a french garden


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The canicule

A canicule (the dog days), in French, is a period of time when the daytime and the night time temperatures are extremely high.  We are having a canicule.  That means that what few apricots that the sudden late frost left us are now ripening fast.

The tomatoes are growing at an amazing speed.

The first lavender is just opening its buds and I steal some of the stalks from the bees in the early morning.

I look up, lavender in hand to see a hot air balloon between our Ash trees and I wave.  (A hot air balloon?  Is it the heat?)

Pull up!  Pull up!  I hope you know where you are going!

I knew where I was going.  The garden is too hot during the day so we may as well take advantage of living near the sea.

 

 

 


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Saints de Glace

At 7:30 am today 27th April 2017, the temperatures dropped to minus 4.5 degrees C (24 degrees F).  We see around us many vineyards devastated by the frost.  The vines that had just flowered were frozen.

Frozen vinesThe last few weeks of really warm weather (up to 27 degrees C), have advanced the vines 12 to 15 days, compared with previous years, making them more vulnerable to the sudden frost.

The morning papers report that in our department of Charente approximately 25,000 hectares of vines have been damaged – in some areas up 80% of the vine flowers have been destroyed.

There is very little the farmers can do to protect their crop against low temperatures. However, from very early morning some farmers tried setting fire to straw bales near their vines to raise the nearby air temperature.  Others called in helicopters to fly low over the vines, to create turbulence and avoid cold air staying low on the ground.  This managed to increase the temperature by up to 2 degrees.  But sadly even these efforts  were not sufficient to avoid the extensive damage.  

The French farmers as in other parts of Europe believe strongly in the Saints de Glace. The three important are:  St Mamert (11 May), St Pancrace (12 May) and St Servais (13 May).  They say in France: “Beware, the first of the ice saints, often you will see its trace.  Before Saint-Servais, no summer; after Saint-Servais, no more frost.”  There are even those who recommend caution planting fragile plants outdoor until 25th May (St Urban) as a frost can occur up to then.  They say: “Quand la saint Urbain est passée, le vigneron est rassuré.”  When St Urban is passed, the vineyard owners are assured.

Our pretty garden was also touched by the sudden frost.  The potato crop is partially frozen and the lovely lagerstroemia that was so kindly given to us last autumn by Michel and his wife is frozen.

Frozen lagerstoemia

Our hydrangea is well protected against a stone wall, but some of its leaves are badly damaged.

Frozen hydrangea

A few other more fragile flowers and plants have also suffered, but my heart goes to the farmers that for the last twelve months have laboured really hard in their vineyards and have overnight lost so much.

Kourosh


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A confused spring

For the past couple of days we have had sunshine and temperatures going up to 26 degrees centigrade.  Sitting outside (in the shade in the afternoon) it feels more like summer.

The large plum tree has finished flowering and yet many of the trees like the Ash and Poplar still look skeletal from afar.

The Salix chermesina (foreground) have been cut down to leave pride of place to the Amelanchier.

I never had a species name for my Amelanchier but it is always full of blossom in the spring and I like its branched form.  Unfortunately the bees and pollinators are not impressed.

The peach tree is in blossom and…

the apricots have plenty of green fruit.  However, April can be cold here and frosts can be expected until the beginning of May, so I am not counting my apricots yet.

I have been starting to change the very bottom of the garden into a “Spring Walk”, inspired by Christina her Italian garden.  This part of the garden had been overrun and thick with brambles and ivy and had to be left on its own for many years.  Because of the trees there is little light in the summer but I thought I could introduce some spring flowers.

There were too many daffodil bulbs in the borders in other parts of the garden which had to be thinned out.  I thought that if they had prospered and multiplied with little care in the various borders then they might survive at the bottom of the garden, which is very dry in the summer.  The problem was there is little soil over the tree roots so it was a case of sticking them in during the autumn and covering them up with divots taken from clearing the borders.  Miraculously, they survived and have flowered.  We have also been trying to seed some of the woodland flowers from around us in this area for some years now.

We have been keeping the path strimmed roughly and after the daffodils  finished there was a beautiful path of dandelions.  It is not only here that the dandelions are prospering but all over the garden and over the fields outside.  I have never seen so many dandelions in the spring.  It must seem like manna for the bees and other pollinators.

I now have a request.  The white flowers look like snowdrops (sorry about the photograph but white flowers on long stems are past my photographic ability – just think big snowdrops) but I have forgotten their name.  I have a feeling I saw them in Cathy’s garden some years ago.  I don’t think this should be too hard for you gardeners out there.

Next I.D.!  This has been grown from a cutting from a dubious source.  It is not fast growing but it is very tough and makes excellent ground cover.  The leaves are small – check out the nettle in the foreground for scale.

This year it is covered with little white/pale lemon flowers which the bees like (which is the reason we took the cuttings in the first place.)  It is evergreen and keeps mainly a low profile put it has thrown up the odd higher shoot this year.  Perhaps this is a more difficult one to name?  Any help with the names will be welcomed.

I am always impressed with tough plants.  This picture was taken on the 14 March 2017.  This is my Anisodontea which was still flowering last December although the leaves were starting to go red in the cold and now it has started to flower again!  I think I will try and take some cuttings.

Another new plant is my Lonicera tatarica which is covered in these delicate dark pink flowers.  All the bees like it but they are a bit spoiled for choice with the number of flowers available for them at the moment.

The Viburnum tinus has masses of blossom and is that bit earlier to flower.  We have divided the shoots from our large bush to provide hedging for the side of the garden so we should have even more flowers next year.

I used to love the chrome yellow flowers of Forsythia in the spring and I have several plants but since I have become interested in the bees it has dropped low on my list of favourites.  I see very few bees on the flowers – but there will always be the one to keep you guessing!

