a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Life and death in the Asters

There are lots of asters in groups in the garden just now.

The queen bumble bees are the most amusing to watch. They are big and graceless. Speed a low priority attribute.

The Small Copper butterflies have enough time to play with such a bounty of available nectar.

It’s not just bees and butterflies that come to the asters, lots of different flies, like this hover fly, are attracted to them.

Of course, the honey bees don’t miss out either.

I’ve noticed the lizards keep a beady eye on the proceedings. There are plenty of wall lizards in the garden that must appreciate the little flies.

I was just about to take a photograph of the European hornet when a honeybee that I had not noticed suddenly disappeared.

After the sudden strike the hornet dropped lower into the asters and with commendable care and precision, started to dismember and package the prize. I was surprised at how rapidly the honeybee succombed to the hornets sting. There was no struggle as the bee hung limply in the hornets grip, pollen still attached to her hind legs. Once the bee was firmly installed in the hornet’s powerful mandibles, the hornet took off rapidly and easily. A redoubtable hunting machine.

So although the asters are a constant source of pleasure and amusement for me, the many visitors risk their lives for the nectar.

My French marigolds are till providing colour and nectar for the bees. I mentioned that I have read that they are edible.

I did not exactly risk my life to try one but I felt I really should. I was pleasantly surprised as (although a bit crunchy) they had a fresh herby flavour. I even convinced Kourosh to try one (it was easier than I had anticipated ;)). He said they had a similar flavour to fresh dill with a peppery plus.

It was after I ate the first one, which I had only given a brief flush under the water tap, that I started to think how much grit and insect life might be concealed tightly inside the flower head. They were pretty crunchy, after all, and grew quite close to the earth.

I decided to give them a quick flush and then soak them inverted in clear water.

Thankfully, no sediment or bodies dropped to the bottom.

I would recommend a thorough clean – just to be sure.


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Rain at last!

The rain has come too late to have much effect on the summer vegetables but in the end the tomatoes yielded enough fruit for our needs for sauce and late salads.  The butternut have yielded seventeen – not all very big but an improvement on the raised beds of last year.

At least now I feel confident enough to put in some brussel sprout plants.

Golden leaves carpet underneath the Liquidamber.  The leaves are golden as the Liquidamber has not changed colour yet and these are dry leaves it has cast off in an effort to survive the lack of water.

The Ginkco is turning yellow and the parched leaves give the garden a true autumnal feel.

In the middle of the photograph is the struggling hydrangea “Saville Garden” that I planted in 2014.  I really must find a better place for it.  there is just not enough moisture for it in this spot and even too much shade for a hydrangea.

The Nerine Bowdenii fair better as they have bulbes that allow them to survive through the dry months.

I’m glad they provide nectar for the bumble bees, too.

I’m not sure where this bumble bee has been to get so covered with pollen, I think he needs to stop and have a good groom.

The Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) is still coming to the asters.  I misidentified this last week as a blue.  In fact it is a native of Southern Africa but has been introduced with Pelargoniums for gardens.  Pelargoniums are hugely popular in France to be used in pots outside houses in France.  They do not survive the winter and so have to be re-bought the following year.  Good business for the suppliers but I personally prefer the perennial geraniums which are very easy to grow in pots or the soil and can be divided and propagated year after year.

And also, (I am sure you have guessed,) the bees and pollinators can use the perennial geranium flowers but not the pelargoniums.

A bee that I have seen often on the asters is Epeolus fallax.  It is a cuckoo bee; like the cuckoo bird it does not have its own nest but lays its eggs in the nest of other bees.  The cuckoo bees are usually parasites of a limited number of species and not just any bees in general.  The Epeolus are cleptoparasites of Colletes bees and I have found them at nesting sites of Ivy bees (https://beesinafrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/la-bourgade-revisited/).

However, the Ivy flowers are not open yet and the Ivy bees will not be building their nests yet.  So perhaps they are targeting another Colletes bee at the moment.

I saw this tiny bee sitting on the leaf of our potted lemon tree.  You can get an idea of how tiny it is as the photograph has made the leaf’s stomata visible.  I was not absolutely sure it was a bee but the photograph allowed me to see the three simple eyes placed in a triangular pattern on the top of the bee’s head.  It looks much more like a bee now, magnified larger than life-size.

The French marigolds (Tagetes patula) that I planted as companion plants in the vegetable garden are doing well now and are popular with the honey bees.  In France they are called “Oeillets d’Inde” which roughly translated means Indian carnations!  If you ignore the orange colour they do ressemble carnations.

I like to use flowers, like borage, on salads and cakes but I did not realise that French marigolds are edible too.  their petals can be used to colour desserts like fruit salad and have been given the name of saffron of the poor.  I have to look into this!

Temperatures have dropped considerably these past few days and it is hard to imagine that we were watching the sun set on the beach at Mescher-sur-Gironde a week ago.  The beach is only a half hour drive from the house and we were able to enjoy an evening swim with temperatures of 34 degrees as the sun was setting.

I do not think that will be repeated until next year.


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The flowers in November

The rain still continues and everything in the garden is wet.

It does not stop the bees and other insects flying in between the downpours.

The low light makes it difficult to take sharp photographs.

Everything is getting sodden.   Luckily, I have already gathered plenty of Cosmos and other seeds.  These are French Marigold (Tagetes erecta), that are late in setting seed and have stated germinating still attached to the flower heads.

I grew these flowers near my tomatoes this year.  They provided lots of colour in the vegetable garden and are reputed to attract beneficial insect such as hoverflies and at the same time the roots secrete a substance to repel certain nematodes.  I cannot affirm that they make a considerable difference but they are held in high esteem in this area.

There is still plenty of Borage left in the vegetable garden, and elsewhere, and that is a magnet for all pollinators.  It is also so handy for decoration of salads and drinks.

We always have a clutter of pots at our front coffee spot.  This allows us to keep an eye on the fragile and admire our favourite flowers of the moment.

The Salvias are in their glory at the moment, especially the Salvia leucantha.  We have one in a pot on the patio and another in the garden but they do not photograph well and you need to see a close up photograph to see what the eye actually sees.  The flowers look as if they have been fashioned from velvet.  They are constantly visited by the bees.  This carder bumble bee is piercing a hole in the flower to “steal” the nectar.

Another flower we are monitoring in a pot on the patio is the Ajania.  This is new to us this year and I am waiting impatiently to see if the flowers will open fully.  It has grown well and I am thinking of trying it as ground cover next year as it has grown well in the pot.

Some flowers get attention and care yet this Alyssum grows on its own every year, seeding into the cracks in the front path and the base of the wall.  It completely looks after itself and releases its own special honey scent in the warm evenings and is still flowering.

Perhaps tough love can work as I have succeeded in keeping two Abutilon plants.  They die completely from the surface in winter and reappear in late spring.  They are not too tall yet, but I have my hopes, and it is nice to have their flowers so late in the year.

The bees still manage to get out to forage for nectar and pollen despite the rain.  They have to “faire avec” as we all have to during these rainy days.

Thus saying, I was surprised to see a cricket perched on top of my pink rose in the front garden.  It does not seem a good place to be camouflaged from hungry birds. In addition, it is not very far away from our bird feeder.

More surprisingly it was still there the next day!  Is it the same one or is it cricket time?