a french garden


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Beginning of February

February sees me still struggling with a ‘flu/virus that I cannot seem to shake.

However, last Saturday I read Murtagh’s Meadow and she informed me that the first of February was Saint Brigit’s day and was considered by many in Ireland to be the first day of Spring.  Physically this made no difference to my cough but it did considerably lift my spirits.

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The hazlenuts outside of the garden are in flower and for the first time I saw bees gathering pollen from their catkins.  I have never seen this inside the garden and I have a sneaky feeling that our bees prefer other pollen.

Bee on Hellebore (1)-001

The Hellebore have started to open and get a lot of attention from the bees when the sun shines.

Bee in white Hellebore-001

I started with dark purple ones from my sister’s garden and bought some white ones little by little.

White Helllebore-001

The Hellebore self-seed liberally and I do my best to recuperate as many as I can.  I am hoping to get lots of crosses like the one above, but it takes time for the plant to mature and flower.  I am just getting to the fun part of the exercise.

Bumble bee on Hellebore-001

They seem ideal plants for me as they provide ground cover and will survive drying out and quite severe conditions during the summer.

Bee on snowdrop-001

I’ve struggled growing snowdrops but I now have an established clump in a very strange uncared for spot at the bottom of the garden.  I’ve never managed to grow them close to the house where they could be seen and enjoyed even in inclement weather.  Fickle flowers!

Plum tree

The plum tree is beautiful at the moment and full of all sorts of pollinators on the sunny days.  It is good to just stand underneath it and listen to them.

Plum tree canopy-001

It feels so good to go underneath it and look through the canopy of flowers – but it does not cure a cough.

Bee on plum blossom-001

I think the easy pickings on the plum tree distracts them from the less generous hazelnut trees.

Tree frog-001

In the meantime, I will take the example of our little green tree frog that finds a comfy spot to enjoy the winter sun whenever he can.

Bee on Speedwell-001

I still keep an eye on the Speedwell which is growing in the grass, happy in the moist spring conditions and untroubled by the lawn mower, yet.

Wild bee (1)-001

I have not seen the pretty grey wild bee again but this bee looks like an Andrena flavipes but if it is, she is flying a month earlier than Steven Falk suggests they might fly in the U.K.

Any comments or identification will be welcome.

 

 

 


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The flowers in November

The rain still continues and everything in the garden is wet.

It does not stop the bees and other insects flying in between the downpours.

The low light makes it difficult to take sharp photographs.

Everything is getting sodden.   Luckily, I have already gathered plenty of Cosmos and other seeds.  These are French Marigold (Tagetes erecta), that are late in setting seed and have stated germinating still attached to the flower heads.

I grew these flowers near my tomatoes this year.  They provided lots of colour in the vegetable garden and are reputed to attract beneficial insect such as hoverflies and at the same time the roots secrete a substance to repel certain nematodes.  I cannot affirm that they make a considerable difference but they are held in high esteem in this area.

There is still plenty of Borage left in the vegetable garden, and elsewhere, and that is a magnet for all pollinators.  It is also so handy for decoration of salads and drinks.

We always have a clutter of pots at our front coffee spot.  This allows us to keep an eye on the fragile and admire our favourite flowers of the moment.

The Salvias are in their glory at the moment, especially the Salvia leucantha.  We have one in a pot on the patio and another in the garden but they do not photograph well and you need to see a close up photograph to see what the eye actually sees.  The flowers look as if they have been fashioned from velvet.  They are constantly visited by the bees.  This carder bumble bee is piercing a hole in the flower to “steal” the nectar.

Another flower we are monitoring in a pot on the patio is the Ajania.  This is new to us this year and I am waiting impatiently to see if the flowers will open fully.  It has grown well and I am thinking of trying it as ground cover next year as it has grown well in the pot.

Some flowers get attention and care yet this Alyssum grows on its own every year, seeding into the cracks in the front path and the base of the wall.  It completely looks after itself and releases its own special honey scent in the warm evenings and is still flowering.

Perhaps tough love can work as I have succeeded in keeping two Abutilon plants.  They die completely from the surface in winter and reappear in late spring.  They are not too tall yet, but I have my hopes, and it is nice to have their flowers so late in the year.

The bees still manage to get out to forage for nectar and pollen despite the rain.  They have to “faire avec” as we all have to during these rainy days.

