a french garden


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Summer visitors

Snake

We were having a coffee on the patio when my husband glanced up and said “What’s that on the rose branch?”  I did not immediately see anything but then I noticed our couleuvre (Hierophis viridiflavus) draped over the branch, so I ran inside for the camera before she could slide of.  I think it must be the same one as we saw in 2013 when she was still tiny, see Lodgers.

Snake slides down to hole

The rapid departure did not take place and I was given the task of gently prodding her with a stick.  She did not budge, she was really enjoying her sunny bask.  However, I persisted and eventually managed to get her to budge and she slid following the line of Madame Isaac Pereire’s branch to near the ground where she slid into a hole in the wall.

Bumble in home

I was a bit concerned as it was the same hole being used by red tailed bumble bees (Bombus lapidarius) as a nest site.  I have been keeping an eye on the nest since I saw the queen coming and going earlier in the year.

In and out bumble

After the snake’s visit I set up my camera to watch the nest but the bees and the snake must be quite happy to share the same neighbourhood.  There was plenty of coming and going with a bit of congestion at times.

Bumble with pollen 2

It was nice to see the bumbles arriving with lots of pollen for the queen.  The queen will not leave the nest now as she has hatched sufficient workers to keep her and her brood supplied with nectar and pollen to feed the new larval bees.  I think the the hole must lead to the interior space between the thick old walls and provide plenty of room for all comers.

Bumble bee on Phacelia

Talking about pollen – I have now forgiven the Phacelia for disappointing me with the lack of variety of pollinators compared to other flowers.  Look at the colour of the pollen on the bumble bees legs!

Honey bee lilac polen

This honey bee is going to be able to brighten up the stocks of pollen in her hive with lilac pollen too.

Fritillary

To be fair I do see some butterflies too, I think this one is probably a heath fritillary.

Pink poppy

For me though, it is the poppies in the garden that steal the show these days.

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I like to play “What’s your favourite poppy”.  This game can be played on your own but it is better with other players.  You have to decide on which poppy you think is the best.  The poppy game can be continued by tying markers around your chosen poppies because after the flower passes one poppy seed head looks very much like another but with the markers the flower stems can be traced back so that you are certain to take only the seed from your chosen plant.

The “Choose the poppy” game continues on to the next year when you sow the seed and all the flowers that come up are nothing like the ones you chose the previous year.  So the poppies get the last laugh, but the ones that do come up are just as astonishing and the game can be repeated for another year.

Partridge and chicks

Ending on a happy note, on Wednesday we had a visit from a proud partridge.  The partridges had been visiting us since last December (see Winter begins ) but recently only one of them had been coming into the garden to steal the bird food.  This made us think that either one had had an accident or else might be sitting on eggs.

Partridge and chicks

The chicks are very active and they were difficult to count but they have managed to raise eight although there was only one bird with them.  I don’t know whether that means that the male has now left the female or if they take turns with the baby sitting.

 

 

 

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There is more in the garden than flowers…

1-Disturbed toad

Our hose drips where it is attached to the outside tap and the corner stays damp so that underneath it was very overgrown and needed a good spring weeding.  However, more than the plants had appreciated the dampness and a large common toad (Bufo bufo) had made the corner his home and even constructed a comfortable tunnel under a large stone.

1-Toad in hand

He did not object to being handled and posed peacefully for a close-up shot.  It makes me wonder how often he has done this for us.  My husband likes the toads and I think they are now trained to come to hand when he discovers one.

1-Marbled newt

Beside the toad was a marbled newt ( Triturus marmoratus) who was also enjoying the damp spot.  We often see the newts in the garden or in the old well.

1-Marbled newt with crest

Next to appear were much younger newts and for the first time I saw one (the one on the left) that still had its crest.  The males have a crest during the aquatic stage but this will gradually disappear as they proceed into the terrestrial stage and begin to become more coloured.

1-Juvenile Western whip snake, Hierophis viridiflavus

The other day I needed a stepping stone to use to get through the border to my bee hotel so I looked for a suitable one at the bottom of the garden.  When the stone was lifted there were two young snakes curled up together underneath it but they soon made off.  The above photograph is a set-up.  The stone was replaced and lifted again the next day but this time only one of the snakes was underneath it.   The snake is a juvenile Western whip snake, (Hierophis viridiflavus), they are quite common around here but are non-venomous and not aggressive.  We have lots of wall lizards and these provide an easy food source for the snakes.

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera

My bee orchid is still doing well and I was quite excited when I thought another orchid might be growing in the garden.

1-Bud Orobanch amethystea

First a shoot like an asparagus appeared.

1-Bud growing Oroba amethystea

Then the bud started to open.

1-IMG_0376.Orobanche amethystea

I thought the flowerlets looked like orchids.  Wrong!  There are similarities but there is no central single lip which is a common feature of orchids.  This is a new plant to me – it is an Orobanche amythystea.  These are not orchids but plants that do not produce chlorophyll and obtain their nutrition by parasitising other plants.  Orobanche amythystea can use various plants as a substrate including wild carrot, sea holly and ivy.  I do hope mine is a parasite of my ivy!  I cannot see where the roots of the Orobache are reaching under the soil but I’d like to think it is joining me in my never ending battle with invading ivy.

