a french garden


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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.


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Mid January in the garden

The constant rain that was the garden’s lot before Christmas has eased up.  The temperatures have only teased around zero from time to time and the sunny days are rare but something that brings cheer.

When the sun does shine it is not the flowers but the willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) that light up the garden.  I planted them in January 2014.

I was so optimistic about the effect my Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox) would have in the garden when I planted it in February of 2015.  I planted it not too far from the back door so that I could enjoy the perfume.  It took util last year to flower and whereas the perfume is striking sampled from close, I do not find it wifts any distance as do my other perfumed shrubs.

It did not start flowering until last year and I find at this time of year the flowers become damaged in the rain.

Perhaps it is not happy.  I admit it is in a fairly shady spot in the summer and if any one has any ideas how I can improve its performance, I would love to hear.

The Winter Sweet cannot compete with the density of flowers on the Viburnum tinus which started opening in December.

All these flowers attract the bees and provide very valuable pollen.

Quantity is important when attracting pollinators and although the Anisodontea is still producing flowers of a very good quality, they are not attracting the number of insects they do in the summer.

This large clump of heather (Erica darleyensis) is always well visited but I have several other newer and smaller clumps around the garden but they do not receive the same attention – just yet!

Only the tips of the Mahonia are in flower now and the berries are beginning to set.

I thought the Japanese Medlar (Eriobotrya japonica) would have finished by now but I could still smell the perfume and found several still flowering bunches in the more sheltered areas of the tree.  It has been flowering all December and is worth its place in any garden solely for the perfume.

As one plant finishes its flowering season another one starts.  This primula is a bit quick off the mark.

But the prize for precocity (or stupidity) goes to the apricot tree – already in flower.  We planted our fruit trees as soon as we bought the house, with little knowledge but great enthusiasm.  I wish we had had the knowledge at that time to look for fruit trees more suited to this area.  We bought them tempted by the pretty pictures on their labels.

Our plum tree, we inherited, although it was very small and it flowers very early, it usually provides a great source of pollen and nectar for the pollinators and very good eating and cooking little plums.  It seems as determined this year to get going as soon as possible.

The winter flowering honeysuckle will keep the pollinators happy until the early fruit trees are in flower.

The bushes are not too high and so provide lots of entertainment watching the bees gather pollen.  The honeysuckle roots fairly easily and we have taken cuttings to give us now five bushes around the garden.

At the moment there is a lot of blue Speedwell (Veronica spp.) in the grass and the bees visit these tiny flowers.  They must have good nectar as this bee looked quite comical pushing its way into a flower that was not completely open.

I was surprised to see this wild bee on the Speedwell.  You can see how small she is as she fits comfortably into the little flower head.  I tried to see what she might be as I had managed to catch sight of the slit at the end of her thorax so I suspected the Halictidae family.  Steven Falk writes that bees in this group often nest underground and some have communual nests and even primitive eusocial communities.  So she could possibly be a fertilised queen getting ready to start her new brood.  Or are they like the bumble bee queens that come out of their shelters during the favourable days of winter to restock on fresh nectar?


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Water, water everywhere

Since last week it has been raining more and the field behind the garden is covered in water.  You should just be able to see the hives in the background, of the photograph.

Looking in the exactly same direction but further back, a second field is also completely flooded.

Fields on the other side are much the same.  In fact, any low land the Seudre flows past in this area has been flooded.  A lot of the land in this area was marsh land so it is not so unusual.  It is just these areas have been much drier in the past forty years.

The rain has kept me out of the garden but the bees have always taken the opportunity of the mild temperatures and any sunshine to get out of their hives.

We had five hives at the end of the summer.  Pissenlit was the smallest and we reduced her to six frames, hoping she would thrive on the ivy in the autumn.  She seemed less and less active until at the beginning of December we opened her to find no bees.  The frames of honey were there but no bees and no signs of disease.  She was a large swarm that had come to our apricot tree in the front garden on 31 May this year.  She had built up quite well but did not keep up with her original energy.

Our next disappointment was when we opened the Poppy hive for the winter oxalic acid treatment on 16 December and found the hive empty.

