a french garden


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Lavatera in the garden

Lavatera front of house

I have Lavatera at the front of the house.

Lavatera bottom of garden

I have Lavatera at the bottom of the garden.  In fact, it is an ideal plant for this area and I will have one anywhere I have a space in the garden.  The grey green leaves give a clue and it is indeed a well suited plant to withstand hot, dry summers.

It can get a bit untidy as its fast growth can take you by surprise.  It is not a long-lived shrub and we have already got a small shrub in waiting and some cuttings – just in case they are needed.  They root very easily and are not difficult to find homes for if you end up with an extra pot or two.

Lavatera Carpenter

Mine is a Tree Mallow but I have no idea of the species.  In French it is called Lavatère en Arbre or Mauve en Arbre – a very appropriate name as they are mostly this mauve colour.

They attract all sorts of pollinators, it is a Carpenter bee in the above picture.

Tetralonia from distance.JPG

However, it is at this time of year I love to check out the flowers in the morning and I often find what I think is a Tetralonia malvae bee still asleep in the flowers.

Tetralonia close.JPG

What surprises me is that she is not an early riser.  I took this photograph at 9.44 a.m.

Tetralonia v.close

You do not often get the time to get close up and photograph bees.  What appeals to me is that she is such a fluffy bee.  Her long feathery hairs on her hind legs look so silky but are perfect to transport caches of pollen to her nest.

Tetralonia with pollen

Once she starts collecting pollen the hairs are covered and take the colour of whatever pollen she might be gathering.  She is pretty faithful to the Malvaceae family but the pollen colours do vary.

Tetralonia in Guimauve

This is what she looks like gathering pollen from the Marsh Mallow.

Tetralonia in lavatera

So many reasons for growing Lavatera.

 

 


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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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Big, black, noisy bees in France

The Wisteria in this part of France is in flower now and I suspect that wherever there is Wisteria there will be Carpenter bees.  The first thought that passes through the mind of a person seeing a Carpenter for the first time is – “Does it sting?”

It is large – and measuring 25 to 30 mm long and with a possible wingspan of 45 to 50 mm – so it is a reasonable question to spring to mind.  However, despite its impressive size and loud drone when in flight, it is not an aggressive bee.  Now, I do not recommend trying to pick it up and give it a squeeze because it does have a sting.

Anyone wanting to “test” their aggressiveness has only to try and creep up on one to attempt a photograph.  They are much more difficult to capture with a camera than honey bees.  However, if you happen to be walking past some Wisteria in the spring you could inadvertently have a “near miss” with a male relentlessly patrolling for a receptive female.  The bee will be just as astonished as you are before he manages to steer his bulk around you.

One of the reasons I enjoy the Carpenters in the garden is that they are with us throughout the good weather.  The Carpenter above is on the Heptacodium at the end of September and will have been on all the early blossoms.  Not a fussy feeder and certainly a useful pollinator.

But not all pollinators pollinate all the time.  This sneaky bumble bee is enjoying the Wisteria’s nectar without touching the stamens and pollen.  In fact, if you look closely you can see a couple of black dots to the right of the bee’s proboscis which means that this this particular flower has been visited by other bees earlier.  In fact, the Wisteria flowers become quite ragged from the repeated piercings but this lets the smaller bees with short tongues, like honey bees, take advantage of the easy access route to the nectar.

I love watching the Carpenters in the garden but I do worry that they could be misunderstood so hopefully anyone who reads this blog and is new to Carpenters will come to love them too.

 

 

 

 


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Do bats sunbathe?

What a ridiculous question!  It is a well known fact that bats like hanging about in dark places like belfries or caves.  In fact, our bat gave up his usual place behind the front door shutter last year to hang in the atelier when it was very wet.

So I was surprised yesterday, as I was enjoying sunshine and temperatures in the lower 20’s, that the bat looked as if it was doing the same thing!

Bats in France often find shelter in old quarries or disused railway tunnels so perhaps, after a winter of hanging about in places like that, a nice bit of sunshine on the back of your neck feels really good.