The flowers will eventually form seeds but these seeds will be unable to germinate unless they find themselves near roots of their host.  There are many different species and they can become problematic if the host plant is an arable crop.  In France some of the other species can infect tobacco and legumes.

Anthophora plumipes male

Yesterday morning, just after 10 o’clock my husband called me to see the bee he had spotted asleep on a Hydrangea bud.  It was an Anthophora plumipes male.  They are extremely fast moving bees so it was fun to snap some shots of him while he was fast asleep and motionless.

Flowers and trees make up the backbone of a garden but it is all the unplanned arrivals, plant and animal, that make gardens so special.


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Lodgers

Hierophis viridiflavus

Hierophis viridiflavus

When you live in an old stone house you have got to accept that you will not be the only occupant.  It’s just a matter of when you meet the other lodgers.

A head pops out of a hole

A head pops out of a hole

As usual I find myself looking into a hole when something starts looking back at me.

Testing the sunshine

Testing the sunshine

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch the little flickering black tongue that repeatedly tested the air.

Decision taken

Decision taken

I was please to see him come out as he will quickly return if he feels any movement.

Nearly out

Nearly out

You will note that precaution has won and the last little bit of the tail is still in the hole.  Well after that I must have moved and he was off like a shot back into the hole.

He does move fast and his speed is what gives him his common name of Western Whipsnake – fast as a whip.

We’ve had a couple of sunny days and he likes to sunbathe at the edge of the house.  He is well hidden by the bunches of white Alyssum that grow in the cracks, and O.K. the odd bit of chickweed too.  Reptiles and Amphibians of France say that they hatch at about 30 centimetres and that was my guess of his length although I am very surprised that they would hatch as big as that.  It would mean that my lodger is this year’s hatchling which seems  a bit early.

These snakes are common throughout France and we have seen larger ones before (A Snake in the House).  They are not aggressive snakes nor are they venomous so they are very welcome to share the garden with everybody else.

Another visit

Another visit

This picture was taken five years ago and the snake made a remarkably rapid retreat mounting the wall vertically and disappearing over the roof.

Bat on wall

Bat on wall

It was a month ago exactly that we had another visitor in almost the same position on the wall.  A bat took up residence behind the shutters of the living room window that we leave almost permanently in the open position.

The bat only stayed a couple of nights, probably put off by people taking photographs of him but I don’t really think that behind the shutters would have been a good site for a permanent roost.


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A snake in the house

It is still glacial; I am still drawn towards my warm place near the log fire, watching my frozen garden like a stranger, not quite recognising it as mine.  It was -12 C this morning, one degree warmer than yesterday.  Should I take this as a good sign?  The weather forecast predicts warmer temperatures for next week.

Still on the theme of our uninvited visitors, I recall our first encounter just a short while after we had arrived to take up permanent residence here inFrance.  It was in the evening and before retiring I decided to make some tea.  I rose from the living room and put on the dining room light and froze.  A snake was on the floor under my sideboard.  Its head was protruding from the one side of the cabinet while its tail was still casually trailing behind and visible from the other end.  I did a quick mental calculation – not difficult as I knew my sideboard was 1m30 (4ft 3 ins).  The snake was nearly 2 metres long.

We had never had any problem with snakes in our apartment in Aberdeen.  I quickly pointed out to my husband that we had a 2 metre snake under our sideboard.  He got down on his hands and knees to check this out as the reptile had quickly tucked his head and tail beneath the sideboard.  He got up and paused to think as I waited for inspiration.

“Get that book we have on garden animals”, he suggested.

“What the Collins Nature Guide on Garden Animals?  The one with the hedgehog on the front?  I think not!”

We retired to the living room for further discussion of the usual marital variety while the snake decided to explore, sliding along between floor and wall.  My husband was determined that it had to be evicted before we went to bed but the snake was amazingly rapid for something with no legs.  He then had the brain wave of hitting the tiles behind him and forcing him to flee from the noise in the direction we wanted.  In this way we managed to chase him along the skirting towards the dining room patio doors.  Opening the patio doors and banging from both sides we forced him to escape through the open door.  He took off across the patio and slid up a stone flower trough.  Safe on top of the trough he rose up, hissed viciously and sped off.

This was the first noise he had made so he definitely espoused the idea that the better part of valour is discretion.

In due course I found an excellent web page in English as well as French http://www.herpfrance.com/reptile/western_whip_snake_hierophis_viridiflavus.php which allowed me to identify our visitor as the Western Whipsnake Hierophis viridiflavus.

Unfortunately, snakes are not well loved or understood in this area.  Although most people would identify the snake as a “couleuvre” which is known to be harmless, many would prefer to kill them and ask questions later.

Our snake is still with us.  We have not had any inside visits again but we see him outside from time to time and he leaves his shed skin in the outbuilding (cellier) to reassure us that he has not deserted us.