a french garden


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Les jardins du Coq

I must admit that I get jealous when I read about the garden visits in the U.K.  However, I found a garden to visit – open from April and one and a half hours drive away.  It is also on our way to visit the orchids in St Maurice de Tavernole. So on a beautiful May day we paid the gardens a visit.

I suppose I had expected more similarities with garden I had visited in England, where I am excited by the prospect of discovering new plants and trees.

Here in France the gardens are designed not just for plants.  This garden of two hectares is divided into themes designed to evoke personal memories and a message of peace, love and liberty.

Even the straw acting as a dressing bears a tile with a quotation from Charles Baudelaire, “Ce qu’il y a d’ennuyeux dans l’amour, c’est que c’est un crime où l’on ne peut pas se passer d’un complice.”  So here you come to reflect and to relax. in the beauty of the garden.

The roses were not fully out in May.

There is a meadow area with the orchids and wild flowers left to their own devices.

There were bee orchids and purple orchids and other orchids not quite open.  Plenty of birds foot trefoil and

burnet moths.

There were goats and chickens for the children to see but the geese had been put in an enclosure as they can be a bit bad-tempered at this time of year.

 

Along the way I had plenty to think about. And as we found a pretty seating area we could not resist a little pause.

The bench could look good in our garden, and the message is in English this time.

A rather enigmatic message?

I like this idea of the roof tiles around the tree.  It is something I might try myself.

This is what is rare in France!

A tea room with a view!

How good did it feel to enjoy a pot of tea with accompanying sweet biscuits with a view like this!

O.K. I admit I am a philistine.  Perhaps I can return and make more of an effort to get in touch with my inner self.  It certainly has the necessary scenery and the hints to guide you on your way.

Good point!

Kourosh caught me from the other side of the lake taking a purposeful stride to the next stop.  Perhaps, I have still not sunk into the cool, relaxed mode that is recommended for this garden.

So I leave you with a very pertinent quote and a resolution to return another time to chill out and allow the ambiance and quotes to do their work.

 

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Springtime?

Hellebore

January was so cold and I became so impatient to see the Hellebores open.  My Hellebores have obligingly self-seeded and I have tenderly spread them throughout the garden knowing how much I appreciate their colour and the number of bees that they attract in the early warm days of the year.

They are beautiful plants and provide both nectar and pollen for the bees.  The green tubes that you can see behind the bee in the last picture, are the hellebore nectaries.  There is an excellent site if you want more of an insight into the botany of Hellebores with superb photographs.

Sarcococca confusa

The winter flowers of the Sarcococca confusa are as important to me as to the bees and they bring their perfume to assure me that spring will not be long in coming.

Crocus

The crocus bring the longed for colour – no matter what the weather is like.

1st Flowers plum tree

The plum tree is just as impatient to flower, but with the first flowers opening so early I doubt whether the fruits will survive.  It is two years since we have tasted the plums as although these signs are encouraging, winter will not have finished with us yet.

1st pollen 17.2.19

The willow near the bee hives is covered with soft pussy willow and I saw the male stamens break out with their yellow pollen today.  If the weather keeps good the tree will soon be covered with bees of all sorts.

Carpenter.JPG

The carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea) have returned.

Carder bumble bee.JPGMore and more queen bumble bees are topping up on nectar, but I have not seen any gathering pollen yet (they know it is too early.)

Red Admiral

The butterflies are around too.  I think this Red Admiral must have overwintered somewhere judging by the condition of the wings.

Macroglossum stellatarum

However, I was surprised to see a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) so early.

Bumble on Hellebore

All in all I feel disoriented by this spell of clement, sunny weather with temperatures going up to 17 degrees centigrade sometimes in the afternoon.

Perhaps not so disoriented as the bumble bee above who seemed to be looking for nectar in the wrong place.

Two bumble bees inside Hellebore

But finally we can take a lesson from these two bumble bees.  Life is not all about rushing to get nectar.  We need to make choices and decide to just enjoy it sometimes.

 

 


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Have you seen a glow worm?

glow worm

This is what a female glow worm looks like and as you can see from its size against the grass stem it is not very big, maybe two centimetres at a stretch.  However, at night time all you will see is a spot of green light.

The group Estuaire is trying to study glow worms in France and if you have a garden in France your assistance is invaluable to them.  They would like to find out where glow worms can be seen in France.  Are they more common in city gardens or country gardens?  Are they on the increase or decrease?

So have a look after dark in the garden and if you do see a glow worm let the association know http://www.asterella.eu/index.php?.

In addition, you can check out the summer skies and maybe even spot a shooting star.  Late July and early August might give you an even higher chance.

