a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Plant of the moment – Mahonia

The sun and mild temperatures continue to keep the garden bright. The Cosmos sulphureus, that was dying off, has decided to push out more flowers and the other Cosmos are growing from this year’s seed and flowering. Today my neighbour went to cut down the dead growth on her asparagus plants only to find that they had shot up shoots for a second time and she was able to harvest a good quantity to eat.

Nevertheless, we are going into the season that is optimal for planting new trees and shrubs – or at least for planning.

I would like to share the stars and stalwarts of my garden in the hope it might give ideas to other gardeners and also to hear from other bloggers.

My Mahonia “Charity” is perhaps not placed in the ideal position for it as it is mainly in the shade but it is near the house, so it has to make do!

Mahonia Media “Winter Sun” is in a better position for light but it is very dry in the summer at the bottom of the garden. However, it blossoms abundantly despite the hard love it gets.

We have a second Mahonia “Winter Sun” which is very shady as well as dry in the summer. They all take this tough treatment without any special care and no sign of disease.

The flowers are adored by the bumble bees.

The honey bees and butterflies are attracted by the nectar too.

Of course, the downside of Mahonias are their sharp leaves. However, you can choose the variety “Soft Caress” which I have found to be just as resilient as my other Mahonias. The leaves really are fine and agreable to stroke, if you are in the habit of stroking and talking to your plants.

The only downside is that it flowers here in September when there are more flowers. It is also a smaller plant only growing to just over a metre tall. It is evergreen, like all the Mahonias, so still a beautiful plant for the early autumn.Mahonias are my sort of plants. I would love to hear about your tried and tested favourites.


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An exceptional November

The Liquidambar’s autumn colours say autumn.

I actually enjoy raking the colourful leaves and continue to mulch my front borders as I weed them and make plans for autumn replantings.

I am spending even more time in the garden as we are still confined to the house except for essential limited cases.

So things are different this year. The garden is different. It is warm and sunny here. The Cosmos sulphureus which have been wilting towards winter have started to reflower.

The coloured Cosmos which have finished weeks ago have started to grow from the seeds set this year and are now flowering.

The Salvia “Hot lips” is still going strong.

The Fuschia has fewer flowers but still putting on a good show.

My Abutilon are in their element and I am glad I attempted these plants that will not survive severe winters.

So we are still enjoying our coffee on the patio beside the Salvia leucantha in the sunshine.

The pollen sac on the white tailed bumble bee tells me she has decided to have a brood at the end of November. I hope her optimism is well founded.

After all the raspberries are still producing fruit.

The Mahonia bushes are full of bumble bees.

The Wall butterfly (Lasiommata megera) suns itself in the garden.

Our little green tree frog enjoys the sunshine behind the shutter. She appreciates the sunshine – confinment or conditions or covid – do not concern her.

Is she saying “Du calme, mes amis.” ?


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The last of the lavender

The lavender is just about finished in the garden now but this carder bumble bee seems determined to extract the last drops of remaining nectar.  There are several clumps of lavender in the garden and the lavender that was in full sun is well and truly grilled.  These clumps were in partial shade and flowered later.

The Russian sage is likewise pushing out the last flowers.

The Verbena bonariensis is losing the round shapes of the flower heads as the last flowers push forth.  Just as well for the short tailed blue butterfly (Everes alcetas), (actually  Geranium Bronze [Cacyreus marshalli] see Dromfit comment below)who is still around for the moment and is pleased to pose for photographs.

The sedum which I always think of as a butterfly trap has been disappointing.  I have not found it covered in butterflies as I had hoped, in fact I have found this year generally a poor year for butterflies in the garden.

However, just as I was mulling this thought over, a Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) came to my dahlia – something I have never seen before.  I think the butterflies just like to keep me guessing.

My fuschia have been coping very well with the heat and lack of rain.

On looking closer, though, you can see how damaged the inside petals are.  Any ideas what causes that?

There are always lots of bumble bees visiting the fuschia and their front legs grip tightly onto the petals so that they can get to the good stuff.  From the number of marks on the petals it looks like the fuschia provides generously for the bumble bees.

I don’t grow a lot of clematis but this “Helios” has always been a favourite of mine.  It grows on a north facing wall and is not abundant.  I would really like to find a better place to grow it as it cannot be seen to advantage – a project for next year.

