a french garden


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March in the garden

Up till now we have been subjected to chaotic changes in the weather this March.  High winds, freezing temperatures overnight, sunshine and rain and more rain and clouds with temperatures about ten degrees under seasonal average take turns to fill the days.

The first of March saw the plum tree flowers frozen and brown.

Whereas a week earlier it had been full of flowers.

Four rows of broad beans were frozen overnight in an extremely low temperature.  I could have avoided the damage by simply covering the plants with a fleece or even some newspaper but they completely slipped my mind.

It has not been all bad news and the Goat Willow (Salix caprea) is open and welcoming the honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees and butterflies – especially when it is sunny.  As you can see our hives are very close to the willow, which is on the left of the picture, so they can take advantage of short sunny spells in between the rain.  Standing under the tree and listening to the hum above your head feels so peaceful.  There is a 19 second video if you would like to share the bees.

It is good to see the girls collecting such healthy sized sacs of pollen.

The willow provides nectar as well as pollen.  This is a  Andrena cineraria (Ashy mining bee).  They have nested in the past under the large plum tree.

Checking under the plum tree I saw a number of male Andrena cineraria flying over the ground and this one was kind enough to pose on a daisy for me while he had a snack.  It looks like they are keeping to the same nesting area.

Last week the Osmia cornuta emerged from their holes.  The males emerge first and on sunny days they fly constantly around the bee hotels hoping for a female to emerge.  I have just seen a female prospecting one of the bee hotels so it will soon be time to watch the nest building.  Check out last year’s post if you would like to see more.

On the opposite side of the garden from the bees is an area that has always been full of lesser celandine (Ficaria verna).  I do my best but I find it difficult to do more than try and keep it out the borders.

I probably would not mind it so much if the bees liked it but usually it is only flies that I see on them.

One thing you can be sure about bees is that you can never say never, when it comes to their behaviour.

Keeping on the unusual – this is a double headed daffodil.  It is the first one I have seen.  Is it unusual?

This hyacinth is probably easier to explain, as it looks as if it has self-sown.  Not very striking but at least it is a pretty colour.

It might be worth looking under your Hellebores as there are lots of seedlings under mine.

Looking closer the second leaves are just starting to appear but they could easily be overlooked by an enthusiastic weeding.

This spring has been so wet and windy that I have come to realise how useful the downward facing flowers of the Hellebore are.  The pollen is kept dry for the bees and they are sheltered from the winds that make flying and nectar gathering difficult.

The green tubular structures are that the bee is visiting are the Hellebores nectaries and provide nectar which is collected by honey bees and so very valuable to the overwintering queen bumble bees when they awaken on warmer winter days.

This year my previous year’s seedlings have all done well and are settling into positions at the base of deciduous trees and plants.  I have my seed trays all ready so my next job in the garden is to fill them up with more Hellebore seedlings as I have already marked out in my mind where I can plant them in the autumn.

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Gardener / Beekeeper’s holiday!

To begin at the beginning:  May I wish everyone a very Happy New Year and as they say in this corner of France I wish everyone plein des bonne choses – a lot of good things.

Although here the winters are on the whole quite mild compared with Northern Europe and the USA, this year we decided to escape the dull winter days and spend the Christmas and the New Year in the Andalusia region of Spain.

Arriving the first evening in our rented apartment we had a fabulous view of the countryside all the way to the sea.

IMG_0070 Benalmadina from the apartment But frankly, what does a beekeeper and gardener do on holiday?  Well, apart from enjoying sunshine and temperatures of around 24 degrees C ( nearly 75F), naturally I chased after the girls – the feathered and buzzing varieties.  The only problem was that unlike in our own garden, in Spain I did not recognize most of the flowers.  So hopefully somebody can enlighten me.

This tiny cutie reminded me our warblers,

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The countryside showed signs of spring with wild narcissus and heather as well as gorse in flower.

IMG_0097 - Benalmadina Dec 25thIt was nice seeing the bees collecting different colours of pollen,  This one from what looks like our red hot poker – Kniphofia.

IMG_0125The evening sun on this flower showed the bees still busy collecting yellow pollen.

