a french garden


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Blossom time

Back garden

Most of the trees have opened their leaves.  The lime trees and walnut are trailing behind.

New mulberry bud

After my discovery of my hazelnut flowers, I have decided to catch my mulberry flowers.  The bud is about to open!

Mulberry bud bursting

What a disappointment!  It’s not what I would call a flower but it is all the mulberry can offer.  No wonder I have missed them up until now.

Unripe fruit

These insignificant flowers turn slowly into edible red berries.  Please don’t ask me what variety this is as I have grown it from seed and kept it as a bonsai for more than twenty years now.  There are many varieties of mulberry and many varieties provide delicious berries.

Quince tree

I think my favourite blossom tree is the quince tree with its large delicate pink flowers.

Quince and bee

It is a popular flower for all the bees and I was glad to see this Andrena visiting the flowers as I have seen no honey bees near it this year.

Flowers Belle de Boskoop

The apple tree Belle de Boskoop is my second favourite with its deep rose pink buds and the lighter full flowers.

Pear

The pear trees are usually full of bees but once again this year there are few honey bees around and I was glad to see this Andrena visiting it and I have seen my Osmia cornuta in it too.

Victoria plum (1)

The Victoria plum tree is not attracting as many pollinators either.

Cherry

The cherry trees are full of blossom but I have seen no bees in them this year.  The bee keepers in the area have had huge losses over this winter.  The winter was not unduly cold or wet but many of the hives in the spring still had honey but no bees.  I can notice the difference in the garden.  I even feel I am seeing less solitary bees but I do not know if this is just as a result of my concern for the fate of the local honey bees.

Carpenter in wisteria

This is also the time of year for the Wisteria blossom and I cannot leave out the Carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea).  The perfume of the Wisteria pervades the garden.

Bumble in Wisteria

The perfume gives an extra pleasure to photographing the bees.

Back of bumbleI always see this queen carder bee at this time of year but I have given up trying to identify bumble bees.

Old hotel (1)

One of the bee hotels is situated beside a Wisteria, so it is very pleasant watching the activity.

New hotel

The new bee hotel has been very well accepted.  The seven holes in the penthouse have all been taken, seventeen in all have been filled up to now.  The drilled holes and the bamboo are both being used but none of the bamboo canes lined with paper have been accepted.

Osmia cornuta on hand

The lives of the female Osmia cornuta is one of non-stop action in an effort to lay her eggs in cells well stocked with pollen, so I was surprised when I saw this one sitting on top of the bee hotel and even more surprised when she came onto my hand.

Worn Osmia cornuta

Then I noticed that the hairs on her back were worn away.  they bring in the pollen and turn and twist in the holes packing in the pollen and then sealing the cell with mud.  All the twisting and rubbing had rubbed away the hairs and she looked very tired.  I held her up to the hotel and she disappeared into a hole.  Soon there will be less activity from bees and I will be left with the filled holes to care for until next spring.

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Bees in the trees

Flowering Plum

This is my favourite time in the garden when my plum tree is in flower.  It heralds the official opening of springtime in the garden.

Bee gathering plum pollen

It attracts honey bees in their hundreds to fill the canopy with a constant motion and buzz that adds to the cloud of its special bitter sweet perfume that floats over the garden.

Bumble bee in plum tree

The bumble bees like to take the top flowers but this one has fallen asleep and stayed for the night amongst the flowers.

Carpenter in plum tree

The carpenters have been very active early this year and visit the plum tree as well as the spring flowers.

Goat Willow

The plum tree is not the first tree to provide pollen to the bees.  We have a willow at the bottom of the garden which I think is a goat willow (Salix caprea).  It is an old tree which we have inherited but it provides the much needed pollen very early in the year.

Bee flying to catkin

At this time of year it is mainly honey bees that come and load up with the pollen.

Wild bee in willow

There are also wild bees like this one and bumble bees that need the valuable pollen.

Apricot blossom

The apricot blossom just doesn’t do it for the bees.  It comes a poor third choice when the plum and the willow are flowering.  I have a feeling that the apricot tree produces flowers at intervals so that it can increase its chances of fruiting in case it produces flowers when there are not so many pollinators around.  I’ll try and keep a closer eye on it this year.

Border

The spring flowers provide colour in the borders.

White daff

And the daffodils brighten up a day when a thick grey blanket of cloud covers the sky and prevents any chance of a glimpse of the solar eclipse.

Hellebore (1)

The Hellebore provide lots of pollen too but it seems to be more appreciated by the bumble bees.

Bumble bee in hellebore

The bumble bees are difficult to see in the Hellebore but their loud buzzing gives them away.

New plum flower

Baby plum tree’s first flower

My plum tree is so important in the garden that I can’t quite imagine the garden without it.  In the summer it provides a cool parasol to dine under.  Its strong branches can support a swing.  It even has its own bee hotel!

