a french garden


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Lac Bajamont

1-Fisherman

We took a break for a few days last week to stay outside Agen and visit the area nearby, between the rivers Garonne and Lot.  Lac Bajamont, is not well known but was nearby so we decided to take a look.  At first site it reminded me of some of the small lochs you see in Scotland, it even had a fisherman on the bank.

1-Hummingbird Hawkmoth

There were plenty of thistles around but you would not see a Hummingbird Hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) in Scotland!

1-Lythrum salicaria (Purple loosestrife)

The  lake was bordered by wild flowers like these purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) although it is not a natural lake but more a dam of 22 hectares that has been created by the nearby local councils to control local flooding and regulate the flow of the river.  The lake is under the protection of the Fishing Federation of the Lot and Garonne and is used for course fishing.

Teasels and knapweed

Teasels and knapweed

As we walked around the lake we were impressed by the variety and abundance of wildflowers.

Honey bee on bird's foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Honey bee on bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Of course, where there are flowers there is lots to see.  I think that someone must have had hives as honey bees were very much in evidence on the flowers.

Top- Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) Lower-Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

Top- Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) Lower-Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

There were lots of Meadow Browns and I spotted the very similar Gatekeeper as well.

Top-Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) F Lower-Common Blue M

Top-Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) F Lower-Common Blue M

The bright blue of the male butterflies seems so unreal.

Spotted Fritillary, Melitaea didyma

Spotted Fritillary, Melitaea didyma

Sometimes you need to get closer to feel the full impact of the colours and patterns, like the eyes of this Spotted Fritillary.

Meadow Fritillary. (Mellicta parthenoides)

Meadow Fritillary. (Mellicta parthenoides)

Perhaps it is a good point to mention that I have done my best to identify all the creatures that we managed to take decent photographs of, because I would like to share our walk, but I am not an expert and I apologise in advance if I I have made any errors!

Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii)

Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii)

The waters of the lake are so clear at the edges that Kourosh was able to take this picture of the Crayfish under the water.  This is an invasive variety and not a natural European species.  I must give Kourosh the credit for many of the photographs in this blog as I kept on my Macro lens as there were so many small creatures attracting my attention.

The lake is kept only as a nature reserve.  No swimming or motor boats are allowed and fishing is with a permit only.   This allows joggers and picnickers a site to enjoy the outdoors and its peace.

1-HoaryPlantain - Plantago media.1

Most of the flowers were similar to the ones we see in our area but I had never seen Hoary Plantain (Plantago media) before.

1-HoaryPlantain - Plantago media.

The more common plantain flower is very plain but this plantain has lovely lilac/pink flowers that the bees and butterflies find very attractive.

Knapweed

Hallictus scabiosa on Centaurea nigra (Common Knapweed)

There was lots of Knapweed around.  This is really a plant to attract all sorts of pollinators and one I am going to try to increase in my garden.

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus)

There were lots of blue chicory flowers, this one was being attacked by a snail much to the disgust of the little bee.

Upper- Common blue damselfly, (Enallagma cyathigerum)-lower-Blue Hawker (Aeschna cyanea)

Upper- Common blue damselfly, (Enallagma cyathigerum)-lower-Blue Hawker (Aeschna cyanea)

Of course, being beside the water there were plenty of damselflies and dragonflies around.  Just so much to see.

Swallowtail, Papilio machaon

Swallowtail, (Papilio machaon)

I at last saw my first Swallowtail of this summer.  Not a great photo as it is taken with my Macro lens after a close chase.  It is a big butterfly but it can shift!

Lesser Purple Emperor, (Apatura ilia)

Lesser Purple Emperor, (Apatura ilia)

This one was sunning itself and easier to capture.  It had attracted my attention as it was purple!  The colouration changed with the angle of the light that was falling on the wing scales.  You can just see the slight colouration in the photograph but it does really look purple in certain lights, in others it looks a much less remarkable brown.  I was very lucky to see it on several counts.  Firstly the female does not have the purple reflection and secondly they often spend the day on the crowns of trees.  The eggs are laid on Poplars and Willows and we have plenty of those near us but this is the first time I have seen it.

unknown moth

Unfortunately, I’ve had no luck identifying this.  I would guess at a moth, but it has such a strange wing shape.

vetch

I’ll close with a picture of some vetch.  We took so many photographs on our short walk round the lake that it’s been hard to condense them to give an idea of the place.  Our lasting impression was of admiration for the brilliant solution to the areas previous  flooding problem.


