Comings and goings in April

There are more comings at this time of year and it was comforting to see a pair of Hoopoes outside the kitchen window. I always associate them with the summer and we are still definitely in spring with the changeable days, but there are more warm days now.

The Osmia cornuta are finishing their life’s work, and as their colour fades I know I will not be seeing them for much longer.

The bees have no more flowers to go to on the “Accolade” flowering cherry, the recent high winds scattered the petals forming a natural confetti around it.

We have a flowering Malus which is now the place to go to see the bees. The Malus is in the foreground of the picture above but it does not do justice to the colours of the little tree.

The buds are a vivid pink and the colour of the flowers lighten into white as they open.

They provide everything the bees are looking for at the moment.

This is a carder bmblebee, the flowers attract all sorts of bees.

I also think the flowers provide a beautiful backdrop for bee photographs and the short height of the plant makes it more convenient for me. I would say this is a male Eucera longicornis, he has elegant long antenna, but I am no expert.

I think I have made a poor choice in the placement of these allium cameleon. I followed the spacing of the bulbs that was suggested but perhaps they were intended to be grown in the ground? Although I think they would get lost in my garden. Perhaps I just have to wait until next year and they will thicken up? Any ideas?

My Lonicera tatarica is in flower at the moment. This is one of my bush honeysuckles that I bought for the bees but it does not attract the bees like my Malus. However, it provides loads of colour, is drought tolerant and I have been able to grow several more from cuttings.

My Wisteria is coming into flower. The plant against the outbuilding is sheltered and is always the first to flower.

The first swarm arrived on the 11 April. It decided to settle on the top of the Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) tree. We have never had a swarm settle there and we hope to cut down the top branches to dissuade others to do the same. I was happy to let it fly but Kourosh insisted on climbing up to secure it.

All went well and they are installed at the bottom of the garden.

Rain refreshes May

We have had rain and the garden and trees are looking much fresher. We have not had heavy rain but sunshine and showers suit me fine.

Our tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) is in flower. It is called Tulipier de Virginie in french so the name is a give away for its place of origin. Unfortunately, a lot of french people call Magnolia grandiflora a tulipier because of its big white flowers that look like over sized tulips and it causes a lot of confusion. We have both plants in the garden but now is the moment for Liriodondron.

It is not a flower that could easily be mistaken.

It was one of the first trees we planted because it had always fascinated me and I never expected it to get so big but it has plenty of space in the garden and I still appreciate its strange flowers.

This is one of our mullein plants (Verbascum thapsus), it is a common weed here and has grown spontaneously in the garden. However, we look out for the baby plants of this biennial in the autumn and transfer them to where we want them to flower the following summer. We try and fit in as many as we can because the plants will grow to be over one metre tall and are surmounted by a yellow flower head that is extremely attractive to bees and provides excellent pollen. The plants provide architectural interest and have long tap roots that allows them to easily survive dry summer conditions.

At the moment they are almost all being ravaged by the mullein moth (Cucullia verbasci). I could easily pick them off by hand but I am interested to see whether the mullein will recover, if left alone.

In addition, the redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) have started nesting under our carport, as they did last year.

That means a lot of mouths to feed for the parents and we see both parents entering the nest box with what looks like caterpillars. What kind of caterpillars they bring is impossible to tell.

We watch another bird from the utility and kitchen windows.

The hoopoe (Upupa epops) is a frequent visitor to the garden at the moment.

He drills into the soil with such energy that I sometimes wonder if he will come out with one of our moles at the end of his beak – not just a worm.

The redstarts keep a watchful eye on him when he gets too near their nest box and we have seen both parents mob him just to make the boundaries clear to all concerned.

Garden Birds

The real hot days of summer (la canicule) are behind us.  Amelia and I found that this summer with the temperatures often between 35 and 40 degrees Centigrade, we were sitting less in the garden.  Oh, well, I told her, it is a good excuse to go to the beach!


Now in late September it is milder and we can attend to the neglected tasks in the garden.  And to admire the autumn flowers and of course to sit down for a cup of coffee.

front garden

Our garden is usually very peaceful, except for the chattering of the birds.  But the garden would surely not be the same without the birds.

When we first bought this house we had very few visiting birds.  Now I am amazed with the variety of the birds.  They all need water, and so we have placed several watering havens for the bees and the birds.

