a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Blue flowering shrubs in August

Some years ago (2016),I bought two blue flowering shrubs for the bees at the same time. This one is called Vitex agnus-castus or also in France, Gatillier or if you prefer “Poivres des Moines” meaning monks’ pepper. Perhaps all that was too much for me given that the other blue shrub also has multiple names.

O.K. the flowers of Elsholtzia stauntonii are not a true blue so I think the description I was given when I purchased the plants was somewhat unclear and both plants took their time flowering for me. Elsholtzia stauntonii is also called “Menthe en Arbre” or tree mint which looking at the flowers clears things up a lot for me. The leaves are supposed to be aromatic but I had to really squash them between my fingers to release the odour – which for me was not mint or menthol. We have not had rain for a while so the poor plants are perhaps cutting back a bit on unessential perfume essences just to survive.

I find the flower of the Vitex more attractive but once again I was not able to sense the aromatic perfume that it is meant to exude without squashing the leaf between my fingers. I recommend you trying this, if you ever get the chance, as it is a interesting perfume and not at all unpleasant. I will have to wait until the berries appear and crush those to see if they are more aromatic. It was these berries that the monks were reputed to eat to calm any unchaste ardour. The berries are used in herbal medicine but sound too potent for the uninitiated to play with.

The Elsholtzia has been disappointing up until now to attract bees, perhaps the wild mint that we have allowed to grow in patches of the garden is enough for them.

The third shrub is beautiful at the moment and attracting lots more bees than the other two. It is the Caryopteris “Grand Bleu”. Each garden is different and I am sure the plants will behave a little differently in different soils and climates but gardeners do a lot to support wildlife in these times where the planet is so heavily stressed.

My main crop from the vegetable garden is tomatoes which usually grow so well here. This year has been a disaster as you can see from the empty wigwams and bare poles.

The tomato plants have succumbed to mildew. It was the fate of all the neighbours’ crops too. For the first year I have had to buy tomatoes to make coulis to freeze for the winter. The African marigolds have done well, perhaps we have them to thank for a healthy crop of butternut and the red Kuri squash.

At least we are going to be self-sufficient in squash for the winter this year.

The Cosmos provide a lot of colour in the garden at the moment. They are a magnet for the bees.

It is not only the honey bees that benefit from the nectar and pollen provided by the Cosmos, this is a little Halictus bee.

My Cosmos are very tall, and they often fall over or I break their stems accidentally. I wish that there were shorter varieties. Does anyone know of any shorter coloured Cosmos?

We have lots of Cosmos sulphureus in shades of yellow – some darker than others and I find they do not grow so tall and are probably even more popular with the pollinators but I do like the variety of colour provided by the other Cosmos.

We have had no rain now for some time and I notice that some of the trees, like this cherry tree are accumulating yellow leaves. I do not think that it is just the lack of water.

This is a male red-tailed bumblebee. This to me signals the beginnings of autumn. The red-tailed bumble bee queens will be starting to produce new queens and males. These will mate and the new queens will have to survive the winter before she too starts a colony of bumblebees. The old queen will be slowing down and she will not survive long into the autumn.

In the Charente-Maritime it is warm and sunny and I am looking forward to autumn days in the garden with the autumn flowers. I hope you will enjoy a mild and mellow autumn in your garden.


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The heat goes on

cosmos-1

It has been a difficult summer in the garden.  The best laid plans have been scuppered by the heat and lack of rain.  I had sown Cosmos suphureus seeds by the vegetable garden to have lots to plant for a bright August garden.  However, the heat and lack of any rain did not allow me to move anything.

rudbeckia-and-cosmos

It’s not all doom and gloom, I did manage to coax some Rudbeckia and Cosmos to flower in the front garden and the bees still enjoyed the flowers even if they were in the wrong place.

too-much-pollen

There are hardly any Hollyhock flowers left so the bees are obliged to visit the Hibiscus syriacus.  They are not as popular as the Hollyhocks and I wonder if it is because their pollen is a lot stickier?  This male bumble had to spend a long time grooming after his drink of nectar.

hibiscus-moscheutos

I have been given another Hibiscus which our friend Michel had grown from one in his garden.  This one has a much lighter open growth and has more than one stem.  In addition, the honey bees like it.  It has five petals and a shorter pistil proportionally to the H. syriacus.

annies-red-robin

Gardners love to share their treasures and when my cousin and his wife, Annie, visited us from Seattle in the summer of 2014, Annie brought seeds of Red Robin tomatoes that she had saved from year to year for twenty years.  I was delighted when this spring I got a large crop of seedlings.  I planted them throughout the garden and then watched as they failed to thrive and disappeared (homesickness?).  The only clump that survived was under the olive tree, I do not think they could take the full sun this summer.  Now I have tasted these tiny tomatoes I have decided to collect my own seed and I think I will be able to choose better places for them next year.

cotinus

Then there are the gifts of unknown species.  This was given to me by my sister as “You know that tree with the red leaves” – (you will note the plant does not have red leaves.)  It has taken me a year but I have deduced that it could be Cotinus.

caryopteris

At the same time she had potted up a cutting of – “You know that plant with the blue flowers that the bees like”.  It was quite a small cutting and the bees like quite a lot of blue flowers.  Never the less, it was a good cutting and it survived tucked away forgotten under larger neighbours until its blue flowers poked through a few days ago and I saw the first Caryopteris I’ve ever had.

anemone

I’ve even forgiven her for giving me pots of her Japanese anemones when I was starting the garden.  I found them so invasive that I have spent the last years systematically, but unsuccessfully, rooting them out.  Today I noticed a bumble bee on one that had cunningly concealed itself under my large fuchsia.  Perhaps if the bees like them I could permit a few to survive.

lagerstroemia-indica

I freely admit I am totally biased when it comes to plants that provide for wild life, especially bees.  At this time of year in France many of the streets in town centres are lined with Lagerstroemia indica, usually the pink flowered trees.  They are popular garden trees as well, but I had found them gaudy.  I was very surprised to see how beautiful the bark was in winter.  I craved the beautiful bark in winter but the pink flowers were still too gaudy for me until Michel pointed out how the flowers attracted the bees.

bee-line

It changed my perspective on the tree and it did not seem quite so gawdy but instead appeared an ideal tree to brighten the garden in summer and add interest with its bark in winter.  Is this opinion shift common in gardeners?  Do we mellow to certain plants over time?

lagerstroemia-indica-2

So last week we were delighted to receive a present of  a pink Lagerstroemia indica which was planted with great care in the front garden.  Now I have to wait to see how long it will take for the formation of the fascinating bark.