a french garden


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Hot August Days

parched grassAugust has been hot and  dry.  Rain showers have passed to the north of us and to the south of us but we remain parched.  The trees must be able to reach lower damper soil with their roots but even they are tiring.  The leaves are starting to change to autumn colour because of the drought stress and the apples are falling.

weeded look

I have to water the young plants and the judicious watering is creating a well-weeded took as even the weeds are succumbing.

Saville gdns hydrangia

My “Savill Garden” hydrangea has survived and flowered for the first time but only the cared for plants can make it through the hot sun and dryness.  Even the lavender requires some water.

Canna

Only the Canna has survived and flourished without watering.  I don’t actually like it and years ago I presumed I could kill it if I never watered it.  Not so.  Now I keep it as it provides a trouble free hedging and it is easily controlled by pulling out the new plants once a year either in autumn or spring.

A gold star goes to a tough, yellow flower that I was given, I think it must be a perennial sunflower.  This on the other hand is a favourite as the bees adore it.

B.sylvarum.. (1)

I could do with a help on the I.D. here.  Even the bees are getting bleached in the sun!  I would like to know if this is a Shrill Carder bumble bee or just a very bleached other carder.

B.sylvarum.. (2)

Here is a side shot if it helps.

Whip snake long view

One creature that was enjoying a hot sunny spot in the garden was this Western Whip snake or couleuvre.

Whip snake portrait

They are not venomous and very shy, not hanging around when disturbed.  I was surprised, therefore, to see it later in a different part of the garden.  Coincidently, it was near a hose each time.

garden hose

In view of the colour of our garden hose, I wonder if it was just looking for a friend?

Bumble bee mint

Outside of the garden the wild mint is in flower and attracts loads of bees and butterflies.

honey bee mint

I have let our mint flower in the garden too and notice our bees on the flowers.  Does this meant that our honey will have mint overtones?

honey bee gaura

The Gaura is the favourite flower of the honey bees in the garden at the moment.  The pollen is all carried away by mid-morning but I notice the bees fill-up on the nectar while collecting the pollen.

Artemisia absinthium

I am fascinated by my Artemisia absinthium bush.  This is the plant used in the production of absinthe and known commonly as Wormwood as it was used in the treatment of intestinal worms.

What fascinates me is that I never see an insect on it: not a fly, or bee or butterfly.  Yet it has pleasant little yellow pom-pom flowers that remind me of Mimosa.  It was at one time used for strewing on floors to keep insects away or for folding into materials to protect them from damage by mites.

I have tried rubbing it in my hands and it has a not unpleasant odour and I wonder how it would fare as an anti-mosquito treatment.  I think I will cut the branches and try it in the cupboards this winter as an anti-moth remedy.

Sphinx caterpillar

This caterpillar did not come from my garden.  My neighbour Annie brought it down to me as she knew I would be interested.  It was 12 cm. long and 2 cm. tall (?), a real chunky chappy.  I recognised it as a Sphinx caterpillar but as it happened our beekeeper friend, Michel, was here too and correctly explained that these caterpillars grow into Death’s head hawkmoths; moths that love honey and can invade bee hives.  I must admit I was a bit sceptical of moths attacking bee hives but check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death%27s-head_hawkmoth.

Poor bees they have a lot to put up with!

 

 

 

 


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Summer visitors

Snake

We were having a coffee on the patio when my husband glanced up and said “What’s that on the rose branch?”  I did not immediately see anything but then I noticed our couleuvre (Hierophis viridiflavus) draped over the branch, so I ran inside for the camera before she could slide of.  I think it must be the same one as we saw in 2013 when she was still tiny, see Lodgers.

Snake slides down to hole

The rapid departure did not take place and I was given the task of gently prodding her with a stick.  She did not budge, she was really enjoying her sunny bask.  However, I persisted and eventually managed to get her to budge and she slid following the line of Madame Isaac Pereire’s branch to near the ground where she slid into a hole in the wall.

Bumble in home

I was a bit concerned as it was the same hole being used by red tailed bumble bees (Bombus lapidarius) as a nest site.  I have been keeping an eye on the nest since I saw the queen coming and going earlier in the year.

In and out bumble

After the snake’s visit I set up my camera to watch the nest but the bees and the snake must be quite happy to share the same neighbourhood.  There was plenty of coming and going with a bit of congestion at times.

