a french garden


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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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A confused spring

For the past couple of days we have had sunshine and temperatures going up to 26 degrees centigrade.  Sitting outside (in the shade in the afternoon) it feels more like summer.

The large plum tree has finished flowering and yet many of the trees like the Ash and Poplar still look skeletal from afar.

The Salix chermesina (foreground) have been cut down to leave pride of place to the Amelanchier.

I never had a species name for my Amelanchier but it is always full of blossom in the spring and I like its branched form.  Unfortunately the bees and pollinators are not impressed.

The peach tree is in blossom and…

the apricots have plenty of green fruit.  However, April can be cold here and frosts can be expected until the beginning of May, so I am not counting my apricots yet.

I have been starting to change the very bottom of the garden into a “Spring Walk”, inspired by Christina her Italian garden.  This part of the garden had been overrun and thick with brambles and ivy and had to be left on its own for many years.  Because of the trees there is little light in the summer but I thought I could introduce some spring flowers.

There were too many daffodil bulbs in the borders in other parts of the garden which had to be thinned out.  I thought that if they had prospered and multiplied with little care in the various borders then they might survive at the bottom of the garden, which is very dry in the summer.  The problem was there is little soil over the tree roots so it was a case of sticking them in during the autumn and covering them up with divots taken from clearing the borders.  Miraculously, they survived and have flowered.  We have also been trying to seed some of the woodland flowers from around us in this area for some years now.

We have been keeping the path strimmed roughly and after the daffodils  finished there was a beautiful path of dandelions.  It is not only here that the dandelions are prospering but all over the garden and over the fields outside.  I have never seen so many dandelions in the spring.  It must seem like manna for the bees and other pollinators.

I now have a request.  The white flowers look like snowdrops (sorry about the photograph but white flowers on long stems are past my photographic ability – just think big snowdrops) but I have forgotten their name.  I have a feeling I saw them in Cathy’s garden some years ago.  I don’t think this should be too hard for you gardeners out there.

Next I.D.!  This has been grown from a cutting from a dubious source.  It is not fast growing but it is very tough and makes excellent ground cover.  The leaves are small – check out the nettle in the foreground for scale.

This year it is covered with little white/pale lemon flowers which the bees like (which is the reason we took the cuttings in the first place.)  It is evergreen and keeps mainly a low profile put it has thrown up the odd higher shoot this year.  Perhaps this is a more difficult one to name?  Any help with the names will be welcomed.

I am always impressed with tough plants.  This picture was taken on the 14 March 2017.  This is my Anisodontea which was still flowering last December although the leaves were starting to go red in the cold and now it has started to flower again!  I think I will try and take some cuttings.

Another new plant is my Lonicera tatarica which is covered in these delicate dark pink flowers.  All the bees like it but they are a bit spoiled for choice with the number of flowers available for them at the moment.

The Viburnum tinus has masses of blossom and is that bit earlier to flower.  We have divided the shoots from our large bush to provide hedging for the side of the garden so we should have even more flowers next year.

I used to love the chrome yellow flowers of Forsythia in the spring and I have several plants but since I have become interested in the bees it has dropped low on my list of favourites.  I see very few bees on the flowers – but there will always be the one to keep you guessing!

Our bat is still with us and is enjoying the sunny weather.  It let me get a good photograph to show the white tips of its black fur.  I had read that the Barbastelle bat’s have white tips to their black hairs but they are not always apparent in the shade.  It flies off on its adventures at dusk, just as night falls.

Just now the moment is around 21.00 hours and we watch it take flight, never knowing if it will be the last time we wave it goodbye – for this year.


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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.

 


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Do bats sunbathe?

What a ridiculous question!  It is a well known fact that bats like hanging about in dark places like belfries or caves.  In fact, our bat gave up his usual place behind the front door shutter last year to hang in the atelier when it was very wet.

So I was surprised yesterday, as I was enjoying sunshine and temperatures in the lower 20’s, that the bat looked as if it was doing the same thing!

Bats in France often find shelter in old quarries or disused railway tunnels so perhaps, after a winter of hanging about in places like that, a nice bit of sunshine on the back of your neck feels really good.

He often moves up and down the wall behind the shutter during the day but he had moved half-way out from behind the shutter, and because the sun was shining in from the side, his whole body was in the sunshine.  He must have been very hot because I could not have sat out in the sunshine in a black fur coat!

So perhaps sunbathing bats are more common than we think.

 

 

 


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Return to the garden in March

After two weeks of holidays we were happy to see the garden again but it was at a slow, measured pace we gave the garden its customary “so good to see you” check over.  We have returned with a ‘flu the like of which we have not suffered from in many a year.

Even the dandelion clocks in the grass look good.

