Back home

After a pleasant break in the Auvergne region of France, it was good to get back to the garden. We visited the Puy de Dôme, an extinct volcano towering 1650 metres high and providing an amazing viewpoint of the area. It is possible to access the summit by foot, or a charming train can take you up and down. We asked if it was possible to take the train up and then come down by foot. We were told this was quite possible but it was not mentioned that the “goats’ path” would not lead you back to where we started from but to another carpark at some distance from the main centre where we were parked. Luckily, we enjoy walking but the extra leg was more than we bargained for.

There had been some rain for the garden while we were away and the Cosmos had taken over a corner of the front garden as I had not had the heart to weed out the self-sown plants.

Today some of the flowers are finishing and it has attracted the Godfinches (Carduelis carduelis).

The adults are very brightly coloured with distinctive red heads.

I am not a birder but I think there were quite a few immature birds in the group.

Perhaps someone might know if these are females or young birds.

There was a constant movement of birds in the Cosmos – I can count five birds in the photo above.

We were amused to watch them patiently wait their turn until the sparrows finished splashing around and drinking from the bird bath.

Eventually the sparrows move on.

It makes me wonder if they are the same birds from the little nest that the goldfinches hid amongst the leaves of one of our Hibiscus syriacus at the front of our house in July.

Reflections at the end of September

The weather has been fine, so we have left the butternut and the potimarron to finish ripening. Some days have been warm enough to enjoy the last days at the beach. Fruit wise this year, it has been poor. Some apples only and a second crop of raspberries that go very well with yoghurt and our new honey.

The Salvias are still adding colour to the garden and at last I was in the right place to get a photograph of our Hummingbird Hawk Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum). We don’t have hummingbirds in France but these day-flying moths are beautiful and hover close to the flowers they take nectar from. Their wings beat at 80 times a second and so appear as a blur in my photograph.

I had a quick look on the net to find out where they lay their eggs and what their caterpillars eat. Their preferred plant food comes from the genus Gallium. I was horrified to find that “Sticky Willy” (Gallium aparine which I loath but I admit does find its way into the garden. I’d have liked to encourage it – but that is going too far. I have been trying to grow Gallium odoratum as a groundcover but so far I have been unsuccessful so this is a reason to try harder.

The cosmos are finishing but the asters are still providing lots of colour and attracting butterflies and bees.

The new queen bumble bees are very grateful for the nectar the aster provide.

This is an Epeolus bee which is a type of parasite or cuckoo bee as it lays its eggs in the nests of other bees. The ivy has just started to flower here and I have seen the solitary Ivy bees (Colletes hederae), it is likely that this cuckoo bee is looking for the nests of the Ivy bees and just stopping on the asters to refuel on nectar.

We have always had to put up with moles but this year they have invaded the front garden. There are even more molehills there since I have taken this photograph. I do not go for perfection in the garden – but this is a plea for help. Is there anything that can be done to dissuade them?

They are usually mainly confined to the back garden – but there too they are running riot. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Finally, a tribute to the cosmos that are still attracting the leafcutter bees and other pollinators.

Some of the cosmos are falling over while still flowering but also producing seed heads that bring the goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) into the garden. It is well worth having the garden a bit messy and watching these lovely birds.

Persimmon and Saffron

The Persimmon tree, at the front right of the photograph, is still hiding its fruits well.

You have to get right underneath it to realise that there are already ripe fruits on the tree. Of course, the birds found out first.

We did not realise how much fruit there was until one of the branches broke. We will keep the fruit indoors and hope that it ripens. Persimmons will ripen indoors and once they have fully swollen we will be able to bring them in. They are delicious to eat just as they are or to make them into a dessert with fresh yoghurt.

The first saffron bulbs have flowered although most of the bulbs have just broken the surface of the ground. From now on I start my daily collection of the pistils for air drying inside the house.

I had this planter full of basil and lemon balm but decided to change it to spring bulbs. I am going to see if I can grow different bulbs at different depths. So I started with hyacinths and tulips and then added crocus and muscari. I have never tried this before so we shall see what happens in the springtime.

To empty the container we had to tip it right over onto the grass and much to our surprise we found four marbled newts (Tritorus marmoratus) and what I think looks like a little toad. The newts are such gentle creatures and it was easy to displace them and suggest they found a better place to hibernate.

Autumn is being kind to us here and we have sunshine after the rain. The cosmos have almost finished flowering and I am itching to remove them to tidy up the garden. I have left the straggling plants as the seeds are appreciated by the goldfinches and warblers. I prefer to see the birds than to have a tidy garden.

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.

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.


A small event

Sometimes the smallest event can trigger a chain of events that seems to take on a life of its own.

Flock in distance

I was walking near the house last week when I saw an unusually large flock of small birds.  Luckily I had my camera but I soon had a glimpse of colours and had a good idea of what they might be.

Cropped flock

The closer photograph is not good, as I do not have a telephoto lens (I don’t really need a telephoto lens, but then need is a strange word).  However, it is perfectly good enough to identify the birds as goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis).  They were eating the seeds of a funny plant.

April 2013

This is a photograph of the same field, only a few yards away from our house, that I took in April 2013.  It looked beautiful at that time of year covered by these red flowers.  However, the bees did not find them particularly attractive so I lost interest in them without being able to find out what they were.

Sorrel seed head

This time the Goldfinches prompted me to take a closer look at these plants whose seeds were providing their meal.  Usually, it is the flowers that make a plant easy to identify but here it was the seeds that gave me the clue.  It reminded me of the dock seeds I used to collect and give to the budgie when I was young.   Dock and sorrel are closely related and belong to the same genus – Rumex.

Sorrel leaves

The leaves are not so broad as the dock that I knew but this led me to identify the plant as a type of wild sorrel. That rang a bell as I had just discovered the wild version of what everybody around here seems to grow in their garden.

Annie's sorrel

My next stop was to compare the wild sorrel with the cultivated variety and I was confident that my neighbour Annie would have a good patch.  She did not let me down and her sorrel looks much more tempting to eat than the wild variety.  I asked her what she used it for and she told me she uses it is sauces and that it also makes a very good soup (although I might add anything Annie makes is very good.)  I told her that I had seen the goldfinches in the field eating the wild sorrel seeds.  She said that reminded her of when she used to go to school in Normandy and that she would pick and eat the wild sorrel leaves as she liked their tart taste.  The local name for them in Normany was “surelle”.

I was not familiar with sorrel before I came to France but in this area everybody seems to have it in their vegetable garden.  I got so tired of confessing that I did not have any sorrel in mine, that the last time this happened I came home with a couple of plants wrapped up in some newspaper.  At least I will be able to hold my head high now that it is established although I’ve no idea what I’ll do with it.

My sorrel

My sorrel looks different from Annie’s sorrel.  Apart from the old leaves looking generally tattier the stalks are redder. It is not really surprising as there are so many different species of sorrel.

While checking up on its uses, and it has many medicinal uses, I noticed that the leaves were a favourite food of the caterpillars of the Small Copper butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas).  So that also explains why I find them sunning themselves in the garden in the summer.

Small copper, Lycaena phlaeas

Another unconnected fact is that in French argot  “avoir de l’oseille” means to have money, in the sense that “plein d’oseille” would mean loaded.

But I digress just as the view of the flock of birds made me digress.