A pond for the garden

The rain has been more or less continuous this week but I am surprised that as soon as there is a break in the downpour the bees are out.

I suppose the Hellebores are ideally suited for this type of weather as the flower heads face downwards, keeping the pollen dry and making natural umbrellas for any bees caught out.

On Wednesday I saw the first bumble bee out for some time. She was very slow and obviously a young queen that must have woken very hungry from a dormant period. She walked over the flowers of the heather carefully taking the nectar.

It was not until I looked at the photographs, much later, that I realised that she was heavly infested with mites. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust say that these parasites may just be hitching a lift on bumblebees to take them to new nests and that they feed on nest debris. They suggest that heavily infested bumblebees could have the mites swept off them using a child’s paintbrush. I have never down this and I think it might not be so easy in practice.

The rain was forecast and we managed to get our pool in place in the hope of filling it with rain water. We have had a blue plastic sandpit hoarded for many years, and rather than buy a new piece of plastic we decided to reuse and recycle.

We already have a waterlily plant ready re-homing and the stone was placed to mark the spot.

This is our first real pond but we have already aspirations of what may breed here.

This photograph was taken in 2015 from “Many Happy Returns”. I hear our frogs at the moment but I do not see them.

This is from “A February of Contradictions”. These little green tree frogs or Reinettes (Hyla meridionalis) are ever present in the garden but I have never seen their tadpoles.

This photograph is from last year in “Persimmon and Saffron”, the little newts (Tritorus marmoratus) were hiding together under one of my pots.

If they adults are cute the babies are even cuter see July last year “Garden Visitors”. Will they breed in the new pond?

We do not see the salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) so frequently but I found this baby one near the Manuka last year “Back to April Showers”. Note the rubber gloves. The salamander can exude an irritant from its skin, I still like its sleek form and yellow stripe.

I do not expect to attract a European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) but if he has already come here (“There’s an Emys orbicularis, in the garden”) – why not?

So the rain continues to fall and the stones get piled around the edges to conceal the shape. In the middle of the pool the stone has already attracted some wildlife. You can just see two black marks.

I have never noticed these before and I think they are Devil’s Coach Horse beetles (Ocypus olens). They are detrius feeders and I can attest to the fact that they are not good swimmers. Never the less when we rescue them, flicking them onto the grass, we find them back on the stone or floating inanimate in the water the next day.

So the rain has filled our pond and we have been able to put the water lily in its new home with a few weeds from the bee’s water bowl. We would like to add some more plants especially something tall to attract the dragonflies but it is a bit early yet for that.

We will not be adding fish as they will likely make short work of any spawn or tadpoles.

Our robin was in good voice today and I am sure he feels it will not be long until springtime here.

Garden visitors

The Hollyhocks are providing a lot of colour in the garden just now.  On the right of the Hollyhock is a Mullein or Verbascum.  Both plants self seed and we try to replant the seedlings in autumn where we feel they will best thrive.

This Lavatera was just a cutting potted up in the autumn.  So you can see how quickly it grows.

The flowers are beautiful and the leaves are a soft green.

The flowers attract all sorts of bees and pollinators for nectar.

The pollen is also sought after and I love to see the bees with this unusual colour of pollen.

The Hollyhocks are very popular with the bumble bees for nectar and pollen.

The bumble bees are the most amusing bees to watch.  They seem much more independent and get right in there if there is pollen to be collected.

Yellow Buddleia

I prefer this yellow buddleia to the more common variety with the lilac flowers.  This yellow buddleia attracts bees and other pollinators whereas I have only seen butterflies on the other one.

The blue perennial geranium is always covered with bees.  This is where we eat outside so all the potted plants provide us with plenty of visitors to watch.

The Liatris does not care whether it is in a pot or in the ground.

I think the most important item we provide in the garden, especially at the moment, is the water.  We have several dishes of water around the garden.

The birds drink the water and bathe in it and bring in their young.  We have been enjoying watching this young robin on a daily basis.

These boxes have been left in the hope that we might be able to use them to gather fruit in the autumn but when Kourosh attempted to tidy the outhouse, he found they had been put to good use.

