After the longest spell of dull weather that I have experienced here, we plunged into the cold.
Some plants, like this Camelia protect their flower buds and remain in bud until hopefully the weather turns clement.
The Hellebores have suffered all summer from the excessive sun and heat with a lot of their leaves being scorched. The cold has further retarded their normal blooming time.
The Chimonanthus praecox has shrugged off all the contrarieties of the weather and has given us the most flowers it ever has. There have been plenty of twigs full of flowers to cut and bring indoors to enjoy the perfume.
Not all the Chimonanthus flowers escaped the hard frost but in the warmer days the flowers perfume can be appreciated from a distance.
Now we are in a warm spell and the bees are excitedly gathering pollen.
Every year I search amongst the hazel catkins for the red hazel flowers. They fascinate me and I find them so beautiful. They remind me of sea anemones. I have never managed to take a photograph of them that I am satisfied with. The petals resist the camera. I suppose the answer is to cut off a branch but it seems such a shame. I would appreciate any hints from photographers for next year.
So, after the gloom and the cold, I hesitate to believe that we can glide gently into a normal spring. For one thing, the soil is drying out and we have not had our normal supply of rain to help push the spring bulbs through.
A few more warm sunny days should lift my pessimism.
I find the garden subdued this February. However, the cold and cloudy weather cannot stop the bulbs from pushing through.
The Hellebores have been well frosted this year.
But they are coming up in abundance now, untouched by the cold weather.
This is not the case of the anemones. This autumn I planted anemone bulbs expecting them to flower in the late spring. In fact, they started to flower in December but the cold and frost soon damages their petals. This has not bothered the bees who have little regard for the aesthetic qualities of the flowers they visit. Can you see the black pollen the bee has gathered from the anemone?
I am still disappointed with my Chimonanthus praecox. It’s common name is wintersweet because of its perfume but it needs to be planted in a sunny position to enjoy this wonderful perfume on sunny days. We have not had many of those days this year and, despite the plant being hardy, the flower are damaged by the rain and frost.
This year, more than ever, I have been grateful to my Choisia “Sundance” for bringing light into the garden.
Likewise, my willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) light up the back garden.
I have still left the old flowerheads of some of my sedum in places but I will have to cut them soon as there are shoots of the new plant already pushing through.
I quickly took a photograph to show the garden with a blue sky yesterday. There have been too few bright days recently and we are back to totally gray skies again today.
I am glad we decided to insulate the beehives again this year. I am not convinced that modern, conventional beehives offer the bees sufficient protection from the cold.
Our girls are off out of the hive, as soon as there is sunshine and the temperatures allows it. Some seem glad to just spread their wings in flight but others are busy bringing in pollen and nectar.
It’s cold. Sub-zero mornings followed by blue skies. By the afternoon it heats up to about eight degrees, so beautiful to walk in. However, I am glad we chose to insulate the hives again this year with an aluminium wrap as well as the usually top insulation.
Yesterday, 14 January 2022, we were out walking when we came across this patch of violets opening up in the sunshine at the edge of a wood.
I got down on my hands and knees and gave them a good sniff. They released a gentle perfume typical of violets. The air temperature never went above 8 degrees centigrade yesterday so although the perfume was not strong, I believe this would be because of the cold. Hopefully, we can return soon if the weather gets warmer and see if the perfume is stronger.
Another surprise was to see a few tiny snowdrops appear in the first few days of January. This has never happened before. I have tried over the years, I admit I never managed to find any “in the green” and at the beginning of the garden there were no Internet sites that I knew of, but I did plant any bulbs I could find. I have got some later snowdrops but last year I resigned myself to give up as we have lots of other lovely flowers. Kourosh, however, picked up a packet of snowdrop bulbs last year. I cannot remember where. Possibly a DIY store or a supermarket, but I completely ignored the purchase except to warn him that it was his job to plant them and find a place near the house as it was not worth planting snowdrops far away from the window. He obviously heeded my warning and the bulbs grew up – just to spite me!
Often the “wisdom” of nature and natural creatures is vaunted and compared favourably to our blundering passage through this life. I am not too convinced of the consistency in this innate knowledge. Two days ago Kourosh alerted me to a bumblebee asleep at the front of our house in the winter honeysuckle. It was early evening, the sun was getting lower and the temperature falling – and yet she slumbered on. We could not leave her there. If she has returned to her snug nest she would have escaped the sub zero temperatures but not staying out in the open.