He often moves up and down the wall behind the shutter during the day but he had moved half-way out from behind the shutter, and because the sun was shining in from the side, his whole body was in the sunshine.  He must have been very hot because I could not have sat out in the sunshine in a black fur coat!

So perhaps sunbathing bats are more common than we think.

 

 

 


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Jumping spiders!

I think most of you will have seen the great video by Jürgen Otto’s of the jumping spider Maratus speciosus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_yYC5r8xMI.  It is coming up on six million views now.  I really like some of the other ones that are set to music like the YMCA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYIUFEQeh3g which always makes me laugh.

However, I had never expected to see a jumping spider waving its legs at me in real life.  Especially not on the dining room table.

saitis-barbipes-2

I would like to point out here that it is only 5mm. and apart from scuttling very rapidly – it can jump.

saitis-barbipes-1

Even a bad photograph is better than none as I am not sure whether I would have believed it myself since the famous Maratus spider is a native of Australia.

Working back with the help of Wiki I found out that there is a large family of Salicidae or Jumping spiders and there are members of this family present in Europe.  My spider bears a striking resemblance to Saitis-barbipes which is present in France.

I feel rather favoured that he waved his fluffy orange legs at me before skilfully disappearing under the books and papers on the table.


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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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May orchids at St-Maurice-de-Tavernoles

Path to orchids

It was a warm sunny day with a partly covered sky when I finally went to see the path of the orchids at St-Maurice-de-Tavernole.  I’ve had the intention of going since I was given the beautiful guide “Les Orchidée Sauvage” of the Haute-Saintonge which is available free, thanks to the funding from the Communauté de Communes de la Haut-Saintonge but I always seemed to miss the season.

The path did not look too promising and the whole area was deserted.  So I thought it unlikely that I could find any, armed only with the small guide.

Anacamptis pyramidalis

Anacamptis pyramidalis

In fact, my greatest problem was trying not to stand on any!  I had seen pyramid orchids before, one had even appeared in our own garden.

Neotinea ustulata

Neotinea ustulata

I think this is a burnt orchid, named for the dark colour at the top of the flower but I am only using the guide as I have no experience.

Orchis purpurea

Orchis purpurea

I think this is a purple orchid but naming orchids is not really for beginners.  In addition, it is a frequent occurrence that orchids form hybrids in the wild.

Orphys scolopax

Orphys scolopax

This looks like Woodcock orchid which is very similar to Bee orchids except for the little green beard or mucron.  They can form hybrids with other orchids such as the bee orchids, fly orchids or spider orchids.

Orphys insectifera

Orphys insectifera

I had always wondered what a fly orchid looked like and I think it is a good enough lure to attract flies or other insects to attempt a copulation and thereby allow them to dump their sticky pollen sacs onto the insects head.

Orphys aranifera

Orphys aranifera

I was a little disappointed with the spider orchid as I had expected it more “spidery” but I must admit that the lobe of the orchid does look like the body of a spider.

Orchis anthropophora

Orchis anthropophora

The “hanged man” orchid has a very sinister name for such a beautiful flower.  I have to point out that these names are direct translations from the French common names and could quite well have different common names in other languages.

Unknown

Unknown

I could not find a name for this one.  Maybe I am not looking closely enough or perhaps it is a hybrid.

It was an amazing visit even seeing the masses of orchids was something I had not thought possible – and we were all on our own.  Perhaps there are more visitors during the weekend but it seemed a site worth sharing.

View from the Orchid Path

View from the Orchid Path

The path seems more like a long thin island with the vestiges of nature clinging on to their permitted territory but surrounded by fields tilled by man for man.

I had noticed a lack of insect activity which I put down to the isolation of the natural area but as I was leaving I came across two bees that made my day.

Eucera longicornis

Eucera longicornis is a beautiful bee and the male has extremely long antenna and it was interesting to find him with the orchids as he is reputed to be one of the bees duped into pseudo-copulation with the bee orchid.

Shrill Carder bee

I also heard the Shrill Carder bee queen – something I had wanted to hear since reading “A Sting in the Tale” by Dave Goulson (See Chez Les Bourdons).

