a french garden


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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!

 


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A hot end to May

LHS garden

The left hand side of the back garden has shade in the afternoon.  Today the temperature in the shade went up to 34 degrees Centigrade but I was able to work in the shade as there was a light breeze too.

Shady place

Shady sitting places are needed in these temperatures.

Chelidonium majus (1)

There were a lot of weeds to clear out before the earth got too dry to move them.  Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus ) is a perennial and I was horrified to see how it can grow so quickly and produce its long seed pods ready to fling the contents onto the garden.

Chelidonium majus (2)

At least this weed – sorry interesting herbal plant – has flowers that are appreciated by the pollinators.

As a side issue, the strange orange fluid that the cut stems exude is said to cure warts and corns.  If anyone has had success using this fluid with any warts/corns I would love to know.

Elaeagnus angustifolia (1)

A more favoured yellow flower on my part is my senjed (Elaeagnus angustifolia ) which has flowered for the first time.  The flower is perfumed and I am curious to see whether I will get fruit here in France.

Elaeagnus angustifolia (2)

I planted the senjed in the autumn of 2013.  It has shot up this year and is now fighting for light with the overhanging branches of our large plum tree.  It was less than a metre when I got it and it cost just over five euros, so a good investment for such an attractive plant.

Carpenter Spanish broom

Another yellow perfumed flower has just opened further down the hedge – the Spanish broom.

It is a tall, gangly plant that is difficult to control – a bit like the Carpenter bees that are so attracted to it.  The Spanish Broom wins out on the perfume stakes with its strong perfume that will float in the air once all the flowers are open.

Potager

The vegetable garden has been planted with tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines this week.

Poppies in veg patch.JPG

Kourosh insists on leaving the self-sown poppies at the side of the vegetables which makes things difficult to keep tidy but watching the antics of the bees in the poppies provides great entertainment.

Red tailed queen

Likewise the Phacelia is allowed to run riot.  We have noticed this particularly beautiful red-tailed queen bumble bee in the Phacelia and I feel certain that it must already be a queen born this year.

IMG_8690

I think the flowers that self-sow in the garden make a better display than when I plant things.  These have all pushed through in a border that I was despairing about last month.

Kaki flower

Things can turn out better than expected in a garden.  The untimely frost earlier in the month damaged a lot of plants and although the some of the kaki flowers (persimmon) are brown tipped they look healthy enough to give fruit.

Veilchenblau roae (1)

Finally, a pollen gathering competition took place on the veilchenblau rose on the hedge this morning.

First prize went to Bombus Terrestris – an disputable first with a pure veilchenblau pollen pellet.

Veilchenblau roae (2)

Second was Apis mellifera (the syrphid fly was not in the competition but happened to be passing by.)

Veilchenblau roae (3)

Third place is shared equally by several different solitary bees.

If you want to hold your own pollen gathering competitions remember to schedule them early as the best flowers are depleted of pollen by the afternoon.

 

 

 


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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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Not such a daft old bat

Sadly our annual bat visitor left us two days ago.  It was sad to look and find an empty space behind the shutter.  I checked the shutter on the other side of the French door but I knew he did not like that side.  No bat on the wall or on the shutters.

Then it occurred to me that it had started to rain two days ago.  So Kourosh was duly dispatched to the atelier with a torch because if anyone could find a needle in a haystack it would be him.

So, not very far away from where he had roosted last year, our bat had remember that there was a good place to shelter in inclement weather.

It does mean that the photographs are not so good as he is quite high up and the angle of the photograph is directly underneath him.

I’m glad he has not left us yet.  The weather is forecast to improve next week.

 


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Return to the garden in March

After two weeks of holidays we were happy to see the garden again but it was at a slow, measured pace we gave the garden its customary “so good to see you” check over.  We have returned with a ‘flu the like of which we have not suffered from in many a year.

Even the dandelion clocks in the grass look good.

