a french garden


36 Comments

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!

 

 


32 Comments

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?


33 Comments

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

 


36 Comments

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.

 

 

 


39 Comments

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.


24 Comments

Une Nuit Blanche

Une nuit blanche is a French expression for having passed a night without sleep.  This could have a good or bad connotation depending on what you were doing during the night!

This expression has been taken by the region of Grand Champagne (one of the most prestigious cognac producing regions) and for the past twenty years, every Friday night in July and August anyone can join in “Les Nuits Blanches” presented by the local people.  Organised by the Office of Tourism you book your car and follow a mystery tour through the beautiful countryside.  The event is well-organised with marshals holding back the traffic to allow the line of cars which passes in a follow-my-leader style from stop to stop.

bees in Mallaville

The evening started in Malaville outside its 13th. Century church.  My husband was quick to spot some honey bees that had built a hive with an opening  just above the front door.  They were still busy in the late evening sunshine and I chuckled at the thought of sneaking bees into this post.

For the previous two weeks the Nuits Blanches had been cancelled as the French weather forecast had declared an orange warning predicting thunderstorms.  As this year the theme of the evening was – Auprès de mon arbre, it was not deemed wise to take people into the woods with violent thunderstorms predicted.

celtic start

We made our way on foot to our first “saynète”,  or little scene, which was waiting for us to arrive.  There was a rumble and a crack and some rain, thankfully held back by the trees.

covered speaker

Someone rushed to cover the speakers with plastic.  I think the Celtic priestess had words with the spirits of the forest because the rain soon stopped and the weather was fine for the rest of the evening.

Druids

Our Celtic priestess explained to us that they appreciated the forest and the trees but their customs and traditions are forgotten compared to those of the Romans and Greeks.

Obélix and Idéfix

Obélix and Idéfix

There is more to the Celts, she tells the children, than you read in Asterix and Obelix.

Commune

Now we are off in the car into the woods, listening to the CD which is provided, and starts with Georges Brassens singing the first few lines of his song ” Auprès De Mon Arbre”.  The CD talks of trees, their origins, their importance and the first part finishes  just as you reach the first stop.

This scene talks of the lives of the people who lived in the woods in communities or family groups, rarely going into towns but living in the woods which provide them with their livelihood chopping wood, gathering herbs or making charcoal.

We paused in the dark to listen to the trees talk of their different properties and uses and were warned that there used to be wolves in the woods.

Wolves

When one little girl saw these fierce wolves creep from the edges of the clearing she quickly demanded to be taken off her father’s shoulders to take shelter in the safety of his arms!

Wolves were a threat to the villagers in France at one time but the fear of wolves and other mythical creatures of the woods was also played on by thieves and army deserters.

On the car again and off to the next stop.

making barrels

This is the region famous for Cognac.  Oak barrels play a pivotal role in the production of cognac and some are still made in the traditional way in this area.  The oak used, however, is not local as it grows too quickly in the Charente and must be brought from cooler areas of France.  It is fascinating watching a barrel being made from planks of oak by binding them with metal hoops and heating them from the inside so they seal together forming a water tight container.

Chateau

The next stop was in the grounds of this beautiful house and it took a light-hearted look at the fairy book characters whose dramas took place in the woods.

We finished the evening being offered a glass of cognac and tonic or a non-alcoholic orange drink courtesy of the area’s cognac producers and admiring the distillation equipment of a local producer of cognac who welcomed us onto his property.  He was the fifth generation of his family to be producing cognac on their lands.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Nuit Blanche and want to applaud again all the actors (who are unpaid volunteers) that told the story of their region so well.  In fact, there are about 200 actors and technicians who give their time freely to show with pride the beauty and traditions of their countryside.

 


45 Comments

Living in France

The magazine “Living in France” has chosen our garden for their new gardening page in the September issue of the magazine which has brought on a wave of nostalgia.  It seems as if we have turned a full circle from reading the magazine to becoming a part of it.

I was happy to be part of this issue but it also felt a little strange as this magazine had been bought and pored over by my husband while we were living in Aberdeen.  It had all started innocently enough with touring holidays in France but then the monthly purchase of the magazine warned me that ideas were brewing in his head.

In 2001 the deed was done and the house was bought.

old garden tif 0003

The garden was uninspiring, as this view from the bottom of the gardening looking towards the workshop shows.  On the right you can just pick out the ex-Christmas trees.

1-A & K back garden looking towards house June 2014

Things have changed since then.   This is roughly the same spot now but there are more trees and flowers in the garden.

1-IMG_2415

The front garden too has changed.  But it is not just what we have put into the garden but it is also what has come out of it!

We have had a Hoopoe fall down the chimney and get trapped behind the glass door.

Inside on side-table

Inside on side-table

The little green frogs are a special part of the garden and this one made himself at home on the coffee table.

LAPWING

Even in winter we have visitors like this solitary lapwing that visited us day after day one winter.

Close up bat

Some visitors are furry like this cute Barbastelle bat that roosted behind our shutters.

Triton in hand

We also have a menagerie of marbled newts, salamanders, frogs and toads that we discovered in our old well.

Tetralonia in Malva

Can you see her pink pollen sacs?

What we did not realise was that the more fruit trees and flowers that we added to the garden, the more wildlife would come and share it with us.

1-Butterfly on mint

Butterflies…

Hawk Moth Hemaris fuciformis

moths…

Bee kiss

and, of course, the bees.  The bees have become special to me as you can see from the bee kiss.

So much has happened since my husband first plotted his garden in France.  The garden did not turned out exactly as planned but perhaps all gardens take on a life of their own and give you back much more than you expected.

 

.