a french garden


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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.


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Here’s to an untidy garden

The Cosmos in the garden are a motley crew.  Most of it is self-seeded from last years plants.

The bees have no care for floral coordination of the garden but I suppose we have them to thank for the multitude of seed heads around the garden.

So now in October we have the Cosmos plants attracting the birds.

Kourosh has noticed that they often arrive in pairs and you can see that there are two in this photograph if you look closely.

The Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) is one of the most colourful birds we see in the garden.

They give me a great reason for leaving the Cosmos free to seed and to delay any tidying of the garden.

I’d rather have the Goldfinch than a tidy garden.

 


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Cosmos and more Cosmos

The leaves have started to fall.

The cherry trees leaves are turning yellow, like a lot of other trees outside of the garden.

There are less apples and they are smaller than last year.

The flowers at the moment are the old favourites apart from the Tithonia rotundifolia “Torch” which is just behind the conifer trying to out grow it.  Kourosh sent away for the seeds which he had read were a magnet to bees.  I looked forward to seeing the bright red flowers he had described.

I was disappointed at their brash orange colour and felt we had been cheated.  I checked on the net only to find that this is their correct colour.  I do not want to be sexist but Kourosh’s approximation of colours is perhaps a “man thing” – and no he is not colour blind.

However, for anyone who wants a tall, sunflower-like multi-headed plant, I can recommend it.  Several plants in the back garden have done well and stayed unsupported in the sun.

My obedient plant (Physostegia virginiata) that was identified on the blog last year is doing very well in a hard place to fill in the sun.  It has doubled in area since last year so I am going to have to keep my eye on its spread.

The bumble bees have no problem with a rapid increase in its flowers.

The bumble bees are in love with the single dahlias.

The Cosmos attracts bumble bees…

Carpenter bees…

Solitary bees (perhaps Megachile willughbiella)…

of different species (perhaps Halictus scabiosae).

The Abutilon looks happier than ever this year.  This is the third year that a new shoot has risen from its frozen stalk.  I suppose I should cover it in the winter but I am reluctant to pander to plants that cannot cope with the weather.  It is my fault for attempting to grow a plant that is too tender for here.

It is beautiful, though, and the bees like it.

At least this year I have managed to acquire Sedum that are attractive to the bees and butterflies and with the drought conditions we have experienced this year, I will be trying to expand by dividing the plants.

The Asters are opening and signalling the end of the summer.  It has been a difficult, unpredictable year in the garden with extreme heat at the beginning followed by a cloudy, moody August and lack of rain from the beginning of the year.

 

 


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Some bee trees for the garden

At this moment the back “lawn” is covered in Catsears with Dasypoda bees making the heads of the dandylion-like flowers droop as they land.  I find these bees so attractive with their fluffy hind legs covered in masses of fine hairs stuffed full of the sulphur yellow pollen.

As much as the Dasypoda attract me to watch them, I have to admit that the honey bees are doing a good job of collecting the pollen as well.  Their hind legs contain large nougats of the bright yellow pollen and I wonder whether they manage to carry more pollen by mixing it into a paste with the nectar or whether the Dasypoda manage to transport more of the pollen on their hairy hind legs.

I am always keen to provide as many sources of pollen and nectar for the bees throughout the year and I realise that trees can provide interest and shade for the garden and also nurture for the bees.  Last year I purchased three trees from a local nursery at Corme Royale and planted them in the autumn.  Planting trees is a long term project and if you want the quickest results then planting bare root trees in the autumn is the way to go.

The trees were bigger than we had expected but all the side branches were cut off severely before being handed over.  Kourosh assured that they were well staked.  This is the Fraxinus ornus or flowering Ash.  It was the last of the three to break into leaf in the spring and I was despairing that nothing would appear from the stick we had planted.  It appears to have survived although we need to water it while it is taking root, however, other Ash trees in the garden do not need water so it will become independent.  Perhaps next spring the bees will have some flowers.

The second tree is a Gleditsia triacanthos “Sunburst” and is the staked tree almost in the centre of the photograph in quite a dry area.  We chose this variety as it is drought resistant and has no thorns.  Some varieties of Gleditsia possess impressive thorns strong enough to burst rubber tyres (seemingly).  This is the only tree that has suffered slightly and the highest leaves look a little wilted.

The third tree is a Koelreuteria paniculata and despite its name has prospered and produced flowers in its first year.

Close up the flowers remind me of tiny narcissi flowers.

I can also verify that the flowers attract the bees.

The surprise is that after the flowers have passed, these seed pods continue to provide a very attractive decoration.

So on the seventh of July, the baby Koelreuteria was filling out with flowers.

Now on the sixteenth of August it is pushing three metres tall (nearly 10 foot) and I can imagine what it would look like once it is grown-up.

I have another tree in flower at the moment.  It too is a baby, coming up to two metres tall.  This tree has also grown very rapidly but I have no idea what it is.

For the past few years, each autumn I have bought some plants and trees, with some friends, from a small business that provides plants and trees reputed to provide a lot of nectar or pollen for the bees.  The owner keeps his own bees and has a charming habit of adding an extra few plants and also a “cadeau” plant with the order.  So far, so good but this year the gift plant did not have a label and has turned into a real surprise.  His catalogue is very small so I was sure I would be able to work it out.  He is not on the internet so I suppose I could write to him and send him a photograph but I was wondering  if anybody recognised the tree.  I have now found out that this is an  Amorpha fruticosa (see comments below).  It was listed in my catalogue as a shrub with pale blue flowers (?).

I have an Acacia growing close bye and the leaves look very similar, but Acacia flowers are white.  False Acacias can have pink flowers but these flowers are very deep purple.  It already flowered in April, despite its small size.  I would love to learn what it is called.


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Rain and thunderstorms

It was so good to get all the windows open on the first cool morning after the heatwave and to feel a cool breeze blow through the house.  However, that was not all that came in the window.  I would have thought that the swallows would have chosen their nesting places and not still be looking over our living room as a potential new home.

It has been so hot and dry that I was concerned a lot of the plants would suffer.  The grass has dried up but we have left patches of cat’s ears for the bees.  The willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) in the middle of the picture provide a good screen for our sitting area and have kept green.  On the right the Chitalpa has started flowering as has the Magnolia on the left of the willows.

The Chitalpa is a cross between the Catalpa bignonioides (Indian bean tree) and Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow).  It does well in the sun in this exposed position which does not get watered.  My disappointment is that the flowers are not as visited by the bees as the Catalpa flowers but I prefer my Chitalpa as the Catalpa would grow too big for this spot.

The Magnolia grandiflora does not seem to mind the heat and the lack of water.  It is growing big now and the flowers are often high up but the perfume still floats down.

We do water the vegetables and that has been a nightly task.

The Borlotti beans have started to give pods and they will hopefully continue through the summer.

There is no lack of pollinators for the courgettes and we have already had so many that we will probably have to remove some of the plants to avoid a glut.

We water the flowers in the front garden and the Agapanthes are in flower just now.

Everything looks happier after several days of really good rain.

The first field of Sunflowers opened near us four days ago.

The flowers had already been spotted by the bees and we wondered if our bees had found them too.

A shot of the bees at the mouth of the hive confirms that the bees have been on the sunflowers as there are many bees covered with the tell-tale (tell-tail?) bright yellow pollen.

We are happy too and take great pleasure in leaving the windows open while we have a cup of tea and watch the rain pour down.

What funny creatures gardeners are!