a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


A pond for the garden

The rain has been more or less continuous this week but I am surprised that as soon as there is a break in the downpour the bees are out.

I suppose the Hellebores are ideally suited for this type of weather as the flower heads face downwards, keeping the pollen dry and making natural umbrellas for any bees caught out.

On Wednesday I saw the first bumble bee out for some time. She was very slow and obviously a young queen that must have woken very hungry from a dormant period. She walked over the flowers of the heather carefully taking the nectar.

It was not until I looked at the photographs, much later, that I realised that she was heavly infested with mites. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust say that these parasites may just be hitching a lift on bumblebees to take them to new nests and that they feed on nest debris. They suggest that heavily infested bumblebees could have the mites swept off them using a child’s paintbrush. I have never down this and I think it might not be so easy in practice.

The rain was forecast and we managed to get our pool in place in the hope of filling it with rain water. We have had a blue plastic sandpit hoarded for many years, and rather than buy a new piece of plastic we decided to reuse and recycle.

We already have a waterlily plant ready re-homing and the stone was placed to mark the spot.

This is our first real pond but we have already aspirations of what may breed here.

This photograph was taken in 2015 from “Many Happy Returns”. I hear our frogs at the moment but I do not see them.

This is from “A February of Contradictions”. These little green tree frogs or Reinettes (Hyla meridionalis) are ever present in the garden but I have never seen their tadpoles.

This photograph is from last year in “Persimmon and Saffron”, the little newts (Tritorus marmoratus) were hiding together under one of my pots.

If they adults are cute the babies are even cuter see July last year “Garden Visitors”. Will they breed in the new pond?

We do not see the salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) so frequently but I found this baby one near the Manuka last year “Back to April Showers”. Note the rubber gloves. The salamander can exude an irritant from its skin, I still like its sleek form and yellow stripe.

I do not expect to attract a European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) but if he has already come here (“There’s an Emys orbicularis, in the garden”) – why not?

So the rain continues to fall and the stones get piled around the edges to conceal the shape. In the middle of the pool the stone has already attracted some wildlife. You can just see two black marks.

I have never noticed these before and I think they are Devil’s Coach Horse beetles (Ocypus olens). They are detrius feeders and I can attest to the fact that they are not good swimmers. Never the less when we rescue them, flicking them onto the grass, we find them back on the stone or floating inanimate in the water the next day.

So the rain has filled our pond and we have been able to put the water lily in its new home with a few weeds from the bee’s water bowl. We would like to add some more plants especially something tall to attract the dragonflies but it is a bit early yet for that.

We will not be adding fish as they will likely make short work of any spawn or tadpoles.

Our robin was in good voice today and I am sure he feels it will not be long until springtime here.


There’s an Emys orbicularis, in the garden

Emys orbicularis side

This afternoon my husband found a tortoise in the garden.

Emys orbicularis front (1)

I had never seen a tortoise like this before.  I could only guess that it was an exotic species someone had bought as a pet.  I had only heard of people keeping the Mediterranean type of tortoise that will breed in captivity here and it certainly was not one of those.  For a start it was much more vigorous and active than your average tortoise.

Emys orbicularis back

In addition, we could think of no-one nearby who would keep and exotic tortoise.  I felt that if I could identify it that it might be useful, as I was concerned that someone might be missing their pet.  Perhaps I could put an advertisement in the local pet shop?

I started searching on Google but I did not get very far so I decided to email my granddaughter, Daisy as she is into reptiles, amongst most other animals.  She replied immediately that it was a European pond turtle.  Disappointed, I replied that it could not be a turtle as it had feet with claws just like a tortoise.

However, I did do an internet search and, of course, I had to send her my apologies.  Emys orbicularis is the European pond turtle, cistude, tortue boueuse or tortue des marais in French.  European pond turtles do have clawed feet!  However, I have yet to meet anyone around here who has seen one or heard of them.  I was unaware of their existence.

Actually, it is not so surprising as they are very rare in the area and like most wildlife, getting rarer.  They live in marshy areas, ponds or slow moving water channels.  There are populations in the Charente Maritime but I can imagine that they would be very difficult to see on the banks of a river or in in wetlands.  The heavy rain we have experienced of late had perhaps swept it from the known colonies although the Seudre, which runs at the bottom of the garden, is known to possess them.  The poor beast was only enjoying a sunbath in the back garden border when it was pounced on.

Once we had realised what it was and that far from being a lost pet, that it is a protected species, we decided to put it back in the river.

Emys orbicularis in back garden

He (from the length of his tail and his concave underside, I deduced it was a male) did not seem in a rush to get into the water and we had to point him in the right direction as we did not want him to find his way onto the road.

Emys orbicularis to the water

But as soon as he saw the river he took to it like a turtle to water!

All gone

He was soon gone!

A ring

His head did break the surface again to look back, then disappeared under again leaving only the ripples.

I wonder if he liked the garden?  Will he come back?  Will I spend a long time staring into the river instead of getting on with the gardening?

The big release was filmed on this short video https://youtu.be/amn605L84Pg (15 secs)