a french garden


January walking

January sunrise

January sunrise

The sun rises late in January and the shorter daylight hours mean that walks are best taken in the early afternoon.  It is our best chance here to get some sun in what has been a rainy January.

Mistletoe in trees

Mistletoe in trees

Most of the trees around us are deciduous and in the winter once the leaves have gone you can see clearly how much mistletoe is carried by some of the trees.

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

There were several large clumps of mistletoe lying at the bottom of these trees and I was surprised by the girth of the branches.  The berries, although poisonous for humans, provide a good food source for berry-eating birds like thrushes.  The woods around here are not managed and many support a large proportion of mistletoe and are also used as supports by seemingly smothering runners of ivy.  A tough life for the trees but the ivy flowers provide a valuable source of food for the bees and other insects and again the birds eat the berries.

Ruscus aculeatus

Ruscus aculeatus

The Ruscus seems to be enjoying its increase share of the light now that the leaves have fallen.  The berries are staying plump in contrast to the Spindle tree berries which looked beautiful in the woods in December but are now dry and inconspicuous.

Bolbitius vitellinus

Bolbitius vitellinus

The relatively mild temperatures for January mean that the fungi are well represented.  I saw this chrome yellow toadstool on the roadside near our house.

Older Bolbitius vitellinus

Older Bolbitius vitellinus

There were a few more mature specimens close beside it.

Mucilago crustacea

Mucilago crustacea

This slime mould was also beside the road and taking advantage of the mild damp weather to consume a rotting stick.

Toadstool in maize field

Toadstool in maize field

This toadstool had pushed through the stubble left in a field that had grown maize last year. When the cold front arrived it was frozen solid.  I tried to make a spore print to identify it but when defrosted, it transformed into a pile of jelly .  So I have learnt something else – you can’t make spore prints with frozen toadstools.

Fungus on tree bark

Fungus on tree bark

I have to admit that I can manage to identify only a very small portion of the fungi that I see.  This one was appealing as it reminded of raw jewel stones as it was a mix of black with amethyst glints to it.

Dichomitus campestris?

Dichomitus campestris?

I found this one different and attractive also, but I am not sure if I have identified it correctly.

Group of yellow Calendula

Group of yellow Calendula

These were flowering by the roadside not particularly near any houses but I think they must be garden escapees that have managed to flourish on the verge.

Flower full of rain water

Flower full of rain water

This seems to sum up our January up until now.

Winter heliotrope, (Petasites fragrans)

Winter heliotrope, (Petasites fragrans)

When I saw these flowers I at first thought that these too were garden escapees.  When I knelt down to photograph them I was surprised that they were beautifully perfumed.  The perfume is described by UK Wildflowers as vanilla, I found it hard to describe but very pleasant.  Strangely, although they flower in the middle of winter they are frost sensitive perhaps because they originally came from North Africa.

Close up Winter heliotrope ( Petasites fragrans )

Close up Winter heliotrope ( Petasites fragrans )

It was tempting to try and introduce some into the wilder parts of the garden but they are extremely invasive and can smother anything in their path.  I have enough to cope with in the garden without bringing in flowers that could take over!


November Walking

Back from the UK, away from the motorways, I was keen to get back on our well-trodden paths.

Beech lined path

But three weeks away and you can forget to pick up the things you need for a walk.  We often pass through the village and I have several friends I talk to and who expect a “Markie” from the backpack.

What did I do wrong?

You can see the disappointment and disbelief, the tail drooping and the ears down.  I felt so ashamed, but I was back with my “Markie” the very next day just to explain it was nothing personal.

The main street of the village is kept immaculately by the Mairie (council) and the Abelia is still flowering by the roadside.

Bee with pollen sac

Incredibly busy, the bee was gathering not only nectar but also pollen.

I saw another on the nearby Rosmary but she had flown away before I could take a picture but I did notice something else on the Rosemary, a red and green striped beetle.

Chrysolina americana

Researching for insect species is usually a difficult task for me and I doubted whether I would ever be able to find the name of this beetle on the Rosemary leaves but it is in fact – a Rosemary leaf beetle, Chrysolina americana!  Unfortunately it does not bode well for the Rosemary for the beetles eat the new shoots and their slug like larvae will continue the damage.  They seem to prefer similar plants like lavender, sage and thyme so if you see the tips of your plants blackening or being nibbled check them out and look on the underside of the leaves for eggs.

