a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Self seeders

I often think that the plants that just decide to settle down and flower in my garden do better than the ones I seed and coddle and fret over.

I have a lot of Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) flowering in the garden at the moment (I must admit that I have moved some of the sef-seeders when they were small). I love the colour of the flowers and the height of the plant.

The pollen is a valuable source of pollen for the bees at this time of year. As the pollen is bright orange it is easy to see the bees bringing it into the hives. It is a biennial so it gives you plenty of time to pull out any unwanted plants and they lift out easily.

The tomatoes are way behind this year. I have no fruit on my main crop yet and only a few tiny green ones on the cherry tomatoes. After high temperatures at the beginning of June we have had cooler, cloudier weather with thunderstorms. One night 100 mm. of rain fell which is unheard-of in this area.

On the other side of the vegetable garden we have another small patch that is mainly for herbs.

This patch is at risk of being over powered by the Echium vulgare that has self-seeded and I have not had the heart to remove.

It is very difficult to remove plants that you know the bumble bees love so much.

In amongst all the Echium vulgare is Echium amoenum. If you look very carefully, you will be able to see one pink petal. My intention was to grow Echium amoenum for their flowers for a herbal tea. The Echium vulgare was in the same seed catalogue so I thought I would grow that for the bees. The plants are very similar but the E. vulgare is much taller and more robust but it is very difficult to tell the difference between them at the seedling stage when they self seed. So far this year the bees are doing much better than I am as I have not had enough flowers yet to make even a small cup of tea.

My geraniums that self seed everywhere have been a blessing. They have filled in a lot of difficult places in the shade and cover a multitude of sins.

This poppy is a self seeder from poppy seeds we brought from Barcelona over six years ago. They are usually a dark pink, but this one is a delicate pink and white mix. I must try to remember to pick a seed pod, it would be interesting to see what happens to these next year.

Another surprise comes from our wildlife pond where the water lily is spreading and should help to control over growth of algae. We had noticed another creature in the pond so Kourosh decided to have a closer look at it.

This little creature is about 4.5 mm. long and swims around like a little fish amongst the tadpoles. With the help of Google we have made a tentative ID as a damsel fly larva. I would be thrilled if we had damsel flies. We have often seen damsel flies and dragon flies in the garden in the summer.

Elsewhere in the pond the toad tadpoles are doing well. There are some now with four legs. Some have two rear legs with the front legs still budding from the body. Sorry about the quality of the photos but it is very difficult to get tadpoles to pose for the camera.

We discovered the eggs on the 21 May 2021 so it could be still another month until we finally see little toads emerging.

I do sometimes photograph other things in the garden apart from bees and beasties. This is a Painted Lady butterfly.

The butterfly even has a beautiful name, Vanessa cardui or La Belle Dame in French.

We have a very moderately sized patch for vegetables.  We grow only the vegetables that we know we will use.

The summer’s main crop is tomatoes that I have sown from seed that I kept back from the most successful tomato plant of last year.  I have three rows of tomatoes but as I do not have a proper green house, I cannot sow the seeds too early and so the tomato plants have still some way to go.

I must confess, I did plant two yellow tomatoes I grew from commercial seed and these seem to have produced the first standard sized tomatoes.

The Sungold cherry tomatoes on the Wigwam have already produced green fruit, so we should be starting to eat them soon.  I always plant Sungold as I have never tasted a cherry tomato that I find as sweet flavoured.

Some weeks ago our friend Michel asked if I had planted any French marigolds.  I said I had but strangely they had not come up so I was just going to rely on the self-seeders I knew would appear.  He was not satisfied with this and said I really needed them to protect my tomatoes and that he had plenty of little seedlings.  Kourosh duly planted a line of the seedlings and added a couple of my French marigolds for good measure.  We have now found we have a line of Cosmos sulphureus coming up so Michel has either got his seeds or planting markers mixed up!

Today I planted out fifty leek seedlings that Michel has given us.  It is more than I think I will need but at least I am pretty sure that they are leeks!

Elsewhere we have green courgettes…

…and a couple of yellow courgettes.

Last year I tried to grow butternut squash in a raised bed without much success.  This year I have raised more plants and the fruit has already started to form.

We also have another small patch that is given over to experiments and herbs.  The big blue untidy patch is Echium vulgare that I have grown from seed.  It is a biennial.  I have never grown it before and it seems like a long time to wait for the flowers.  The bees tell me it was worth it.

I grew Echium amoenum at the same time but I only managed to produce two plants into the second year to flower.  They flowered earlier, in May, and were supposed to provide me with flowers for herbal tea.  As you can see, there is not much to show for such a long wait.  However, the bees liked the Echium amoenum just as much and I reckon it might be easier to sneak them in somewhere in the garden so I have kept back the seeds for another try.  I think the E. vulgare takes up too much space.  The bees disagree.

We have been having cloudy, dull weather lately and I have been surprised by our little Judas tree producing red seed pods that are very decorative and something new, as the young tree had only this year started flowering.

I was delighted to see that our old bee house in the front garden has been taken over by some bees.  They are using the drilled holes and the bamboo tubes.  At the moment there is a lot of cleaning out going on.

I have no idea what they are but from the time of year they could be a species of leaf cutter bees.  Once they start to fill up their holes with eggs and start working nearer the end of their tubes I will be able to see them better.  Also once the nests are sealed it will give me a clue as I will be able to see what materials they are using to seal the nests. As you can see from the end of the bamboo tubes, they are very small (internal diameter of the tubes approximately 0.5-0.6 cm.).

The Magnolia grandiflora is getting bigger.  We have planted an apple tree to close to it and have decided to remove the apple tree in the autumn.   The white perfumed flowers only survive one day once they open just enough for the honey bees to gain entrance.  After that the bees come in groups of five or six and the petals and stamens soon hit the floor.

The bees provide never ending entertainment in the garden.  Watch this short video of the honeybees visiting the Magnolia flowers.