Thus saying, I was surprised to see a cricket perched on top of my pink rose in the front garden.  It does not seem a good place to be camouflaged from hungry birds. In addition, it is not very far away from our bird feeder.

More surprisingly it was still there the next day!  Is it the same one or is it cricket time?

 


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The Garden Jungle

Bumble on dead nettle

The Garden Jungle is not a reflection on my garden it is the new book by Dave Goulson.  Or rather the full title is The Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet.

There is so much information presented in such a stimulating style that I recommend it for all gardeners everywhere.

Brown-banded bumble bee

Dave Goulson is a university professor, author of several best selling books and a keen amateur gardener.

Bombus praetorum.30.4.13

In addition, in 2006 he founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust which has had a tremendous impact on raising the awareness of the decline in Bumblebees in the U.K. in the past eighty years.  The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has spearheaded many successful projects in the U.K. and involves and encourages the public to become part of the conservation effort.

In fact, if each time you access Amazon through this link the association will receive a donation from Amazon on qualifying purchases (they raised £3,500 last year in this way.)

Bumble on Echinacae

So the bumblebee theme is in honour of Dave Goulson and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and also to recommend his new book as a great read.  However, the book is not just about bumblebees but concerns all of the natural life that you find in the garden.

Although written with his gardens in the U.K. and France in the background, his writing resonates across the continents.

Bumble on Sedum

I’ve read a lot of books about gardening for nature but this is definitely heads and shoulders above anything else I have read.

Anyone who has already read his other books will be familiar with his light-hearted, easy to read style but for those who have not read his other books, I also wanted to point out his credentials as a seriously well-informed writer.

Bumble Bramble pollen.jpg

This time I decided to go for the Kindle edition but I think I will also buy a paper copy.  It is a book that I know I will want to refer to and although the Kindle version does have an index it is rather that I am personally more adapt at the “flick” method when I want to retrieve information from a paper book.  I must get used to using the highlighters but until now I have reserved my Kindle purchases to light reading for beach or while travelling.

Clover pollen

I hope you enjoy reading this book wherever you are and whether you have a postage stamp size garden or a huge spread or whether your garden is still in your dreams.

 

 

 

 

 


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The Ash Tree

Ash trees border

She refuses to be another daisy,
Picked for her beauty and left to die,
She is pure, wild, fearless and free.
Difficult to find even with an open eye.
Yet as grounded as the mighty ash tree.
She wears strength on her leaves,
And when darkness bereaves,
She does not fear,
She becomes it.                                     ( The Ash Tree by Ashley Wilson)

Along our border, we had a whole line of mighty ash trees.  During the past few years we have lost three during summer storms.  Lucien, my old neighbour told me that he planted them when he was very young.  He is no longer with us,  but his memory through these trees, that now must be nearly a hundred years old, will remain.

Ash trees

They provide a great deal of shade and in summer Amelia and I love them and sometimes curse them as they provide too much shade to the vegetable garden.

The ash tree (Fraxinus) flowers are pretty enough but do not appear to interest our bees.

The ash trees have both male and female flowers that can appear on different trees or on different branches.  We do get a lot of flowers on our ash trees but they seem to attract very few pollinators.

So, a couple of years ago, Amelia chose another variety, the flowering ash tree (Fraxinus Ornus).  We bought a tree which is some three meters tall, and has started to flower beautifully.

Flowering Ash Tree

And I am delighted that its flowers do indeed attract both the bumble bees as well as our honey bees,

Fraxinus Ornus (1)

Although this little lady is carrying pollen, I think that she is also sucking nectar.

Fraxinus Ornus (2)

Ashley Wilson, at the end of her poem notes that for the Celts, the Ash tree was considered as the guardian of children and represented resurrection and renewal.  To the druids, the ash tree represented the realm between the sky and the earth.

So I hope that in these troubled times, our ash trees – both types – will be a sign of renewal into Spring and Summer and that they will be the guardian of our little bees.

Kourosh

 


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Spring update on the bees

Well, at last the Spring is here (I think!).  I know that because it is now two weeks since we started hearing the Cuckoo.  It is also because the birds have started pairing and courting.

Pair of doves

And… our tortoises have eventually come out of hibernation.

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The  birds we rarely see in the garden in winter, including the green finch

Greenfinch

and the green woodpecker, have returned.