There is more red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) than grass but that suits the Anthophora and bumble bees.  The Anthophora fly very quickly but look very similar to fluffy grey bumble bees – only there are no grey bumble bees (in France, anyway).

The Hyacinths where we sit at the front of the house smell delicious, overcoming our poor sense of smell at the moment and kindling the hope that soon all will return to normal.

We have missed the main pollen fest from the big willow (Salix caprea) at the bottom of the garden.

All kinds of bees are still visiting the tree.

There seems to be plenty to satisfy the needs of all comers.

The Hellebores have done well this year and are constantly visited by the bees.

In the vegetable garden the broad beans are doing well and are very attractive to all sorts of solitary bees.

I wish I could have stayed looking longer as I saw these two almost immediately.

Certainly the wild bees are wherever you look.

Our apricot trees are flowering and I am sure will be well pollinated but whether the weather will allow us to have apricots this year remains to be seen.  Temperatures of 21 degrees yesterday and 23 degrees today are warm for this time of year and we can have frosts up until May.

But the one thing that lifted our spirits was to find “our” Barbastelle bat was waiting for us on our return.  He had taken up his usual position behind our living room shutters.  He is only little, I would estimate about six centimetres from the back of his body to the tip of his head.  He has been visiting us annually for about four years now and we look forward to his visits, see “Many Happy Returns” for last year’s visit.

I find him very attractive and he does not seem to mind me taking photographs although I try to be as rapid as possible as it does disturb his beauty sleep.

 


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A barbastelle in the atelier

I suppose we should have realised from the time of year that we could be receiving a visit from our friendly Barbastelle bat (see https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/many-happy-returns/ and https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/a-furry-visitor/).  We have been looking around the front shutters but when Kourosh went out to collect some logs from the outbuilding the other day he felt a bat fly around his head and he noticed where it settled.  The bat is quite small with a body about six centimetres long so I have marked the spot where he roosted on the wall at the corner of the joists as that is not visible from the closer photograph.

Atelier

We are not sure whether it is the same bat that comes every year but in view of all the rain we have been having this looks like a much better choice of roost.  It looked very cosy between the outside wall and a supporting bean of the mezzanine deck.  Much drier than behind a shutter!

However, I note from the book “Le Guide des Chauve-souris en Poitou-Charentes” by Olivier Prévost (2004) that small colonies have been found behind the shutters of abandoned houses.  Another place that they use frequently is the lintel space on doors of barns.

France is fortunate to have representants of thirty one of the forty one European species of bats.  The Barbastelle is a threatened species if viewed on a European basis but not rare in this area.  However, they have a tendency to move around and shift their roosts depending on weather conditions so they are not easy for researchers to keep an eye on.  They are also found sheltering in the abandoned quarries of Poitou-Charente.

It eats mainly moths of the type that would be found flying in dry leaves and litchens in wooded areas and its natural roosting spot can be presumed to be cracks in trees.

Barbastelle in atelier

So the Barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus) is not just a pretty face but an important link in the health of the European forests.


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Many happy returns

Purple crocus

All it takes is a little bit of sunshine and splashes of colour return to the garden.

Willow stamens

After all the rain the plants are ready for the big opening.  There is not much pollen on the willow yet, these stamens were the only ones I saw and they were high up, but it won’t be long.

plum flower

I saw my first blossom on the big plum tree in the garden.  In warm years so many bees come to the plum tree when it is in flower that I can hear the buzz from about 100 metres away.

Red Camellia

The red Camellia provides more than colour.

Halictes bee in Camellia

The thick layer of petals has been providing a comfortable B&B for this little halictes bee.

dandelion and bees

The dandelions are out and this one is being shared by a honey bee and a solitary Andrena bee.  I look forward to the return of the bees and butterflies in the garden.

Barbastelle bat

One returning visitor came as a surprise.  My husband spotted him at the end of February and he is still with us.

Barbastelle bat 27.2.15

He is a Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus).  Barbastelle bats often pass the winter in underground caves or cavities.  As he has decided to take up residence behind our living room shutter again I would presume he is starting to get active.  Once again I presume that if I have been seeing butterflies during the day he will be finding moths (to which he is partial) during the night.  I can keep an eye on him during the day by looking in sideways without disturbing him and I have noticed that he changes position between roosting on the wooden shutter and the stone wall of the house.

This means that it is the third year that we have noticed a Barbastelle bat in exactly the same place (see last year “A furry visitor”).  They have been known to live for 23 years so it seems likely that it is the same individual.

Reinettes

The warm damp weather is ideal for the green tree frogs ( Hyla meridionalis).  They have returned to bask in the sunshine in front of the dining room window.  Often we hear them before we see them and they are difficult to see until one of them moves, as you can see on the picture above.

This is my favourite time of year in the garden as everything makes its first appearance.