a french garden


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A hot end to May

LHS garden

The left hand side of the back garden has shade in the afternoon.  Today the temperature in the shade went up to 34 degrees Centigrade but I was able to work in the shade as there was a light breeze too.

Shady place

Shady sitting places are needed in these temperatures.

Chelidonium majus (1)

There were a lot of weeds to clear out before the earth got too dry to move them.  Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus ) is a perennial and I was horrified to see how it can grow so quickly and produce its long seed pods ready to fling the contents onto the garden.

Chelidonium majus (2)

At least this weed – sorry interesting herbal plant – has flowers that are appreciated by the pollinators.

As a side issue, the strange orange fluid that the cut stems exude is said to cure warts and corns.  If anyone has had success using this fluid with any warts/corns I would love to know.

Elaeagnus angustifolia (1)

A more favoured yellow flower on my part is my senjed (Elaeagnus angustifolia ) which has flowered for the first time.  The flower is perfumed and I am curious to see whether I will get fruit here in France.

Elaeagnus angustifolia (2)

I planted the senjed in the autumn of 2013.  It has shot up this year and is now fighting for light with the overhanging branches of our large plum tree.  It was less than a metre when I got it and it cost just over five euros, so a good investment for such an attractive plant.

Carpenter Spanish broom

Another yellow perfumed flower has just opened further down the hedge – the Spanish broom.

It is a tall, gangly plant that is difficult to control – a bit like the Carpenter bees that are so attracted to it.  The Spanish Broom wins out on the perfume stakes with its strong perfume that will float in the air once all the flowers are open.

Potager

The vegetable garden has been planted with tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines this week.

Poppies in veg patch.JPG

Kourosh insists on leaving the self-sown poppies at the side of the vegetables which makes things difficult to keep tidy but watching the antics of the bees in the poppies provides great entertainment.

Red tailed queen

Likewise the Phacelia is allowed to run riot.  We have noticed this particularly beautiful red-tailed queen bumble bee in the Phacelia and I feel certain that it must already be a queen born this year.

IMG_8690

I think the flowers that self-sow in the garden make a better display than when I plant things.  These have all pushed through in a border that I was despairing about last month.

Kaki flower

Things can turn out better than expected in a garden.  The untimely frost earlier in the month damaged a lot of plants and although the some of the kaki flowers (persimmon) are brown tipped they look healthy enough to give fruit.

Veilchenblau roae (1)

Finally, a pollen gathering competition took place on the veilchenblau rose on the hedge this morning.

First prize went to Bombus Terrestris – an disputable first with a pure veilchenblau pollen pellet.

Veilchenblau roae (2)

Second was Apis mellifera (the syrphid fly was not in the competition but happened to be passing by.)

Veilchenblau roae (3)

Third place is shared equally by several different solitary bees.

If you want to hold your own pollen gathering competitions remember to schedule them early as the best flowers are depleted of pollen by the afternoon.

 

 

 


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An April to remember

The one strong feature of the garden in April is the perfume of the Wisteria as it pervades the garden and the house.

Of course, there is the noise of the Carpenter and bumble bees in the Wisteria that is part of April as well.

The Cerinthe is well established in the front garden now and pushes through unbidden each year.  I have a little in the back garden but it is so attractive for the bumble bees and Anthophora that I will collect the seed and throw more in the back garden.

I like to read under the olive tree where the Cerinthe have decided to grow thickly and the noise of the buzz pollination of the bumble bees can be distracting!

April is to watch the fruit trees flower one after the other.

It is to watch the Andrena fulva in the blackcurrant flowers again.

The Camassia bulbs in the pot in the patio have once again opened their flowers providing us with entertainment with our morning coffee outside.  I highly recommend three or four Camassia bulbs in a pot as a sure magnet for bumble bees.  They do not last long but I savour them while they flower.

Another relatively short flash of beauty is the tree peony which is going from strength to strength giving us more of its huge blossoms each year.

But despite all the expected pleasures there are always new discoveries.  This year I have seen bumble bees taking nectar from the white Spirea for the first time.  It is good to know that these bushes that do so well at the side of the garden can also be useful for the bees.

My one concern this April is the lack of rain and the low ground water level in the area.  Watering has now been forbidden until after 7 o’clock in the evening.  Winter and spring is the time for heavy rain here and we have had very little.  I would not expect any appreciable rainfall until next autumn.

This coupled with high day temperatures (often over 25 degrees centigrade) and some mornings with a thin layer of ice on top of the bird bath in the back garden make it an April to remember.