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A walk after the storm

Our garden borders the river Seudre.  We have left a part of the land next to the river somewhat wild forming a little forest.  After the recent storm it now resembles a war zone with broken trees scattered along it, waiting for the autumn when I will drag the branches to an open space and burn them.

We are still in the middle of summer and summer storm are not unusual here, but I was reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s Ode to the West Wind:

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing – 

Amelia and I often walk on a path only a couple of minutes from our house, that takes us along the river and then through a forest to the nearby hamlet of Madion.  It is a pretty walk that usually takes less than an hour, if Amelia doesn’t stop too long photographing the bees.  Today we took the same path for the first time after the recent storm.

The wild mint is flowering just now and is adored by the bees and the butterflies.

The wild mint

The wild mint

The hemp agrimony ( Eupatorium cannabinum ) remains a favourite of the butterflies.

Butterflies on hemp agrrimony

Butterflies on hemp agrrimony

A little while later I realized why not many people had walked along the path lately.  Between the river and the field of maze, the path was blocked by a broken tree.

IMG_2787We maneuvered our way through the field of maize as many have fallen victim of the storm and were flattened.  On the other side of the fallen tree, I encountered a patch of my worst hidden enemy in the garden: the stinging nettles.   They were covered with caterpillars.  Well my consolation is that at least we will have more butterflies.

Collage catepillars

Like all little boys, I am fascinated by the form of the little snails.

IMG_2780

In the stillness and the heat of the late afternoon, I could see a few  damsel flies and even the dragon flies.

Collage damsel flies

I am not a biologist, but merely an engineer, but it seemed to me that each wild plant and wild flower has its purpose in the life of the countryside.

Wild flowers

I could see that my path was yet again interrupted by another fallen tree.

IMG_2809Never mind, I will turn right through the forest.  That is my favourite route: so peaceful, and yet so full of promise.

IMG_2811A few minute later the forest path was also blocked.

IMG_2813We fought the branches and emerged yet again successfully on the other side and then left the forest into a much more open countryside. along the vineyards.  On my left, a bunch of mislteoe:  Perhaps waiting there for a stolen kiss?

IMG_2823And then a field of pure warm sunshine:

IMG_2827I do not know the people that live in that little farm building, but I have often thought that they have indeed chosen a corner of heaven.

IMG_2834

In the open ground there were more bees and butterflies.  Even a queen bumble bee with her sac of pollen.

Bumbles and butterflies in the open

The grains of grapes are swelling.  Perhaps summer is already approaching its end?

IMG_2845And more wild flowers and berries preparing the countryside for the summers to come

IMG_2831In this part of France they often plant sloe (prunus spinosa) along the edges of the fields.  Its white flowers are pretty in early Spring, its fruit is eaten by some wild animals, and its thorn inhibit the intruders.

IMG_2846

The wild blackberries are already ripening.  Last year we collected several kilos of blackberries at this spot and Amelia made delicious jelly.

IMG_284715th of August is the Assumption day.  It is a National Holiday in France and some towns will have the last fireworks display of the season.  After that the French holidaymakers start returning home to prepare the children for the rentrée scolaire.  

On our return home, after nearly two and half hour of walk, I look again at the devastation that the storm caused in the countryside.  I think back at that night of the storm with 150 Km/hr wind tearing the trees down, and I can’t help but think again of Shelly:

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;

If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;

A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free

Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even

I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven 

We are really lucky here that we have a mild climate and do not suffer from ‘uncontrollable’ wind very often.  Our summers are warm, but not too hot and we are able to enjoy the last days of beautiful warm sunshine well into October and and when autumn at last comes we will return to the task of clearing Amelia’s afrenchgarden.

K


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A bit of sunshine

Yellow crocus

Yellow crocus

A bit of sunshine in the Charente Maritime and the seasons seem to slide before your eyes.

Wild violet

Wild violet

The violets appear.

Crocus

Crocus

The crocus pop up.

More crocus

More crocus

And up.

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils usually signal the spring.

Snowdrop and clematis

Snowdrop and cyclamen

But there are still plenty of snowdrops in the garden.

Red hazel catkin

Red hazel catkin

The catkins are out.

Plum  tree blosssom

Plum tree blossom

The plum tree seems to be bursting to open its flowers.

Hellebore

Hellebore

The Hellebores are opening.

Bee on Viburnum Tinus

Bee on Viburnum Tinus

The Viburnum is buzzing with bees but the air temperature is only 8 degrees centigrade.  I thought the air temperature should be much higher for them to be so active.

