a french garden


The bees in January 2018

After a long hot summer, we had a cold spell in December.  I feel the cold and in addition we attended a very interesting bee meeting with an interesting talk on the relative insulation value of the different types of hives and nucs.  That started me worrying about our bees and we decided that we should give them a bit of extra insulation.  They are already well insulated over the top of the hives.

Actually, the cold spell did not last long and in January I started watching the catkins of our purple hazelnut start to open.

There are a lot of hazelnuts (Corylus sp.) around us and we planted some in the garden as we read that these catkins are often the first source of pollen for bees.

I have another reason to keep my eye on the hazels at this time of year as it is now that they produce their tiny flowers.

Their petals (actually styles) remind me of the tentacles of sea anemones and it is surely a sign that spring cannot be far behind.  However, I have never seen a single bee on the hazel catkins.  Hazelnuts are wind pollinated but this does not stop the bees gathering the pollen.

Near some of the hazelnuts are gorse bushes and the bees will fly at least a kilometer from their hives in January to collect the pollen.  It is easy to see the orange pollen being taken into the hive and know where it comes from at this time of year.

The most pollen we see being brought into the hive in January comes from the Winter Flowering Honeysuckle.  There is a large bush about 20 metres from their hive and they visit this bush at amazingly low air temperatures.  It was only 9 degrees centigrade today but sunny and the bush was buzzing.

Today the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) was sharing with the honey bees and the queen buff-tailed bumble bee.

A bit further away is the Viburnum tinus which buzzes on sunny days like today.  Size does matter and it is now a very large bush.  Not a bad investment for one euro at a fête many years ago.

The V.tinus pollen is a pale ivory and we like to watch the hives bring it in.  Most of the pollen is the yellow Winter Flowering Honeysuckle pollen, then the V.tinus pollen and also some orange Gorse pollen.  You can watch the video (less than 1 minute) of our busiest hive “Poppy” bringing in the pollen today.

My heather (Erica darleyensis) gets plenty of attention.  I am trying to increase this Erica as it does so well here but it is not a rapid grower.

The bees like to keep you guessing and I had not thought these early crocus would be so tempting.

Just beside the crocus some Mullein leaves are shooting up (Verbascum thapsus).  I try to keep as many as I can in the garden because their flowers attract so many pollinators in the summer, especially in the early morning.

There are no flowers in January but I wonder if the dew droplets become impregnated with minerals from the Verbascums leaves.  Mullein has a long history as a herbal plant.

It does not look as if it will be long before our willow tree (Salix caprea) will have the bees exploring the fluffy buds.

Until then we should follow the example of our green tree frog sitting in the sunshine today and take advantage of the day, wherever we are.




See you next year!

Purple crocus

I didn’t plant any bulbs this year.  In fact, I think I dislike planting bulbs more than weeding.  I am a great reader of labels and it causes me great anguish as I put the bulbs into the soil.  I worry – have I placed them too deeply or are they too near the surface.  I try to measure, I try to avoid disturbing the roots of other plants no longer visible.

White crocus

Then there is the weather.  The ground can often be dry and very unwilling to give way to my prodding and digging.


If planting bulbs is difficult – I find that not buying them is even more difficult and going a step further – restraining my husband from surreptitiously sliding a large packet into the trolley.


It’s during our visits to the UK after the bulb planting season has passed and the prices of bulbs are slashed and you feel almost obliged to re-home them.

Whte crocus

The illustrations on the packets of bulbs are so tempting.  You don’t think of crouching in the borders in the cold trying to find a space for the new arrivals.

Purple and yellow crocus

But last year I was strong and resisted temptation.

Lilac crocus

Now I feel I have been too harsh.  The crocus have been flowering from the 13 February and are just finishing now.  They provide patches of bright colour at what has been a dull time of year and have flowered even more plentifully than last year.

Spring bulbs

They are starting to be overshadowed by the other bulbs which are arriving now.


But by the time the daffodils arrive I am becoming much more blasé about the flowers opening out.


The crocus don’t smell as good as the hyacinth but they lift my spirits and they brighten the garden for more than a month.

Yellow crocus
I really regret all the muttering that went on as I planted the bulbs in previous years.  They have more than rewarded me for the time and money spent and hopefully I’ll see even more of them next year.