a french garden


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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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Spring in February?

garden-long

Nothing looks greatly different in the garden since the big chill.  However, we had the big wind next with winds over 100 km. an hour and the winds were higher in the coastal regions.   This left our area without electricity.  We were out for just over 24 hours but depending on where you lived others lost their electricity for longer.  In areas with no piped gas, houses are frequently all electric.  So it is a good idea to keep in plenty of candles and a camping stove.  The really super-prepared have a little generator but we have stayed at the candles and camping stove level.

plum-blossom-ouside

Now we have sunshine and day time temperatures touching twenty degrees centigrade which has coaxed our plum tree to open its first flowers.

plumblossom-2

After the big wind some of the fine branches of the plum tree had broken and we brought in the twigs to enjoy watching the flowers open inside but they had hardly finished flowering inside before the tree itself had started to flower outside.

red-admiral

Some butterflies are out and from the freshness of this Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) it is a new season butterfly just hatched rather than one that has overwintered as an adult.

bombus-pratoris

The winter flowering honeysuckle welcomes different visitors now like this early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum) queen

carpenter-honeysuckle

and the Carpenter (Xylocopa violacea)

willow

It is not so visible from a distance but the willow tree at the bottom of the garden is opening out its buds too.

pussy-willow

The catkins are still at their attractive fluffy stage but soon the pollen will appear attracting the pollinators to this important plentiful source of early pollen.

hellebore-bee-pollen-1

The Hellebores are making a big impact in the garden now.  The bees make them a noisy attraction but the constant replanting of the self-sown seedlings is paying off.

hellebore-honey-bee

The different groups are spacing out their flowering times somewhat, depending on how much sun they receive.  I find the ones in full sun flower earliest.

bergenia

The Bergenia is starting to flower but I dragged it from one poor position last autumn to some other positions where I hope it will flourish.  It has not welcomed the change gladly.  Still there is always next spring.

bumble-new-heather-1

I was given a heather as a present but sadly with no idea of the species.  It was very pot bound, probably meant for impact rather than planting out.  I sawed of the bottom tangle of roots and sawed it in two.  I had just finished planting it when the bees appeared.  Well, that was one of my questions answered – the bees like it.  The heather I have had success with here is Erica x darlyensis which is more tolerant of chalky soils.  This one does not look the same as my others and has lilac flowers that fade to white.  I hope they will thrive in their new home.

honesty-lunaria-annua

It is only when you look closely that you see the changes in the garden.  The purple flower is self-sown Honesty (Lunaria annua), a bit early, I would have thought.

violet

The violets, both purple and white varieties, appear as weeds in the garden but are always welcome.

weeds

In fact, there are a lot of good stuff in the weeds in the garden.

wild-bee-2

The speedwell (Veronica (perhaps) persica) is covering the surrounding fields and the garden with a haze of blue but this little flower provides much needed pollen and nectar for the wild bees like the one above and also the honey bees.

pollinator-on-veronica

The hover flies too stop by for the nectar.

chimonanthus-praecox

Gardening is not for the impatient.  I have longed for a Chimonanthus praecox for my garden and now eventually I have a bush and it has flowered for the first time.  I do not know the species as I bought it in France where the species does not seem to matter much but I love it anyway.  My main criteria was the perfume and one sniff of the heady, sensual perfume told me I had a winner.  Also called wintersweet but I think of it as the ice flower although the weather at the moment is nearer to summer than winter.


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A February of contradictions

Frozen molehill.JPG

It has not really been a cold month, with hardly any frost but in the middle of the month there was a hard one that froze the molehills, making cunning trip traps for me as I made my way down the garden.  It has been a good winter for the moles.

Frozen daddodils

The frost tried to beat the spring flowers into submission but the daffodils take it in their stride.

Broadbeans

Not so the broad beans that should not be flowering yet.  They are less hardy and have lost their first flowers to the cold.  Will we have a broad bean harvest this year?  It depends on the weather that will follow on.

Frozen HydrangeaSome plants look even better frosted.

Budding HydrangeaBut maybe it is time to clip the old flower heads to let the sun reach the new shoots.

Choisia Sundance

The Choisia Sundance is a star of the winter garden whether frosted or not it adds a splash of colour even in the dull winter days.

Frozen garden

The frosted back garden is quiet.  Although I prefer the cold to the higher than average rainfall we have been having this month.  February has been unusually wet and grey.

Bee on plum flowers.JPGBut it has not prevented the big plum tree from flowering and on the sunny days I can hear a comforting buzz from the bees collecting the pollen and nectar.  The butterflies also visit but not in great numbers.  Last year we had very few plums as the weather was very similar and the newly pollinated flowers were destroyed by a subsequent frost.  I notice that the tree has been opening its flowers slowly so perhaps like this there will be more chance that some fruit will hold if the cold returns.

Hazel flowers

The hazel trees started to push open their discrete flowers in February.  The catkins were already open and presenting their pollen to the wind and any passing bees that might be interested.  I have read that the hazel pollen is a precious source of protein for the bees at this time of year but try as I might I’ve never seen any bees on them let alone steal a photograph.  Those sneaky bees!

Bee in Hellebore

It’s not hard to find bees on the Hellebores, in fact, you’ll hear them first.  The pollen is a dull grey/beige but it must taste good as it is very popular.

Hyacinthe bee

The Hyacinths too are popular with both the honey bees and the queen bumble bees.  But even the bees get lulled into a false sense of spring with a few sunny days.  I found a frozen bumble bee queen one frosty morning futilely  sheltering inside a hyacinth flower.  Why had she not taken better shelter for the night?

Colletes 17.2.2016

The solitary bees have started to appear but I wonder if they regret their early arrival during the rainy days.

Reinette

The Reinettes (Hyla meridionalis) seem content with the situation.  They croak happily on the patio when it is raining and sit serenely soaking up the rays when it is sunny.  It is so good to feel the winter sun after the gloom.