The poppies of May

Returning from an excellent yoga retreat led by Sonia Ama and Marion Duval we found the garden full of sunshine, bees and poppies.

The poppies pop up all over the garden and are appreciated by us and all the bees.

May is a time when so much blooms in the garden but this year the weather is hot and dry. Today is 33 degrees at 5 p.m. in the evening, there has never been such a hot May here since 1947. Already some of the plants are suffering but it is difficult to tell whether they are still suffering from the short, sharp frost we had in April or lack of water.

It is a time to tend the garden when it is cool enough to work and enjoy it when it is too hot to do anything else.

Our Blue Tits and Great Tits have returned to the bird table after raising their young. They are bringing their noisy fledglings to try to encourage them to feed themselves.

Check out this short 23 second video to listen to this pushy fledgling demanding to be fed.

Dark November

Chantecleer

November has become a cold dark month. We have been touched by a tragedy in our little hamlet that rocks the foundation of your thoughts and leads to introspection.

Willows

We gardeners who love our gardens and share them with the many visitors that pass through them have something truly precious. Others lack our interest, and November can be a dark time without interest or a kindred spirit to share hopes, exchange ideas and bask in the comfort of being with people of similar ideas.

It is difficult to reach out to people who have a different nature but we are all different. It is wrong to be too pushy but it is also wrong to relent too quickly.

I will try to open my eyes wider, to be more inclusive, to think more of others, not to be misguided by false smiles and easily obtained assurance that all is well. Perhaps, we can all make that phone call, email or coffee invitation that we have been putting off. Will it make a difference? I do not know.

In the meantime, Cathy of “Words and Herbs” has suggested we join her in a week of flowers, starting on the 1st December. It can be a difficult month but I admire her positive spirit.

Is it worth it?

We have always believed that we share the house and garden with the animals that frequent it ( see the old 2017 post “We give nature a home..”. In fact, they share their garden with us rather than the other way around.

A Barbastelle bat had been visiting us since 2016 (see “Return to the garden in March”) and recently we have noticed what we think is a common Pipistrelle bat behind the shutters and sometimes in our garden parasol. I did not think that roosting behind shutters in wet weather was an ideal site for the bats.

In the winter of 2019, Kourosh built and installed a bat box. We looked through the internet to get the best advice we could find on sizes and places and height to mount the box. You can see that the box has been placed on a sheltered spot. The problem is that access is difficult and so we were never sure if it was being used.

Last week Kourosh decided to get out his long ladder and have a look. The tell tale droppings on the ledge underneath the box was enough to reassure us that the box was being used.

After the installation of the first bat house, we realised that it would be difficult to monitor and also I had my doubts about the suggestion of such a high position for a bat box. After all, the bats had chosen the downstairs shutter and quite a narrow installation. Kourosh listened to my concerns and built me a MarkII bat house with the same interior width as the space behind the shutter.

The problem is that underneath the bat box MarkII it is difficult to see any droppings because of the flowers.

Once again Kourosh came to my rescue because there is no way you can see inside a long bat box. He had purchased a Potensic endoscope some years ago before even he had a smart phone. Now he was able to join it to his mobile phone and guess what!

The lower bat box had an occupant which you can see on this short (6 sec.) video.

I think it is a common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus). The best way to identify bats from a photograph is to look at their ears. Like many identifications from photographs, it is not exact and if anyone is more knowledgeable about bats I would love to hear from them. I believe that a more exact identification can be made using equipment that can detect their echolocation cries which are specific to the species of bat and these detectors are used by people who study bats.

Here, in the Charente Maritime, the fields for monoculture of vines, maize, sunflower and oilseed rape are increasing in size as hedges are cut to join up the fields and woodland is removed to create more arable land. This means less habitat for the bats and of course the flying insects that they consume. In addition, modern farm buildings offer less places for the bats to roost.

We were very happy with our discoveries and sat down to enjoy a morning coffee.

We needed to use the parasol because of the sun but when we opened it we found it was already in use.

I’ve turned this image to give you a less upside down image of the bat. Needless to stay, we had to get our sun hats to enjoy our coffee outside! Luckily, the bat does not always take up residence in the parasol.

The picture window

Our French doors leading into the front garden might be considered picture windows as they give us a good view of the garden. However, I think they could be called picture windows as Kourosh uses them to take photographs of the birds that visit the patio.

We are getting more and more birds visiting the patio.

On one side of the patio we have a large stone trough which has been there for many years. To cut down on watering, I have started to grow succulents but so far I have had only a moderate success with them.

The trough has not an exactly regular base and so a little cave has been formed on the bottom right hand side. Wrens are insectivorous, so I imagine it must form an ideal mini habitat for lots of invertebrates as it is visited regularly by the wren.

The Latin name for wrens is Troglodytes troglodytes meaning one who creeps into holes or a cave dweller. It is very appropriate for the timid wren. In French the common name is Troglodyte mignon. Mignon in French meaning cute or sweet, which is again very appropriate.