There is more red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) than grass but that suits the Anthophora and bumble bees.  The Anthophora fly very quickly but look very similar to fluffy grey bumble bees – only there are no grey bumble bees (in France, anyway).

The Hyacinths where we sit at the front of the house smell delicious, overcoming our poor sense of smell at the moment and kindling the hope that soon all will return to normal.

We have missed the main pollen fest from the big willow (Salix caprea) at the bottom of the garden.

All kinds of bees are still visiting the tree.

There seems to be plenty to satisfy the needs of all comers.

The Hellebores have done well this year and are constantly visited by the bees.

In the vegetable garden the broad beans are doing well and are very attractive to all sorts of solitary bees.

I wish I could have stayed looking longer as I saw these two almost immediately.

Certainly the wild bees are wherever you look.

Our apricot trees are flowering and I am sure will be well pollinated but whether the weather will allow us to have apricots this year remains to be seen.  Temperatures of 21 degrees yesterday and 23 degrees today are warm for this time of year and we can have frosts up until May.

But the one thing that lifted our spirits was to find “our” Barbastelle bat was waiting for us on our return.  He had taken up his usual position behind our living room shutters.  He is only little, I would estimate about six centimetres from the back of his body to the tip of his head.  He has been visiting us annually for about four years now and we look forward to his visits, see “Many Happy Returns” for last year’s visit.

I find him very attractive and he does not seem to mind me taking photographs although I try to be as rapid as possible as it does disturb his beauty sleep.

 


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And the prize goes to Sunflower

It seems that we all had a hot summer.  Here, in August we had what they call the canicule – the dog days – with the temperatures nearly every day in mid to high 30s  centigrade (95 to 100F).

Throughout June and even July I didn’t mow the area near the beehives.

Beehives at la Bourie

Throughout August and now in September, the grass – well forget the grass – has been a patch of desert.  The more mature trees have decided that they just would rather go into autumn mode and their leaves have turned yellow. Amelia has been watering her precious flowers and smaller shrubs that she has so lovingly nursed, every evening.

We have always enjoyed our daily walks in the countryside around us.  After all, isn’t that the main reason why we settled to rural France?  However, the recent heat wave has meant that most afternoons we had to close the curtains and stay in the relative coolness of the house.  Nevertheless, one walk that we particularly enjoy is to a small lake where Amelia likes to photograph the solitary bees and bumbles.

The lake at Madion

I prefer to just enjoy the peaceful surrounding and look at the waterlilies.

waterlilies at Madion lake

We had practically no rain since June and I was beginning to wonder if there was enough nectar in what was left of the flowers to feed our girls as well as fill the supers with honey.

Last year I found that the change in the self fertilising variety of  sunflowers planted around us meant that the bees could not reach the nectar.

Sunflowers at Virollet

Fortunately, this year the farmers returned to the more traditional seeds which was much more attractive to bees.

Honeybees on sunflower

They do need to dig deep to collect the nectar, but at least there is no need to fly from flower to flower to collect the precious nectar.

Bee collecting nectar from sunflower

Despite the August dryness and the heat we are fortunate to have a lot of gaura around the garden.  Early morning is the best time to see the bees collecting pollen.  By around 8am, they have stripped all the pollen from the flowers.  But, they do return later in the afternoon to collect the nectar.

A bee collecting nectar on gaura

I must not forget the lavender also which has been buzzing with bees, bumbles and butterflies throughout the summer.

A bee on lavender

Our hive Violette suffered most from the afternoon sun.  So, for most of this summer I had to shelter her under a beach umbrella, the violet colour of the umbrella is just coincidental!

Hive Violette sheltered

The bees need plenty of water in summer, mainly to cool their hives.  So right in front of their hives I have placed an inverted bottle to fill a dish with water.  But it seems that they prefer to go to the zinc basin that is usually filled with water for the birds. I have now modified it by placing a large stone in the middle, so that any bees that might fall in can do a bee paddle to safety.

