a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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A small event

Sometimes the smallest event can trigger a chain of events that seems to take on a life of its own.

Flock in distance

I was walking near the house last week when I saw an unusually large flock of small birds.  Luckily I had my camera but I soon had a glimpse of colours and had a good idea of what they might be.

Cropped flock

The closer photograph is not good, as I do not have a telephoto lens (I don’t really need a telephoto lens, but then need is a strange word).  However, it is perfectly good enough to identify the birds as goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis).  They were eating the seeds of a funny plant.

April 2013

This is a photograph of the same field, only a few yards away from our house, that I took in April 2013.  It looked beautiful at that time of year covered by these red flowers.  However, the bees did not find them particularly attractive so I lost interest in them without being able to find out what they were.

Sorrel seed head

This time the Goldfinches prompted me to take a closer look at these plants whose seeds were providing their meal.  Usually, it is the flowers that make a plant easy to identify but here it was the seeds that gave me the clue.  It reminded me of the dock seeds I used to collect and give to the budgie when I was young.   Dock and sorrel are closely related and belong to the same genus – Rumex.

Sorrel leaves

The leaves are not so broad as the dock that I knew but this led me to identify the plant as a type of wild sorrel. That rang a bell as I had just discovered the wild version of what everybody around here seems to grow in their garden.

Annie's sorrel

My next stop was to compare the wild sorrel with the cultivated variety and I was confident that my neighbour Annie would have a good patch.  She did not let me down and her sorrel looks much more tempting to eat than the wild variety.  I asked her what she used it for and she told me she uses it is sauces and that it also makes a very good soup (although I might add anything Annie makes is very good.)  I told her that I had seen the goldfinches in the field eating the wild sorrel seeds.  She said that reminded her of when she used to go to school in Normandy and that she would pick and eat the wild sorrel leaves as she liked their tart taste.  The local name for them in Normany was “surelle”.

I was not familiar with sorrel before I came to France but in this area everybody seems to have it in their vegetable garden.  I got so tired of confessing that I did not have any sorrel in mine, that the last time this happened I came home with a couple of plants wrapped up in some newspaper.  At least I will be able to hold my head high now that it is established although I’ve no idea what I’ll do with it.

My sorrel

My sorrel looks different from Annie’s sorrel.  Apart from the old leaves looking generally tattier the stalks are redder. It is not really surprising as there are so many different species of sorrel.

While checking up on its uses, and it has many medicinal uses, I noticed that the leaves were a favourite food of the caterpillars of the Small Copper butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas).  So that also explains why I find them sunning themselves in the garden in the summer.

Small copper, Lycaena phlaeas

Another unconnected fact is that in French argot  “avoir de l’oseille” means to have money, in the sense that “plein d’oseille” would mean loaded.

But I digress just as the view of the flock of birds made me digress.