a french garden


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Mid January in the garden

The constant rain that was the garden’s lot before Christmas has eased up.  The temperatures have only teased around zero from time to time and the sunny days are rare but something that brings cheer.

When the sun does shine it is not the flowers but the willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) that light up the garden.  I planted them in January 2014.

I was so optimistic about the effect my Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox) would have in the garden when I planted it in February of 2015.  I planted it not too far from the back door so that I could enjoy the perfume.  It took util last year to flower and whereas the perfume is striking sampled from close, I do not find it wifts any distance as do my other perfumed shrubs.

It did not start flowering until last year and I find at this time of year the flowers become damaged in the rain.

Perhaps it is not happy.  I admit it is in a fairly shady spot in the summer and if any one has any ideas how I can improve its performance, I would love to hear.

The Winter Sweet cannot compete with the density of flowers on the Viburnum tinus which started opening in December.

All these flowers attract the bees and provide very valuable pollen.

Quantity is important when attracting pollinators and although the Anisodontea is still producing flowers of a very good quality, they are not attracting the number of insects they do in the summer.

This large clump of heather (Erica darleyensis) is always well visited but I have several other newer and smaller clumps around the garden but they do not receive the same attention – just yet!

Only the tips of the Mahonia are in flower now and the berries are beginning to set.

I thought the Japanese Medlar (Eriobotrya japonica) would have finished by now but I could still smell the perfume and found several still flowering bunches in the more sheltered areas of the tree.  It has been flowering all December and is worth its place in any garden solely for the perfume.

As one plant finishes its flowering season another one starts.  This primula is a bit quick off the mark.

But the prize for precocity (or stupidity) goes to the apricot tree – already in flower.  We planted our fruit trees as soon as we bought the house, with little knowledge but great enthusiasm.  I wish we had had the knowledge at that time to look for fruit trees more suited to this area.  We bought them tempted by the pretty pictures on their labels.

Our plum tree, we inherited, although it was very small and it flowers very early, it usually provides a great source of pollen and nectar for the pollinators and very good eating and cooking little plums.  It seems as determined this year to get going as soon as possible.

The winter flowering honeysuckle will keep the pollinators happy until the early fruit trees are in flower.

The bushes are not too high and so provide lots of entertainment watching the bees gather pollen.  The honeysuckle roots fairly easily and we have taken cuttings to give us now five bushes around the garden.

At the moment there is a lot of blue Speedwell (Veronica spp.) in the grass and the bees visit these tiny flowers.  They must have good nectar as this bee looked quite comical pushing its way into a flower that was not completely open.

I was surprised to see this wild bee on the Speedwell.  You can see how small she is as she fits comfortably into the little flower head.  I tried to see what she might be as I had managed to catch sight of the slit at the end of her thorax so I suspected the Halictidae family.  Steven Falk writes that bees in this group often nest underground and some have communual nests and even primitive eusocial communities.  So she could possibly be a fertilised queen getting ready to start her new brood.  Or are they like the bumble bee queens that come out of their shelters during the favourable days of winter to restock on fresh nectar?


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Rain, rain

Last night on the news it said that this January in France has seen the highest rainfall in a hundred years!  I must admit everyone around is bemoaning the clouds and the rain although, as a gardener, I tend to see the bright side of all this as everything was too dry last year.  In addition, we have had no local flooding – not yet anyway.

Most of the winter flowers seem happy to cope with the rain, humidity and low light conditions but not my Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox).  The wet fading flowers are being attacked by black mold, however, on the rare days we get the sunshine the wonderful perfume of the Wintersweet flowers permeates the air.

The Wintersweet only started to flower last year and this is last year’s photograph of the beautiful, waxy petals of the  flower.  I will have to wait another year to see it in full flower.

The birds on the other hand do not appear to mind the rain and the Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) come down to forage in our “lawn” ignoring the sparrows and the bird food on the patio.  This photograph has been taken through the window while it was raining so the quality is not excellent.

The grass is shooting up as high as the finch’s head and making him bedraggled.

I wondered what they could be eating until I saw that the grass is already producing ample flower heads and the grass seeds are easily seen sticking to its beak.  I had never considered that the grass seed would be so attractive to them.

Hey you two!  There is a new birdhouse all ready hanging in the apricot tree on the side of the garden that you prefer.  Take a look in while you are here.


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Spring in February?

garden-long

Nothing looks greatly different in the garden since the big chill.  However, we had the big wind next with winds over 100 km. an hour and the winds were higher in the coastal regions.   This left our area without electricity.  We were out for just over 24 hours but depending on where you lived others lost their electricity for longer.  In areas with no piped gas, houses are frequently all electric.  So it is a good idea to keep in plenty of candles and a camping stove.  The really super-prepared have a little generator but we have stayed at the candles and camping stove level.

plum-blossom-ouside

Now we have sunshine and day time temperatures touching twenty degrees centigrade which has coaxed our plum tree to open its first flowers.

plumblossom-2

After the big wind some of the fine branches of the plum tree had broken and we brought in the twigs to enjoy watching the flowers open inside but they had hardly finished flowering inside before the tree itself had started to flower outside.

red-admiral

Some butterflies are out and from the freshness of this Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) it is a new season butterfly just hatched rather than one that has overwintered as an adult.

bombus-pratoris

The winter flowering honeysuckle welcomes different visitors now like this early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum) queen

carpenter-honeysuckle

and the Carpenter (Xylocopa violacea)

willow

It is not so visible from a distance but the willow tree at the bottom of the garden is opening out its buds too.

pussy-willow

The catkins are still at their attractive fluffy stage but soon the pollen will appear attracting the pollinators to this important plentiful source of early pollen.

hellebore-bee-pollen-1

The Hellebores are making a big impact in the garden now.  The bees make them a noisy attraction but the constant replanting of the self-sown seedlings is paying off.

hellebore-honey-bee

The different groups are spacing out their flowering times somewhat, depending on how much sun they receive.  I find the ones in full sun flower earliest.

bergenia

The Bergenia is starting to flower but I dragged it from one poor position last autumn to some other positions where I hope it will flourish.  It has not welcomed the change gladly.  Still there is always next spring.

bumble-new-heather-1

I was given a heather as a present but sadly with no idea of the species.  It was very pot bound, probably meant for impact rather than planting out.  I sawed of the bottom tangle of roots and sawed it in two.  I had just finished planting it when the bees appeared.  Well, that was one of my questions answered – the bees like it.  The heather I have had success with here is Erica x darlyensis which is more tolerant of chalky soils.  This one does not look the same as my others and has lilac flowers that fade to white.  I hope they will thrive in their new home.

honesty-lunaria-annua

It is only when you look closely that you see the changes in the garden.  The purple flower is self-sown Honesty (Lunaria annua), a bit early, I would have thought.

violet

The violets, both purple and white varieties, appear as weeds in the garden but are always welcome.

weeds

In fact, there are a lot of good stuff in the weeds in the garden.

wild-bee-2

The speedwell (Veronica (perhaps) persica) is covering the surrounding fields and the garden with a haze of blue but this little flower provides much needed pollen and nectar for the wild bees like the one above and also the honey bees.

pollinator-on-veronica

The hover flies too stop by for the nectar.

chimonanthus-praecox

Gardening is not for the impatient.  I have longed for a Chimonanthus praecox for my garden and now eventually I have a bush and it has flowered for the first time.  I do not know the species as I bought it in France where the species does not seem to matter much but I love it anyway.  My main criteria was the perfume and one sniff of the heady, sensual perfume told me I had a winner.  Also called wintersweet but I think of it as the ice flower although the weather at the moment is nearer to summer than winter.