 Winter honeysuckle

Winter honeysuckle

The winter honeysuckle still has flowers but less than before.

Red Valerian

Red Valerian

The Valerian has started to flower – in February?

Cellandine

Cellandine

The cellandine has decided it is springtime, much to the relief of the dronefly.

Celandine and bee

Celandine and bee

The celandine offers its nectar to bee and fly alike.

Wild strawberries

Wild strawberries

The wild strawberries are already flowering along the roadsides and starting to set their fruit.

Pararge aegeria Speckled wood butterfly

Pararge aegeria Speckled wood butterfly

The sun even brings out the butterflies.

European Peacock Inachis io

European Peacock Inachis io

Do they know it is February?


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A Summer Day in October

Last Friday was the fifth of October and the sun shone in the blue Charentais sky like a beautiful summer day with the temperature reaching 26 degrees centigrade.  There was no wind and it seemed an ideal day to explore another little pond just about a kilometre or so away from the pond at Madion.  It would have taken a bit too long on foot so we opted for the bikes so that we would not lose the afternoon sun.

The pond and the Charentais blue sky

The pond is not far from a small road and has woods and vineyards behind it.  The surrounds of the pond had been cleared to stop the woods encroaching.

Common darters

From a distance I spotted what looked like an extremely large dragonfly but as I got closer I realised it was two dragonflies in tandem.  This was the first time I have seen dragonflies laying eggs.  I would say these are Common darters (Sympetrum striolatum), as we get a lot of them in this area.

Dipping into the water

It was fascinating to watch the aerobatics of the pair.

Vertical descent

The eggs were laid at the edges of the pond.  The tail would just break the surface of the water as if to ensure that the eggs did not float on the surface to be easy prey to predators.  Presumably, the eggs would quickly find a safe spot on the murky floor of the pond.

Another dipping

The frenetic tandem flight continues with the female’s tail being dipped for her to release the eggs.  It looks a tiring exercise for the pair of them as they zoom from place to place, stopping from time to time at a selected spot for repeated dippings of the females tail.

There was more than one pair of the same variety of dragonfly taking advantage of the sunshine for mating and laying their eggs.

Willow Emerald Damselfly, (Chalcolestes viridis)

I also noticed a Willow Emerald Damselfly sitting looking beautiful beside the pond, its metallic green colour sparkling in the sunshine.

I wondered what was happening at the other pond so partly pushing the bikes through the grass we decided to take a “short cut” thereby avoiding the road.

Ready for the vendage

We passed some vines, these are the Uni Blanc, as they are called here, or Ugni blanc if you prefer the Italian spelling which are widely grown around here and are likely to end up as Cognac or Pineau.  The harvesting of the grapes has just begun.  Almost all of the vines are harvested mechanically, apart from a few older vineyards where the distance between the vines is too narrow for the machines to pass and so these have to be harvested by hand.  This is true of our immediate vicinity and does not hold true for vineyards producing high quality wine.

Ragwort cafe

There were a few Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) plants in the grass but this  one seemed particularly  attractive to the local insects.  The female common blue seemed to be receiving a lot of attention.

First advances

The sunshine and the advancing season led to pairing off on the Ragwort.

On the ground

The pairing game continued on the ground but we wanted to push onto the other pond to see what was happening there.

At the other pond things were quieter and although there were a couple of darters performing their frenetic egg laying dance I could not get a shot of them.  Perhaps it was too late in the evening (our short cut having provided more distractions than anticipated) but these days the fields and woods are getting quieter.

Peacock butterflies in the Hemp Agrimony, (Eupatorium cannabinum)

A month ago the Hemp Agrimony was in flower and full of butterflies, bees and other insects.

Hemp Agrimony seed head

Now the flowers have finished and the little seeds float around the plants and waft in the air like miniature parachutes.  Without their flowers the wood edges have become a lot quieter, less nectar bearing flowers for the bees and other insects.  The hornets are still on patrol though.

European hornet, (Vespra crabro)

They patrol back and forth on the look out for bees or other insects.  It seems late in the season for them to still be hunting for prey for their larvae but I have seen more now than earlier in the year.

They take their searching seriously and trace the wood edges like little yellow bullets.

Run butterfly!

I think the butterfly outclassed the hornet but it did not stay around to argue.

Asian hornet, (Vespa velutina nigrithorax)

The one thing that puzzles me is that the hornets I trapped in March were all Asian hornets, non-native hornets which are causing concern among bee keepers in France.  However, I have never seen any of the Asian hornets in the countryside during my walks.  So much the better for the bees.

