a french garden


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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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Flowers on the roof

Flowers on roof

I have flowers on the roof.  I have not planted them but the seeds have found a home and the rain has done the rest.

Anthophora plumipes

This solitary bee (Anthophora plumipes) takes shelter in the house wall as it whiles away the time until the females are hatched.  If it was sunnier he would be out patrolling the garden but he is inside – like me.  The continuous clouds and frequent rain makes the garden option less attractive than usual at this time of the year.

Another male, this time an Osmia cornuta, continues his vigil outside the bee hotel.

He had less time to wait after the photograph as the female Osmia cornuta are now hatched and busy filling up the holes and bamboo sticks in the bee hotel.  She makes her own mortar to carefully seal in each egg she lays, tamping it in place with the little horns or “cornes” she has on her head.  One of the horns is visible in the photograph, she has two, but the other is obscured by the antenna.

At least during the bright spells I have had some chance to check out some of my newer plants for the bees like the Lonicera tatarica.

The flowers have been given the seal of approval by the bumble bees.  I would be interested if anyone had any other shrub type of honeysuckle other than the L. fragrantissima which I have also got.

It also let me have my first view this year of the early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum) which looked like a queen with full pollen sacs starting up her colony.

Another new shrub flowering this year for the first time is the Elaeagnus umbellata.  I was pleased to see the bees on its flowers as I have bought quite a few of them.  They are covered in flowers although they are still small and are in their first year in the garden.  I think they should look quite impressive next year.

A lot of the fruit trees are in flower just now.  The apple, Belle de Boskoop gets first prize at the moment for the most beautiful flowers.  The buds are a beautiful deep pink that softens as the flower opens.

The bees, however, differ and award first prize to the cherry trees.  It is interesting to see that, despite being offered apple, pear and plum tree flowers at the same time, the bees favour the cherries.  Obviously, they visit all the flowering fruit trees but they do have their favourites.

The Victoria plum gets its fair share of visits.

But what had me guessing was this bee that was only visiting the faded flowers of the plum tree.  I find that so unusual as their were plenty of fresh flowers around even on the same tree.  So why should she do that?  Just to keep me guessing?

We do care about the other visitors to the garden and we have put up some more nest boxes this year.  However, the wren has decided to make a nest in the coils of rope Kourosh has left in the outside workshop.  We try not to go too near it but it looks beautiful constructed from moss that has been gathered.  At least it must have been easy gathering moss this year!

We always hear the cuckoos at this time of year but rarely see them, however, this year we have spotted one that comes in a tree at the bottom of the garden.  Kourosh has even managed to take a short video of it “singing”.  It is fun to hear the first cuckoo but if you are working a lot in the garden it does not take long before you wish it had another tune to sing.

We are now being promised more sun and less rain.  I truly hope the forecast holds true this time.

The bees have had enough of being stuck in the hives sheltering form the rain.  They are hoping for sunshine as there are plenty of flowers available for them now.

 

 

 

 


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March in the garden

Up till now we have been subjected to chaotic changes in the weather this March.  High winds, freezing temperatures overnight, sunshine and rain and more rain and clouds with temperatures about ten degrees under seasonal average take turns to fill the days.

The first of March saw the plum tree flowers frozen and brown.

Whereas a week earlier it had been full of flowers.

Four rows of broad beans were frozen overnight in an extremely low temperature.  I could have avoided the damage by simply covering the plants with a fleece or even some newspaper but they completely slipped my mind.

It has not been all bad news and the Goat Willow (Salix caprea) is open and welcoming the honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees and butterflies – especially when it is sunny.  As you can see our hives are very close to the willow, which is on the left of the picture, so they can take advantage of short sunny spells in between the rain.  Standing under the tree and listening to the hum above your head feels so peaceful.  There is a 19 second video if you would like to share the bees.

It is good to see the girls collecting such healthy sized sacs of pollen.

The willow provides nectar as well as pollen.  This is a  Andrena cineraria (Ashy mining bee).  They have nested in the past under the large plum tree.

Checking under the plum tree I saw a number of male Andrena cineraria flying over the ground and this one was kind enough to pose on a daisy for me while he had a snack.  It looks like they are keeping to the same nesting area.

