a french garden


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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.

 

 


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A new year starts in the garden

owl 2

Arriving back home from our Christmas break we caught our barn owl in the glare of the car headlights.  I thought the sudden interruption would be sure to disturb her but instead she looked more put-out, as if to say “Where have you been?  It’s been pretty quiet around here with you gone”.  It gave a chance for Kourosh to get out the mobile phone and try for a photograph (not the best quality, but a touching memory.  She only flew off slowly when we got out of the car.

used bird box

January has been disappointing to work in the garden.  Cold and too frequently cloudy.  Still the bare trees show up the bird boxes to be brought down and cleaned ready for spring.

old wasp nest

This one had been home to some wasps, most likely after the birds had left.  We often find these delicate paper nests tucked away around the garden and the wasps help themselves to the water put out for the birds.  The nests are never very large and we have had no problem with the wasps themselves.

queen bumble bee mahonia

We have had some sunny days when the queen bumble bees are warmed up enough to come searching for nectar from the Mahonia flowers.

pelote d'ivoire

The honey bees are doing fine and are happy to see the Viburnum tinus starting to open its flowers.  Can you see the shiny ivory pollen sac on her back leg?

pelote jaune

The other pollen the bees are bringing in is the winter flowering honey suckle.  The bees in the garden surprise me by flying at temperatures of under 10 degrees when their hives and the plants are in the sun.  I feel they take a risk, for when the thick clouds take over the temperatures drops noticeably.

I can’t help but empathise with the attraction to leave the house when the sun shines.

hellebore

The first Hellebores are pushing through, they seem late this year.  Perhaps I’m just willing the signs of spring to appear.

reinette 9.1.19

The Hellebore leaves provide good cover for the little “Rainette” tree frog but It was hardly weather to sun bathe but perhaps he too felt the need to get out.

old smaug

But too often this January we have had to retreat inside to the fire.

 


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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?