Carder bumble bee

The wild mint is still happily flowering providing a rich nectar, but the bumble bees are much reduced in numbers, the majority that I see outside the garden are Carder bees.

Butterfly on side

On the way home I noticed a butterfly on its side, attended by another one.

Mouth to mouth resuscitation?

I could not imagine what they were doing, so I approached closer.  Too close.

Dead butterfly?

The apparently dead butterfly, finding her partner had flown off and left her, took wing leaving me feeling foolish.  Even the poor butterflies don’t get a chance to get on quietly with their life when I’m around with my camera.


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End of September in the garden

It has rained at last.  It has been such a dry year that it is time to rethink strategies.  The potager gets watered within reason but during a prolonged dry spell it is like watering a patch on top of a sponge.  I sowed dill twice and each time it came up and flowered almost instantly.  There was no glut of courgettes but just sufficient salad stuff to keep us going.

There is a hazel tree just beside the potager.  We have pruned it over the years and it has given us some excellent straight poles but its nut production has not increased and it is now over-shadowing an old peach tree and I feel it may be taking water away from the vegetables.

The hazel tree’s days are numbered

All that is left is a stump

No more hazel tree

Now the hazel tree has gone I may have another victim in my sights!  The Christmas tree was left by the previous owners and has grown so large in such a short time.  I do not know how much taller it will grow and if it too is draining too much water and nutrients from the garden.  I must admit that I do not have a master plan for the garden from the design point of view and I would be interested in any comments from experienced gardeners.

Quince tree

On a more upbeat note the quince tree has come through the drought with no visible sign of stress and the quinces are already ripening.  I have already been enjoying the quince stewed and have bottled some but I will wait until the main crop ripens to get on with the jelly, jam and chutney.

Medlar fruit

Likewise the medlar tree has plenty of fruit but that will not be ready for another month or so.

Kaki fruit ripening

The persimmons or kaki are just starting to show a little colour but it will be probably Christmas before they will be ripe.  It is nice to have some more fruit to look forward to when the pears and apples will be finished.

The apples and pears ripened early and the harvest was on the low side.  There is always fallen fruit and the good advice is to clear it away to reduce infection from pests that may use it as a food source.

Comma, Polygonia c-album on the apple tree trunk

There is an advantage in not clearing the fallen fruit away immediately as the  butterflies are attracted by the fallen fruit and I presume feed on the fermenting juices.

Comma showing the “C” underside

This Comma is kindly showing the white “C” mark, like a comma on the underside of the wing.

Speckled Wood butterfly, Parage aegeria

The Speckled Wood butterfly is a common visitor to the garden and is also enjoying the fallen apples.

Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas

The Small Copper seems also interested so perhaps an extra tidy garden is not always so good for for attracting the wildlife, it certainly is a good excuse for not being too tidy.

The Praying Mantis looks disdainfully at my attempts to take a photograph

The butterflies are common visitors but the Praying Mantis is less visible and remains well camouflaged while it stalks its prey.

Praying Mantis

It preys on a variety of insects, it would be nice to think it was the ones that could cause me trouble but unfortunately it will eat anything that it can lay its long hands on.  This one had a relatively friendly disposition until it got bored and headed back into the apple tree.

A flight too fast to capture well.

During the long dry spell I did not forget the birds and I have had various containers of water around the garden.  These containers take various forms including old pots, frying pans and gravel trays.  Not a very ornamental collection but very appreciated by the birds, among others.

After a recent visit to a brocante (explanation – a notch lower than an antique shop in France) I was tempted by an old pan for seven euros which seemed just the right size to add to the collection.  (I try to avoid going into brocantes as they have such interesting things and even if you do not find what you are looking for you find something you did not know you needed, but at least at seven euros I got off lightly this time.)

The house belonged to a builder at one time and we have inherited a good deal of his stones which have come in very handy.  A quick hunt at the bottom of the garden in the secret store and the right base was found.

In place beside the rose arch

As the stone is old and the pan is old it seems to have always been there.

Ready for the birds

I could not do a post about the garden without mentioning the bumble bees.  They are still active although I have not seen any red-tailed or garden bumble bees for a while.  The dahlias are still very popular with the white-tailed and the carder bees.

Carder bee heads to the fuschia

The fuschia is still flowering and is well-visited by the bees.

Now that it has rained there is so much to do in the garden and plants that have outgrown their space must be moved.  Autumn is a busy time.