When he lifted off the top box it revealed a perfect little nest, carefully lined with feathers.  It was a very tidy construction and perhaps it might even be the nest where our baby robin was raised.

It is good to see nature being renewed.

This young marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus) was happy under some tiles until Kourosh found him.  He still has his crest from the aquatic stage as he is born in the water.  Now he has come onto land and will eat most of the things you would expect to find under tiles, like slugs, snails, earthworms and any insect that might pass by.  They are very gentle creatures and do not move rapidly on land.  It is nice to think that they help to keep the garden free of the things gardeners do not want.

Another gardener’s friend crept up behind Kourosh when he was painting the garden gate the other day.

Kourosh was a bit concerned to find him near a road and brought him into the garden to check him out as it was surprising to find a hedgehog in the day time.

I think it may be a young one just starting out in life.  I just hope he remembers the garden and stays here or at least visits frequently.

We do try and look out for all the animals that pass through our garden but this tree frog had a bit of bad luck.  We usually cover our wooden table in the evening with a plastic cover.  The other day we bundled it up quickly in the morning at breakfast time and put it inside.

It was not until the evening that we found we had bundled up our tree frog inside the cover.

“Not good enough!” is what that face says.



The bees in January 2018

After a long hot summer, we had a cold spell in December.  I feel the cold and in addition we attended a very interesting bee meeting with an interesting talk on the relative insulation value of the different types of hives and nucs.  That started me worrying about our bees and we decided that we should give them a bit of extra insulation.  They are already well insulated over the top of the hives.

Actually, the cold spell did not last long and in January I started watching the catkins of our purple hazelnut start to open.

There are a lot of hazelnuts (Corylus sp.) around us and we planted some in the garden as we read that these catkins are often the first source of pollen for bees.

I have another reason to keep my eye on the hazels at this time of year as it is now that they produce their tiny flowers.

Their petals (actually styles) remind me of the tentacles of sea anemones and it is surely a sign that spring cannot be far behind.  However, I have never seen a single bee on the hazel catkins.  Hazelnuts are wind pollinated but this does not stop the bees gathering the pollen.

Near some of the hazelnuts are gorse bushes and the bees will fly at least a kilometer from their hives in January to collect the pollen.  It is easy to see the orange pollen being taken into the hive and know where it comes from at this time of year.

The most pollen we see being brought into the hive in January comes from the Winter Flowering Honeysuckle.  There is a large bush about 20 metres from their hive and they visit this bush at amazingly low air temperatures.  It was only 9 degrees centigrade today but sunny and the bush was buzzing.

Today the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) was sharing with the honey bees and the queen buff-tailed bumble bee.

A bit further away is the Viburnum tinus which buzzes on sunny days like today.  Size does matter and it is now a very large bush.  Not a bad investment for one euro at a fête many years ago.

The V.tinus pollen is a pale ivory and we like to watch the hives bring it in.  Most of the pollen is the yellow Winter Flowering Honeysuckle pollen, then the V.tinus pollen and also some orange Gorse pollen.  You can watch the video (less than 1 minute) of our busiest hive “Poppy” bringing in the pollen today.

My heather (Erica darleyensis) gets plenty of attention.  I am trying to increase this Erica as it does so well here but it is not a rapid grower.

The bees like to keep you guessing and I had not thought these early crocus would be so tempting.

Just beside the crocus some Mullein leaves are shooting up (Verbascum thapsus).  I try to keep as many as I can in the garden because their flowers attract so many pollinators in the summer, especially in the early morning.

There are no flowers in January but I wonder if the dew droplets become impregnated with minerals from the Verbascums leaves.  Mullein has a long history as a herbal plant.

It does not look as if it will be long before our willow tree (Salix caprea) will have the bees exploring the fluffy buds.

Until then we should follow the example of our green tree frog sitting in the sunshine today and take advantage of the day, wherever we are.