The signs of autumn are in the woods.

Solanum dulcamara

The bittersweet or climbing nightshade drapes its red berries in garlands through the trees as if anticipating the Christmas decorations.

Ruscus aculeatus

The red berries of the Ruscus or Butcher’s Broom are just as vivid and survive happily under the shade of the trees.  Ruscus is a popular garden shrub in the UK and it is strange for me to see it growing negligently throughout the woods here.

Euonymus europaeus, Spindle tree

Likewise, it always makes me smile when I see the Eonymus europaeus, or spindle tree in flower as I had always admired the one in Crathes Castle walled garden near Aberdeen in Scotland (http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/Crathes-Castle-Garden-Estate/What-to-see/#).  I found their (should you call it a fruit or a flower?) so attractive that I was determined to plant one if I ever should have my own garden.  As it so happens they were already growing at the bottom of my garden and grow freely in the woods around us!

Wild iris seed head

The other red berries that are decorating the edges of the woods at the moment are the iris seed heads.

But November here is such a mixture.

Escapee sunflower

There are often some straggling late arrival sunflowers in the fields where the main crop has long since been harvested, they are much smaller than the main crop but there were enough to provide an attractive vase full for the house.

Ulex europaeus, Gorse

There is gorse in flower but I think the it is the result of recent plantings as are the Medlar Trees.

Mespilus or Medlar

We often make a detour to pass by the Medlar trees.  They are much later in ripening this year, perhaps due to the lack of rain.  I enjoy an impromptu snack and I cannot understand why they are not widely accepted.  All I can imagine is that if they are eaten when unripe they will be considered inedible. I have fed good ripe medlars to sceptical friends and have seen them appreciate their unique flavour, but they must be ripe to be enjoyed.

Roe deer on the move

We never know what we are going to see.

Trying to catch up the others

I took these photographs at 1.30 p.m. hardly the time to expect to see deer in the open.

Almost there

I think they must have been disturbed in one copse and had to leg it some distance in the open to the nearest alternative cover.

Path of Beech leaves

The woods are an altogether quieter place in November but the floor is covered with all sorts of fungi.

Some of the fungi present this November

A few years ago I decided that it would be nice to discover what sort of fungi grew in the woods because neighbours and friends were only interested in the edible ones.  Armed with my camera and a large identification book I started.  I was quickly defeated by the variety of fungi that can be found and I have even noticed that the variety changes each year depending on the weather condition, I suppose.  I now just admire them and use them as photographic models – naming them is beyond me.  I have managed this year to at last take spore prints – that was thanks to encouragement from The Foraging Photographer http://theforagingphotographer.wordpress.com/.

Often on walks I wish I could not only take  a photograph but capture the odour of the surroundings because of some delicious perfume in the air, I thought of this when I was walking near these fungi.

Wet pungent fungi

Normally fungi have the decency to fade away discretely but these ones had taken over an area and were releasing a fetid odour that I have never smelt before and never want to smell again.  Definitely an odour I would not want to capture!

Geranium robertianum, Herb Robert

There has still been  plenty of sun this November in the Charente Maritime and the Herb Robert is flowering on the verges along with clover and scabious.

Bee on Bugle, Ajuga reptans

However, it is still surprising to see the bees feeding on this very late flowering Bugle.

Asian hornets, Vespa volutina on ivy flowers

Perhaps they are being kept away from their more common source of nectar by the Asian hornets that seem to be everywhere at the moment.  They were not around in the summer near here, perhaps concentrating themselves around the bees hives, but every time I seem to target a flower with my camera lens an Asian hornet is there (O.K.,sorry, exaggeration but it sometimes feels like that.)

The cabbage white butterflies are still laying their eggs on my brussel sprouts and I am still picking off the caterpillars.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta

The Red Admiral do not seem to care that it is November and the Speckled Wood butterfly is still around on the sunny days.

Cranes in flight

But despite the sunny days with the Charentais blue sky the geese are making their noisy way south, a sure sign that they know it is November and the winter will be arriving.  Correction!  My friends now tell me that these were more likely to be cranes, please see the comments below – I did not notice the long legs.