Woodpecker

As for our bee hives, unfortunately we lost one of our bee colonies – Iris – to the Asian hornets last November.  The hornets don’t just destroy the colonies, but weaken them  in autumn at exactly the time that the colonies need to produce the winter bees to keep them warm and stock up with provisions for the winter.  So perhaps Iris was not a strong enough queen to keep up producing enough young to replace the losses.

But we were very lucky.  In this region of France, the Charente-Maritime –  many bee keepers  have lost large numbers of hives this past year – on average more than 50%.  One beekeeper friend near us lost 10 out of a total of ten hives.  Another has lost six out of seven hives.  So we have taken it upon ourselves to give a helping hand to our friends.

The bees maintain a temperature inside their hive of over 30 degrees centigrade,  In February the outside temperature is still low to inspect the interior of the hives, but one can get a very good idea by just observing their coming and going.  If they bring in pollen that is a sure sign that they have brood and need to feed the young.  So by clicking on the link (1 min 07 sec.), I invite you to see what the entrance of one of our hives looked like on 16th February with outside temperature of 7-8 degrees centigrade.  You can also notice three different colours of pollen brought in by the bees.

Strangely, now that the weather has improved the bees do not come out until it warms up to over 10 degrees centigrade.

Our other four hives have survived the winter and emerged as strong colonies, and the inspection in March showed that they have strong broods on three or even four frames in March.

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At the end of March we decided to divide two colonies – Pissenlit (Dandelion) and also Tournesol (Sunflower) – These were our two strongest colonies.

The division of a hive is in theory to expand the number of colonies and also to prevent the almost annual swarming of a hive – although we have found that when the swarm fever sets in a colony, nothing will prevent them from swarming.

One can remove a brood frame with a queen cell, if it is observed, and make a new colony, or one can remove a frame without the queen or queen cell, but containing fresh eggs, and hope that the colony will make their own new queen.

In both hives we found the queen and removed the frame with the queen.  We decided to give away our queens plus  two frames of broods and plenty of bees.  Our friends are naturally delighted and the bees are expanding at a fast rate.  This means that we have now two orphan colonies.  We hope that they will make new queens.  So like expectant parents we just keep our fingers crossed.

We have meanwhile placed a six-frame beehive above the old hen-house to attract any passing swarm.  During the last few years we have caught a number of swarms there.

Hive on the old hen house

The scouts bees have already started coming each day.  So we wait and see what happens this year.

There is plenty of flowering shrubs and flowering fruit trees at the moment for the bees. This little lady has been taking pollen from the Camellia

bee on camelia 1-001

She emerged laden with pollen.

bee on camelia 2

Meanwhile on Sunday 31st March, whilst entertaining an old friend for lunch a large swam arrived on the quince tree at about one pm.

New Swarm March 2019

All thought of lunch was put aside as Amelia and I rushed to put on our bee suits.

We placed a sheet under the quince tree which is full of blossoms.  I shook the lowest branch vigorously  and caught the swarm directly in Iris’s old hive and left her there until the evening to let them settle in.  As the queen was now inside, the rest of the bees you can see below on the outside of the hive just marched inside.  They were really gentle and the operation was very smooth.

This is the first time we have put a swarm directly into a full sized hive, previously we have used the smaller 6 frame hive to collect swarms.  As this was a large swarm we feel it was a good choice.

swarm hived

Quite a few of the bees in the swarm were carrying pollen, which I thought was unusual.  Then on Monday morning at about 9 am I saw the new hive was bringing in pollen.  Again strange as I had placed undrawn wax sheet on the frames and surely, I thought, the bees have not had the time to draw it in order to stock the pollen.  Oh, well, I guess they know what they are doing!  I hope that a more experienced person can give me an explanation.

New Swarm hived

So here we are with a garden full of flowers and blossom and our now five hives.  I hope that the two orphan hives will do their job.  But that is hopefully for another update in the future.

Our Hives Spring 2019

Kourosh


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Springtime?

Hellebore

January was so cold and I became so impatient to see the Hellebores open.  My Hellebores have obligingly self-seeded and I have tenderly spread them throughout the garden knowing how much I appreciate their colour and the number of bees that they attract in the early warm days of the year.

They are beautiful plants and provide both nectar and pollen for the bees.  The green tubes that you can see behind the bee in the last picture, are the hellebore nectaries.  There is an excellent site if you want more of an insight into the botany of Hellebores with superb photographs.

