a french garden


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Saffron harvest 2017

I’ve looked forward to my saffron every October since I brought my six gift corms back from our visit to the Limousin in 2008.  I planted them as an experiment, as I had never seen saffron flowering before, and I was doubtful that I would succeed.

If any one has a similar climate to here, and a fancy to try growing saffron then I can attest to the pleasure of harvesting the short lived crop.  There is no need to start with so few bulbs as I did because the bulbs are not expensive.  Just make sure you are getting Crocus sativus and not the autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) which is toxic.

The one constraint is that you must be at home at the beginning of October when they first push through the ground and start flowering.  This year I gathered 78 flowers on the 5 October then 96 the next day, after that the numbers dropped  to the twenties and have just petered out to single flowers in the last few days.

Each day I pick out the three red pistils and put them on a plate to air dry.  I am pleased with my saffron harvest this year.  I cannot weigh it as I do not have a scale that is accurate enough for such a light weight but you can get an idea of how much I gathered from the picture of it on the dinner plate.

On the 15 October I was busy and it was 8 o’clock in the evening before I had time to gather the flowers.

I had just time to stop myself squashing a bumble bee on the first flower that I reached for. The bee did not budge and I carefully picked up all the flowers from the plants around it and I did not disturb it at all.  It remained fast asleep!  It is nice to see that it is not just me that appreciates the saffron flowers.

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Cosmos and more Cosmos

The leaves have started to fall.

The cherry trees leaves are turning yellow, like a lot of other trees outside of the garden.

There are less apples and they are smaller than last year.

The flowers at the moment are the old favourites apart from the Tithonia rotundifolia “Torch” which is just behind the conifer trying to out grow it.  Kourosh sent away for the seeds which he had read were a magnet to bees.  I looked forward to seeing the bright red flowers he had described.

I was disappointed at their brash orange colour and felt we had been cheated.  I checked on the net only to find that this is their correct colour.  I do not want to be sexist but Kourosh’s approximation of colours is perhaps a “man thing” – and no he is not colour blind.

However, for anyone who wants a tall, sunflower-like multi-headed plant, I can recommend it.  Several plants in the back garden have done well and stayed unsupported in the sun.

My obedient plant (Physostegia virginiata) that was identified on the blog last year is doing very well in a hard place to fill in the sun.  It has doubled in area since last year so I am going to have to keep my eye on its spread.

The bumble bees have no problem with a rapid increase in its flowers.

The bumble bees are in love with the single dahlias.

The Cosmos attracts bumble bees…

Carpenter bees…

Solitary bees (perhaps Megachile willughbiella)…

of different species (perhaps Halictus scabiosae).

The Abutilon looks happier than ever this year.  This is the third year that a new shoot has risen from its frozen stalk.  I suppose I should cover it in the winter but I am reluctant to pander to plants that cannot cope with the weather.  It is my fault for attempting to grow a plant that is too tender for here.

It is beautiful, though, and the bees like it.

At least this year I have managed to acquire Sedum that are attractive to the bees and butterflies and with the drought conditions we have experienced this year, I will be trying to expand by dividing the plants.

The Asters are opening and signalling the end of the summer.  It has been a difficult, unpredictable year in the garden with extreme heat at the beginning followed by a cloudy, moody August and lack of rain from the beginning of the year.

 

 


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Savill Gardens 2013

Leaving the garden behind us for Christmas in the U.K. we took the opportunity to visit The Savill Gardens for a second time.  The first time was in December last year.  This time my son and girl friend joined us for a leisurely stroll around the gardens.  Even in December there is plenty of inspiration to be had from such beautifully planned and maintained gardens.

Betula utilis var utilis

The colours of the Cornus alba and trees brightened up an extremely cloudy, winter day.  The tree in the foreground is a Betula utilis var. utilis , the bark in this specimen is red and is starting to peel slightly, so different from other pure white specimens.

Betula utilis Jacquesmontiii

I had looked for this variety of birch in our local nurseries when we were first starting the garden in France but I was unsuccessful as they did not hold any named varieties, perhaps things have improved now, especially if you were willing to order on-line.

Acer conspicuum v "Phoenix"

Acer conspicuum v “Phoenix”

I remember these Acers from last year, under planted by a dark form of Bergenia – “Eroica”.  Most forms of Bergenia are pretty heroic tough plants but these ones turn from a deep green to this red coloured leaf in the winter.