IMG_0158 Benalmadina

We took a trip inland north west of Malaga to visit the bee museum (of course!) at the pretty small town of Colemnar.  My son joined us and Amelia and him braved the only rainy day in the town square,

IMG_0109 Colmenar

As we paint our beehives I found the museum’s hives an inspiration.

IMG_0111 Colmenar Bee Museaum

Incidentally the picture of the bee bringing a bucket full of honey to the nest-like hive shows the hives that the Spaniards in the North hang from the trees.  It was at the museum that I also learnt that the bees there were of a totally different specie from ours.  They were Apis mellifera iberica.  They are apparently more nervous and more aggressive.

Rosemary of any variety seems to attract the bees.

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Although I have no idea what type of bee this little lady is!

IMG_0214 Benalmadina

So we came back to France with a few ideas – and a few seeds collected here and there.  But isn’t that what all gardeners do?

I hope that 2018 will be a great year for all creatures great and small and that includes all of us.

Kourosh

 


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Saffron harvest 2017

I’ve looked forward to my saffron every October since I brought my six gift corms back from our visit to the Limousin in 2008.  I planted them as an experiment, as I had never seen saffron flowering before, and I was doubtful that I would succeed.

If any one has a similar climate to here, and a fancy to try growing saffron then I can attest to the pleasure of harvesting the short lived crop.  There is no need to start with so few bulbs as I did because the bulbs are not expensive.  Just make sure you are getting Crocus sativus and not the autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) which is toxic.

The one constraint is that you must be at home at the beginning of October when they first push through the ground and start flowering.  This year I gathered 78 flowers on the 5 October then 96 the next day, after that the numbers dropped  to the twenties and have just petered out to single flowers in the last few days.

Each day I pick out the three red pistils and put them on a plate to air dry.  I am pleased with my saffron harvest this year.  I cannot weigh it as I do not have a scale that is accurate enough for such a light weight but you can get an idea of how much I gathered from the picture of it on the dinner plate.

On the 15 October I was busy and it was 8 o’clock in the evening before I had time to gather the flowers.

I had just time to stop myself squashing a bumble bee on the first flower that I reached for. The bee did not budge and I carefully picked up all the flowers from the plants around it and I did not disturb it at all.  It remained fast asleep!  It is nice to see that it is not just me that appreciates the saffron flowers.


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Cosmos and more Cosmos

The leaves have started to fall.

The cherry trees leaves are turning yellow, like a lot of other trees outside of the garden.

There are less apples and they are smaller than last year.

The flowers at the moment are the old favourites apart from the Tithonia rotundifolia “Torch” which is just behind the conifer trying to out grow it.  Kourosh sent away for the seeds which he had read were a magnet to bees.  I looked forward to seeing the bright red flowers he had described.

I was disappointed at their brash orange colour and felt we had been cheated.  I checked on the net only to find that this is their correct colour.  I do not want to be sexist but Kourosh’s approximation of colours is perhaps a “man thing” – and no he is not colour blind.

However, for anyone who wants a tall, sunflower-like multi-headed plant, I can recommend it.  Several plants in the back garden have done well and stayed unsupported in the sun.

My obedient plant (Physostegia virginiata) that was identified on the blog last year is doing very well in a hard place to fill in the sun.  It has doubled in area since last year so I am going to have to keep my eye on its spread.

The bumble bees have no problem with a rapid increase in its flowers.

The bumble bees are in love with the single dahlias.

The Cosmos attracts bumble bees…

Carpenter bees…

Solitary bees (perhaps Megachile willughbiella)…

of different species (perhaps Halictus scabiosae).

The Abutilon looks happier than ever this year.  This is the third year that a new shoot has risen from its frozen stalk.  I suppose I should cover it in the winter but I am reluctant to pander to plants that cannot cope with the weather.  It is my fault for attempting to grow a plant that is too tender for here.

It is beautiful, though, and the bees like it.

At least this year I have managed to acquire Sedum that are attractive to the bees and butterflies and with the drought conditions we have experienced this year, I will be trying to expand by dividing the plants.

The Asters are opening and signalling the end of the summer.  It has been a difficult, unpredictable year in the garden with extreme heat at the beginning followed by a cloudy, moody August and lack of rain from the beginning of the year.