This week a pair of Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) were caught bathing in front of the picture window. The male has a black cap and the female a chestnut brown one. The water certainly attracts all the birds which means we have to fill the trough up during the day as they soon empty out the bath water.

The clump of wild fennel is full of seeds now which attracts the birds like this little Warbler. I do not think it is just the food, I think the birds feel protected in the cover of the fennel stalks.

The birds need to feel safe and sheltered.

This has made me feel that if we had more cover on the patio we might attract even more birds up close. I now feel it is worthwhile to increase the pots at the “picture window” and use larger sizes of pots to keep the plants moist.

I am making a start here with the lemon tree, new orange tree, Salvia leucantha, Jacaranda and winter heathers for later.

Comet Neowise over the garden

Yesterday was a beautiful day with the sky an all covering Charentaise blue.  We decided to look for the comet Neowise as darkness fell.

We localised the Big Dipper and there was the comet between the trees.

I have never taken photographs of comets or stars before so it was pretty hit or miss.  You maybe just able to see the shadow of our trees at the edges of the photograph.

This photograph is thanks to Picassa, but actually closer to what the eye sees.  The stars are showing as dashes as the world turns as I hold down my shutter release.

You should be able to see the comet for the next few days if you have clear skies.

Advantage bat

We have been getting summer weather almost continuously for the past month.  For instance, this afternoon it was 27 degrees centigrade (80 degrees F) in the garden.  We have been making the most of the garden and enjoy being able to have lunch outside – even if we may need a jacket.

Today was, in fact, too hot without sitting under a parasol, but the parasol had been requisitioned as a day-time roosting spot for a bat (Pipistrelle, I think.)

We have had a Pipistrelle roosting through the winter behind the shutters of the window facing the garden.  He disdained the bat box Kourosh had made  mounted on the wall.

Kourosh noticed that the gap he squeezed into behind the shutters was narrower than the gap recommended for the bat box.  So he made a custom-sized box specially for him and placed it slightly to the side of where he roosted.  Still he preferred the shutter.

So our choice today was to move under the apricot tree for shade.  We do try to give nature a home but sometimes I think they can push their luck.

Snow!

An unusual sight today 30 March 2020, it is snowing from early morning.  The air temperature is around 3-4 degrees C so the snow flakes melt when they touch the ground.

Two days ago I was sunbathing in my swimsuit in the garden.  However, the temperature is not forecast to drop below zero.

12.00

I have certainly spoken too soon.  The snow is giving a very decorative dusting to the garden.

We can never complain about the weather being boring.

Some winners and losers of the dry summer

I’m going back into September here and the garden is dry.  Just as I was hoping to get a bit more out of the vegetable garden, I encounter our hottest, driest summer.

I was so concerned that there would be nothing left to flower even outside the garden for the bees that I chucked down loads of Cosmos and Cosmos sulphureus seeds in the vegetable garden as I felt I could keep them watered.  They were just seeds that I had gathered last year from the garden so I had plenty.

My attempt at growing chick peas was a failure but I did discover that you could eat them raw from the pod like green peas.

The Borlotti beans produced very little and the parsley refused to grow.

This is my sole butternut production.  I shall be dependent on my neighbour Annie for her pumpkins in the winter.

There have been notable successes.  The aubergines did well, as did the courgettes.

And these delicious little cucumbers kept producing all summer.

In summary the vegetables performed poorly but our pear trees produced more fruit this year although the apple trees produced hardly any apples.

The Comice pears above were very good but I think our Conference pears beat them on flavour.

The tomatoes survived as I watered them and they produced enough to eat in salad and make coulis to freeze.  The little Sungold did well on the wigwam we made.  The leeks and Brussel sprouts are planted for the winter but everything needs to be tidied and sorted for next season.

I think the bees probably think I should just stick to planting flowers.

The senna plants that I have grown from seed are doing well.  Whether they will survive the winter remains to be seen.

I watered late in the evening and by that time the senna had closed their leaves and gone to sleep which I find a very endearing trait.

I have noticed less leaf cutter bees in the garden this year.  They are such pretty bees with their abdomens bright yellow and full of pollen.  I have had no leaf cutters nesting in my bee houses either this year despite providing fresh bamboo tubes and drilled holes.  I do not know if the dry weather could affect them adversely.  I’d be interested in anyone else’s experience.

We will have to wait until next spring to see how a lot of the plants have survived.  I do choose drought tolerant plants.  There are some good surprises, like many shrubs such as fuschia will just look totally miserable yet survive.  Others have been disappointing and I will not plant anymore Tithonia rotundifolia which I thought was drought tolerant but does not grow well from seed unless it is well watered.

I am going to try to grow from seed, Tithonia diversifolia, which is a big brute of a plant and is supposed to be drought tolerant.  It is a perennial and I may live to regret it but it looked quite stunning when I saw it.