Prunus rufaAnother appealing tree is the Prunus rufa, a small Himalayan cherry tree.

Cornus rufa

The bark is very shiny and peeling at the same time giving it an appealing tufty look.

Prunus Maachii

Another Prunus that was a favourite with everyone was Prunus Maachi – “Amber Beauty”, this time it was the silky. smooth bark that was the attraction, coupled with the unusual grey/copper tone of the bark.

Cornus sanguinea, Anny's Winter Orange"

Cornus sanguinea, Anny’s Winter Orange”

Even on a dull winter’s day the colours stand out in the garden.

Mahonia edging

The Savill Garden holds the national collection of Mahonia but the Mahonia are at their best in January and February so I will have to imagine the yellow flowers on the bushes on the left against the Cornus.

Witch hazel

I did see yellow flowers of witch hazel, this is Hamamelis x Intermedia “Bernstein” – these hybrids are crosses between the Japanese witch hazel H. japonica and the Chinese witch hazel  H. mollis.  Witch hazels have always been one of my favourite plants because of their perfume and winter flowering season but I would not be as cruel to plant them in my inhospitable chalky soil.

Liana New Zealand garden

Liana, being a New Zealander was keen to visit the New Zealand Garden.

Muehlenbeckia astonii

My photograph of the Tororaro (Muehlenbeckia astonii ) doesn’t do it justice but it is a good example of how lovely even a deciduous plant can be.  It had caught water droplets on its twigs and they sparkled even in the dull light.

Lancewood, Pseudopanax crassifolius

I would have missed this insignificant little tree if Liana hadn’t pointed it out.  It is Lancewood, Horoeka (Pseudopanax crassifolius) which has the peculiarity of changing its form from this juvenile lance-shaped plant to a mature tree with a more conventional bushy top with wider leaves.  According to Wikipedia this strategy could have developed to avoid browsing of the young plants by the now extinct Moa birds.

Lake

I look for inspiration in the design of the gardens but certain features are just to be admired.

Savill lake

The woodland water feature is much beyond my garden.

Arbutus x ArachnoidesI re-visited my hybrid strawberry tree that had charmed me last year.

Arbutus barkThe bark is just as fascinating in this cross between Arbutus andrachne and Arbutus unedo.

Temperate house

The temperate house takes on a festive air at Christmas and provides a welcome break out of the cold on a winter visit.  There are lots of perfumed white narcissi and poinsettia.

Mahonia eurybracteata nitens

I had seen this Mahonia eurybracteata nitens last year and was pleased by its softer leaves but disappointed that it was not hardy, however, this year I have discovered another similar Mahonia – Mahonia eurybracteata subspecies ganpinensis”Soft Caress” which I have bought to bring home with me.

Mahonia Media Charity

There is an amazing specimen of Mahonia x Media “Charity” just outside the temperate house.  This hybrid which must be one of the most commonly seen Mahonia in the U.K. was first named “Charity” in the Savill Gardens.  It was the only Mahonia that we saw so full of flowers in the gardens.

Bombus terrestris

Despite the cold a lone bumble bee was foraging in the abundant flowers.

Buff tailed bumble bee

As she foraged she dropped clouds of yellow pollen on us as we followed her progress.

B. terrestris on bark

She retired to the trunk of the Mahonia for some grooming and we left her there.  I was unsure of its identity so I sent my pictures to iSpot.  It is a queen buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) out for a pre-Christmas nectar drink.


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Bumble bee nests

Today was a very special day!  I cannot believe my luck.  I have always seen a lot of bumble bees in the garden and felt that there must be nests in the garden.  In the spring I saw the queens exploring in the undergrowth, searching for a promising hole but I have never found a nest until now.  Today I found two!  Je suis comblée!

Bumble leaving the nest

I was at the bottom of the garden under the trees when I noticed bumble bees emerging from the ground.  They were coming from the same spot, emerging slowly, picking their way through the ivy and leaf litter.

White-tailed bumble bee

I would identify it as a White-tailed bumble bee, Bombus lucorum, as none of the bees I saw had any hint of a buff band on their white tail, but please let me know if you disagree.

