrangea is well protected against a stone wall, but some of its leaves are badly damaged.

Frozen hydrangea

A few other more fragile flowers and plants have also suffered, but my heart goes to the farmers that for the last twelve months have laboured really hard in their vineyards and have overnight lost so much.

Kourosh