The hoopoe has become a regular summer visitor to the garden.


The green woodpecker made a bright splash of colour in the garden.  It is the first year that I have seen the woodpecker in the front garden.

woodpecker 1

The Redstarts have remained one of my favourite birds.  This year they occupied four nests that I had made for them and they raised at least four young ones in each nest!  We get both the black Redstarts as well as the common Redstarts.

red start 1

Birds require plenty of water, not only to drink but to keep their feathers clean and their antics in the trough provide us with lots of amusement.  We  see Redstarts taking their bath almost every day at the moment.

red start 2

I am almost sure that they actually enjoy frolicking in the water as much as my granddaughter used to do.

baby sparrow 1

The sparrow make their nest under the eaves, and I am sure that they must have had three broods this year.  Like all baby animals, they too look cute.

baby sparrow 2

But without a doubt, my favourite, at least for this year, is the warbler (I believe it is the melodious warbler).

Sometimes we have mistaken it for a sparrow as it is shy and moves away quickly, but its fine beak is a give-away.  The warbler has also started taking bath, but it is a quick dip in and out.

A couple of year ago, from a holiday in Malta, we brought with us a few seeds of what I call the giant fennel.  It has grown to well over two metres high and its flowers certainly attracted the bees.  Now in seeds, it seems to attract the warbler.

warbler 3

We shall certainly try to replant it next year, if nothing else to make sure that this beautiful bird keeps coming to our garden.


– Kourosh

Summer visitors

We are expecting most of our summer visitors, like this hoopoe, but when they arrive it adds a zest to the garden.  I suppose it gives a touch of exoticism to the garden as I have never seen them in the U.K. where they would be very uncommon visitors.  This year we have had a pair in the garden, perhaps they like the hot weather we have been having.

The young green Woodpecker has been visiting us lately and whereas we often here them we see them less often.  Perhaps they are less shy when they are young.

The birds do not have to be exotic to raise a smile, we like to see the blackbirds with their young.

We are pleased when the sparrows have raised their second brood.

The Redstarts keep us amused with their splashing in the water dishes.  They will take off at the end of the summer to the West African Sahel (that’s the bit that borders the Sahara, to save you looking up Wikipedia, as I had to.)

There are also the new finds like this Tussock moth that I cannot remember seeing before.  I think it has a bit of growing to do and it will probably support this growth by munching through some of our tree leaves.  The trees seem to have enough leaves to spare so I am not worried.  Let’s just hope it is not some new species that will now defoliate the entire tree cover in the Charente-Maritime.

When feeling endangered it curls up in a tight ball causing its rear tuft of hair to protrude.  It makes the tuft of hairs look very much like an extremely sharp beak and I am sure it will give most birds and predators pause for thought.

Kourosh found this bright blue beetle on the cut trunk of a tree in the garden.  Very eye catching and easy to find on the web.  It is a Rosalia alpina.  According to what I can find out, the adult can be between 15-38 mm.  So we must have got an extra large sample!

It was a very frisky specimen and I could not get it to stay in place inside my white box.  The larvae spend two or three years growing in dead wood so this is one of the species of insects that you could hope to support in a garden that left some dead wood lying around.  When trees are coppiced or pollarded this provides good sites for the females to lay their eggs, but as these practices are becoming more rare…

Of course, the Dasypoda bees mean summer time too.  I love to watch them bounce around from flower to flower.  Or rather, they are more measured in their flight, it is the flower heads that bounce around as they land and depart.  Soon she will fill up the silky hairs on her back legs with pollen and the fine hairs will be lost from sight amongst the heavy load of pollen.

One of our hives surprised us by swarming mid June.  It was co-operative enough to use the much favoured branch of our quince tree.

This let us get things sorted out quite quickly and the bees accepted their new home.

The young queen, who was left at home to start over and build up a new colony, is having a difficult time to get things going so late in the season.   Still, the departing swarm left her a super of honey so you cannot say that they were not generous.

We are not the only ones to receive visiteurs in summer, the bees get their share too.




Old favourites and new arrivals

Poppy and 2 beesMme Isaac Péreire in front


Mme Isaac Péreire started her first flush of perfumed roses about a week ago.  She will continue to flower for months but this first flowering is the most dense and the most welcome and the perfume drifts over the patio to be enjoyed with cups of coffee in the sun.