That is why we were excited to notice what looked like a baby growing in the hedge nearby.  We looked after it and planted it out last autumn.  We were not sure if we had been looking after a “foundling” and that it would turn out to be another tree but this year it has flowered for the first time.  The flowers looks the same as our plum tree and it has flowered with it at this early time, so we are very happy that the plum tree is not on its own any more.


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Elaeagnus and other surprises

I love finding out about things and I had a few surprises in the garden last week.

Firstly, I was planting some self-seeded Hollyhock plants in front of my Elaeagnus in the back border when I noticed a beautiful jasmine perfume.  The Elaeagnus was bought about six years ago as a workhorse to protect and conceal the garden from brambles and overgrowth on the other side.  It cost only a few euros and has performed its function as backdrop without complaint or problem despite being overshadowed by tall Ash trees.  A couple of years ago two of the Ash trees were blown down in a storm and I now noticed the Elaeagnus had shot up some new branches and was looking happy.

I was surprised that the wonderful perfume was coming from my Elaeagnus.  In fact disbelieving is more truthful.  I had to search on the internet to convince myself I hadn’t mistaken its name.   I discovered that I have probably got Elaeagnus ebbingei.

Elaeagnus ebbingei leaf tip

The leaves start out with this curious speckled pattern.

Elaeagnus mature leaf

As the leaf matures it loses this silvery scaling and becomes a dark shiny green.

Brown scaled flowers

Now there are lots of little white flowers on the leaf axils.

Close up Elaeagnus flower

The outside of the flowers is spotted with brown bark-like dots but the interior is waxen white.

Carder bee on Elaeagnus ebbingei

Not perhaps the most beautiful of blossoms but the perfume carries for a distance and the bumble bees appreciate the nectar although I have not, as yet, seen them gather any pollen.  I haven’t seen any honeybees on the flowers but the ivy is flowering in the woods around about and they are probably targeting that feast at the moment.

Bumble steals nectar from Elaeagnus ebbingei

It is interesting to note the different techniques the two bees are using to obtain the nectar.  The carder bee is sticking his head inside the flower to reach the nectar and will thereby help to pollinate the flowers by carrying the pollen on his body from flower to flower.  The white tailed bumble bee, on the other hand, has a shorter tongue than the carder bee and finds it easier to pierce the tubular flower near its base to reach the nectar.  By “stealing” the nectar in this manner it is less likely that she will pollinate the flowers.

While checking out the identity of my Elaeagnus I discovered that the fruits were often edible and that the Elaeagnus angustifolia produced similar yellow, fragrant flowers and a date shaped fruit called senjed.  I hadn’t thought about senjed for many years and had never given a thought to where they grow.  I like this strange fruit with its dry powdery centre, I suppose because I have always enjoyed trying unusual fruit and I have been rarely disappointed.  So Elaeagnus angustifolia is another plant for my wish list as it is listed as having yellow fragrant flowers producing both nectar and pollen for the bees.  I just have to find a suitable sunny position for it.

Back garden wall

My next surprise is on the front garden wall on the right of the Heptacodium jasminoides which is still in flower and can be seen on the far left of the photograph.

Osmanthus heterophyllus Goshiki flowers

Once again it was the perfume that alerted me that something else was flowering.

Osmanthus heterophyllus Goshiki flowers

This time the flowers are as delicate and beautiful as their perfume but I have never seen a bee on them.  In fact, the carder bumble bees fly directly overhead feeding on the hardy fuschia and then returning to the Heptacodium.  It seems strange that such perfumed flowers do not attract pollinators but it is not a native european plant so perhaps it has been separated from its pollinating partners.

Osmanthus

There are plenty of branches to snip and when brought indoors and put into water the flowers will perfume the room and keep for several days and the leaves for even longer.

Osmanthus heterophyllus Goshiki

From just a short distance away the flowers can hardly be seen but the Osmanthus heterophyllus “Goshiki” is another workhorse, staying evergreen throughout the year, accepting a day long shady position with minimal care in a fast draining soil.  The flowers could easily be missed if it wasn’t for the perfume.  Such nice surprises!


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Monday, Monday…

Monday, Monday

Monday, Monday

The weather forecast last night predicted snow over France with the exception of small areas such as ours.  We are protected by the Atlantic (?).  However, this morning (25 February) we awoke to a light covering of snow.  Less than a week ago we had lunch in the sunshine on the patio.

Plum blossom in snow

Plum blossom in snow

The snow does not lie on the plum blossom, it is as if the tree itself is providing some warmth.  The air temperature is around zero and the higher branches are sheltering the lower branches from a heavy incrustation and creating a circle of green around the tree.