 


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We need rain

broad-beans-planted

Our region has had water restrictions imposed for agriculture use to protect water table levels.  There are still no restrictions on domestic use for gardens or washing cars.  I’ve planted my broad beans anyway.  I have been protecting unused parts of the vegetable garden with cardboard and I hope to put compost on top of it in the winter.

Mouse nest.JPG

That means mousie has been turfed out of his house.  It looks pretty comfortable if you could imagine it with a cardboard roof.

saffron-001

Still the mouse did not do so much damage as the moles did in my saffron patch.  Last year I thinned out the bulbs and planted them in straight rows and then sowed Phacelia in between the rows.  All that went well and I covered the patch with cardboard after the Phacelia flowers had finished.  That really kept down the weeds down until now when the saffron is popping through…but not in straight lines.

img_7152

I rushed out and took a photograph of the first saffron flower of the season.  I think the soil is dry for them this year.

Walnuts.JPG

On the topic of food, we have had a good bowlful of walnuts from the tree we planted about fifteen years ago.  You need to be patient if you want your own walnuts.

2-tone-cosmos

I have found a two tone Cosmos sulphureus.  It is half between my yellow ones and orange ones.  I have kept the seeds.  You never know…  It will be fun to try them next year.

yellow-cosmos

Meantime the bees are indifferent to the colour of the Cosmos.

bee-on-cosmos

There are a lot going to seed now but I find the seed heads attractive too.  I have not seen the birds going for the seeds but I presume they must.

bumble-bee-on-savia-uliginosa

The Salvia uliginosa attracts both the bumble bees and honey bees at the moment.

Dark Salvia.JPG

I like to watch the honey bees on my tall dark Salvia.  The flower looks too long for them but they must just fit in as they disappear completely inside for some time before entering the next flowerlet.

bumble-on-madame-isaac-pereire

It has been too hot for my Madame Isaac Pereire rose this year but I am glad she has not lost her attraction for the bumble bees who go deep inside to buzz in satisfaction.

Girona tree.JPG

I have a problem and was unsure if I should broach it but I took courage and ran outside and took a photograph of it.

Kourosh is an inveterate seed collector.  I have banned him collecting any more tree seeds because once you have a tree it is difficult to part with it.  The problem is we have a tree but we have no idea what it is.

close-up-leaf

This is a close up of the leaf.

girona-tree-2

This is a photograph taken of the tree in flower in Girona, Spain in May 2015 during their flower festival.

girona-tree-1

The previous year’s fruit was still on the trees.  I was sure it would be easy to find the identity of these beautiful, sweet perfumed trees once we returned home.  I would like to know if it had a chance to survive here and of course I would be so grateful if anyone recognised it.

 


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Garden and owl update

Back garden

This is the first year I feel the garden is beginning to take shape.  The willows are now sheltering a seating area in the back garden.

TableThe plants are taking on a more mature look.

Lupin

I’ve actually managed to grow lupins.  Well, four plants from a packet of seed.  But only two of them have flowered so far, but it is an improvement over zero.

Front garden

The front garden managed to fill itself up with a lot of self seeded flowers but they disguised the weeds wonderfully.

Nigella and bee

I must confess the Nigella did get a bit out of hand but I had not realised how much the honey bees liked the pollen so they were allowed to run free.

Poppy (2)

Likewise the poppies are always welcome.  They can change their colours and this one brings back memories of the holiday when we originally brought the seed head home with us.

Kaki

Best of all at the moment is the noise of the bumble bees in the Kaki or Persimmon tree which is in flower.

Cotoneaster

There is a good competition volume wise from the cotoneasters.   Luckily we have several different sorts so the flowering period and buzzing is extended.  The honey bees like these flowers too but this year the garden seems to have even more bumble bees than usual.

IMG_4574

The Phacelia is a magnet for the pollinators and full of bumble bees.

Sedum (1)

I had planted a bright yellow sedum in a small stone container in the front garden as I felt it would be able to stand getting dried out.  I am pleased that the yellow flowers are attracting the bees, especially a small halictus bee.Compost border

I had sown some seeds in the front garden border but when we came back from a visit to the U.K. I found that they had been completely smothered by tomatoes and lettuce from our compost.  We ate the lettuce but I had to weed out all the tomatoes which looked healthier than the ones I had planted much earlier from seed.  I did let the lettuce go to seed last year to see if any bees liked the seed heads (they did not.)  However, I thought the composting process would generate enough natural heat to kill any seeds.  Is there any way to avoid this?  I have always had the odd tomato pop up but nothing like this before.

Atelier

Kourosh decided he had not seen the owls for a while.  He has fixed up an owl box in the workshop (see New home for an old trunk) subsequently the owl brought back its mate Is It Spring yet?).  So today he set up his ladder and took a photograph of inside the box.

