a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


Blue flowering shrubs in August

Some years ago (2016),I bought two blue flowering shrubs for the bees at the same time. This one is called Vitex agnus-castus or also in France, Gatillier or if you prefer “Poivres des Moines” meaning monks’ pepper. Perhaps all that was too much for me given that the other blue shrub also has multiple names.

O.K. the flowers of Elsholtzia stauntonii are not a true blue so I think the description I was given when I purchased the plants was somewhat unclear and both plants took their time flowering for me. Elsholtzia stauntonii is also called “Menthe en Arbre” or tree mint which looking at the flowers clears things up a lot for me. The leaves are supposed to be aromatic but I had to really squash them between my fingers to release the odour – which for me was not mint or menthol. We have not had rain for a while so the poor plants are perhaps cutting back a bit on unessential perfume essences just to survive.

I find the flower of the Vitex more attractive but once again I was not able to sense the aromatic perfume that it is meant to exude without squashing the leaf between my fingers. I recommend you trying this, if you ever get the chance, as it is a interesting perfume and not at all unpleasant. I will have to wait until the berries appear and crush those to see if they are more aromatic. It was these berries that the monks were reputed to eat to calm any unchaste ardour. The berries are used in herbal medicine but sound too potent for the uninitiated to play with.

The Elsholtzia has been disappointing up until now to attract bees, perhaps the wild mint that we have allowed to grow in patches of the garden is enough for them.

The third shrub is beautiful at the moment and attracting lots more bees than the other two. It is the Caryopteris “Grand Bleu”. Each garden is different and I am sure the plants will behave a little differently in different soils and climates but gardeners do a lot to support wildlife in these times where the planet is so heavily stressed.

My main crop from the vegetable garden is tomatoes which usually grow so well here. This year has been a disaster as you can see from the empty wigwams and bare poles.

The tomato plants have succumbed to mildew. It was the fate of all the neighbours’ crops too. For the first year I have had to buy tomatoes to make coulis to freeze for the winter. The African marigolds have done well, perhaps we have them to thank for a healthy crop of butternut and the red Kuri squash.

At least we are going to be self-sufficient in squash for the winter this year.

The Cosmos provide a lot of colour in the garden at the moment. They are a magnet for the bees.

It is not only the honey bees that benefit from the nectar and pollen provided by the Cosmos, this is a little Halictus bee.

My Cosmos are very tall, and they often fall over or I break their stems accidentally. I wish that there were shorter varieties. Does anyone know of any shorter coloured Cosmos?

We have lots of Cosmos sulphureus in shades of yellow – some darker than others and I find they do not grow so tall and are probably even more popular with the pollinators but I do like the variety of colour provided by the other Cosmos.

We have had no rain now for some time and I notice that some of the trees, like this cherry tree are accumulating yellow leaves. I do not think that it is just the lack of water.

This is a male red-tailed bumblebee. This to me signals the beginnings of autumn. The red-tailed bumble bee queens will be starting to produce new queens and males. These will mate and the new queens will have to survive the winter before she too starts a colony of bumblebees. The old queen will be slowing down and she will not survive long into the autumn.

In the Charente-Maritime it is warm and sunny and I am looking forward to autumn days in the garden with the autumn flowers. I hope you will enjoy a mild and mellow autumn in your garden.


New bee plants in the garden

Last March we bought some plants for the garden from a beekeeper, Jacky Borie, in the Dordogne who also sells a variety of trees and plants known for their production of nectar and honey.  At this time I had not realised the difference from buying your plants from a sure source like this or buying one from a nursery nicely marked with a label showing a bee or butterfly.  The difference, I found out later, is that the nursery plant could quite well have been treated with neonicotinamide pesticides despite its pretty label.  Professor Dave Goulson appealed for funds and surpassed his target to enable an attempt to see how pollinator friendly plants are treated.  For a better explanation see https://walacea.com/campaigns/pesticides-neonics-and-bees-keeping-bees-safe-in-our-gardens/


I shall start with a partial success with the Lycium barbarum, partial, as the poor plants caught mildew.  Nevertheless, they survived which is more than most of ours and our neighbours tomatoes did.  No Goji berries despite the bees intervention but it is early days yet as these are just little plants.


All the plants I received did very well and the Baccharis, in the middle of the picture, has shot up and is in flower at the moment.  I am wondering if it could be Baccharis dracunculifolia, but I have no species name.


It is an evergreen and should reach 2-3 metres tall, which sounds good to me but so far the bees have passed it by.  The insignificant white flowers that are open at the moment are not attracting the notice of any bees or other pollinators.


This is my Le Leonure which is reputed to make very good honey.  My three plants have had a vigorous start and I will try to group them together for next year but I’ll have to be quick about it as the shoots are lost in winter, to regrow from the base.  Here I am even lost for a genus name but perhaps things will become clearer next year.


I think the most successful has been the Elsholtzia stauntonii (full Latin name!).  They shot up, one in the shade and one in the hot afternoon sun.


I even have seen bees on the flowers which last for a long time.


I did buy three but the third one was little and quickly succumbed.  However, I was delighted to see a new shoot appear from the base and I have been carefully watering it until I notice today that it has a little pink (?) flower at its summit.  On closer inspection the leaves do not match and it looks quite possible that I have been nurturing a weed for the past few months.

I have been pleased with my purchases and I am already perusing his catalogue to order another batch of his young plants which are a very reasonable price.


I am also pleased that my,  Physostegia virginiana, or Obedient plant attracts the bees.


In fact, they disappear completely inside them for several seconds.

The name Obedient plant struck me as odd until Sue at Back Yard Biology explained that you can manually twist the flower head and it will stay in its new position!  I rushed straight out to see if it did and it works.  I like the idea of a poseable plant.  The young flower heads are malleable and will stay in place but the old heads that are heavy and going to seed are passed it to play with.