My Leycestria has survived the heat well and is now producing its pretty deep red/black berries.  They can be eaten and have a caramel flavour.  Unfortunately, they often squash between your fingers as you pick them so they are not a good berry to harvest for enjoying later.  In France the common name is “Arbre aux faisans” or pheasant tree.  The perfume of the fruits are reputed to attract pheasants who are apparently extremely partial to these berries.  We have not been overrun by pheasants yet and none of the local birds seem interested in the berries and they are left to dry up on the plant.  I don’t know why.

It is the season to say goodbye to a lot of the bees.  I do not usually see the wool carder bees (Anthidium manicatum) now.

It is likely to be the last time I see this Megachile (probably centuncularis) if the predicted storms and rains arrive and keep the weather cool and wet.

It made me realise how long our carpenter bees keep us company as I don’t think a week of rain will keep them away.

And lastly, our first queen bumble bee has arrived in the garden and taken possession of the caryopteris bush.  She is a white tailed bumble bee and a considerable size with a bumbly comportment fit for a queen of her dimensions.  She has fallen asleep on the bush some nights but I am sure the light shower of rain this afternoon will alert her to find a dry spot under some leaves to start her hibernation.  We will not have seen the last of her this autumn and she will be back visiting the flowers on the better autumn days.


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Garden visitors

The Hollyhocks are providing a lot of colour in the garden just now.  On the right of the Hollyhock is a Mullein or Verbascum.  Both plants self seed and we try to replant the seedlings in autumn where we feel they will best thrive.

This Lavatera was just a cutting potted up in the autumn.  So you can see how quickly it grows.

The flowers are beautiful and the leaves are a soft green.

The flowers attract all sorts of bees and pollinators for nectar.

The pollen is also sought after and I love to see the bees with this unusual colour of pollen.

The Hollyhocks are very popular with the bumble bees for nectar and pollen.

The bumble bees are the most amusing bees to watch.  They seem much more independent and get right in there if there is pollen to be collected.

Yellow Buddleia

I prefer this yellow buddleia to the more common variety with the lilac flowers.  This yellow buddleia attracts bees and other pollinators whereas I have only seen butterflies on the other one.

The blue perennial geranium is always covered with bees.  This is where we eat outside so all the potted plants provide us with plenty of visitors to watch.

The Liatris does not care whether it is in a pot or in the ground.

I think the most important item we provide in the garden, especially at the moment, is the water.  We have several dishes of water around the garden.

The birds drink the water and bathe in it and bring in their young.  We have been enjoying watching this young robin on a daily basis.

These boxes have been left in the hope that we might be able to use them to gather fruit in the autumn but when Kourosh attempted to tidy the outhouse, he found they had been put to good use.

When he lifted off the top box it revealed a perfect little nest, carefully lined with feathers.  It was a very tidy construction and perhaps it might even be the nest where our baby robin was raised.

It is good to see nature being renewed.

This young marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus) was happy under some tiles until Kourosh found him.  He still has his crest from the aquatic stage as he is born in the water.  Now he has come onto land and will eat most of the things you would expect to find under tiles, like slugs, snails, earthworms and any insect that might pass by.  They are very gentle creatures and do not move rapidly on land.  It is nice to think that they help to keep the garden free of the things gardeners do not want.

Another gardener’s friend crept up behind Kourosh when he was painting the garden gate the other day.

Kourosh was a bit concerned to find him near a road and brought him into the garden to check him out as it was surprising to find a hedgehog in the day time.

I think it may be a young one just starting out in life.  I just hope he remembers the garden and stays here or at least visits frequently.

We do try and look out for all the animals that pass through our garden but this tree frog had a bit of bad luck.  We usually cover our wooden table in the evening with a plastic cover.  The other day we bundled it up quickly in the morning at breakfast time and put it inside.

It was not until the evening that we found we had bundled up our tree frog inside the cover.

“Not good enough!” is what that face says.

 

 


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The garden in the longest days

The hours of sunlight at the moment are at their annual peak.  It made me wonder what are my favourite plants in the garden at this time.  Obviously I can spend a long time watching the action on the lavender when it is sunny.

Our Fuchsia has become immense and performs a sterling service covering a difficult part of the front garden.

It has provided several babies that are well on their way to perform the same service in the back garden.

They are always full of bumble bees and so keep the garden from being too quiet.

The everlasting sweet pea plants seed themselves into the same area.  I love these as I have never been able to grow the more conventional sweet peas that do so well in the U.K.