Last week the Osmia cornuta emerged from their holes.  The males emerge first and on sunny days they fly constantly around the bee hotels hoping for a female to emerge.  I have just seen a female prospecting one of the bee hotels so it will soon be time to watch the nest building.  Check out last year’s post if you would like to see more.

On the opposite side of the garden from the bees is an area that has always been full of lesser celandine (Ficaria verna).  I do my best but I find it difficult to do more than try and keep it out the borders.

I probably would not mind it so much if the bees liked it but usually it is only flies that I see on them.

One thing you can be sure about bees is that you can never say never, when it comes to their behaviour.

Keeping on the unusual – this is a double headed daffodil.  It is the first one I have seen.  Is it unusual?

This hyacinth is probably easier to explain, as it looks as if it has self-sown.  Not very striking but at least it is a pretty colour.

It might be worth looking under your Hellebores as there are lots of seedlings under mine.

Looking closer the second leaves are just starting to appear but they could easily be overlooked by an enthusiastic weeding.

This spring has been so wet and windy that I have come to realise how useful the downward facing flowers of the Hellebore are.  The pollen is kept dry for the bees and they are sheltered from the winds that make flying and nectar gathering difficult.

The green tubular structures are that the bee is visiting are the Hellebores nectaries and provide nectar which is collected by honey bees and so very valuable to the overwintering queen bumble bees when they awaken on warmer winter days.

This year my previous year’s seedlings have all done well and are settling into positions at the base of deciduous trees and plants.  I have my seed trays all ready so my next job in the garden is to fill them up with more Hellebore seedlings as I have already marked out in my mind where I can plant them in the autumn.


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Of cold days and Hellebores

Mid morning today the temperature was not above four degrees Centigrade.  Such a quiet garden.  The Viburnum tinus had no visitors.

At least the willow buds (Salix caprea) are protected from the cold by their white, silky fleece.  There is no urgency for them to open as the wild bees will be still safely tucked into their nests in hollow stems or tunnels in the ground or perhaps in our house walls.  The honey bees will be in their hives while the cold prevails.

I think of the nectar and pollen that the willow will provide but for the willow the season will arrive and its pollen will be dispersed and seed will be set irrespective of the bees and other pollinators because it is wind pollinated.  The bees can help a bit but they depend on the willow much more than the willow depends on them.

The Hellebore are providing colour in the cold weather, oblivious to the chill.

My mainstay Hellebore is a dark purple plant.  I inherited several seedlings of them from my sister’s garden in the U.K. and it has taken some years to establish clumps of them around the garden.

She has been generous with her seedlings and whereas I was hoping my deep purple might revert, I think it is relatively stable.  This spotty pink is probably another of her seedlings.

This one has green markings but but is more likely to have come from a later seedling of my sister’s than a natural hybrid.

The Hellebore self-seed so well I thought I might try my hand at pollinating a white Hellebore with a dark one and collecting the resulting seed.  I opened a white bud and liberally rubbed pollen from the dark red Hellebore, closed the bud and tied thick red wool around the flower head.  I get ten out of ten for enthusiasm and enterprise but the poor flower is brown and shows signs of a too rough treatment.  I’ll try again but more gently.

I did treat myself to a named variety last year in the U.K. –  Helleborus Harvington.  Unfortunately, I have just discovered this refers to the Hellebore bred by Hugh Nunn at Harvington and there are many varieties of beautiful Hellebore that he has bred.  So I still do not have a named variety.

Luckily, I love all my Hellebore.  I do not mind that for the most part they hang their heads and conceal the beautiful interiors.

The bees care little about the position of the flower heads either.

I took the photographs of the bees on the Hellebore on 2 February and you can see the ivory pollen she has gathered.   The Hellebore are generous to the bees and also provide them with nectar.  I, in my turn, am rewarded with lots of Hellebore seedlings that I lift and tend in seed trays over the summer until I find a suitable place for them.

I am finding them very useful in the garden as they can be put under the shade of deciduous trees and will take being baked in the summer when they are established.

Hey girls!  I really am trying to make sure there is enough for everyone.


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Rain, rain

Last night on the news it said that this January in France has seen the highest rainfall in a hundred years!  I must admit everyone around is bemoaning the clouds and the rain although, as a gardener, I tend to see the bright side of all this as everything was too dry last year.  In addition, we have had no local flooding – not yet anyway.