Our bat is still with us and is enjoying the sunny weather.  It let me get a good photograph to show the white tips of its black fur.  I had read that the Barbastelle bat’s have white tips to their black hairs but they are not always apparent in the shade.  It flies off on its adventures at dusk, just as night falls.

Just now the moment is around 21.00 hours and we watch it take flight, never knowing if it will be the last time we wave it goodbye – for this year.


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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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A Regulus ignicapillus in the hand

Back door

Our dining room faces onto a small patio facing the front garden.  Water and food is placed on the patio for the birds to eat, drink, bathe and generally frolic for our amusement summer and winter.

We get large numbers of sparrows and tits with the flock mentality of one for all.  This means that when one is startled they all take off en mass.  Sometimes the startled birds lose their sense of direction and we occasionally hear a tell tale knock on the window.  Usually, they fly off but sometimes they are stunned.

IMG_0004

The other day we heard the fateful rap on the window and ran to check that all was well.  A stunned bird was lying on the patio, so I picked it up and even I with my limited birding knowledge realised that it was not a sparrow.

Firecrest

It was completely stunned so Kourosh quickly took a few photographs and then dashed off for a cardboard box.  He found a conveniently small one and I placed the bird in the box and closed the lid and left it in a quiet place.  A couple of hours later we heard a scrabbling from inside the box.  We opened the box outside at the back of the house and the bird flew directly into the trees.

The dark box treatment is the best course to take to prevent a stunned bird from freezing in the winter or dehydrating in the sun of the summer.

Next we had to find out what it was!  I thought it might be a Goldcrest (the smallest British bird – I’m not sure why that stuck in my mind.)  I was on the right track though – it is in fact a Firecrest.  I think I have heard it in the back garden, it has a very distinctive call, you can listen to it here http://www.oiseaux.net/oiseaux/roitelet.triple-bandeau.html

My book on the birds of the Charente-Maritime calls it the Roitelet triple-bandeau and says that it nests in this region but can also migrate in winter.  It also identifies her as a female, the male having a bright orange stripe instead of the females more yellow stripe on the head.  I hope her disagreement with our window does not put her off nesting in the garden or visiting the patio.


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Special Mission – Year Two

Last year we undertook a “Special Mission” to count glow worms on a route of  500 metres in length near our house.  I posted about the Special Mission in July last year.  We were contacted again this year and were on the road at 11.00 p.m. last Saturday.

glow worm

I was a bit disappointed with the photographs I took but it was important to try, as seemingly they are often able to tell which species they are, even from fuzzy photographs.  We saw eight females but no males and no couples mating.  Last year we had found fourteen on our second attempt and we were able to photograph a couple mating.  This year has been very dry so perhaps less snails for the larval food?

Sous apricotier

The previous day Kourosh had noticed a glow worm under the apricot tree in the back garden when he had been pulling back the weeds.  So we checked if it was still there.

Glow worm with snails

She was still there on Saturday night and we also noticed a lot of little snails ( of the Clausilies family, I think).

Un autre dans le jardin clignotant

This one was in the front garden and she was producing a strong light but still no male.

I posted this just to give everybody a poke if they had intended to notify http://www.asterella.eu/index.php? in France (or indeed to notify the various organisation with similar projects in other countries) and might have forgotten to check their garden.

We do not often go wandering around after midnight but with the street light extinguished it is beautiful to watch the stars in a cloudless summer sky.

Deilephila elpenor.Elephant Hawk Moth

When we got back to the house we found an Elephant Hawk-Moth (Deilephila elpenor) waiting for us on the kitchen window ledge so perhaps we should take after dark walks more frequently.

 


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Still running to keep up

Garden April 2016

The winter was mild and now the spring is coming, as it should, with sunshine and rain showers but I am still running to keep up with the changing season.

The star of the moment is the Amelanchier – the blurry, white blossoming in the middle of the photograph above.  It looks better for real.

Bee in Amelanchier

It attracts some honey bees and bumble bees.

Bumble bee in Ribes Pulborough Scarlet

I have been so pleased this year with my Ribes sanguineum “Pulborough Scarlet” as I have managed to kill off two different varieties over the years before they even flowered.  They are usually hardy shrubs but I am pleased that this one looks very healthy and has the pulling power for the bees that I had been hoping for.

Halictus in Ribes

These tiny bees appreciate the flowers as much as the large bumble bees do.

Bee in Coronilla

The Coronilla, coaxed from cuttings from a friend’s garden, has been flowering through the winter but on sunny days its perfume becomes strong and I notice the bees in its flowers.

Anthophora in Coronilla

Perhaps the plant only produces the perfume and nectar to coincide with times when pollinators are likely to be around.

Prunus mahaleb

Another new comer is Prunus mahaleb which I planted at the beginning of last December and has now flowered despite it only being about 90 cm. tall.  It seems to be living up to expectations of lots of flowers from this little tree.

IMG_4053

We are glad there are plenty of bees around as the cherry and plum trees are flowering.

Quince flowers

I have always been fond of our quince tree but now it appears to have become a firm favourite of our bees too!

Redstart

I do love the birds we get in our garden too, so I was very happy to see the first redstarts returning.  I was rather pleased with this photograph of one seeing as it was taken with a 100 mm. Macro lens at about 25 metres distance!

Bumble in broad beans

Our broad beans, despite one cold spell, have come through the winter well and the bumble bees are making sure that I will have plenty of broad beans to shell and peel.

Outside the garden is particularly beautiful this year after a second wet winter in a row.  Bluebells, anemones, violets and Asphodel are shooting up in places I have never seen them before.  I just bent to take a picture of some Stitchwort when at the last moment I saw a dappled white butterfly watching me.

Dappled white butterfly

Another example of great camouflage.