 

 


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Distractions

Cerinthe

There is a lot of dew in the garden at this time of year.  The grass is wet and Wellington boots are a necessity.  But trudging down the garden early in the morning I noticed what lovely patterns the dew left on the flowers.

Phacelia

The Phacelia was well sprinkled…

Winter Honeysuckle

as was the Winter Honeysuckle.  So I felt the urge to sprint, as fast as my Wellies would allow, back to the house to get my camera.

Full rose 2

In the front garden the fully open rose was in competition …

Rose bud

with the rose bud to produce the most delicate drop patterns.

House

Then I spotted and extra big drop on a Persimmon left hanging as a winter treat for the birds.  I managed to get an upside down image of the house!

But all this had started with good intentions, my weeding tool and Welly boots.  It is too easy for me to get distracted in the garden.

Bemused robin

As the Robin followed me back and forth through the garden, he seemed to be trying to work out what I was up to.  It was as if the rolls had been reversed and I was being watched for the entertainment value I was providing.

Only fair really, after all the hours of pleasure I get watching the wildlife in the garden.


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Yellow and purple

Verbena & sunflower

I have just realised how many of the flowers in the garden at the moment are either yellow or purple.  It was not intentional.  These perennial sunflowers were only used as a temporary filler to separate me from the next garden where I am creating a new border where trees have been removed.

Bumble on yellow sunflower

I have enjoyed them so much and they have survived so well in this extra hot year that they have won their place to stay.

The Verbena bonariensis work well with them and I am finding more self-seeded babies that I will mix with them for next year.

Amistad and sunflower

The sunflowers provide the perfect backdrop for my Salvia amistad which are a new addition to my salvias this year.

Salvia Amistad & uliginosa

The Salvia amistad is planted beside the Salvia uliginosa, also in its first year.  I saw it last year in a post by the Anxious Gardener but as it is pale blue it is not really allowed in this post.

Salvia Amistad

I could not imagine the Salvia Amistad being such a favourite with the bees but it must contain a lot of nectar as the bees completely disappear down the flower to remain there for some time before emerging looking very self-satisfied.

Salvia Amistad and bee

The bumbles prefer the shorter flowers of the uliginosa but I have seen them find another way to reach the nectaries by pushing aside the sepals like this bee above is doing.  Trying to walk down the throat of the flower is not an option for the fat bumble bees.

Cosmos and bumble

My Cosmos sulphureus was also an after thought this year and I put the seeds down late into any space that had a patch of soil vacant.

Cosmos Sulphureus

Their bright patches are a magnet for all sorts of bees and some are already setting seed which I will leave for the birds to feast on.  I will also be keeping enough seed for next year too as these ideal fillers and brighteners.

Geranium Megachile

My blue (they look purple to me) geraniums are starting to emerge from where the hot sun has been keeping them at bay.  These are the true geraniums and provide pollen for the bees, not like the stiff pelargoniums that are frequently grown as potted plants over here but have no attraction for bees or pollinators.

Korean Beauty

I have a Clematis “Korean Beauty” growing at the moment.  My sister, who loves clematis, gave me the seeds which I have dutifully germinated.  I find clematis infuriating as I try to guide them to a more upright orderly pattern but they usually end up forming tangled balls of untidy growth.  Then when I try and sort them out I end up snipping the wrong stem and finish with a flowering spray of clematis in one hand and a stunted looking plant left in the ground.

Bumble with Korean Beauty (1)

However, Korean Beauty has won her place in the garden because the bees love her and I like watching their antics as they search for the nectar.  The bumble bee above could hardly wait for the flower to open so that it could get first in line for the nectar.

Phacelia

My first sowing of Phacelia in the vegetable patch has finished.  It has stood guard over the saffron and kept the area virtually weed free.  Now I am waiting for the saffron shoots to appear.

New Phacelia

The experiment worked so well that I have sown another patch on the vegetable garden where some lettuce and greens have finished.  It is fun to watch the bees with purple pollen.

Malva sylvestris

I have been thinking about native flowers and although I try and pull out as much of the Mallow sylvestris that I can, I wonder if I am being too harsh.  It can be very invasive but perhaps I should find a legal corner for it.