Most of the winter flowers seem happy to cope with the rain, humidity and low light conditions but not my Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox).  The wet fading flowers are being attacked by black mold, however, on the rare days we get the sunshine the wonderful perfume of the Wintersweet flowers permeates the air.

The Wintersweet only started to flower last year and this is last year’s photograph of the beautiful, waxy petals of the  flower.  I will have to wait another year to see it in full flower.

The birds on the other hand do not appear to mind the rain and the Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) come down to forage in our “lawn” ignoring the sparrows and the bird food on the patio.  This photograph has been taken through the window while it was raining so the quality is not excellent.

The grass is shooting up as high as the finch’s head and making him bedraggled.

I wondered what they could be eating until I saw that the grass is already producing ample flower heads and the grass seeds are easily seen sticking to its beak.  I had never considered that the grass seed would be so attractive to them.

Hey you two!  There is a new birdhouse all ready hanging in the apricot tree on the side of the garden that you prefer.  Take a look in while you are here.


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Help for small gardeners

I take my composting seriously (sad but true).  So I decided to buy myself a pre-Christmas present in December and was excited when the box arrived a few days later.

I had coveted this strange item ever since I had “had a go” with it in a natural gardening open day.

To make good compost rapidly I have been told the compost needs to be mixed frequently and I have seen videos of large compost heaps being attacked vigorously with garden forks.

I do not have sufficient strength to dig into piles of vegetable matter and in addition we keep our compost in wooden containers to keep it tidy and to conserve the warmth of decomposition.  You would need to be tall to be able to fork through these compost boxes or be happy to demantle them every few days, which is not an easy job.

I do not usually feature the composting site on the blog, for obvious reasons.  I’ve had to leave the tops open as once I had used my Brass compost mixer (for those interested in etymology, brasser means to mix or toss in French), I noticed that the mixture was quite dry in parts.

In short, I am delighted with it.  I can burrow into my compost heap creating tunnels leading to the bottom layers and distributing the extracted cores on the top and sides.  This is a video of the inventor showing how it works.

The mixer is produced by the ESAT de l’ODET near Quimper which is run by the Association for the paralysed in France (l’Association des Paralysés de France).

I think all I have to do now is put on the top and wait for some warmer weather to speed up the composting – and of course, keep turning it with my new brass compost every few days.

 


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The bees in December

We celebrated the first of December by taking the muzzles off the front of the hives.  A cold spell had at last stopped the hornet attacks.

It was good to see the bees free at last and flying unimpeded by the wire netting.  We put on entrance reducers to keep them cosy.

Kourosh is very proud of his Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) tree and rightly so, as he grew it from the seeds we recovered from the fruit that we had eaten in the U.K, only seven years ago.  We were looking forward to seeing the bees enjoying the flowers as they had done last year.

Then more cold weather and frosts hit, freezing the flowers.  Our dry spell has at last ended and we have had rain.  The days have been often cloudy and damp.  Low temperatures and rain keep the bees clustered in their hives.  We miss watching them and it keeps us out of the garden.

This last week we have had some sunny days and the frost and cold weather has not damaged the Loquat flowers.

What does surprise me is that the bees fly to the Loquat tree when the air temperature is no higher than 9 degrees Centigrade.

You can see the bee dipping her tongue into the flower to dab up the nectar that has been warmed by the sun.  The flowers are also well insulated by the sepals which are covered by fluffy hairs.

The flowers also supply a plentiful pollen and you could see the pollen sacs growing as you watched an individual bee.

This bee is moistening the pollen in her front legs before passing it back to join the rest of the bundle stuck to her back legs.

 

Sometimes it all becomes too much and she has to sit on a leaf and have a good groom and retrieve all the sticky pollen in peace.

I noticed that at 9 degrees Centigrade the bees were only on the Loquat tree and the Winter Flowering Honeysuckle which are both very close to their hives.

However, yesterday when the temperature went up to 10.5 degrees Centigrade the bees flew further to the Mahonia and…

even the winter flowering heather which is in the front garden.  A warmer couple of days must be making them more adventurous.  I  have seen no queen bumble bees at these temperatures.  They should be hibernating in a shady spot that will not be over-heated by the sun as they are on their own and coming out at these low air temperatures would not be wise as they have no warm hive and cluster of bees to keep them warm.

I also noticed my first Hellebore in the front garden but the others have still a long way to go, so the bees will have to wait a bit for their next treat.