In praise of Lavatera

Some plants tick all the boxes for me. Lavatera is one of my favourites. It does not ask for special treatment. It prefers full sun but can manage in partial shade and manages well through dry periods.

In June the plant is in full bloom, providing a mass of flowers.

This was the Lavatera near the house in April this year. It was already filling out and pushing out its soft green leaves.

Now in June it is covered in flowers and attracts all sorts of pollinators drawn by the nectar. It has a rapid growth. You can take advantage of this if you want to quickly fill up a space in the garden.

Unfortunately the rapid growth can lead to branches breaking with the weight of the leaves and flowers. Looks like we should have given it a more severe cutting in April. However, it is easily grown from a cutting. In the U.K. it is preferable to take a softwood cutting in spring but they grown well from cuttings taken in the autumn here as long as they are not exposed to harsh weather. We often find an offshoot at the base of mature plants too.

Red Alert – canicule

Our department of the Charente Maritime (plus another eleven departments) have been placed on a red alert because of the predicted high temperatures – approaching 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Depending on where you live this may seem extreme or not.

It feels pretty hot to me but luckily we live in an old stone house that will stay cool until this stretch of extreme weather passes. We were booked to go with friends to an evening outside meal with music at our village tomorrow but all outside entertainment has been stopped including outside markets until the weather cools.

The bees are hot and fan in front of their entrances. The trees behind them protect them from the worse of the direct sun and there is insulation under the roof.

Kourosh thought of the old type of coolers that pushed air through wet straw and has sprayed the wooden entrances to increase the efficiency of the bees fanning.

We always leave plenty of water out for the bees and they need it, especially in the heat.

There is a particular crush around this local stone which is limestone and soaks up the water well.

It is not only the bees that appreciate the water and the bath is perfect for a morning dip for the robin.

It is too hot to go walking and too hot at the beach for me. I have checked out the Magnolia tree this morning and the bees had already set upon the flowers with gusto. The flowers do not last a day once they have opened.

Macroglossum stellatarum

The hummingbird hawk moth is back in the lavender.

I find it difficult staying inside and so check out the garden for only short periods.

There are little bees nesting in tiny tunnels in the house walls. I do not know what they are so that will give me something to think about. If you have any ideas please drop me a hint.

The poppies of May

Returning from an excellent yoga retreat led by Sonia Ama and Marion Duval we found the garden full of sunshine, bees and poppies.

The poppies pop up all over the garden and are appreciated by us and all the bees.

May is a time when so much blooms in the garden but this year the weather is hot and dry. Today is 33 degrees at 5 p.m. in the evening, there has never been such a hot May here since 1947. Already some of the plants are suffering but it is difficult to tell whether they are still suffering from the short, sharp frost we had in April or lack of water.

It is a time to tend the garden when it is cool enough to work and enjoy it when it is too hot to do anything else.

Our Blue Tits and Great Tits have returned to the bird table after raising their young. They are bringing their noisy fledglings to try to encourage them to feed themselves.

Check out this short 23 second video to listen to this pushy fledgling demanding to be fed.

Beginning of March 2022

There is a lot I could be attending to in the garden just now. New shoots of the sedum are pushing through and I still have not cut down the old stalks.

The daffodils are in flower behind the bee hives and all the bulb are pushing through and filling the borders.

The old plum tree has almost finished flowering now but its flowers have not been damaged by wind or frost. The bees have mounted their daily search for nectar and pollen making the tree buzz from a distance.

As the bees forage in the flowers the petals fall like confetti on the ground around it.

The smaller new plum tree provides easier access for me to creep up on the bees and is just as popular as the large tree but cannot compete noise wise.

The Osmanthus burkwoodii (bottom RHS of photo) is perfumed but does not attract the bees to the same extent as the plum trees.

The bees do go on the Osmanthus and the perfume is rich and distinctive

We do not have Mimosa in our garden but our neighbours do – to the benefit of our bees. Mimosa trees are popular in this area. The flowers can be cut and stay well in vases indoors but not everybody likes their perfume.

Kourosh took this photograph on the 23 February and I noticed a little male wild bee on the flowers. Then on the 26 of February…

We saw the first Osmia cornuta males flying around our bee boxes willing the females to hatch and come out.

Now is the time for our willow at the bottom of the garden to become the focus of attention for the bees. The tree is covered in golden pussy willow which provides a very valuable pollen for the bees.

The weather stays much greyer than usual for the spring and we have had very little real rain although there are light showers and drizzle.

I need some more sunny days to inspire me to get more active in the garden.

In the meantime Kourosh has found a large (about 10 cm.) Morille in the vegetable patch. I believe it is edible if well cooked. I have left it and if we get more next year then I will think about looking up recipes.

Hellebores

If I had only one word to describe the garden today it would be “Hellebores”. I did not do my usual moving of self-seeded plants last autumn but the plants I have moved in previous years are providing so many flowers after another dark, damp week here. The bees love them and gather the pollen until the flower ages and the stamens fall off.

The noisiest part of the garden is near the plum tree, although patches of Hellebore try to rival the plum tree for the highest “buzz” volume.

The plum tree opened up this week but today was the first sunny day that we could appreciate it properly. The flowers are full of honey bees, bumblebees and other pollinators.