How not to plant daffodils


March has almost finished and in this upside down year it certainly has not been “in like a lion, out like a lamb” as the winds are roaring down the country.  It continues to be exceptionally mild, going to 21 degrees centigrade a couple of days ago.  Seemingly this winter has been the mildest since 1880.

I hope the little plums on the large tree in the foreground of the picture above don’t all get blown away.Daffodil edge

This year the daffodils in the front garden were beautiful but the clumps were needing to be divided.  I cannot plant bulbs at the bottom of the back garden because of the tree roots but I had a cunning plan!  Kourosh was cutting out turf where he is planting wild flowers so I decided to cut out a shallow trough for the bulbs and cover them with the divots of turf.  I must admit I found there were more bulbs than I had expected and carting the divots was more tiring.  The resulting plantation is eccentric but if even twenty percent catch I shall be pleased.

Mass of wild anemones

Actually this is the sort of planting I would really like and there are masses of them all around us at the moment.  Nature is much more cunning than I am.

Wild anemone

The wild anemones are mainly white but some are a delicate violet or pink or a mix of the two (See, What colour is a white wood anemone?)


The Pulmonaria and


violettes and

Potentilla sterilis

this little white flower are out in abundance in the woods nearby.  The white flower is Potentilla sterilis or the barren strawberry which I have been calling a wild strawberry up until today when I read this post on WordPress from Catbrook Wood.  We do get wild strawberries too, but later, of course.

Polygala myrtifolia

We continue to add as many bee and insect plants as possible into the garden.  Today it was the addition of Polygala myrtifolia.  It is of South African origin and tender but it is well protected in a corner of the front garden although it will need to be covered if we get hard frosts.

Polygala close

It is supposed to flower all year round but more plentifully in the spring.  You can see the stamens full of pollen tempting the bees.

Camelia and bee

Will it be more successful than the Camelia which has a successful but short season?

Osmia cornuta clearing hole (2)

The female Osmia cornuta have arrived to keep me amused.  I was amazed to watch this one decide to clean out a hole another insect has used so that she could re-use it.  I have a variety of empty holes available but she capriciously decided that this one was the one that she wanted.

Blue tit on car (2)

This blue tit has been providing us with entertainment every morning as he tries to see off another male that peers at him from inside our car.  I would imagine it is the spring and the mating season that makes him more aggressive but it does seem that he is rather looking for trouble.

Blue tit on car (1)

These intruders get everywhere if you let them.

Reinette on ferns

Continuing on the theme of garden animals, can you see the one in this picture?

Clue it is exactly in the middle of the photograph and is not easier to see in real life.

Reinette on hand (1)

Give up?  A frog in the hand is easier to spot.  There are a lot of these little tree frogs (Hyla meridionalis) around this year.


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.


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.


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.


Many happy returns

Purple crocus

All it takes is a little bit of sunshine and splashes of colour return to the garden.

Willow stamens

After all the rain the plants are ready for the big opening.  There is not much pollen on the willow yet, these stamens were the only ones I saw and they were high up, but it won’t be long.

plum flower

I saw my first blossom on the big plum tree in the garden.  In warm years so many bees come to the plum tree when it is in flower that I can hear the buzz from about 100 metres away.

Red Camellia

The red Camellia provides more than colour.

Halictes bee in Camellia

The thick layer of petals has been providing a comfortable B&B for this little halictes bee.

dandelion and bees

The dandelions are out and this one is being shared by a honey bee and a solitary Andrena bee.  I look forward to the return of the bees and butterflies in the garden.

Barbastelle bat

One returning visitor came as a surprise.  My husband spotted him at the end of February and he is still with us.

Barbastelle bat 27.2.15

He is a Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus).  Barbastelle bats often pass the winter in underground caves or cavities.  As he has decided to take up residence behind our living room shutter again I would presume he is starting to get active.  Once again I presume that if I have been seeing butterflies during the day he will be finding moths (to which he is partial) during the night.  I can keep an eye on him during the day by looking in sideways without disturbing him and I have noticed that he changes position between roosting on the wooden shutter and the stone wall of the house.