Bumble with pollen 2

It was nice to see the bumbles arriving with lots of pollen for the queen.  The queen will not leave the nest now as she has hatched sufficient workers to keep her and her brood supplied with nectar and pollen to feed the new larval bees.  I think the the hole must lead to the interior space between the thick old walls and provide plenty of room for all comers.

Bumble bee on Phacelia

Talking about pollen – I have now forgiven the Phacelia for disappointing me with the lack of variety of pollinators compared to other flowers.  Look at the colour of the pollen on the bumble bees legs!

Honey bee lilac polen

This honey bee is going to be able to brighten up the stocks of pollen in her hive with lilac pollen too.

Fritillary

To be fair I do see some butterflies too, I think this one is probably a heath fritillary.

Pink poppy

For me though, it is the poppies in the garden that steal the show these days.

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I like to play “What’s your favourite poppy”.  This game can be played on your own but it is better with other players.  You have to decide on which poppy you think is the best.  The poppy game can be continued by tying markers around your chosen poppies because after the flower passes one poppy seed head looks very much like another but with the markers the flower stems can be traced back so that you are certain to take only the seed from your chosen plant.

The “Choose the poppy” game continues on to the next year when you sow the seed and all the flowers that come up are nothing like the ones you chose the previous year.  So the poppies get the last laugh, but the ones that do come up are just as astonishing and the game can be repeated for another year.

Partridge and chicks

Ending on a happy note, on Wednesday we had a visit from a proud partridge.  The partridges had been visiting us since last December (see Winter begins ) but recently only one of them had been coming into the garden to steal the bird food.  This made us think that either one had had an accident or else might be sitting on eggs.

Partridge and chicks

The chicks are very active and they were difficult to count but they have managed to raise eight although there was only one bird with them.  I don’t know whether that means that the male has now left the female or if they take turns with the baby sitting.

 

 

 


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A snake in the house

It is still glacial; I am still drawn towards my warm place near the log fire, watching my frozen garden like a stranger, not quite recognising it as mine.  It was -12 C this morning, one degree warmer than yesterday.  Should I take this as a good sign?  The weather forecast predicts warmer temperatures for next week.

Still on the theme of our uninvited visitors, I recall our first encounter just a short while after we had arrived to take up permanent residence here inFrance.  It was in the evening and before retiring I decided to make some tea.  I rose from the living room and put on the dining room light and froze.  A snake was on the floor under my sideboard.  Its head was protruding from the one side of the cabinet while its tail was still casually trailing behind and visible from the other end.  I did a quick mental calculation – not difficult as I knew my sideboard was 1m30 (4ft 3 ins).  The snake was nearly 2 metres long.

We had never had any problem with snakes in our apartment in Aberdeen.  I quickly pointed out to my husband that we had a 2 metre snake under our sideboard.  He got down on his hands and knees to check this out as the reptile had quickly tucked his head and tail beneath the sideboard.  He got up and paused to think as I waited for inspiration.

“Get that book we have on garden animals”, he suggested.

“What the Collins Nature Guide on Garden Animals?  The one with the hedgehog on the front?  I think not!”

We retired to the living room for further discussion of the usual marital variety while the snake decided to explore, sliding along between floor and wall.  My husband was determined that it had to be evicted before we went to bed but the snake was amazingly rapid for something with no legs.  He then had the brain wave of hitting the tiles behind him and forcing him to flee from the noise in the direction we wanted.  In this way we managed to chase him along the skirting towards the dining room patio doors.  Opening the patio doors and banging from both sides we forced him to escape through the open door.  He took off across the patio and slid up a stone flower trough.  Safe on top of the trough he rose up, hissed viciously and sped off.

This was the first noise he had made so he definitely espoused the idea that the better part of valour is discretion.

In due course I found an excellent web page in English as well as French http://www.herpfrance.com/reptile/western_whip_snake_hierophis_viridiflavus.php which allowed me to identify our visitor as the Western Whipsnake Hierophis viridiflavus.

Unfortunately, snakes are not well loved or understood in this area.  Although most people would identify the snake as a “couleuvre” which is known to be harmless, many would prefer to kill them and ask questions later.

Our snake is still with us.  We have not had any inside visits again but we see him outside from time to time and he leaves his shed skin in the outbuilding (cellier) to reassure us that he has not deserted us.