This was a surprise as she had gone into winter as our largest and busiest hive.  We have had the Poppy hive from 2015 and she has swarmed and re-queened every year.  We had noticed in the past couple of weeks that she was not so busy but we were not too concerned.

Once again, there were no signs of disease and there were plenty of stores of honey and pollen.

I will add a close up of the same frame, so that you can see the different colour of pollen as well as honey that they had stored..

The few bees we found at the bottom of the hive were all perfect with no wing malformations.

There were never any large number of dead bees in front of the hive.  It was just empty and we feel that the emptying must have taken place relatively rapidly as we watch our hives regularly.

Moving onto a happier note, we have now three large bushes of winter flowering honeysuckle near the hives and they are soon popular with the bees when the rain stops.

The Mahonias, Charity and two Media, are all flowering and much appreciated by the bees.

The Eriobotrya japonica or Loquat has even more perfumed flowers and that attracts the bees too.  This tree would be hardy in most places in the UK but I do not recall seeing it.  You would be unlikely to get fruit in the UK but I highly recommend it for its perfume.

Our Viburnum tinus on the fence is full of buds and the bees will not have long to wait until the flowers open.

In fact, some of the flowers lower down have already opened.

These plants are very easy to propagate if you cut off some roots from a large plant.  We are hoping to have a few more on the road side and we were very pleased to see these cuttings thrive and start to flower this year.

I finish this post marveling at the optimism of this white tailed bumble bee.  In the UK the bumble bee queens are supposed to snuggle down and rest/hibernate until the spring allows them fine enough weather to start making their nest and their colony.  This white tailed bumble bee has pollen on her hind legs so I can only assume she has started her nest and is raising her young.

The rain is against her but I hope she finds enough nectar and pollen in the garden to raise at least some worker bumble bees to help her find food and to keep them warm.


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Flowers of the moment

panorama back garden

The garden is still relatively green despite our higher than average temperatures and lack of rain.

Perennial sweetpeas-001

I have managed to have sweet peas for the second year, much to my surprise.  They are the perennial variety and have self seeded and caught me unaware, so I will just have to sort things out after they have finished flowering.  Perhaps next year I will be able to help them put on a better show.

Second flower Wisteria-001

The Wisteria is flowering for the second time and has had a sever trimming since this photograph was taken.

Hydrangia (2)-001

The mophead Hydrangea has supported the heat, up till now, although it looks a little sad in the evenings.

Hydrangia-001

Although the flowers of the Lacecap Hydrangea are pretty close-up, I think they are more difficult to appreciate from a distance as the flowers face skyward.  The mophead Hydrangea may be more common but I feel our mophead has more impact.

Foxgloves-001

The Foxgloves are mainly over but I will be collecting the seed and trying to increase them as they seem very happy in the garden and have put up a fine show this year.Larkspur 1-001The other star of our June/July garden is the Larkspur (Delphinium consolida).  I have found these grow best here if left to self-seed or sown in the autumn straight into the soil.

Larkspur (2)-001

They attract all sorts of pollinators and require no special care.  I get beautiful pale shades of pink and lilac but I have found that I must select the seeds of the white and the pale flowers or else it is mainly the dark blue flowers that take over.

Geranium-001

My geraniums have made themselves at home all over the garden and are quite happy in drier, shadier areas.  They are also a big favourite of the bumble bees.

Lavendar-001

The lavender is growing well and enjoying the hot sun we are experiencing at the moment.

Humming bird hawk moth-001

The hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) has been around for a while now and he visits the garden from early in the morning until the light is going.

Anthidium on Stachys-002

It is good to see the season visitors in the garden like the Anthidium manicatum bee on the Stachys.  Growing Stachys is a sure method to attract this bee to the garden.

Bottle brush-001

On the other hand the bottle brush (a Callistimon species) has not been the bee magnet that we had expected.

Magnolia-001

At the moment it is the Magnolia grandiflora that is the star of the garden.  It looks beautiful and smells divine.

…and of course the bees love it!  Have a look at this short video (30 seconds) to see the bees collecting pollen from the flowers.