Honeybees drinking water

Our beekeeper friend, Michel recommended that we collect our honey on 19th of August.  We used his extractor once more and Amelia and I were delighted to see that we had actually collected a total of 74.5 Kg (164 pounds) of honey. Each of the hives, including the two divisions of this year (Iris and Pissenlit) had done an excellent job.  But the prize went to Sunflower hive that had produced the most honey.

We collected two different types of honey: the dark coloured honey containing mainly the nectar from the chestnut flowers which are abundant around our house.  We also collected the beautifully yellow honey from the sunflowers.  This year the summer honey is different from last year.  It is slightly granular in constituency, but has a lovely flavour, as it is mixed with wild flowers.

I do feel a bit guilty stealing their precious honey, but I have checked and they do have adequate reserves in their hives and the ivy is just starting to flower.

bee-on-ivy

Ivy is very important allowing the bees to complete their winter stock.  Beekeepers season really starts after the honey collection, when we have to make sure the bees are healthy and ready to go through winter.

– Kourosh

 

 


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Reflections towards the end of July

 

White bougainvillia-001

It was after I read Sue’s post “White is cool” that I remembered that white was our favourite colour for flowers too.  The white oleander was planted in front of the house shortly after we bought it and years before we moved here.  I too loved the idea of a white area.  Crathes Castle garden, near Aberdeen, had a beautiful white border and I intended to find a place in the garden for a display of stunning white flowers.

However, my initial design of my white summer hedge has now the addition of an untidy but profusely flowering lilac Lavatera and hidden from view underneath is a winter flowering honeysuckle.

Gaura nectar bee-001

We meticulously selected the seed from the whitest Gaura, but then gave up as it self-seeded over the garden and we were happy to replant whatever turned up as the bees did not mind either pale pink or pure white.

Molene honey bee-001

And then there are the plants that take up residence of their own volition.

Molene syrphe-001

The wild Verbascum has been flowering non-stop since June welcoming the hover flies and

Molene wild bee-001

bees of all kinds which gather large quantities of the bright orange pollen early in the morning leaving the yellow petals strewn around the plant like confetti.

Acc. sej.-001

Then there are the plants that suddenly beg attention.  Some years ago Kourosh “acquired” a couple of seeds of Feijoa sellowiana.  The seeds germinated and lived in pots that I tended until I was able to get rid of them into a new border.  This year they have shot up to more than a metre in height and flowered for the first time.

Feijoa sellowiana-001

The flowers are extremely attractive and as they belong to the myrtle they should also be attractive to bees.  I will have to wait until autumn to see if any fruit is formed, another extra as the fruits are edible.

Vegetable garden-001

Another additional problem with planning a garden can be illustrated by our vegetable garden.  Planning must be done in advance and, as can be seen, we have our long, sturdy tomato stakes in place but very weak, short tomato plants.  The cooler, wet June was not to their liking and now the high temperatures that are soaring now in July are drying them out before they have time to grow.

Leek flower-001

At least the couple of leeks I have left to flower from last year provide me with some amusement as I ponder on the likelihood of  making homemade tomato sauce this year.

Pot-001

Kourosh spotted this beautifully fashioned “pot” in the house wall.

Polistes dominula European paper wasp-001

I thought it might belong to these wasps that are using the bird bath.  However, I think these are European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) and I have seen their nests around in previous years.

Polistes sparkle-001

I noticed they gather the water differently.  You get the careful type that holds onto the side and gently laps from the edge of the water.

Sparkle wasp-001

Then you get the cool guys who do a full belly-flop onto the water, maintaining themselves by surface tension and float while taking their fill.

Origano-001

The success of the large oregano clump in attracting the bees has also made me think of modifying my planting.

Lavendar clump-001 The large clumps of flowers, like the lavender and nepeta, attract more bees, so I am going to try to spread my plants less in the future.  However, the garden will have the last word.  The yellow haze of cat’s ears (Hypochaeris radicata), visible in the background, has developed on its own.

Dasypoda (1)-001

Without them, we would miss watching the Dasypoda bees bouncing from flower to flower at this time of year.