Our bee orchid

To complete the day of surprises I got home to find a Bee orchid (Orphys apifera) struggling over the top of the stone edge to the front border, fighting its way through emerging (unwanted) Lily of the Valley.

Covered bee orchid

I was also able to find another that had appeared last year struggling through some spreading bulbs.

Uncovered bee orchid

I did mark my last year’s orchid but obviously it needs a larger marker but now I have given it some light I hope it will survive.  It does show that they are coming up every year in the same place (unless I choke them) and also there is a new one that has seeded itself.  Strangely, I did not notice any bee orchids on the Orchid Path.

I must re-visit the Orchid Path to see the later orchids and bring a picnic as there was a small picnic table available.  There was also much more to see in the way of other wild flowers.

 

 


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A barbastelle in the atelier

I suppose we should have realised from the time of year that we could be receiving a visit from our friendly Barbastelle bat (see https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/many-happy-returns/ and https://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/a-furry-visitor/).  We have been looking around the front shutters but when Kourosh went out to collect some logs from the outbuilding the other day he felt a bat fly around his head and he noticed where it settled.  The bat is quite small with a body about six centimetres long so I have marked the spot where he roosted on the wall at the corner of the joists as that is not visible from the closer photograph.

Atelier

We are not sure whether it is the same bat that comes every year but in view of all the rain we have been having this looks like a much better choice of roost.  It looked very cosy between the outside wall and a supporting bean of the mezzanine deck.  Much drier than behind a shutter!

However, I note from the book “Le Guide des Chauve-souris en Poitou-Charentes” by Olivier Prévost (2004) that small colonies have been found behind the shutters of abandoned houses.  Another place that they use frequently is the lintel space on doors of barns.

France is fortunate to have representants of thirty one of the forty one European species of bats.  The Barbastelle is a threatened species if viewed on a European basis but not rare in this area.  However, they have a tendency to move around and shift their roosts depending on weather conditions so they are not easy for researchers to keep an eye on.  They are also found sheltering in the abandoned quarries of Poitou-Charente.

It eats mainly moths of the type that would be found flying in dry leaves and litchens in wooded areas and its natural roosting spot can be presumed to be cracks in trees.

Barbastelle in atelier

So the Barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus) is not just a pretty face but an important link in the health of the European forests.


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Les Jardins de Colette

After the honey harvest, Amelia and I gave ourselves a few days of holiday and went to the Corrèze region of France.  We discovered that the area around Brive-la-Gaillarde was both beautiful and had so many pretty towns and attractions that we promised ourselves to return in future.

One of the calmest and most wonderful visits we made was to the Gardens of Colette.  Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, simply known as Colette, was a famous French writer, who was born in 1873 and died in 1954.  She is the second woman that has been admitted among the ten members of the literary l’académie Goncourt.  

The garden at Varetz was created in 2007 to celebrate Colette’s life and work.  It is near the Chateau de Castel Novel which at one time belonged to Henri de Jouvenel, the second husband of Colette.  Colette wrote several of her books in that Chateau.  The garden covers over 5 hectares of land and represents six different regions of France where she lived and which influenced her writing.

flower bed at the Gardens of Colette

Colette maintained her independent thoughts on how she led her life.  In her writings. she expressed her free thinking:   ” Une femme qui se croit intelligente réclame les mêmes droits que l’homme. Une femme intelligente y renonce. ” – “The woman who thinks she is intelligent demands equal rights with men. A woman who is intelligent does not.”  

I loved the simple rose that is named after her.

Rose Colette

Rose Colette

IMG_2227

She was certainly a beautiful woman and also had a great sense of humour. She said that she regretted nothing that she had done in her life.  One could not help but smile when she wrote:  “When she raises her eyelids, it’s as if she were taking off all her clothes.”

Colette

Colette

She lived life to the fullest and she wrote: “Faites des bêtises, mais faites-les avec enthousiasme.” – “Do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm!”

What I liked most about the garden was its simplicity; its oneness with nature, with arrangements that were sympathetic with the kind of life that Colette had lived.  We walked through the Tunnel végétal to reach the Jardin Provençal, remembering when she lived in Saint Tropez (1926-1938).