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Les jardins du Coq

I must admit that I get jealous when I read about the garden visits in the U.K.  However, I found a garden to visit – open from April and one and a half hours drive away.  It is also on our way to visit the orchids in St Maurice de Tavernole. So on a beautiful May day we paid the gardens a visit.

I suppose I had expected more similarities with garden I had visited in England, where I am excited by the prospect of discovering new plants and trees.

Here in France the gardens are designed not just for plants.  This garden of two hectares is divided into themes designed to evoke personal memories and a message of peace, love and liberty.

Even the straw acting as a dressing bears a tile with a quotation from Charles Baudelaire, “Ce qu’il y a d’ennuyeux dans l’amour, c’est que c’est un crime où l’on ne peut pas se passer d’un complice.”  So here you come to reflect and to relax. in the beauty of the garden.

The roses were not fully out in May.

There is a meadow area with the orchids and wild flowers left to their own devices.

There were bee orchids and purple orchids and other orchids not quite open.  Plenty of birds foot trefoil and

burnet moths.

There were goats and chickens for the children to see but the geese had been put in an enclosure as they can be a bit bad-tempered at this time of year.

 

Along the way I had plenty to think about. And as we found a pretty seating area we could not resist a little pause.

The bench could look good in our garden, and the message is in English this time.

A rather enigmatic message?

I like this idea of the roof tiles around the tree.  It is something I might try myself.

This is what is rare in France!

A tea room with a view!

How good did it feel to enjoy a pot of tea with accompanying sweet biscuits with a view like this!

O.K. I admit I am a philistine.  Perhaps I can return and make more of an effort to get in touch with my inner self.  It certainly has the necessary scenery and the hints to guide you on your way.

Good point!

Kourosh caught me from the other side of the lake taking a purposeful stride to the next stop.  Perhaps, I have still not sunk into the cool, relaxed mode that is recommended for this garden.

So I leave you with a very pertinent quote and a resolution to return another time to chill out and allow the ambiance and quotes to do their work.

 


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A present for the bees

Honey bee in Manuka in Malaga

While we were staying with our son in Malaga over Christmas, we once again, visited the beautiful botanical gardens La Concepción.  This time we saw the Manuka bushes in flower and saw how attractive the flowers were to the honey bees.  The Manuka plants are native to New Zealand and my internet research indicates that they are easy to grow, will tolerate temperatures down to minus ten centigrade and do not require wet soil.  This certainly sounded interesting.

Manuka trees in place-001

I was delighted to find I could order plants in France and decided to order from Gamme Vert as I could avoid the delivery charge by picking the plants up myself from their nearest shop.

We are running out of sunny spots in the garden so Kourosh decided to clear off  the turf to provide the plants with their personal flower bed.  They will probably have to share it as time goes by but for now it is all theirs.

Manuka trees planted

The plants all had strong roots and have had plenty of rain to allow them to settle into their new home.  The Manuka or Leptospermum scoparium “Martini” that I have chosen is due to flower in May to June.  I cannot say why the Manuka was flowering in December in Malaga but it may just flower there over a much longer period.

Honey bee in Neflier du Japon

I really do feel our bees deserve a present as they are out there as soon as there is a glimmer of sun in this unusually dull start to the year.  The Loquat or Eribotrya japonicais just about finished flowering and the cold seems to have finished off the older flowers.

Honey bee in winter heather

The bees, like this one, appear to be flying at temperatures that my indoor/outdoor thermometer reads as under ten degrees centigrade.

Pisse en lit

This is “Pissenlit” in the sunshine.  The temperature at the house was showing seven degrees so I decided to put an old fashioned liquid thermometer in the shade near the hives.

Winter flowering honeysuckle

The thermometer read seven degrees, so the sunshine must keep them warm enough to forage on nearby flowers.

queen bumble in winter heather

The queen bumble bees are said to be able to fly at the lower temperatures because their fluffy coats provide insulation but they should choose a shady site to continue their light hibernation or else they will be woken prematurely by the fickle winter sun.

The four hives-001

Let’s hope there are more sunny days coming up for the bees to stretch their wings and the gardeners to appreciate the spring flowers appearing.

To see the bees bringing in the pollen to “Violette Noire” have a look at this short video (1min30s) taken on the 6 of February.

 


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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.