Sarcococca confusa

The winter flowers of the Sarcococca confusa are as important to me as to the bees and they bring their perfume to assure me that spring will not be long in coming.

Crocus

The crocus bring the longed for colour – no matter what the weather is like.

1st Flowers plum tree

The plum tree is just as impatient to flower, but with the first flowers opening so early I doubt whether the fruits will survive.  It is two years since we have tasted the plums as although these signs are encouraging, winter will not have finished with us yet.

1st pollen 17.2.19

The willow near the bee hives is covered with soft pussy willow and I saw the male stamens break out with their yellow pollen today.  If the weather keeps good the tree will soon be covered with bees of all sorts.

Carpenter.JPG

The carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea) have returned.

Carder bumble bee.JPGMore and more queen bumble bees are topping up on nectar, but I have not seen any gathering pollen yet (they know it is too early.)

Red Admiral

The butterflies are around too.  I think this Red Admiral must have overwintered somewhere judging by the condition of the wings.

Macroglossum stellatarum

However, I was surprised to see a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) so early.

Bumble on Hellebore

All in all I feel disoriented by this spell of clement, sunny weather with temperatures going up to 17 degrees centigrade sometimes in the afternoon.

Perhaps not so disoriented as the bumble bee above who seemed to be looking for nectar in the wrong place.

Two bumble bees inside Hellebore

But finally we can take a lesson from these two bumble bees.  Life is not all about rushing to get nectar.  We need to make choices and decide to just enjoy it sometimes.

 

 


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March in the garden

Up till now we have been subjected to chaotic changes in the weather this March.  High winds, freezing temperatures overnight, sunshine and rain and more rain and clouds with temperatures about ten degrees under seasonal average take turns to fill the days.

The first of March saw the plum tree flowers frozen and brown.

Whereas a week earlier it had been full of flowers.

Four rows of broad beans were frozen overnight in an extremely low temperature.  I could have avoided the damage by simply covering the plants with a fleece or even some newspaper but they completely slipped my mind.

It has not been all bad news and the Goat Willow (Salix caprea) is open and welcoming the honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees and butterflies – especially when it is sunny.  As you can see our hives are very close to the willow, which is on the left of the picture, so they can take advantage of short sunny spells in between the rain.  Standing under the tree and listening to the hum above your head feels so peaceful.  There is a 19 second video if you would like to share the bees.

It is good to see the girls collecting such healthy sized sacs of pollen.

The willow provides nectar as well as pollen.  This is a  Andrena cineraria (Ashy mining bee).  They have nested in the past under the large plum tree.

Checking under the plum tree I saw a number of male Andrena cineraria flying over the ground and this one was kind enough to pose on a daisy for me while he had a snack.  It looks like they are keeping to the same nesting area.

Last week the Osmia cornuta emerged from their holes.  The males emerge first and on sunny days they fly constantly around the bee hotels hoping for a female to emerge.  I have just seen a female prospecting one of the bee hotels so it will soon be time to watch the nest building.  Check out last year’s post if you would like to see more.

On the opposite side of the garden from the bees is an area that has always been full of lesser celandine (Ficaria verna).  I do my best but I find it difficult to do more than try and keep it out the borders.

I probably would not mind it so much if the bees liked it but usually it is only flies that I see on them.

One thing you can be sure about bees is that you can never say never, when it comes to their behaviour.

Keeping on the unusual – this is a double headed daffodil.  It is the first one I have seen.  Is it unusual?

This hyacinth is probably easier to explain, as it looks as if it has self-sown.  Not very striking but at least it is a pretty colour.

It might be worth looking under your Hellebores as there are lots of seedlings under mine.

Looking closer the second leaves are just starting to appear but they could easily be overlooked by an enthusiastic weeding.

This spring has been so wet and windy that I have come to realise how useful the downward facing flowers of the Hellebore are.  The pollen is kept dry for the bees and they are sheltered from the winds that make flying and nectar gathering difficult.

The green tubular structures are that the bee is visiting are the Hellebores nectaries and provide nectar which is collected by honey bees and so very valuable to the overwintering queen bumble bees when they awaken on warmer winter days.

This year my previous year’s seedlings have all done well and are settling into positions at the base of deciduous trees and plants.  I have my seed trays all ready so my next job in the garden is to fill them up with more Hellebore seedlings as I have already marked out in my mind where I can plant them in the autumn.