Close up of glow worm

In fact, glow worm hunting would be the ideal pastime for insomniacs, you just need to wait until it is really dark to start your hunt.  Like all sports it has its dangers and unless doted with extra sensory perception it is best to have a torch at hand to avoid the odd rake or misplaced rockery.

Last year I was given a “Special Mission” by the Association, so you are warned that glow worm hunting can become addictive.  I have other blogs and pictures of glow worms I have met but for more information check out the Association’s web site and good hunting!

 

 


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Special Mission

Last Saturday night I went on a special mission.  Being me, I was very excited about it.  But to begin at the beginning it had all started when I was contacted by the Observatoire des Vers Luisants by email in early July asking me if I had seen any glow worms in my garden this year because I had let them know that I had seen at least one in the summer of 2012.

As it so happened my husband had spotted one in the garden the day before we received the email.  I was able to reply that we had already had a sighting in the garden.  There are two possible insects that could emit light in the evening, the fireflies or the glow worms.  What we have seen are glow worms.

1-Glow worm 1

This is a photograph taken in 2012 from a post “It is a matter of perspective”.  I did not think to take a photograph this year.

When I responded to the enquiry that we had a sighting in the garden, I also indicated that I would be prepared for any “Special Mission” that might be forthcoming.

Last Friday I was contacted by telephone and asked if I would be able to follow a given route from the house between the 24 and 26 July after sunset.  This is the first time I have taken part in one of these “Citizen Science” projects and I was delighted to agree.

I duly received my map which showed me a route from the house towards the village for about a kilometre.  I was very pleased with the route because it was exactly where we had seen the glow worms in previous years.  The 24 th. was a fine summer evening and we decided to make a supplementary search in the garden before starting on the given route.   I am not used to wandering in the garden at night with no light so I managed to fall over the wires holding up the vine posts – I hadn’t expected this mission to be so dangerous!

Whether by coincidence or not, that night the street lighting in our little hamlet was not switched on. Despite walking the route slowly, one behind the other, we did not spot any glow worms.  Even the glow worm we had seen in the garden was not there.  We were very surprised but posted our zero count as every result is important especially a negative one.  We have had an extremely dry period and the edges of the road had been closely cropped in June leaving hardly any vegetation.  I do not know whether this would make a difference but I added it to the comment section of my return.

Do you see fireflies or glow worms in your gardens?


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Underground Asian hornet nest – “Nid de frelons asiatique souterrain”

I apologize that this post is less about garden more about bees and it definitely carries a warning as it is not for the faint hearted.

During the past few days our precious honey bees have been attacked by asian hornets – frelons asiatiques.  I noticed it first when I saw a huge agitation around the hives.

Cornucopia with my bees landing strip

Cornucopia with my bees landing strip

Amelia stood guard yesterday and the day before with a butterfly net and on each occasions trapped and destroyed four or five asian hornets, some  were trying to enter the hive.  Altogether she must have caught a dozen hornets over the past few days.  It is worth mentioning that despite their size, the asian hornet is not particularly aggressive towards humans and mainly is interested in catching bees near the hive, cutting their head and taking the body to feed their larvae.  Sometimes they enter the hive and take bee larvae for the same purpose. A full colony of asian hornets in season can considerably weaken and even destroy a bee hive.

Normally the asian hornets are a problem in this region during August.  But yesterday I was working along what we have named our forest walk next to the river Seudre.  I noticed a couple of asian hornets landing on the steps I had created.  The steps are made from hollow breeze blocks.

Steps in the forest walk

Steps in the forest walk

There was no mistake that they were Asian hornets entering and leaving an underground cavity.Asian hornet going into underground nest

Asian hornet going into underground nest

Searching the internet there is a considerable amount of information on the asian hornets in France and their nests in trees.  I found no information on any underground nest.  However, what I am beginning to believe  is that the hornets do make a small nest underground at the beginning of summer where new hornets are raised, presumably as future queens.  Later each can develop a new larger colony in trees.  Britain has been so far spared by this new menace to bees, as was France before 2004.  The  asian hornets are moving north and there might not be too long before they also enter Britain.

Operation destruction had to be put in place when night fell and hopefully all the hornets had returned to the nest.  This consisted of first placing straw and sticks on the site and setting fire to it.

Kitted in my bee suit and armed with the propane burner used normally for destroying weeds, I went into battle.

Burning the nest of asian hornets

Burning the nest of asian hornets

Then we turned the stepping stones over to find the nest and then placed more straw on it and in the hope of burning the area where they nested.

Asian hornet nest inside a breeze block

Asian hornet nest inside a breeze block

The hornets caring for the larvae were there but already overcome by the smoke and heat of the fire.

Asian hornet nest underground with the hornets

Asian hornet nest underground with the hornets

 

The night had fallen and it was already ten o’clock, but my next move was to install hornet guards at the entrance of each of the hives, whilst the hives were quiet.  The guards were there, but they were quite gentle.

