a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


10 Comments

Life and death in the Asters

There are lots of asters in groups in the garden just now.

The queen bumble bees are the most amusing to watch. They are big and graceless. Speed a low priority attribute.

The Small Copper butterflies have enough time to play with such a bounty of available nectar.

It’s not just bees and butterflies that come to the asters, lots of different flies, like this hover fly, are attracted to them.

Of course, the honey bees don’t miss out either.

I’ve noticed the lizards keep a beady eye on the proceedings. There are plenty of wall lizards in the garden that must appreciate the little flies.

I was just about to take a photograph of the European hornet when a honeybee that I had not noticed suddenly disappeared.

After the sudden strike the hornet dropped lower into the asters and with commendable care and precision, started to dismember and package the prize. I was surprised at how rapidly the honeybee succombed to the hornets sting. There was no struggle as the bee hung limply in the hornets grip, pollen still attached to her hind legs. Once the bee was firmly installed in the hornet’s powerful mandibles, the hornet took off rapidly and easily. A redoubtable hunting machine.

So although the asters are a constant source of pleasure and amusement for me, the many visitors risk their lives for the nectar.

My French marigolds are till providing colour and nectar for the bees. I mentioned that I have read that they are edible.

I did not exactly risk my life to try one but I felt I really should. I was pleasantly surprised as (although a bit crunchy) they had a fresh herby flavour. I even convinced Kourosh to try one (it was easier than I had anticipated ;)). He said they had a similar flavour to fresh dill with a peppery plus.

It was after I ate the first one, which I had only given a brief flush under the water tap, that I started to think how much grit and insect life might be concealed tightly inside the flower head. They were pretty crunchy, after all, and grew quite close to the earth.

I decided to give them a quick flush and then soak them inverted in clear water.

Thankfully, no sediment or bodies dropped to the bottom.

I would recommend a thorough clean – just to be sure.


11 Comments

What’s in a name?

The incessant rain has been keeping me indoors and I really felt I wanted to accomplish something useful.  So I decided to  polish my halo and go through my camera memory card, removing blurred shots and trying to get some order into the ones that I want to keep as records.  I also mean to find names for bees and plants that I have not recognised.

This was a photo I had taken on 11 September 2019.  Our Asters attracted so many pollinators this year.  I am not very good with butterflies and I supposed it would be one of the tailed blues we get around here.

Wrong!

When I checked my “Butterflies of Europe” book by Tristan Lafranchis I found it was a Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) butterfly.  The reason for its name is pretty obvious but that brought me to the “Do you mean Geranium or Pelargonium?” question.  I was rather hoping that its food of preference was Pelargoniums, as I do not have any of these very popular plants and as most people buy them every year from the Supermarket or nursery, I did not feel too selfish about this cynical thought.

However, it seems that the caterpillars can be content with geraniums or pelargoniums as food.  I have plenty perennial geraniums in the garden, as the bees adore them.

In addition, I had not realised that they can be serious pests for the growers who supply the supermarkets and nurseries with pelargoniums.

I have yet to see any damage to my perennial geraniums but I will keep an eye out this summer.  It may just have been our exceptionally warm summer that allowed it to mature on imported Pelargoniums.

Apart from finding out the name of this butterfly, I also discovered that many Pelargonium species originate from South Africa whereas geraniums are mainly a European species.  Pelargoniums have been with us for a long time, they were introduced into Europe from the beginning of the seventeenth century.  The roots of Pelargonium triste had a local reputation of treating dysentery which interested the apothecaries of the time.

Not bad for a rainy day :).


48 Comments

Out of the bedroom window

Out of the bedroom window the leaves under the apricot tree testify that autumn is changing the garden.

With the tall “Sweet Lavender” aster now in flower,  the asters are still the main attraction.

The carder bees’ colour may be fading but they love the tiny flowers of the “Sweet Lavender”

The asters are the best place to see the bee action.

There are still a lot of butterflies around like this Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) and they join the bees.

I decided to visit my Mulberry as we have had no rain for some time and it was never watered during the dry summer.

The leaves change to a beautiful gold in the autumn and this year is no different, thankfully.

I was standing admiring the Mulberry when I noticed a huge dragonfly on the leaves basking in the sunshine.  I rushed back to the house, got my camera, came back and it was still there!  Such a difference from photographing bees or butterflies!

It is a Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) and much more impressive than the little brown damselflies that were in the garden at the same time.

Another find was a mass of these toadstools growing under the debris in a border I was clearing.  Sorry I had no time to find or speculate on a name as there is too much to be done outside at the moment.