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Conversation beside the Brussel sprouts

It’s no good trying to pretend your’e not there, because your’e so well camouflaged.  I saw you fly in there.

I can see perfectly well what your doing.

It really doesn’t wash with me the innocent “I’m just resting in the shade” look.  I can see your yellow eggs positioned neatly on the stem.  Now flutter off and find some plant I don’t intend to eat to lay your eggs on.


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The garden in August

Taking photographs of the garden in August is difficult.

Lime tree (Tilia platyphyllos)

This is one of the Lime trees (Tilia platyphyllos) that I planted for its perfumed blossom (see my last post Perfumed Pumpkin Flower? https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/pumpkin-perfume/) .  It is just  starting to take form but I find the August sunshine is as harsh in a photograph as it is on the grass.  I do not water our “lawns” as they are only mowed grasses and something green will come up even if they do dry up in summer.

White Hollyhock

However, the light for taking the plants closer up is better.  Hollyhocks survive very well here with very little attention.

Bumble on last of the Hollyhocks

Bumble on last of the hollyhocks

They are just about finished but I cannot bear to cut them down just yet as the bees, especially the bumble bees, still love to visit them, but they really should go as they are getting very long and straggly.

Hibiscus after a welcome shower of rain

Another plant that accepts a regime of lots of sun and very little water is the Hibiscus syriacus. It is called Althea over here and Rose of Sharon in the States. There were already a few Hibiscus syriacus plants in the front garden when we bought the house, in fact, they were just about the only flowers that we inherited.  They are survivors and require little care.  They also self-seed so I immediately picked out any little plants that I found and planted them along the long border that I have with the road to form part of a “shrubby hedge” I was attempting to grow.  These plants can be cut and shaped or left to expand and I have seen some that grow so large they are almost small trees.

I never knew what colour the plants I had planted would turn out be, but luckily I’ve had quite a selection of different shades as this must be one of the most popular garden plants in the area and the bees ensure there will be plenty of cross-pollination.

Pollen frenzy

The bees have transferred their allegiance from the hollyhocks to the hibiscus when it comes to pollen showers.

Bumble taking a break for a brush out of pollen

Sometimes it gets all too much for them and they sit down somewhere and give themselves a thorough grooming to remove the pollen load.  I love to watch them as they really do seem frustrated when the pollen gets too thick.

Complex flowerlets of Acanthus mollis

Another plant that attracts the bees is Acanthus mollis or Bear’s Breeches, I was given this attractive architectural plant by friends who were splitting theirs.  I was delighted, as I had very little plants at the time and as it threw up little side plants, I cleverly (?) found places for them in other parts of the garden.  Now I have to try and purge my garden of this invasive plant that thrives with little water and lots of sun.  In my borders it is a monster as even a tiny bit of root left behind throws out bright happy green leaves that laugh at me, but I will eradicate it!  I have left just the one plant in a dry spot that nothing else would want as it does look good, and the bees appreciate it too.

Hummingbird Hawk Moth, Macroglossum stellatarum

At least I can control the Red Valerian, Centranthus rubber, which is happy in a very dry hot spot along the front of the atelier wall.  It is a native plant of the Mediterranean and has the additional benefit of being attractive to Hummingbird Hawk Moths, Macroglossum stellatarum.

They actually do look like little birds!

.

These are day flying moths and are a favourite visitor to the garden.  They also visit the Buddleias but it is easier to photograph them on the low growing valerian, but they really move fast and hover while sipping the nectar.

Pink Hydrangea

Plants frequently do not turn out how you think they should and it is always worth giving a favourite plant a chance.  Hydrangeas remind me of gardens when I was a child in Scotland but I was not sure if they would survive in my chalky soil.  I bought a tiny plant and put it in a corner so that it is sheltered from the direct afternoon sun, I did not have much to lose.  In just a couple of years I have my pink mop head hydrangea that looks at home in the corner of the wall.

My bumbles love the Hydrangea too!

It was too cheap to have a variety name and anyway I find in France that the labelling leaves a lot to be desired.  Giddy with success I have tried a couple of lacecap Hydrangeas which are progressing but not with the same vigour.

Map butterfly on my daughter’s shoulder

You never can tell how plants will do and you certainly can’t tell with butterflies either.  Sometimes you chase them, camera at the ready and they flutter but never sit long enough to take a photo.  Another time they come and sit on a shoulder when you are having lunch.

Friendly Map butterfly (Araschnia levana)

Then happily pose for you on some nearby flowers!