The Larkspur comes up in shades of blue, white, pink and pale lilac wherever it has found a free patch of ground and I cannot imagine summer without them..

My Hydrangia this June is putting on a surprisingly good show having been well supplied with rain, for a change.

I do have some plants that do not attract bees.   The Pierre de Ronsard was one of the first flowers to be planted.

It was my husband’s choice for outside the front door.  This year it has been beautiful.  Once again, the plentiful rain must agree with it.

I have planted a number of Hypericum and the bright yellow flowers are lighting up a number of spaces that were dull.  These have improved the summer garden.

However, I think the stars of the summer garden are the Malvaceae, like the Lavatera above.

Hollyhocks are emblematic of the Charente Maritime and I try to have as many as I can squeeze in the garden.

This picture was taken just after 7 o’clock in the evening and already the Tetralonia malva bees were settling down for the night inside the Hollyhock.

I often find them still abed up to 9 o’clock in the morning, so I must have plenty of Hollyhocks to provide them with shelter and me with the fun of finding them.


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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.

IMG_3174-001

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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Water, water everywhere

Since last week it has been raining more and the field behind the garden is covered in water.  You should just be able to see the hives in the background, of the photograph.

Looking in the exactly same direction but further back, a second field is also completely flooded.

Fields on the other side are much the same.  In fact, any low land the Seudre flows past in this area has been flooded.  A lot of the land in this area was marsh land so it is not so unusual.  It is just these areas have been much drier in the past forty years.

The rain has kept me out of the garden but the bees have always taken the opportunity of the mild temperatures and any sunshine to get out of their hives.

We had five hives at the end of the summer.  Pissenlit was the smallest and we reduced her to six frames, hoping she would thrive on the ivy in the autumn.  She seemed less and less active until at the beginning of December we opened her to find no bees.  The frames of honey were there but no bees and no signs of disease.  She was a large swarm that had come to our apricot tree in the front garden on 31 May this year.  She had built up quite well but did not keep up with her original energy.

Our next disappointment was when we opened the Poppy hive for the winter oxalic acid treatment on 16 December and found the hive empty.

This was a surprise as she had gone into winter as our largest and busiest hive.  We have had the Poppy hive from 2015 and she has swarmed and re-queened every year.  We had noticed in the past couple of weeks that she was not so busy but we were not too concerned.

Once again, there were no signs of disease and there were plenty of stores of honey and pollen.

I will add a close up of the same frame, so that you can see the different colour of pollen as well as honey that they had stored..

The few bees we found at the bottom of the hive were all perfect with no wing malformations.

There were never any large number of dead bees in front of the hive.  It was just empty and we feel that the emptying must have taken place relatively rapidly as we watch our hives regularly.

Moving onto a happier note, we have now three large bushes of winter flowering honeysuckle near the hives and they are soon popular with the bees when the rain stops.

The Mahonias, Charity and two Media, are all flowering and much appreciated by the bees.

The Eriobotrya japonica or Loquat has even more perfumed flowers and that attracts the bees too.  This tree would be hardy in most places in the UK but I do not recall seeing it.  You would be unlikely to get fruit in the UK but I highly recommend it for its perfume.

Our Viburnum tinus on the fence is full of buds and the bees will not have long to wait until the flowers open.

In fact, some of the flowers lower down have already opened.

These plants are very easy to propagate if you cut off some roots from a large plant.  We are hoping to have a few more on the road side and we were very pleased to see these cuttings thrive and start to flower this year.

I finish this post marveling at the optimism of this white tailed bumble bee.  In the UK the bumble bee queens are supposed to snuggle down and rest/hibernate until the spring allows them fine enough weather to start making their nest and their colony.  This white tailed bumble bee has pollen on her hind legs so I can only assume she has started her nest and is raising her young.

The rain is against her but I hope she finds enough nectar and pollen in the garden to raise at least some worker bumble bees to help her find food and to keep them warm.


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The Season Starts or Finishes now?

The beekeepers, consider that after the honey harvest in autumn, the next season just begins.  There is so much to be done to tidy the equipment and make sure that the bees have enough provisions to last them through the winter. We been lucky this year.

Honeybee on winter honeysuckle (3)

Even these last days of November, the winter flowering honeysuckle provides both nectar and pollen for our bees.

bumble Bee 1

It is not just the honey bees that interest us.  The bumble bees are frequent visitors at this time on several mahonias in the garden.