Tunnel végétal

Tunnel végétal

Amelia was in her elements, taking pictures of her favourite flowers and bees.  September can be such a beautiful month in Corrèze.

IMG_0117-001

The garden of Corrèze reflected the period that she lived in Castel Novel at Varetz (1911 – 1923) , just behind the present garden.  The flowers and the rock really captured the beauty of that countryside.

Jardin 4 - Corrèze

Jardin 4 – Corrèze

There is a little seat in the vegetable garden which really took my fancy.  Of course Colette did not see this garden, but I would like to imagine her sitting there some time before her death at the age of 81, and writing the piece in her novel, The Vagabond.  “So now, whenever I despair, I no longer expect my end, but some bit of luck, some commonplace little miracle which, like a glittering link, will mend again the necklace of my days.”

le potager

le potager


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What colour is honey?

There are those beekeepers who maintain that the bee keeping year ends at this time of the year; others believe that the year really starts after the honey harvest as one prepares the hives for the coming year, looking forward to the Spring collection.

Whatever the merit of the discussion, I feel that the work and the pleasure never ends.  Michel advised us to go ahead and collect our honey a few days before my granddaughter’s visit to France so that the bees calm down after we have stolen their reserve of honey.  Being our first harvest, I followed the advice of using an escape board on the two hives with supers. I placed them on the hives on a sunny evening and the bees were quite content to let me do it without using the smoker that I had prepared. The following morning at 7 am, Amelia and I temporarily closed all four hives by way of precaution, and opened Cornucopia which had two supers.  There were indeed very few bees left on the frames and we easily brushed them off and placed the frames of each super in a separate box closing the lid after each transfer.

Opening up Violette was even easier as she had only one super.  None of the bees seemed disturbed by us taking their honey and once again the smoker lay unused at the side.  In fact, it was only the few stray bees left in the supers and the early birds returning to the hive that were very concerned that their hive was closed.  Once we opened the hive doors all returned to normal.

la Violette

la Violette

Violette is Amelia’s special favourite hive; once she saw the queen, she was smitten!  I admit that her bees appear to be the most gentle of all our hives.

Queen Violet

Queen Violette

We took the three boxes with our frames to Michel’s house where he has a special room with all the equipment necessary.  There is little merit in going through every step for the extraction, as everybody who has already done so knows how rewarding and pleasurable an experience it is.

Honey Harvest Blog

Michel was particularly keen that we keep the honey from each of of our hives separate, including the un-centrifuged honey obtained from the cappings.  We kept the separated honey for a week in 10Kg containers before bottling them.  Being a complete novice I was pleasantly surprised to see that from three supers, we ended with four different colours of honey, the fourth being the un-centrifuged honey from cappings.

IMG_0054

The hard work was almost over.  Our next task, after letting the bees clean their frames, was to start treating them against varroa.  Based on the advice of our regional bee health service, we have started three course of “Apilife Var”, which is an essential oil from thyme and other plants.  It is most effective in temperatures of 20-25 degrees C, which was about the temperature when we started the treatment.  Unfortunately for a few days the temperature rose to around 34C in the shade.  At that temperature the fumes generated could affect the larvae and in addition the bees don’t appreciate the smell.  So we had quite a lot of bees sitting outside the hive, and that left them easy prey to the Asiatic hornets which constantly come and pick the bees one by one.  It is heart breaking to watch this.  Amelia and I stand guard several times a day catching the hornets with a child’s fishing net.  We can win the battle of the moment, but we are not winning the war.  At the end the bees appear to have resigned themselves to some casualty.

The flowering season is not over yet.  The garden is still full of flowers and the bees are quite busy.  The ivy has also just started to flower in the forests around our house.

Honey bees on the ivy flower

Honey bees on the ivy flower

I am glad to see that in the interval between the removal of the supers and two weeks that have passed, the bees have added a considerable amount of additional honey stock for their winter reserve.  The only annoying thing is that the hornets are also visiting the same ivy flowers.

Asiatic hornet on ivy flower

Asiatic hornet on ivy flower

I try hard to accept the battles of the bee life and Amelia and I try to protect our “girls” against the predators as well as the unusually hot days the best way we can.

Ruches et parasols