This morning I went to check that the hornet guards were not too much hindering the bees leaving and entering the hives with pollen.

Cornucopia with hornet guard

Cornucopia with hornet guard

All appeared well and I could see lots of yellow pollen brought in from the fields of sunflower across the road.

I checked and removed the partially burnt out hornet nest and saw the clear papery nest with its pointed back where it was attached to the breeze block.

Underground nest of asian hornets - Frelon asiatique

Underground nest of asian hornets – Frelon asiatique

The steps to our forest walk has to be rebuilt.

The Forest walk afte destruction of the steps

But should I use breeze blocks again?  That is a question that requires some thought.  Meanwhile, I am hoping that our bees have been given some respite from the asian hornets.

– Kourosh

 


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Gardening on the beach

Meschers beach

Since we have returned from the U.K. we have been enjoying an Indian Summer so the garden has been neglected somewhat in favour of the beach.  Mescher beach is only half an hour away so it is easy to visit for a short break.

Pine tree on cliff

Never the less, I cannot stop looking at things from a gardener’s perspective.  Look at these pines with their roots growing into the limestone rock.  Not exactly how the gardening books would advise you to plant them.

Crithmum maritimum

Clumps of plants with yellow flowers grow on the vertical faces of the rock.  The rock samphire or Crithmum maritimum grows all over the cliff face.  It is not the same plant as the samphires that grow more inland but is also edible and is recommended to be eaten either pickled in vinegar, raw or cooked in an omelette, but I have no personal experience of eating it.  Seemingly, it is very high in vitamin C and used to be eaten by sailors to combat scurvy.  A common name for it in French is “perce-pierre” (stone cutter) – very appropriate.

Sea lavander

Growing alongside the rock samphire is the incredibly delicate sea lavander (Limonium vulgare).  It is difficult to believe such a delicate flower could take root and flourish without special care and attention.

caves

What a beautiful place it has chosen to grow in front of a miniature grotto in the soft limestone rocks, I’m sorry the harsh light does not do justice to the fine flower stems.

scrub oak root

A type of oak has thrust a root through the cliff and is now completely exposed.

oak with acorns

I do not know what species of oak this is but it is able to thrive and produce acorns in what looks like far from ideal conditions.  It has found a niche where few other plants can compete. It is a Holm Oak [Quercus ilex] or Cork Oak [Q. suber] see comment below from Dromfit.

ivy

I had to smile when I saw the clump of ivy hanging on to the edge at the top of the cliff – you would survive almost anywhere, wouldn’t you!

strawberry tree

A strawberry tree sits atop the cliff with a beautiful view out to sea.  It is full of its strawberry fruits now and does not object to the sea air.

Meschers carrelet

It is low tide on the estuary in the picture but the carrelet is just visible on the side of the cliff.  These are strange constructions that are very common here and consist of a little cabin supporting a huge net that can be lowered and raised to catch fish.  See my post “The call of the sea” for better pictures.

M.mar 1

But of course what really fascinated me was the clump of a kind of knapweed as it was full of bees and butterflies.  This is a Megachile, perhaps maritima.  The knapweed grows on the dune at the base of the cliff on a substrate that looks like sand.  However, it grows in the full sun and its flowers produce a sought after nectar for nearby pollinators.

M. ma male

I have never seen this fluffy Megachile before, he has such downy front legs as if he was carrying a muff.  It may have been the male of the Megachile maritima.

hare tail

Talking of fluffy things some of the grass Lagurus ovatus was growing beside the knotweed.  I often see this growing more inland and it keeps well if cut for using as a dried flower.  I like the French name “queue-de-lièvre” or hare’s tail.  I think it would tend to call it bunny tail.

1-Anthidium

I was quite excited seeing all these new Megachile but something was buzzing them as soon as they settled and I had a good idea what it was.  I finally got a photograph of the culprit, Anthidium manicatum, the wool carder bee.  He can be a bit aggressive towards other bees and does not like sharing “his” patch of flowers.

M.vers

This is another Megachile I have not seen in the garden, yet.  It may be Megachile versicolor as its orange scopa has dark hairs at its tip.

Bee fly

This fluffy insect is not a bee but a bee mimic and a parasite of the solitary bees, laying its eggs on the flowers they visit or beside their nests.

seed head spikes

These knapweeds have very sharp raised spines as you can see on this seed head.  I have no idea what the species is but it was growing on the dunes at the edge of the beach and is different in this aspect from the knapweeds I find growing around the garden.

open seed head

Plants can fill ecological niches that most gardeners would view as impossible and in doing so they open up a path for other species to follow them and provide food and nectar for an uncountable number of other creatures.

