a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Back to April showers

I’ve a great sympathy for this Anthophora bee that has taken to sheltering in one of the bee houses.  When it is cold and rainy she retreats back and waits until a ray of sunshine tempts her to check out whether the rain has stopped or not.

We have had rain and thunder and wind and rain… and some sunshine.

Our Viburnum opulus on the edge of the garden chose the warm sunny days to burst into flower.  Not only this is a fresh, generous shrub for the garden but the flowers look great cut for inside with roses.  It is called the guelder rose in the U.K.

In France it is known as “boule de neige” or snowball which I find is very appropriate.  A lot of the flowers have passed their best now and have lost their petals that transform into confetti that is taken by the wind to decorate the surrounding grass.

I have enjoyed a big pot of Camassia bulbs every April for a number of years.

They attract all sorts of bees and so provide our entertainment at coffee time.  I thought this year the bulbs were beginning to look very crushed in the pot and so they have been summarily deplaced to a hole made for them in the front garden.  I hope they will like their new home.  I have not made up my mind as to whether I should replace them with new bulbs in the autumn or choose something else.

I have also a large aluminium tub planted up with supposedly Camassia Leichtlini “caerulea” and Camassia cusickii (reputedly a short deep blue flower).  So far I have only seen this pale blue Camassia appear which looks as if it is going to be followed by a white flower.

This cistus has been grown from cuttings and we have no regrets as it has produced the same attractive crinkled-paper leaves as the parent plant.  And of course, it provides lots of pollen for the bees at this time.

I have several Choisia in the garden and my “Sundance” in the front garden is a real favourite, lighting up a shady corner, especially in the winter.  However, perhaps it is showing its age but the foliage did not look so good this spring and I think it is getting out of shape.  So should I replace it or will a severe pruning and cutting out of the old branches rejuvenate it after the flowers have gone?

The good weather allowed us to work a lot in the garden and get to grips with the weeds that have benefited from our mild wet spring.  For the first time I came across a Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) in the garden, hiding under some dry leaves near some logs.  They are slow moving creatures and nocturnal so it is not surprising that I have only seen dead ones on the roadside.  They can grow up to 25 cm. (nearly ten inches) in length.  They can only prey on slow moving species like earthworms, slugs and snails so that makes them a welcome inhabitant of the garden as the slug and snail population at the moment is in full boom.

You can get an idea of the size of this baby on top of the gardening gloves.  They can exude an irritant from their skin so it is best not to touch them with bare hands.

The fire salamander was thought to be able to regenerate in fire and even extinguish fire; these beliefs being traced back to Aristotle and Pliny.  Francois I of France was born in Cognac Chateau in 1494 and he took the Salamander as his emblem.  Cognac is less than 50 kilometres from here and there are plenty of references to Francois I and his salamander in Cognac and throughout France.

His device was “Nutrisco et extinguo” or even ” nutrisco et extingo”, which although not quite correct latin means that the aspiration is to nourish the good fires of virtue, love, and faith, while reminding that he is the king with the power to extinguish all that he deems incorrect.  Quite a neat sentiment.

Returning to the garden, I notice that the Judas tree has started to produce pea pod shaped seed cases.  April is finishing but the garden seems to be speeding ahead helped by the rain and mild weather.


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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.