Mme Isaac Péreire covers down pipe

She is being trained round the corner and with the help of the white jasmine does her best to conceal the down pipe.

Mme Isaac Péreire and bee

She is also appreciated by the bumble bees who disappear inside.  The buzz of the bumble bees reverberates through the flower until they once more reappear and fly off.  This is an early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum).  I have seen a lot of them this year but it must be about the end of their season now.

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera

This week I noticed another old favourite, the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) while I was removing the faded forget-me-nots.  In fact I was lucky I spotted it.  I managed to rescue another one which had been weighed down by the forget-me-nots but that had got quite bent.

Close bee orchid

They are not dependant on bees for pollination but I would love to get a photograph with a bee, nevertheless.  This one is not in the same place as the one that had appeared last year, so they are perhaps seeding themselves.

Purple Ancolie Aquilegia

I had given up growing Aquilegia from seed this year.

Pale Ancolie

I had taken seed from friends’ gardens, I had been given a presents of packet seeds and I only managed a few pathetic specimens.

Magpie Ancolie

Those pathetic specimens must have taken things into their own hands and re-seeded in places of their own choice and I have some decent plants for the first time.

New Peony

A new Peony bought on a whim and without a name has flowered and produced three flowers that open and close at night time.

New Pivoine

They will not re-flower like roses but I have no objection to just having their flowers for a short time every year.

First flower Vibernum

Another first this week is the first flower on a Viburnum I bought while on holiday is Gascony a few years ago.  It was supposedly an unusual Viburnum but I could not find the name on the web and I have now lost it completely.  It will have to remain my no-name Viburnum.

Neflier flower and bee

One of the last fruit trees to flower is the Medlar which has an attractive white blossom.

Olive flowers

The Medlar flowers faithfully every year and gives us fruit but our Olive tree has surprised us by producing flowers for the first time.  I presume the mild winter has coaxed it into trying but I am not sure whether we could ever have proper fruit here.

first flower Acacia

Another first flowering this year is an Acacia tree grown from seed by my husband from a beautifully perfumed tree growing in a multi-storey car park in Guildford!  The flowers were highly perfumed which attracted him but we are also surrounded by Acacias in the woods around here.  Still this is a very special hand-grown one!


I bought this Fremontodendron as a tiny plant on a love at first sight basis.  It has grown and produces flowers every year but it does not seem to fit in.  It is a plant in the wrong place but I don’t know what the correct place might be.

Halictid in Fremontodendron

At least it provides succour for the wild bees as this little Halictid bears witness.  I must promise not to buy any more plants without first thinking about where they are to go.Poppy and 2 bees

The double orange poppies are the first to appear in the garden and are highly appreciated by bees and bumble bees alike.  They are not aggressive creatures and ignore any other foragers on the flowers.

Hoopoe in vine

You need to peer to find the Hoopoe but he appeared in the garden three days ago and is a herald of summer to me.  He walked out of the garden closely followed by me and my camera but he never let me get close enough for a good photograph.

Hoopoe on roof 26.3.14

My husband had spotted him at the end of March on the roof but I was trying for a closer shot.

The cuckoo heralds the spring but by May his call is starting to get monotonous and I begin to harbour uncharitable thoughts about his contribution to the sounds of nature.

Roll on summer!



All’s well in the garden

View from upstairs window
View from upstairs window

The first flush of the spring bulbs is well past and the old faithfuls are shooting through.


Some things don’t come up as you expect them to.  I bought a beautiful pale blue Pulsatilla a few years ago as I was so taken by its ephemeral lightness. I propagated its seeds but only to find that it must have been a hybrid.  I have grown its ugly sister, a much darker harsher coloured flower but as it now has appeared yet again this year I think I am softening to it and I can’t resist its fluffy buds and leaves.

Forsythia, hellebores and tulips
Forsythia, hellebores and tulip

The wet, cooler spring has kept the Hellebores going for longer just until the tulips can take over.

Bumble in Hellebore
Bumble in Hellebore

This longer season is appreciated by the bumble bees.

Broad bean flowers
Broad bean flowers

The mild wet winter has favoured the growth of the broad beans that I sow in the autumn.  Last year they got frozen but this year has been good for the vegetable garden and the early peas are growing well too.