Humans on the other hand decide that to grow plants it is essential to change the balance and nature of the soil with artificial fertilisers, then spray them with pesticides to control the insect life and herbicide to ensure their crops are not out competed by other plants.  Unfortunately, the world is now suffering from this basic lack of understanding.

 

 

 


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Lac Bajamont

1-Fisherman

We took a break for a few days last week to stay outside Agen and visit the area nearby, between the rivers Garonne and Lot.  Lac Bajamont, is not well known but was nearby so we decided to take a look.  At first site it reminded me of some of the small lochs you see in Scotland, it even had a fisherman on the bank.

1-Hummingbird Hawkmoth

There were plenty of thistles around but you would not see a Hummingbird Hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) in Scotland!

1-Lythrum salicaria (Purple loosestrife)

The  lake was bordered by wild flowers like these purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) although it is not a natural lake but more a dam of 22 hectares that has been created by the nearby local councils to control local flooding and regulate the flow of the river.  The lake is under the protection of the Fishing Federation of the Lot and Garonne and is used for course fishing.

Teasels and knapweed

Teasels and knapweed

As we walked around the lake we were impressed by the variety and abundance of wildflowers.

Honey bee on bird's foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Honey bee on bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Of course, where there are flowers there is lots to see.  I think that someone must have had hives as honey bees were very much in evidence on the flowers.

Top- Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) Lower-Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

Top- Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) Lower-Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

There were lots of Meadow Browns and I spotted the very similar Gatekeeper as well.

Top-Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) F Lower-Common Blue M

Top-Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) F Lower-Common Blue M

The bright blue of the male butterflies seems so unreal.

Spotted Fritillary, Melitaea didyma

Spotted Fritillary, Melitaea didyma

Sometimes you need to get closer to feel the full impact of the colours and patterns, like the eyes of this Spotted Fritillary.

Meadow Fritillary. (Mellicta parthenoides)

Meadow Fritillary. (Mellicta parthenoides)

Perhaps it is a good point to mention that I have done my best to identify all the creatures that we managed to take decent photographs of, because I would like to share our walk, but I am not an expert and I apologise in advance if I I have made any errors!

Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii)

Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii)

The waters of the lake are so clear at the edges that Kourosh was able to take this picture of the Crayfish under the water.  This is an invasive variety and not a natural European species.  I must give Kourosh the credit for many of the photographs in this blog as I kept on my Macro lens as there were so many small creatures attracting my attention.

The lake is kept only as a nature reserve.  No swimming or motor boats are allowed and fishing is with a permit only.   This allows joggers and picnickers a site to enjoy the outdoors and its peace.

1-HoaryPlantain - Plantago media.1

Most of the flowers were similar to the ones we see in our area but I had never seen Hoary Plantain (Plantago media) before.

1-HoaryPlantain - Plantago media.

The more common plantain flower is very plain but this plantain has lovely lilac/pink flowers that the bees and butterflies find very attractive.

Knapweed

Hallictus scabiosa on Centaurea nigra (Common Knapweed)

There was lots of Knapweed around.  This is really a plant to attract all sorts of pollinators and one I am going to try to increase in my garden.

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus)

There were lots of blue chicory flowers, this one was being attacked by a snail much to the disgust of the little bee.

Upper- Common blue damselfly, (Enallagma cyathigerum)-lower-Blue Hawker (Aeschna cyanea)

Upper- Common blue damselfly, (Enallagma cyathigerum)-lower-Blue Hawker (Aeschna cyanea)

Of course, being beside the water there were plenty of damselflies and dragonflies around.  Just so much to see.

Swallowtail, Papilio machaon

Swallowtail, (Papilio machaon)

I at last saw my first Swallowtail of this summer.  Not a great photo as it is taken with my Macro lens after a close chase.  It is a big butterfly but it can shift!

Lesser Purple Emperor, (Apatura ilia)

Lesser Purple Emperor, (Apatura ilia)

This one was sunning itself and easier to capture.  It had attracted my attention as it was purple!  The colouration changed with the angle of the light that was falling on the wing scales.  You can just see the slight colouration in the photograph but it does really look purple in certain lights, in others it looks a much less remarkable brown.  I was very lucky to see it on several counts.  Firstly the female does not have the purple reflection and secondly they often spend the day on the crowns of trees.  The eggs are laid on Poplars and Willows and we have plenty of those near us but this is the first time I have seen it.

unknown moth

Unfortunately, I’ve had no luck identifying this.  I would guess at a moth, but it has such a strange wing shape.

vetch

I’ll close with a picture of some vetch.  We took so many photographs on our short walk round the lake that it’s been hard to condense them to give an idea of the place.  Our lasting impression was of admiration for the brilliant solution to the areas previous  flooding problem.