Owl box

It looks as if they have been busy but we feel a bit cheated.  We felt that if they were ever to have chicks we might see them.

Owl eggs (1)

All we can see is some egg shells stuffed in the corner.  Have they done it?  Have they raised any chicks?

 


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Still running to catch up with April

Ouside front garden

I feel guilty about our front garden.  Recently I have not been able to give it much attention and yet even the outside wall looks pretty with plants put in years ago.

Front garden less lilac

We did manage to remove an old lilac tree early last autumn which has left us with a very blank wall.  But I hope that other plants will be tall enough to remedy the situation by next year.

Spirea butterfly

The white Spirea provides a bright distraction but does not attract much insect life apart from an odd butterfly in transit.

Front garden fuschia (3)

Not so my Choisya Sundance!  It has lit up a shady wall all through the winter and is now full of fragrant flowers.

Choisia bee

Its flowers are beautiful, perfumed and the pollen seems to be appreciated by this wild bee.

Tree peony all

The tree peony is out and doing its bit to brighten up the wall.

Tree peopny flower

The flowers are large and lightly scented.

Cerinthe Anthophora

The ground in front of the tree peony is covered by Cerinthe which has self-seeded.  In the sunshine there is a constant buzz from the Anthophora bees…

Cerinthe Bombus pratorum

and the bumble bees.

Camassia Leichtlinii caerulea

On the front patio I’ve planted three Camassia Leichtlinii caerulea.  Last year I planted Camassia cusickii which I preferred but still I have plenty of bumble bees to watch as I have my morning coffee.

Lemon flower bombus pratorum

Then they obligingly move onto the potted lemon tree to help with the pollination there (this time it is a Bombus pratorum doing her pollinating stuff).

Front garden fuschia (2)

The Wisteria is the main feature of the front garden at the moment and it makes it presence known with its heavy perfume.Wisteria Carpenter

With Wisteria in France the Carpenter bees are ever present as well as the different kinds of bumble bees.

Wisteria bee

The honey bees come too but I doubt if they would get much nectar from the flowers if it had not been for the Carpenters and bumble bees leaving holes in the flowers to provide access for them.

Front garden fuschia (1)

All summer long my hardy fuschia puts up a marvellous show but I have neglected it this year and now new shoots are growing on the old stems that I should have cut down months ago.

Back garden ex pine spot

The back garden and the bees have taken up too much of my time this year.

Back garden ex pine

I am pleased with the willows put in as a screen where we frequently sit.

Dark tulip

The dark tulips grow in front of the willows.  Their petals are so dark that there seems a blush on their surface.

Quince flower bumble

The cherry and apple trees are in flower but the Quince tree is a particular favourite with all the bees but more about the Quince tree later.

Wisteria tree (2)

A couple of years ago we decided to try to grow a Wisteria into a tree.  Actually, two survived the first stage and we put the best in a selected, choice situation.  We did not know what to do with the other so we stuck it in the hedge.  Yes, the good one died leaving the survivor to hang over the fence!

Natural arrangement

Perhaps that is one of the charms of gardening that things don’t always turn out as you expect them to.  I left this dry, hollow log unadorned on a flower bed but by springtime Nature had adorned it with several mosses and a “wild” flower.  Left to itself it is prettier than anything I could have confectioned.

 

 


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A February of contradictions

Frozen molehill.JPG

It has not really been a cold month, with hardly any frost but in the middle of the month there was a hard one that froze the molehills, making cunning trip traps for me as I made my way down the garden.  It has been a good winter for the moles.

Frozen daddodils

The frost tried to beat the spring flowers into submission but the daffodils take it in their stride.

Broadbeans

Not so the broad beans that should not be flowering yet.  They are less hardy and have lost their first flowers to the cold.  Will we have a broad bean harvest this year?  It depends on the weather that will follow on.

Frozen HydrangeaSome plants look even better frosted.

Budding HydrangeaBut maybe it is time to clip the old flower heads to let the sun reach the new shoots.

Choisia Sundance

The Choisia Sundance is a star of the winter garden whether frosted or not it adds a splash of colour even in the dull winter days.

Frozen garden

The frosted back garden is quiet.  Although I prefer the cold to the higher than average rainfall we have been having this month.  February has been unusually wet and grey.

Bee on plum flowers.JPGBut it has not prevented the big plum tree from flowering and on the sunny days I can hear a comforting buzz from the bees collecting the pollen and nectar.  The butterflies also visit but not in great numbers.  Last year we had very few plums as the weather was very similar and the newly pollinated flowers were destroyed by a subsequent frost.  I notice that the tree has been opening its flowers slowly so perhaps like this there will be more chance that some fruit will hold if the cold returns.