Returning to the nest

The return to the nest was pretty rapid so I apologise for the quality of the photographs as the bees were in motion.  When they left the nest they seemed to fly around it a bit as if to orient themselves before leaving.  When they returned it was much more of a bee-line entry (sorry about that).

Full yellow pollen sacs

It looks as if this lady has been visiting the sunflower fields which are all around us just now.

Full paler pollen sacs

Her sister has been visiting other plants and come back with less of a booty of a paler coloured pollen.  I have placed a stick near the nest, which can be seen on the left of the photographs, so that I can find it again amongst the under growth.

The second nest I cannot “lose” as it is in the side of the house wall.

Hole in the wall plus a head

I was very surprised to see a head appear from the side of the building.

Bumble emerging

They come out very rapidly.

I am confident of my identification here, a Red-tailed bumble bee, Bombus lapidarusius.

Full pollen sacs

She has had a successful pollen foray.  At 9.30 p.m. this evening there was still activity, I do not know yet when they start in the morning.

I will be very interested to watch the nests as I do not think that the breeding of the bumble bees is the same as in the UK.  The Bumble Bee Conservation Trust gives us a general picture of bumble bees nesting in the spring and the nest lasting until August when the new queens appear.  These queens will hibernate during the winter to start the process again in the following spring.  However, they note that since the 1980’s the buff-tailed bumble bees have become more-or-less continuously brooded in the south of England.  I suspect that this may be true of some of the bumble bees in France.

One of “my” bumble bees

Only a short bee flight away from her nest, I am sure that she is one of my bumble bees.


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Walk with me in the woods

Yesterday was cooler and cloudy in the morning but still inviting enough for a walk in the nearby woods.  As a bonus the clouds parted in the afternoon and the sun was warm.  There is always more activity along the way if it is sunny and the photographs seem more full of life.

We saw plenty of life.

The wild flowers are in abundance now.  The wild violets are still going strong but must surely be finishing soon.

New flowers are coming up every day and line the roadside.

Not even the dandelions can leave you untouched as they are the centre of attraction for bees and chafers.

The fresh green of new plants and flowers is covering the still open floor of the woods.

Inside the woods the flowers bloom in the sunny clearings that have not yet been shadowed by the trees which are only starting to open their leaves.

Th wild anemones take advantage of their days in the sunshine before the trees cover them with shade.  But today I notice a special patch with colours I have never seen before.  The wild anemones are usually completely white single flowers but this patch has delicately shaded flowers of pale violet, blue, pink and even some double flowers.

Every walk reveals a new discovery.

The butterflies cross our path.

The bumble bees are delirious with the abundance of Pulmonaria to provide them with nectar.

Sometimes the butterflies take a break on the ground.

I even caught this bumble dozing in the sun on a dry leaf.

So many of the plants are new to me.

This is White-asphodel, Asphodelus-albus.

It is such a majestic plant I find it hard to imagine it growing wild, I am more used to finding daisies and buttercups.  I would love to learn more about the wild flowers in my area.

Some are instantly recognisable like this wild strawberry but others are not.

Each walk brings a new discovery something we have never seen before, like these two bees mating in the Asphodel.  Taking time to watch and discover.  There is so much to discover.


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The garden from far and near

The weather continues to be warm and has completely seduced us into believing that summer has arrived.  It hasn’t arrived but I am seduced.  I cannot help wandering around the garden completely distracted by each new happening.  A serious gardener would get a grip on herself and spend more time on the important tasks of weeding and sowing.

Instead I am enjoying.

The essential gardners’ “cuppa”.

Last year’s pansies re-appear in the aluminium tub.


Actually the flowering quince is in Annie’s garden up the road which is still a French garden…

My first redstart of the season.  Only summer visitors but very welcome.

The first leaves of the edible quince are a downy soft green.  The beautiful flowers will come later.

I love pansies.

The blue tits visits are less numerous, it happens every year, they must be busy nesting.

Our first asparagus shoot.

The radish and salad is making an appearance.

The forget-me-nots have arrived, self-seeded in the borders.

At least someone is working.


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Bees in the willows

The weather today was like summer.  The temperature was in the mid 20’s and the bees were busy.

They were busy in my weeds.

They were busy in the rosemary.

They were foraging in the flowers…

And in the dog violets.

But the biggest attraction was the willow tree at the bottom of the garden.

Listen, they are really high up but you can still hear them.

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