Cherry tree flower bud

Cherry tree flower bud

The cherry tree was just starting to flower.  I wonder how hardy the little flower buds are?

Viburnum tinus

Viburnum tinus

There are no bees on the Viburnum today.

Cotoneaster berries

Cotoneaster berries

The garden has a sudden winter look, so difficult to accept after the warm, sunny days of last week.

Hellebores

Hellebores

Some flowers look more appropriate in the snow.

Dark Hellebore

Dark Hellebore

They are called “Rose de Noel” in France.

Rose de Noel

Rose de Noel

A much more appropriate name today with perhaps a much more appropriate back-drop to set them off.

Bergenia

Bergenia

There are plenty of plants in the garden that will laugh off the snow, like the Bergenia with its sturdy thick leaves.

Sarcococca confusa

Sarcococca confusa

Despite its delicate appearance the Sarcococca will be blooming in a few days when the sun is scheduled to appear and releasing its wonderful perfume as soon the temperature rises.

Yellow crocus

Yellow crocus

In the meantime the crocus

Purple crocus

Purple crocus

of all hues,

Primulas

Primulas

the Primula,

Hyacinth in snow

Hyacinth in snow

and the Hyacinth take the cold weather in their stride.

Broad beans

Broad beans

My broad beans which I plant in the autumn have grown valiantly up to now – the moment of truth.  I hope they will survive, after much worse weather last February, I have faith in their perseverance.

However, I’m not sure what will happen to the fruit trees.  Perhaps this year all I will have from my plum and cherry trees is pictures of their blossom.


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Early bumblebees

Really  early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

Really early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

I think I should give an early warning  here – this post  is about bumble bees and honey bees.  It is a sort of warning cum apology but the weather this week was amazing and the bees really took advantage of it.  I took these photographs on Tuesday 19 February in the warm sunshine although the air temperature did not go above 12 degrees Centigrade.

Early Bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

Early Bumble bee (Bombus pratorum)

The winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is just about the end of its flowering season but there were three or four Early Bumble bees gathering nectar from the flowers.  The pollen baskets are visibly empty.

White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus Lucorum)

White-tailed bumble bee (Bombus Lucorum)

There was a White-tailed bumble but she (they) have been visiting throughout the winter.  It was the first time I had seen any Early bumbles.

What I noticed was that that the bumblebees appeared only to be taking nectar.  They were carrying no pollen.

Honey bee on honeysuckle

Honey bee on honeysuckle

There were not many honey bees on the Honeysuckle but they, on the other hand, were carrying its distinctive yellow pollen.

Honey bees on Viburnum tinus

Honey bees on Viburnum tinus

The Viburnum tinus was alive with honey bees but no bumblebees.  The bee on the top right of the flower is carrying the ivory coloured  pollen about the same size as the bud.

Honey bee on plum tree

Honey bee on plum tree

The plum tree was starting to buzz but it was all honey bees and they all seemed to be interested in gathering pollen.

I presume the bumblebee queens are woken up by the warm weather and feel the need to restock on their energy stores.  It is certainly too early for them to start nesting.

Thursday brought glacial winds and daytime temperatures of just over zero that even the Charente sunshine could not warm.  I hope the bumblebee queens are back tucked-up in the same place that they have spent the winter.

Cute Early Bumblebee

Cute Early Bumblebee

This photograph serves no purpose except that I found it cute!

Question carder

Question carder

On the other hand I was wondering if anyone had an opinion on this photograph.

Perhaps a carder

Perhaps a carder

Another bumblebee on the honeysuckle on Tuesday was not the same colour as the usual carder bees I see.

Carder?

Carder?

It was overall much redder in colour, toning to grey on the underside rather than a pale beige.  Perhaps it was her winter colours and she goes redder in the winter like some plant leaves!  I’d be interested to hear any ideas.

Peacock butterfly on plum tree

Peacock butterfly on plum tree

I found it strange that the bumblebees did not take advantage of the plum blossom.  The peacock butterfly seems satisfied and there are far more flowers on the plum tree than the honeysuckle.

Plum tree in flower

Plum tree in flower

There seems more than enough flowers for the bumblebees to share on the plum tree but they kept themselves to themselves on the honeysuckle.  The plum tree had only burst into bloom in the preceding few days whereas the honeysuckle has been flowering all winter.  Perhaps the queen bumblebees need to refill at a known nectar source rather than wasting energy foraging if they have a steady supply.  They are on their own at the moment unlike the honey bees who have their foraging bees that are able to alert the hive to a new source of nutrients.

 


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May in the garden

May has been a wet month so far.

This was what the woods looked like on the first of May.

It has not stopped the garden flourishing but it has cut badly into the time I have been able to spend in it.

The lilac has flowered largely unappreciated, whereas it usually provides welcome shade in addition to its balmy perfume.