Hazel flowers

The hazel trees started to push open their discrete flowers in February.  The catkins were already open and presenting their pollen to the wind and any passing bees that might be interested.  I have read that the hazel pollen is a precious source of protein for the bees at this time of year but try as I might I’ve never seen any bees on them let alone steal a photograph.  Those sneaky bees!

Bee in Hellebore

It’s not hard to find bees on the Hellebores, in fact, you’ll hear them first.  The pollen is a dull grey/beige but it must taste good as it is very popular.

Hyacinthe bee

The Hyacinths too are popular with both the honey bees and the queen bumble bees.  But even the bees get lulled into a false sense of spring with a few sunny days.  I found a frozen bumble bee queen one frosty morning futilely  sheltering inside a hyacinth flower.  Why had she not taken better shelter for the night?

Colletes 17.2.2016

The solitary bees have started to appear but I wonder if they regret their early arrival during the rainy days.

Reinette

The Reinettes (Hyla meridionalis) seem content with the situation.  They croak happily on the patio when it is raining and sit serenely soaking up the rays when it is sunny.  It is so good to feel the winter sun after the gloom.

 


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The bees in winter

Hives 12 December

This is a picture of the bee hives on the twelve of December.  They are enjoying the sun but the air temperature is only ten degrees Centigrade.  We have our nets at the ready because we have still been catching a few hornets this week.  Later in the day the air temperature rose to fifteen degrees.

Back to the hive

We had noticed that all the hives have been active this week, especially Sunflower our youngest who brings in a lot of pollen.  I decided to try and find out where the pollen was coming from.  Apart from this rich orange pollen she is bringing in an almost white pollen, a yellow pollen and a tiny bit of light green pollen.

IMG_2887

I must admit I had a good idea of where to look for the orange pollen.

Gorse spines

Gorse is a good winter provider of pollen for the bees.  But look at those spines!  Not a plant for the garden but a good plant to have in wild areas for the bees.

Clouded Yellow

I saw several Clouded Yellow butterflies (Colias crocea, I think) warming themselves in the sunshine not far from the gorse.  It seemed strange to be walking in the sunshine in December and seeing butterflies on the wing.  However, night time temperatures are going down to only two or three degrees Centigrade so they will have to find somewhere to shelter when there is no sunshine.

Honeybee on thyme

I do have my doubts whether all the individual bees are equally industrious.  This bee attracted my attention as she was sitting on the thyme on the other side of the rockery just out of sight of the hives.  You will note she is not sitting on a flower.  The thyme has flowers, which she could hardly miss, but she chose to sunbathe on the tip of the stem to soak up the sun’s rays. Perhaps she is an autumn bee – programmed to take a more zen approach to life and to enjoy life until next spring.

Bee on Rape

There is a lot of Rape (Brassica napus) flowering at the moment.  These are the self seeded plants that have grown when the Rape was harvested earlier in the year.  Stretches of the flowers can be seen along the lines of bare vines where the seeds must have been trapped by the wind.

Rapeseed pollen on bee

Today I noticed a bee collecting pollen on the Rape flowers, so this is a possible source of the yellow pollen the bees are bringing home.

honeybee on winter honeysuckle

However, my Winter Honeysuckle is only metres away from the hives and is proving very popular with the bees.

10.5 degrees

The air temperature was only just over ten degrees when this lady joined the bumble bees to take her share of the nectar on offer.

Honeysuckle pollen

Later on some of the bees started collecting pollen which is a rich sugary yellow colour.

Garden bumble bee

The Honeysuckle flowers are also appreciated by the bumble bees that are active on the warm days too.

Large bumble in winter

If you compare the size of the Honeysuckle flowers and the queen bumble bee it will give you an idea of how big she is – much bigger than a honey bee.  I think she is a Garden bumble bee, a bombus hortorum, as she has a long face – but I find bumble bees difficult to identify so I am not sure.

Honey bee on Erica

I have been pleased to see the bees visiting my Erica darleyensis but I have not seen them taking any pollen.  So I have not solved the mystery of the source of the white pollen yet.

Bee on Lambs' ears

But with the bees there are more mysteries than answers.  This bee was sourcing something tasty from my Stachys (Lambs’ Ears) leaves!

Scabious in flower in December

So I have managed to work out that the majority of the pollen is coming from the gorse at the moment with smaller additions of yellow from the Winter Honeysuckle and Rape.  I did not get any photographs of bees on flowers gathering white pollen but there is plenty of Scabious flowering at the moment so that is my best guess as to where that white pollen came from.

I just hope that the bees are not as unsettled as some of the plants in the garden at the moment.  The fruit trees are starting to bud and we have seen our first apricot flower.