I popped her into a plastic box and put her in an unheated bedroom and she did not move until I brought her into the dining room after midday the following day. I dropped some honey into the box. I would like to point out that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust advises not to use honey but to make sugar syrup but I was not sure she was alive at this stage – and it was easier. As she warmed up she made for the honey and mopped it up and took a second helping.
I took her into the sunshine and let her take wing, which she did with a disgruntled buzz rather than a thank you.
The Chimonanthus praecox is just starting to flower. It has more flowers this year. I hope it will be more impressive. We have put it in a shady position and do not benefit from its perfume as much as I anticipated. Once, more of the flowers are open I will cut some flowering twigs and bring them inside.
I saw my first Bombus pratorum queen, or early bumblebee, on 7 January 2022. That is early. The photo is not great but she is very quick and I was pleased to at least capture her with the date on camera.
I hope she did not misjudge the weather and has made a warm nest somewhere.
We had not long started in the garden here when we were able to get a wooden composter (very cheap, thanks to an initiative from the European Union.) I liked the idea of recycling the household and garden waste but the composter filled up very quickly.
This led to us acquiring a second composter which made things easier as one could be left closed to compost while the other one was being filled.
Everything green from the garden goes in the compost when it is removed. We draw the line at nettle roots but even weed seed should be destroyed by composting. However, I have my doubts on that as I find masses of tomatoes growing in the garden and I feel these must come from the compost.
All the wasted ends and outer leaves of vegetables get put into the kitchen compost bin to be added to the outside one. Waste paper such as napkins goes in with moderation.
Our next acquisition was a free plastic composter -recycled plastic, but I do not know why the material was changed. This came at the time when bonfires were forbidden because of air pollution. Now any waste from cutting or trimming trees and hedges must be taken to the council dump to the green waste.
I am not sure of the efficiency of many cars burning petrol to get to the dump and then lorries removing the waste to save carbon dioxide emissions. Hopefully, someone a lot cleverer than me has worked it out correctly.
My green plastic bin was never the less welcomed with open arms as it is my special bin! In autumn I fill it with only fallen leaves and by next autumn I have a beautiful fine leaf compost!
With a strong belief that you could never have enough composters, I leapt at the offer of my fourth composter from a friend who had never used hers.
This has now been filled with autumn fallen leaves and topped with a layer of wood ash. In the winter we add a layer of wood ash periodically to the composts.
The spiral leaning against the composter allows me to turn the compost. I am not strong enough to fork it through, as is often suggested. It works like a corkscrew and mixes the different layers. I would imagine it is none too popular with the worms that make a hasty retreat when I drag them from their work lower down.
Last year Kourosh, knowing my passion for composters, made me an even bigger one out of pallets.
This is where the big stuff goes. The stuff Kourosh never thinks will compost – but it does, it just takes longer. Last year this composter was heaped many times and jumped on to pack it down. Yet at the end of the year we were able to take a good quantity off the bottom and the rest will serve to start this years “big stuff”.
Behind the composter is our Chimonanthus praecox. I do agree, it does sound like a strange place to plant a beautiful shrub but I thought at least I would have the benefit of the lovely perfume when I went to empty my kitchen compost bin in winter.
Also I did not have any other place for it.
The flowers are delicate and the perfume delicious but it has made me think of the importance of positioning plants. I planted the Chimonanthus or Winter Sweet in 2015 and it started to flower two years later but I feel it is lost in the border beside the compost bins.
I hope the plants in my new bed will have a better chance to shine.
Already the Sarcococca confusa is putting on a better show as a perfumed winter shrub.
The flowers are beautiful but are set of by the shiny evergreen leaves and the black berries.
On reflection, I think the Chimonanthus deserved a better setting.
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?
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.
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.
Now we have sunshine and day time temperatures touching twenty degrees centigrade which has coaxed our plum tree to open its first flowers.
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.
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.
The winter flowering honeysuckle welcomes different visitors now like this early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum) queen
and the Carpenter (Xylocopa violacea)
It is not so visible from a distance but the willow tree at the bottom of the garden is opening out its buds too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The violets, both purple and white varieties, appear as weeds in the garden but are always welcome.
In fact, there are a lot of good stuff in the weeds in the garden.
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.
The hover flies too stop by for the nectar.
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.