a french garden


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Is It Spring yet?

Recently we have had a few rainy days and the mornings were misty.  I have, therefore, been a the little late feeding our visitors with whom we share our garden.  I was not talking about the bees for once, but the birds.  Before Amelia and I even finish our breakfast, they gather outside our dining room hoping that I would hurry up and feed them.

sparrows waiting for breakfast

Eventually, I tell Amelia, I will go and feed the birds before I have my second cup of tea.

Sparrows

The blue tits are my favourite – but don’t tell that to the sparrows; they might get jealous!  The blue tit waits in the olive tree for her chance.

Blue tit in the olive tree

Lately we have another little visitor, but that one can not fly.  He also comes to take his share of the breakfast.

little mouse

Amelia is always telling me off for leaving too much seed on the ground.  But honestly, it is not my fault.  You might not believe that these little birds eat five kilos (over 11 pounds!) of seeds each week.  If I forget they literally tap on the window or sit outside the French windows begging!

I know that this is not a brilliant picture, but the wren – another of my favourite birds – has found a little hollow in the ash tree outside the study.

Wren

Forgive me for another poor quality photo, but recently each time we have entered the so-called atelier, Amelia and I have heard more noise coming from the barn owl house.  So, my curiosity got better of me and I climbed the ladder and stuck my camera rapidly in the entrance and had a quick shot.  There you are.  Our owl visitor has brought his girl friend to share his studio flat.

pair of Barn owls in the barn

I had been warned and I withdrew my hand rapidly just as the male flew out touching my sleeve.  As at that time I was not sure what picture, if any, I had managed to take, I had another sneaky shot. The female was there giving me a cold shoulder and hopefully guarding her precious eggs.

Barn owl (female)

So, the bees and the birds are all getting ready for the new season.  Our plum tree started to blossom just as February commenced.

Plum tree in blossom

I know it is too early, but often I like to walk to the bottom of our garden, beyond the beehives, in the woodland walk along the river Seudre, and I imagine that the winter is over.  The river bank under the canopy of trees reminds me of Percy Bysshe Shelley:

I dreamed that, as I wandered by the way,

Bare Winter suddenly was changed to Spring,

And gentle odours led my steps astray,

Mixed with a sound of waters murmuring

Along a shelving bank of turf, which lay

Under a copse, and hardly dared to fling

Its green arms round the bosom of the stream,

But kissed it and then fled, as thou mightest in dream.

– Kourosh

 

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Getting used to November in the garden

At this stage in the year it is usual to accept that winter has come.  I just want to know where autumn went to.  We did go back to the U.K. for a couple of weeks late in October, coming back early November.  We came back to sunshine and tales of summer-like temperatures whilst we were away.

Mahonia Charity and queen bumble bee

Arriving back I checked out the garden before I went inside the house  and went straight to the Mahonia “Charity” that was planted last year.  The Mahonia was already nourishing a queen bumble bee.  “Charity” is a big variety and has put on quite a bit of growth since last year.  I had also planted two “Winter Sun” Mahonia which flowered in October.  I felt that was a bit early but they were mostly in the sun this year.  Perhaps when they get more shade they will do better.

Worker bumble bee on Mahonia

As well as the queen, there was a worker bumble bee on the Mahonia but she did not get that purple pollen from the Mahonia!

bumble bee on Phacelia

She had been working the Phacelia only a few metres away.

Barn owl in roosting box

As I was checking out my flowers and bumble bees, Kourosh had noticed a lot of white splashes on the floor of our outbuilding and set up a ladder to check for occupants of his barn owl nest box.  The owl does not look overjoyed to see us but we are happy he has returned to use the nest as a roost, if not to nest.

persimmons and asian hornet

We are not  so happy to see the Asian hornets much in evidence in the garden.  The persimmons were ready to harvest when we returned and we are content to share some with the birds but not so pleased to see them being enjoyed by the Asian hornets.

Magnolia Grandiflora seeds

The seed pods of the Magnolia Grandiflora are literally bursting at the seams.  I wander whether this increased fertility could be due to the pollination by our honey bees.  They seemed to be much more attracted to the flowers than the solitary bees.  It is only thirteen seconds long but the video shows you how much fun the bees were having in the flowers during the summer.

I managed to buy some some bee friendly plants in the U.K.  I bought Monarda “Jacob Cline” and an Eucryphia nymensis.  My friend Linda had been busy growing lots of Knautia so I now have a good size patch that should be a magnet for bees next year.

sedum

I am also replacing my sedum with varieties I which I know will attract bees.  Even though it was not the right time I did find a Sedum “Autumn Joy” and a small variety “Dragon’s blood” whilst I was in the U.K.  There are lots of little changes to be done and some bulbs yet to be planted but each change adds and an extra for the new year.

Willows

I planted the willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”)in January 2014 and now they are starting to fill out and add colour to the winter garden.   Although I am already looking forward to the spring when their task is to form a screen around a seating area.

 

 

 

 


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New home for an old trunk

It all began some eight years ago.  The large building next to our house was always called by the previous owners the atelier, so Amelia and I have kept that name.  It is more than a barn.  It stores all our garden furniture, the ride-on mower, the wood for the fire place, and a variety of objects that Amelia keeps asking me to throw away but I tell her that they might come handy someday!

Most years we have had a variety of birds nesting inside it, including wrens, redstarts, and house martins.  But some years ago I noticed a barn owl flying in and out late in the evenings.  I love barn owls and decided to find out how I might be able to give it a home. Many sites including the Barn Owl Trust in the UK have advice on how to build and erect a barn owl nest.

I looked for a simple way to erect a nest, and eventually I found an old trunk in the local charity depot called Trois Francs Six Sous.  This totally volunteer run organisation operates locally but is similar to the Emmaus charity stores.  Emmaus is an international solidarity movement founded in Paris after the war by the Catholic priest and Capuchin friar Abbé Pierre to combat poverty and homelessness.  The expression Trois Francs Six Sous refers to something that costs ‘next to nothing’ or as we might say in England ‘tuppence’.

The old chest itself proved an interesting item for me.  In it I found a little booklet about 5 cm long with one side the face of someone unhappy and the other a happy face.

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It was a small saints day calendar  with the first page indicating the year of its publication.

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I have no idea of the exact age of the trunk, but I would guess that it is easily over a hundred years old.  It was beautifully made with two bands of material on the outside.  I was pleased that I could give it a new life.

I cut a square hole at one end of this chest and one third along the chest I placed a partition going three quarter up from the side.  By the time I had finished making the nest it was quite heavy and although Amelia was willing to help, I had to lift it and climb up the ladder to fix the trunk  nearly four metres high inside the atelier along the wall.  It was not an easy task!  I just hoped that one day the owl might fancy using it

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The top of the atelier is open to the outside so the birds can easily enter and leave at their pleasure.  After nearly two years of patience, recently I have seen plenty of evidence of the presence of the barn owl with his pellets (not so bad), as well as large white splashes (not so good) in the atelier.

Eventually yesterday I decided to do something that I rarely like to do which is to try to investigate if any bird had actually visited the old chest.  So I put up the ladder and stuck my camera just on the inside at the edge of the partition, and took two quick photos.  The quality of the photos are not so good as I was obliged to use my old Canon Powershot.

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Just beyond the partition, I saw the evidence that I had hoped for:  a single barn owl (tyto alba) or as they call it here effraie des clochers.  

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I understand that it is quite difficult to determine the sex of barn owls, although I hope I will be corrected on that.  This bird has been visiting us for a number of years and I am not sure if he is a confirmed bachelor or not.  I just hope that he is happy in his home and that this year he will find a mate.

Kourosh