There were plenty of opportunities for tea and coffee in the garden, in the shade, and we shared these moments with the various garden visitors.  This bee seems to have recognised her stolen honey in the dregs of my lemon balm and mint tea.  She just cannot work out how it got there.

Garden Birds

The real hot days of summer (la canicule) are behind us.  Amelia and I found that this summer with the temperatures often between 35 and 40 degrees Centigrade, we were sitting less in the garden.  Oh, well, I told her, it is a good excuse to go to the beach!

asters

Now in late September it is milder and we can attend to the neglected tasks in the garden.  And to admire the autumn flowers and of course to sit down for a cup of coffee.

front garden

Our garden is usually very peaceful, except for the chattering of the birds.  But the garden would surely not be the same without the birds.

When we first bought this house we had very few visiting birds.  Now I am amazed with the variety of the birds.  They all need water, and so we have placed several watering havens for the bees and the birds.

The hoopoe has become a regular summer visitor to the garden.

Hoopoe

The green woodpecker made a bright splash of colour in the garden.  It is the first year that I have seen the woodpecker in the front garden.

woodpecker 1

The Redstarts have remained one of my favourite birds.  This year they occupied four nests that I had made for them and they raised at least four young ones in each nest!  We get both the black Redstarts as well as the common Redstarts.

red start 1

Birds require plenty of water, not only to drink but to keep their feathers clean and their antics in the trough provide us with lots of amusement.  We  see Redstarts taking their bath almost every day at the moment.

red start 2

I am almost sure that they actually enjoy frolicking in the water as much as my granddaughter used to do.

baby sparrow 1

The sparrow make their nest under the eaves, and I am sure that they must have had three broods this year.  Like all baby animals, they too look cute.

baby sparrow 2

But without a doubt, my favourite, at least for this year, is the warbler (I believe it is the melodious warbler).

Sometimes we have mistaken it for a sparrow as it is shy and moves away quickly, but its fine beak is a give-away.  The warbler has also started taking bath, but it is a quick dip in and out.

A couple of year ago, from a holiday in Malta, we brought with us a few seeds of what I call the giant fennel.  It has grown to well over two metres high and its flowers certainly attracted the bees.  Now in seeds, it seems to attract the warbler.

warbler 3

We shall certainly try to replant it next year, if nothing else to make sure that this beautiful bird keeps coming to our garden.

IMG_0149

– Kourosh

Summer visitors

We are expecting most of our summer visitors, like this hoopoe, but when they arrive it adds a zest to the garden.  I suppose it gives a touch of exoticism to the garden as I have never seen them in the U.K. where they would be very uncommon visitors.  This year we have had a pair in the garden, perhaps they like the hot weather we have been having.

The young green Woodpecker has been visiting us lately and whereas we often here them we see them less often.  Perhaps they are less shy when they are young.

The birds do not have to be exotic to raise a smile, we like to see the blackbirds with their young.

We are pleased when the sparrows have raised their second brood.

The Redstarts keep us amused with their splashing in the water dishes.  They will take off at the end of the summer to the West African Sahel (that’s the bit that borders the Sahara, to save you looking up Wikipedia, as I had to.)

There are also the new finds like this Tussock moth that I cannot remember seeing before.  I think it has a bit of growing to do and it will probably support this growth by munching through some of our tree leaves.  The trees seem to have enough leaves to spare so I am not worried.  Let’s just hope it is not some new species that will now defoliate the entire tree cover in the Charente-Maritime.

When feeling endangered it curls up in a tight ball causing its rear tuft of hair to protrude.  It makes the tuft of hairs look very much like an extremely sharp beak and I am sure it will give most birds and predators pause for thought.

Kourosh found this bright blue beetle on the cut trunk of a tree in the garden.  Very eye catching and easy to find on the web.  It is a Rosalia alpina.  According to what I can find out, the adult can be between 15-38 mm.  So we must have got an extra large sample!

It was a very frisky specimen and I could not get it to stay in place inside my white box.  The larvae spend two or three years growing in dead wood so this is one of the species of insects that you could hope to support in a garden that left some dead wood lying around.  When trees are coppiced or pollarded this provides good sites for the females to lay their eggs, but as these practices are becoming more rare…

Of course, the Dasypoda bees mean summer time too.  I love to watch them bounce around from flower to flower.  Or rather, they are more measured in their flight, it is the flower heads that bounce around as they land and depart.  Soon she will fill up the silky hairs on her back legs with pollen and the fine hairs will be lost from sight amongst the heavy load of pollen.

One of our hives surprised us by swarming mid June.  It was co-operative enough to use the much favoured branch of our quince tree.

This let us get things sorted out quite quickly and the bees accepted their new home.

The young queen, who was left at home to start over and build up a new colony, is having a difficult time to get things going so late in the season.   Still, the departing swarm left her a super of honey so you cannot say that they were not generous.

We are not the only ones to receive visiteurs in summer, the bees get their share too.