The apple trees are flowering now, our youngest is the Belle de Boskop.

Our oldest is the Reine de Reinette, which has a similar flavour to a Cox’s apple.

The third is a Golden Delicious, which was also the heaviest cropper last year.

The Medlar tree is also in flower.  I planted it specially as I love Medlar fruit and they are difficult to buy or even find in the shops.  I love the flavour and the fruit arrives very late in the autumn when almost everything else is finished.

It is not widely appreciated yet it is a lovely tree and has lovely flowers.  What more could you want from a tree?

It still has to put up with the indignities of being assaulted by a Rose Chafer (Cetonia aurata).  According to Wikipedia they feed on flowers, nectar and pollen but the upside is that their larvae are detritivores consuming decaying vegetable matter and so just what I need in my compost heap.

The second of May saw the arrival of the first tree peony flower.  I did not realise it was such a hardy plant, it is only its second summer in the garden and I did not expect it to have survived this year’s harsh winter.  A gold star for tree peonies.

But May is really the month for the roses here, before it gets too hot for them.  The first rose opened in the garden was ‘Mme Isaac Péreire’ which climbs up the sunny wall in the front garden.  The perfume is an old-fashioned rose perfume and very strong.

Next was ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ climbing over the arch in the back garden.  You cannot have a french garden without French roses.   ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ has her own beautiful perfume.  The pleasure of a garden for me is as much how it smells as how it looks.

Lastly the bumble bees love  the Lamiastrum for the nectar and pollen and I love it as it covers up the weeds only too numerous and vigorous at this time of year.


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I love my quince tree.

One of the first trees we planted was a quince, quickly followed by a second one just in case the first did not make it.  I am particularly fond of the first one.  It is a more compact little tree with round fruits.  The second quince is a different variety with a more elongated shape and more elongated fruits.

These are real quince trees Cydonia oblonga.  They are in their glory now.  Unlike the apricot, cherry and plum trees their blossom is preceded by the softest green leaves.

This year we were lucky with the weather and the blossoms opened in the warm spring sunshine.

The buds of the blossom are a darker pink but are a perfect match for the downy green leaves.

The petals of the open flower are veined with a darker pink.


The flowers are not in clusters like cherry blossom but are the perfect size for a bumble bee to curl up in.

The edible quince flowers later than the flowering quince, Chaemomeles .  Shrubs of the  Chaemomeles family produce a small fruit similar to the much larger edible quince which are edible but rarely used as they tend to be to small to use conveniently.

They give a much more flamboyant blossom of dark pink and are often prized in a garden as they flower so early in the season.  My neighbour Annie’s flowering quince produced blossom at the end of March.

We had huge bouquets of these beautiful flowers in jugs in our houses which were an absolute picture – but it comes at a price.  They can be very invasive shrubs and difficult to keep within bounds in a small garden.  They are extremely thorny whereas the edible quince has no thorns.

I think I have been traumatised by a flowering quince that I inherited in this garden.  It had been allowed to take over a large area of the front garden.  It was not as simple as removing all the branches above the ground with a chain-saw.  The roots were so compact that they formed a huge trunk-like mass that continued some distance under the ground and was extremely difficult and time-consuming to remove.  In addition, the residual roots managed to sprout new growth every spring for several years which I cut off assiduously, in terror that the thing might re-appear and flourish anew.

However, the bees love the flowering quince which provides them with much needed nourishment at this early time in the year.

I am just glad it is in Annie’s garden and not mine.

A large part of my decision to plant a quince tree was for their fruit.  I love quinces but they are not always as easy to source as many other fruits.  They are also generally under appreciated.

I love to see the yellow fruit with its downy coat hanging on the tree in autumn but I do not eat it raw.  My quince are too hard and tough.  That is not to say there are no varieties that can be eaten raw.  I have eaten a raw quince in Isphahan, Iran which although very firm was fragrant and delicious but the quinces of Isphahan are famous and quinces probably originated in Iran.

I use my quinces to make jelly,  jam and compote.  The quince jelly can be eaten like a jam but also marries very well with savoury flavours such as meat and cheese.  A cheese plate can be given an immediate upgrade by serving it with a splash of home made quince jelly.   I also make a Persian  lamb sauce with quince and serve it with steamed rice.  The quince segments can be blanched in the autumn and frozen for use later in savoury dishes.

At the end of this month I’ll be putting up my coddling moth traps, lured with pheromones.  Unfortunately, it is not only me that enjoys the quinces and the fruit is attacked by these moth larvae which bore right into the core leaving an ugly brown trail through the flesh.  I was pleased with the result last year and hope it will work as well this year.  I am not too precious about any damaged fruit and would prefer to cut away damaged fruit than have perfect fruit all of the time at the expense of using systemic pesticides or spraying indiscriminately.

I love my quince tree.