I have decided to do more vegetables this winter.  So apart from the usual broad beans, brussel sprouts and leeks, I have added onions, carrots, cauliflower and Romanesco brocolli.  This is just an experiment brought on by following Notre petit jardin Breton.  They make so much use of their garden that I felt I should make more effort.  If the slugs and snails are unkind to me it could be a short experiment and I will stick to the easier option of tomatoes and courgettes in the summer.

I have been harvesting my surprise crop of Goji berries but I am still unable to develop a taste for them.  I decided to dry them as they are usually sold in “raisin” format.  I pricked them first and them set them to dry at a low temperature in the oven.  I managed to get them to look like raisins but they still remained too juicy to consider storing them.  They did taste marginally better.  The birds have not touched them yet.

The birds get pretty spoiled in the garden as Kourosh feeds them every morning and we have gleaned sunflower heads for them from the fields that have already been harvested.  Obviously they taste better than Goji berries.

It must all be a matter of taste or availability.  I have masses of this white erigeron growing all round the paths and walls but it attracts no pollinators.  Then I saw this honey bee feeding on it.  Will she have a problem when she gets back to the hive with the nectar?   Will her sisters say, “Why did you collect that when there are loads of asters out there?”

The Cosmos is still blooming…

and there is still plenty of sunshine to enjoy a break from clearing the borders.  October has been a good month in the garden, so far.

 


39 Comments

Green grass!

1-From potager

It’s the middle of August and the grass is green!

1-Back garden

In the summer the vegetables get watered and any of the new or less drought tolerant plants but not the grass.  The grass gets left to go brown and anything that grows up after it rains is mowed.  However, this year the rain has kept the garden and usually the vegetables sufficiently watered.  My neighbour, Annie, who has gardened here for many years does not remember a year with such constant rain.  In between the rain there has been plenty of sunshine and the temperatures have not been low.

1-Wisteria

After the first blossoming in the spring the Wisteria usually blossoms another once, sometimes twice, later in the summer but this year it has hardly stopped flowering.

1-Philadelphus

Even the Philadelpus that I cut back heavily after it flowered in May has decided to push out a few more blooms.

1-Tall Cosmos

That’s the problems with plants.  They don’t do what you expect them to.  I like to have Cosmos in the garden in late summer to add some colour and give plenty of flowers to cut.  I sowed this “Sensation mix” for the border, the  120 cm. marked on the seed packet seemed a good height for the borders.  However, these are now taller than I am and are hiding a sunflower I planted behind them.

1-Earthwalker throwback

The sunflower they are obscuring is grown from the seeds I kept from my “Earthwalker” variety which has not bred true but it is a very attractive colour all the same.

1-Short Cosmos

Returning to my Cosmos problem some of  the Cosmos on the other side of the garden have kept to their expected height – but not all.

1-Vanilla Ice

I am a bit disappointed with my pallid “Vanilla Ice” sunflower.  These ornamental sunflowers seem to flower later and be more delicate plants than the plain ones my husband sows from the birdseed.

1-Lilac Aster

This year I sowed Asters for the first time.

1-Puple Aster

A 60p packet of “Duchess mixed” bought in the UK has provided a lot of colour.  I bought them to attract the bees but I have not seen a lot of action around them yet.

1-Halictus scabiosa in Aster

But this Halictus scabiosae bee was using the Aster as shelter in a windy day and did not want to be disturbed.

1-Wildlife Word box

This week I bought a new bee box from Amazon.  I am quite excited as it can be taken apart in the autumn when the bees are finished laying their eggs.  I thought the design was simple and innovative.  The holes look rather large but I have been surprised by some little bees tackling large holes or canes.  It is a bit late to put one up so I may get nothing this year.

1-New this year box

The newest “husband made” box has almost got a full occupancy.  The three holes that look empty on the log are in fact partially filled.  Some bees appear not to fill the holes or canes fully.

1-Megachiles

These tiny Megachiles are very busy at the moment and I wonder if they will be tempted by the new box.  Some people are concerned that the bee boxes can be parasitised and prefer to use paper tubes that can be opened to remove and clean the cocoons.  I asked on a bee forum and found that opinion was very split on this.  It has to be born in mind that parasites are part of nature and if you accept one part you have to accept the other.  I think the bee boxes are fascinating and a wonderful way to observe some of the bees.  My box originates from Wildlife World which is a UK company that supplies tubes and paper liners that I might try, although they do not deliver outside the UK.

1-Hoopoe

The other evening we had a surprise visit from two pairs of hoopoes.  We had never had four hoopoes on the lawn before!  They made themselves at home and were extracting lots of juicy looking treats from the moist grass.  They came right onto the patio and helped themselves to some bird food.  We were very hopeful that they would become permanent visitors but unfortunately that was the last we saw of them but we can always hope that they’ll come back!