a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Reflections at the end of September

The weather has been fine, so we have left the butternut and the potimarron to finish ripening. Some days have been warm enough to enjoy the last days at the beach. Fruit wise this year, it has been poor. Some apples only and a second crop of raspberries that go very well with yoghurt and our new honey.

The Salvias are still adding colour to the garden and at last I was in the right place to get a photograph of our Hummingbird Hawk Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum). We don’t have hummingbirds in France but these day-flying moths are beautiful and hover close to the flowers they take nectar from. Their wings beat at 80 times a second and so appear as a blur in my photograph.

I had a quick look on the net to find out where they lay their eggs and what their caterpillars eat. Their preferred plant food comes from the genus Gallium. I was horrified to find that “Sticky Willy” (Gallium aparine which I loath but I admit does find its way into the garden. I’d have liked to encourage it – but that is going too far. I have been trying to grow Gallium odoratum as a groundcover but so far I have been unsuccessful so this is a reason to try harder.

The cosmos are finishing but the asters are still providing lots of colour and attracting butterflies and bees.

The new queen bumble bees are very grateful for the nectar the aster provide.

This is an Epeolus bee which is a type of parasite or cuckoo bee as it lays its eggs in the nests of other bees. The ivy has just started to flower here and I have seen the solitary Ivy bees (Colletes hederae), it is likely that this cuckoo bee is looking for the nests of the Ivy bees and just stopping on the asters to refuel on nectar.

We have always had to put up with moles but this year they have invaded the front garden. There are even more molehills there since I have taken this photograph. I do not go for perfection in the garden – but this is a plea for help. Is there anything that can be done to dissuade them?

They are usually mainly confined to the back garden – but there too they are running riot. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Finally, a tribute to the cosmos that are still attracting the leafcutter bees and other pollinators.

Some of the cosmos are falling over while still flowering but also producing seed heads that bring the goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) into the garden. It is well worth having the garden a bit messy and watching these lovely birds.


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Summer flowering trees

This is our Heptacodium. I love it. So why is it not in a prime position in the garden? Unfortunately, it goes down to poor planning. When we first planted it there was more light – not a lot, but more.

Now it is so hemmed in that I had difficulty getting a photograph that did it justice. Kourosh in the end obliged by using his phone!

We have another Heptacodium quite nearby just a bit off to the left of the other one. It too is suffering from the same problem of shade from the large Ash trees and now competition from the ever growing bushes of Hybiscus syriacus. I grew these plants, also known as Rose of Sharon, from seed when I first started the garden and never expected them to reach over two metres even with their annual pruning.

The Heptacodium does deserve a good position in a garden. The flowers are delicately perfumed and attract all manner of pollinators.

Having grown the Hibiscus syriacus from seed, I have a mixed bag of colours, ranging from white to various pinks and blues. I have never succeeded with cuttings and although they seed easily, I would recommend buying the plant already rooted if you wanted a specific colour.

Despite the abundant pollen they are not as attractive as one might imagine to pollinators. The bumble bees do like them and perhaps at this moment the pollinators are spoiled for choice in the garden.

I have seen the Rose of Sharon grown as a small tree around here and I think it is an excellent choice and is very easy to shape through pruning in the autumn.

The Lagerstroemia indica can be seen clearly and has been given a prime position in the front garden, largely as it was a present from friends. It has just started flowering.

There is no doubt about the flowers attraction to the pollinators so gives us plenty to watch over coffee on the patio.

In France, around here, most people call this tree Lagerstroemia although it has a common name “Lilas des Indes” or the Lilac of the Indes. I have also seen it written in English as Crape myrtle. Now I would read the first word in the same way as I would “crap”, which does not seem too flattering to me. It reminds me of the last post of Garden in a city where he bemoans the common name of “Hoary Vervain”.

In one corner of the vegetable garden we have grown Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) we like to grow this as it is a natural insecticide if it is cut and dried.

We are at last going through a warm sunny period so it is a good time to dry out the plants. When you cut the stems there is a strong medicinal smell but I do not find it unpleasant.

Despite the plant supposedly having insecticidal properties, the bees and other pollinators are attracted to the flowers.

“He’s behind you!”

Pollinators can be attracted to strange places. Kourosh managed to snap the above photograph from our patio whilst I was stalking the bees with my camera in our front garden.