Back garden
Back garden

One by one the trees begin to flower.  The Amelanchier doesn’t flower for long and isn’t perfumed but its flower are so delicate that I forgive it its short comings.

Amelanchier blossom
Amelanchier blossom

I have never noticed any bees on the Amelanchier blossom which surprises me.

Quince and carder bee
Quince and carder bee

The quince tree is a mass of pale pink blossom which welcome bees and bumble bees alike throughout the day.

Cherry blossom  moved tree
Cherry blossom moved tree

The apricot trees are finished flowering and we were happy to see the cherry tree that we roughly transplanted has survived and is full of flowers on its foreshortened branches.  The plum trees are in flower and with the apple trees coming into flower all the trees are at their best.

I have noticed one very strange phenomenon this year.

Pear tree and Osmia cornuta
Pear tree and Osmia cornuta

About a week ago my pear tree flowers gave off a foetid odour of fish!  I have never noticed this before and believe me you couldn’t miss it.  I have a William variety in the front so I checked with the Conference in the back; same thing but somewhat less strong.  I decided to check out the neighbours so I asked Yvon and Annie if their pear trees smelled of fish.  After they had ascertained I was serious we all went off for a sniff.

Yvon decided it was sardines.  I think it was worse than that.  We all retreated to their cherry tree and took deep breaths of the fresh cherry blossom to purge our lungs.

The pear blossom is just about finished and the odour passed too.  Has anyone else noticed this?

Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

We get more and more birds in the garden now, the Hoopoe is a summer visitor.

Hoopoe with worm
Hoopoe with worm

He digs deep into the ground with his beak and is a successful worm catcher.  His visits would be great to aerate a lawn, if you had one.

Andrena cineraria in hole
Andrena cineraria in hole

Of all my visitors to the garden it is the bees that excite me the most and the garden is full of them at the moment.  I have so many to identify but I am overjoyed as I now have a book to try and get my mind round.  It is called the ” Bees of Surrey” by David W. Baldock.  You may wonder if this is what I really need as I live in France.  It is certainly the best thing I have read so far and I have learnt such a lot although I have not had time to fully use it.  It was advice I received from an excellent blog that put me onto the book.  The author of “Bees of Surrey” suggests that to begin identifying bees you should try and identify twenty (with the help of a local bee expert if possible 😦 ) and then you can identify a few new ones each year.  He says it is difficult advice to follow but you will be hooked for life if you take it.  Well, I have set myself the challenge to identify twenty bees by photographing them.

I’ve got a lot of photographs and some tentative identifications in mind and I’ll post some of my identifications and observations and I’d be very grateful for any comments.

When it is sunny here it seems it is not only the bees that are happy.


It seems to put everyone in a good mood.

Hoopoe rescue

My solitary lapwing is still visiting.  He has now trained me to re-hydrate dry puppy  food and put this outside the living room door.  I hope he appreciates them as much as the other birds do.

The glacial weather continues in this normally clement area of France, it was -13 C this morning at 8 a.m.  I am spending more time beside our log burning “insert” – a closed log fire that in addition warms the air by a heat exchange system. I am wondering if it is our house in particular or if all houses have their share of unexpected visitors.

My lapwing makes me think of a summer visitor to the garden who also has an elegant crest – the hoopoe (Upupa epops) or huppe.  One in particular, paid us a visit last year – entering via the insert.  This is in itself quite a feat as the insert is not open like a normal fireplace but blocked by a heavy metal plate.  Returning home one afternoon at the end of April last year we were alerted by a scuttling noise emanating from the insert.  When we opened the glass door a hoopoe was perched in the far corner on top of the cinders which luckily dated from some days earlier!

He looked amazingly smart for something that had just come down a chimney.  My husband happily took up the challenge to retrieve him and enjoy the rare opportunity to have a hoopoe in his hand.


The hoopoe looks such an exotic bird with its colourful markings and retractable crown feathers.  We had often seen them from afar and we were even more impressed with its markings and regal composure when we had the opportunity to view it so closely.  Not wishing to cause it distress we quickly released it into the front garden.

He took flight and shook off the inconveniences and affronts of falling down a chimney and being handled by a human with regal aplomb and looked down at us from the telephone wire with the hauteur of regard suitable for such a magnificent bird towards mere earthlings.