Common Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica

I did sow some common Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica) last year because of its attraction for pollinators but time will tell if I will regret doing this.

Tradescantia (2)

My tradescantia has just started to flower for the second time this year with its purple petals and yellow tipped stamens.  And I must not forget to mention the little purple flowers of the nepeta pushing into the picture from the side.  The nepeta is a real workhorse of a flower for a hot dry garden and has, of course, purple flowers.

 


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Perfume and colour

IMG_9260

Such a lot has changed in the garden this week.  Looking from the outside of the front garden, the Wisteria is still in flower and the Iris and Arum lilies are pushing up to meet it.  Unfortunately, so is the wild grass.  The weed seeds get blown against the wall and find a comfortable place between the iris corms to put down roots.  I’ll pull them out one day after it rains when the ground is nice and soft.Map butterfly Araschnia levana

The lilac trees have started to flower adding their powerful perfume to the garden.  The lilacs attract various butterflies and bees.  This week it was a Map butterfly (Araschnia levana), they have two broods and this is the spring brood with more colourful wings.

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This little glistening Halictid bee is not so highly coloured but has a metallic sheen and frequents the lilac too.

Coronille

Another perfumed surprise was my “Coronille” which originated as some cuttings from a friend.  I was not aware of how perfumed they were.  This year they have become very respectable little bushes making an excellent hedging plant as they are evergreen.

Coronilla

The only problem is that no-one seems to know their proper name.  It looks like the plant the RHS call Coronilla valentina subspecies Glauca “Citrina”.  It is certainly my type of plant – easy to grow, perfumed, not too fussy and bees love it!

quince tree

At the bottom of the garden both quince trees are still in flower.  This one is the prettiest shape.

quince tree

The other quince was called a German quince and is a longer shape tree.  Strangely, the little round tree has round quinces and the German quince has longer shaped fruit.  However, both fruits taste the same.

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I planted red stemmed willows  to try and make a screen where the large pine tree was removed.  These have been cut back earlier and are all starting to shoot.  It will be interesting to see what sort of screen I will have this summer.  In the meantime..

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I have lovely tulips to look at.

thyme

I am also very pleased with this thyme (another plant from a friend) which is full of flowers and is covering the ground but not impeding the Salvia to push through.

chamomile

The chamomile is also working well as ground cover but slower than the thyme even though I re-rooted parts of it in the autumn.  I think I will use the thyme as ground cover elsewhere in the garden.

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I’ve seen more bees in the garden last week, so hopefully populations are building up again and I have heard of a swarm in the area.  This is the normal time for the first swarms in this region.

chafer

Of course, the bees were not the first pollinators.  This chafer may pollinise my quince tree as it flies from tree to tree munching on the pollen or it may just be very hungry and finish off the entire flower.  I have checked – it has left plenty of flowers that should give me some fruit.

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I bought this Centauria plant in a nursery in France to attract bees.  So far it has been covered in ants!  I wondered if they intended to farm aphids but there is no sign of aphids – yet.

poppy and Anthophora

There is one plant that the bees make a bee-line for – the poppies.

red poppy and Anthophora

My light coloured Anthophora plumipes female is gathering pollen throughout the garden.  My first poppies provide bright splashes of colour in the garden but these poppies appear in random places, self sown from last years seed.  The seeds I have sown this year are up but are not flowering yet.IMG_9243

Another of my spring favourites is the Cerinthe.  The pale green foliage is so fresh.  It is beside some sedum in the picture above.  I really must cut the flower stems on this sedum as they are starting to bud but the dried flower stems still look attractive even at this time of year.

cerinthe and bombus praetorum

The little spring bumble bees (Bombus praetorum) have arrived and buzz pollinate the Cerinthe.  The sound of the bumble bees in the Cerinthe is part of the springtime in the garden.

Light Anthophora plumipes female

I don’t suppose many people let their brussel sprouts flower for the bees.

bee in brussel sprout flower

I also wonder if these little bees (compare its size with the flower stamens) get mistaken for flies.  I hope nobody tries to spray them with insecticide.