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More eggs

Some years ago I planted Allium cernuum bulbs and loved the flowers but larger plants grew over them and they perished.

A year ago I decided to plant seed and keep them in a pot. This is the result of the second year of my half packet of seeds. They came up so well that I decided to plant the other half of the seeds this spring – but I forgot to stratify them with a cold period. The second sowing has not germinated so I better look after these bulbs!

They are also called Nodding Onion and you can see the family resemblance in the papery covering of the flower bud.

Of course I grow them to watch the bumblebees that love them.

I love her heart-shaped pollen load!

The pot stays on the steps so that we can watch the bees from the living room.

I noticed that my blue geranium was not looking too happy and I decided to release her from the pot. The temperatures are shooting up this week to 35 degrees Centigrade (95 F) so I am starting to reduce my pots if possible.

It was a bit of a struggle to get the pot bound plant out of the small top of the pot (bad design!) but as I struggled I noticed things falling on the earth!

I think these are lizard eggs. A number of years ago I found similar eggs and kept them inside in moistened vermiculite until they hatched – and they were lizards. This time I have just covered them with soil and hoped for the best.

At the moment the Philadelphus and the Linden tree are competing for most perfumed plant in the garden.

We have several Philadelphus in the garden, all very beautiful and all very perfumed but none of them attract the bees; strange.

The fledged Redstarts have flown the nest and we see them in the back garden but Kourosh noticed that a redstart was visiting the nest box again. On the first of June he tried for a photograph and found one newly laid egg!

On the fifth of June he tried to see if she had more eggs but – oops, she was in residence. On the eight June she has a clutch five eggs. They are a prolific pair as the last chicks had only left the nest a few days before she started laying again.

Our excitement this week was that our Melia azedarach tree has flowered for the first time. Kourosh planted seeds he had collected from beautiful trees we had seen flowering in Girona in Spain. We did not know what they were and it was only through help on this blog we found out what the tree was called.

There are not many flowers on the tree yet but it is a start.


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Spring unfolds

I feel spring in our garden starts when our big plum tree flowers and the bees fill the tree making the petals of the plum blossom fall like confetti. There are still some flower buds opening but the big display is over and the total white haze is giving over to hints of green as the leaves start to open.

The perfume is still distinct but another perfume is taking over, especially in the late afternoon, from the Osmanthus burkwoodii that you can see in the bottom right hand corner of the photograph.

The flowers of the Osmanthus burkwoodii are not large or flashy but are highly perfumed and much appreciated by the bees.

The other strong perfume in the garden at the moment comes from the Hyacinths. I used to regard Hyacinths as indoor bulbs and stubby things to grow in a garden.

But I have changed my mind now for they add colour and exquisite perfume so I plant them as near to the terrace as I can. Although I do admit that I have to farm out some of the excess ones to spots further away as they are happy to reflower in the climate here.

In the mornings I like to check my bee boxes before there is too much sun. This is when I can find the Osmia, either still asleep after spending the night cosy inside a hole or just thinking about starting off their day.

Each day brings something different to see. The Bombus praetorum queens are quicker than the bumbling white tailed bumble bee queens, which makes them more difficult to photograph.

This is a better photograph of her but I like the first one better.

This carder bumble bee is a beautiful ginger colour over her entire thorax and abdomen. She is on the Cerinthe which has just started to flower this week. The Cerinthe self-seeds and started growing in the autumn and has not been damaged at all by the mild winter.

The Wisteria has started to open its flower buds. It is a formidable plant. It looks as if the bud is taking off its winter coat.

Another welcome flower has appeared on one of our succulents. I do not know what it is and we have grown it from a piece we have acquired. The succulents are another group of plants that I have grown to appreciate more and more.

We have had so much rain this spring that the early flowers are thriving and I feel that the daisies are bigger this year. It should be a good spring for the bees.

Kourosh is taking no chances and, in case he can tempt any errant swarms, he has placed a small hive at the bottom of the garden.

Also at the bottom of the garden, in a piece of rough ground that we use to compost down the garden rubbish, I noticed a clump of short daffodils/narcissi. I am not very fond of these and they seem to multiply excessively, however, Kourosh likes them. I had to cull them last year and asked Kourosh to dispose of the excess bulbs. Now I know where he put them.


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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.