We are told that hazel pollen is a very important early pollen for bees. I never see our catkins mobbed with bees like some of our flowers so I was glad to catch this bee this morning with a heavy load of hazel pollen.

Likewise I have recently added Cornus mas or Cornelian Cherry to the garden as the pollen is supposed to be high in protein so I was glad to see the bees on the flowers.

Eriobotrya japonica – will we have fruit this year?
The Viburnum tinus is just opening and will supply pollen to the bees for a long time yet.

Our first Camelia flower opened today. I hope we will be having more sunny days to enjoy it when it is fully opened.

Rain or sun we can watch our birds from the windows.

This plant tray stays outside our kitchen window and is the bathing place for the birds.

Kourosh thinks it is some type of warbler. Its feathers look incredibly downy.

January 2022

The garden enters 2022 with trepidation.

Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta

I took some photographs in the garden on the 31 st. of December 2021 – the last day of the old year. It was a fittingly bizarre day with a temperature of 17 degrees Centigrade (62.6 F) and bright sunshine for the second straight day in a row. There were butterflies on the flowers.

And of course the bees were out and busy bringing loads of pollen into the bee hives.

We were able to sit and read outside as the sun descended and the birds were singing like a spring evening. It is still mild but the temperatures are moving towards seasonal norms. I just wonder how perturbed nature will be this year.

In the meantime the bees take advantage of the fine weather and I thank Philip Strange for reminding me that buff-tailed bumblebees can keep up nesting throughout the winter even in the south of England. Thus the pollen on the bumblebees legs.

She did not gather the pollen from the Mahonia – I have only seen the bees take nectar from the Mahonia.

This winter, despite some frosty mornings, the Anisodontea has kept its flowers and attracts the bees on sunny days.

As soon as the flowers open the bees push themselves inside. They often try when the flower is not completely open.

At the bottom of the garden we have planted an Arbutus unedo. It is a poor spot for a tree with such lovely flowers that are much appreciated by the bumblebees but it has survived and is producing flowers.

The tree is commonly called a strawberry tree, for obvious reasons. I took the photograph of the fruit on the 13 December but there are no more fruits on the tree. The birds have eaten them and, although they look delicious, the fruits are somewhat acid and bland. They can be made into jam as they are not poisonous, but I could think of easier ingredients for jams.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I took all these photographs on 31 December 2022 in the sunshine and unseasonable warmth. In the evening I noticed one of our little green tree frogs sitting enjoying the sun inside a planter on the patio. It is two days later and he is settling down for another night in the same place. The temperature is forecast to fall during the night.

Shall I take him out a blanket?

The summer garden

We don’t have a big vegetable garden. I like to have plenty of tomatoes for eating and also for freezing as sauce. This year they are very behind. It is the same tomatoes that I have been growing for some years but they are about a month behind their usual growth but it is the same for everybody else nearby. Instead, we have plenty of lettuce this year – just one cucumber plant grown from seed but you can’t win them all.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have sown parsley without success, so far (any hints gratefully received). I have planted my leeks for the winter as I am already thinking of winter soups.

It looks as if we are going to have at least one butternut.

I also grew some Uchiki Kuri plants from seed as I thought they were the same as the French Potimarron. I was also in search of the fragrant pumpkin flowers I raised in the garden one year. So far, I have not noticed any perfume from these flowers but it is very fleeting and maybe I was not around at a propitious time. I’ll keep sniffing them as the season advances.

Kourosh has always fancied a climbing grape vine. A friend brought us this vine and assured us it was a type that would climb. It looks as if we may get our first grapes from it this year.

The vegetable garden is hard work. I would rather be watching the Megachile bees building their nests in the bee house. These are leaf cutter bees and they seal off each cache of egg and pollen with either a piece of leaf or chewed bits of leaf. You may see some suspicious circles on your plant leaves as if someone has been at them with a little hole punch. I hope you don’t grudge them these little bits of leaf as it does not harm the plant.

Actually, it is tough to have favourites as I love finding the Tetralonia bees still asleep in the summer mornings tucked inside the flower of a Hollyhock.

Green grows the grass

I had to take this photograph from upstairs to show the grass still green in the middle of July. Usually this space is more brown than green at this time of year, certainly last year we had had no rain for a long time and the grass was brown. This year the grass has been so wet that it could not be cut.

So many plants had made their home in the grass. The wild mint and Achillea make it perfumed to walk on but it has all been cut now to let me move in the garden without wearing wellington boots. The plants are doing well outside in the wild spaces and the side of the roads.

The bees are spoiled by the abundance of clover and other flowers that are blooming just now. The rain has stopped here and we are promised sunshine. At the moment the clouds are still plentiful but they are white ones and they let the blue sky through.

With the grass cut and fair weather in sight it is time to get to work in the garden again. That often means weeding and of course the weeds have been growing too.

I’ll be looking for places for some of the new plants that I have started off in patio pots. I have only the one colour of Fuschia in the garden and although it has done very well and we have split and replanted it throughout the garden, I am hoping this “Blue Sarah” Fuschia will prove as hardy.

The Carpenter bee has already given it her seal of approval even if she is “stealing” the nectar by boring into the source rather than bothering to go in by the conventional entrance. The hole she has opened will stay and be used by smaller, short-tongued bees, like some of the bumbles and honey bees, to give them easy access to the nectar.

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.