Beehives near la Seudre

Our five hives are tucked away at the end of the garden, and the autumn so far has been mild.  This has not been the story across France, where the French Union of Beekeepers (UNAF) have named 2019 as a black year,  UNAF has applied to the French Government to take the necessary steps to indemnify the beekeepers in the worst affected regions,  The cold spring and exceptionally hot summer contributed to the loss of many bee colonies across France.

Here the summer was so dry that even the sunflowers did not have much nectar, so the bees could not produce as much honey as usual.  Normally one hive can produce 20 or even 30 kilograms of honey in autumn.  The average in this region was around 5 kilogram per hive.  As I said, we were lucky as around us there are forests of sweet chestnut trees, so we collected a fair amount of all flowers honey as well as forest honey which is mostly chestnut honey,  Certainly enough for us and our friends.

In total we also collected 11 bee swarms that came to our garden.  We housed them and kept them for a few weeks and then passed them to friends who had lost many colonies.

Beehives near la Seudre. 1. jpg

During the past month we have had a lot of rain and after 18 months that the river at the bottom of the garden was dry, now la Seudre is almost full of water.

So, Amelia and I are already looking forward to next year beekeeping life.

For me, apart from occasional visit to see how the bees are getting on, the pleasure is to watch the birds. coming to our front garden.

Robin

The robin, specially at this time of the year reminds us of Christmas cards.

She comes regularly bathing in front of the dinning room.

Robin bathing 1 (2)

So does the sungthrush.

Song thrush bathing 1

Sometimes I wonder if the birds like washing themselves or do they, like children, actually enjoy bathing.

Song thrush bathing 1 (3)

I think this one was washing his ears!

At this time of the year Amelia likes collecting the leaves for composting, but some of the trees have not totally lost their leaves, The liquidambar leaves, however, are so pretty even on the ground that Amelia does not have the heart to rake them.

IMG_0057

So I wish you a happy autumn and together we look forward to the start of another year of beekeeping as well as gardening.

Kourosh

 


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Gardening is patience

Distant willows

One of the brightest sights in the back garden in the winter is the morning sun shining on the willows, about half way down the back garden.  They light up the garden when there is very little else but it is now time for their annual haircut and I was reflecting on how long it can take to get the required effect in a garden.

Salix alba January 2014

This was what they looked like in January 2014 in my blog https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/onward-in-january/

willows up close

This is what they look like in February 2019.

The garden takes time to take form.

Comma butterfly.JPG

It takes time for the winter flowering honeysuckle to get to a size to attract the butterflies like this Comma,

Clouded yellow butterfly.JPG

and the Clouded Yellow butterfly (Sorry, Brimstone, thanks to my sharp readers)

Bombus pratorum queen

and the bumble bees, even in February.

Male Osmia cornuta 22.2.19

I saw our first Osmia cornuta on the 22 February.

Osmia cornuta 23.2.19

Now the bee boxes are patiently searched every day, waiting for the females to emerge.

2 male Osma cornuta 23.2.19

Sometimes hope turns to disappointment when the emerging bee turns out to be just another male emerging.

They will need plenty of patience to keep up their enthusiasm until the females will eventually emerge, often in mid-March.

hazelnut flowers

There are signs of good things to come.

Hazelnut flowers close

This year there are a lot of flowers on the hazelnut tree but whether we will eat many or not remains to be seen.  The red squirrels around here keep to the areas with pine trees.  We are not in these areas but I have a feeling some of them spend an autumn break in our garden when the hazelnuts ripen as the hazelnuts disappear, shells and all, every year.

Wild bee 23.218

We have plenty of wild bees in the garden too this spring.

Sharing dandelion.JPG

It is not just the garden plants that give plenty of nectar.  The dandelions are great for all the bees and this one is also being shared with a clouded yellow butterfly.

Nomada

But already the mining bee nests are being patrolled by the Nomada bees that are “cuckoo bees” and will lay their eggs in the mining bees’ nests so that their eggs are provisioned by other bees just as the cuckoo is brought up by other birds.

N0 2 arrives.JPG

But patience can be rewarded as the sheep in our neighbour’s field has discovered.  Number two lamb took time in coming and was a bit smaller.

It was worth it.JPG

But the tired face says that it was all worth it.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.