This means that it is the third year that we have noticed a Barbastelle bat in exactly the same place (see last year “A furry visitor”).  They have been known to live for 23 years so it seems likely that it is the same individual.


The warm damp weather is ideal for the green tree frogs ( Hyla meridionalis).  They have returned to bask in the sunshine in front of the dining room window.  Often we hear them before we see them and they are difficult to see until one of them moves, as you can see on the picture above.

This is my favourite time of year in the garden as everything makes its first appearance.

Rain, rain

Rain up to edge

Part of the river Seudre runs at the bottom of our garden.  It is now up to the very edge.

Bottom of garden

A tree had to be removed a few weeks ago because the summer storm had broken its top across the river.  We managed to get the greater part of it out with the help of a tractor but the rest will have to be removed in the summer when it more or less dries up.  This part of the river used to flood regularly until a canal was built some time ago which takes any overflow.

cyclamenAt least the trees are getting a good soaking.  The rest of the plants seem quite happy too.  I had planted cyclamen at the bottom of the garden under the trees hoping it would naturalise.

Cyclamen seedlingsI had never really thought about how they would “naturalise”, I just hoped they would spread.  This year I have noticed little seeds germinating on the ground and I have spread them out but I seem to have missed some here.  I never realised they would set seed so readily.

CrocusThe spring bulbs are coming on apace.

SnowdropsBut everything is wet and muddy.

BergeniaThe usual winter flowers are opening up.

PrimulaThere is colour around.

RosemaryThe Rosemary has not stopped flowering.

Apricot flowerBut neither has the Apricot.

Apricot flowersAnd more keeps arriving.

Prune flower budsWorst of all the Plum tree has started to bloom.  I had such high hope for the Plum tree this year as it is a favourite with the bees.  Only some immediate low temperatures could retard things now and no low temperatures are forecast.  I think the plum tree will be quiet again this year with only some honey bees and bumble bees awake to appreciate its flowers.

Pink helleboreMy first Hellebore is in flower.

Inside HelleboreI always have to have a look inside as I pass.  They do look delicate drooping as they do but you miss seeing what they look like inside.

Red HelleboreThe red Hellebores are not far behind.  These are all seedlings from my sister’s garden and are prodigious self-seeders and I have already my own little plantation of last year’s seedlings in the back garden under the trees.

SedumI’ve got a lot of cutting back to do yet.

AchileaI am also considering keeping the long stems from the Achillea and Sedum to use in the bee hotels.  So I would need to cut them and dry them out.

Two problems here.  The first is obvious – they will be difficult to dry out and the second is that I am not tempted out in this weather.  No excuse really as it is not cold but as soon as you get ready, it starts to rain!

Mutabilis roseI really should not complain as all the plants I have planted recently have had perfect growing conditions and my unperfumed Mutabilis rose looks very happy.

HeathersEven the two Heathers I bought last year and did not believe would grow in my chalky soil have prospered.  They were marked as suitable – it is just I am very sceptical about the quality of information in the local nurseries.  I’ve seen no bees on them yet so maybe they are as surprised as I am to see them.

propagatorI’ve resorted to planting some seeds indoors.  I have five perennial poppy seedlings with secondary leaves in the can intensive care propagator.  I don’t think they really need this much care but it is an outlet for my gardening frustrations.

I have also started off my last three Scabiosa caucasica seeds which I failed with last year.  In addition, I have  sown some Monarda seeds as I was no too successful last year as I started them off too late.

Hyla meridionalis
Hyla meridionalis 19.1.14

Basically it is only the Reinette that really appreciates this weather.

 Tree frog on well 19.1.14And even she prefers sitting on the top of the well when it is sunny!

La Rainette comes calling

The night before last we had a visit.

I just dropped by!
I just dropped by!

We were delighted!  The little green frogs are one of our favourite visitors and we had not seen any since the spring.  It had been a very dry summer and not really frog weather but recently it has been raining a lot and I have heard them in the evening but not seen any.

I'm back
I’m back

I rushed out to say hello – as you can see they are not shy.

Just to give you an idea of size.
Just to give you an idea of size.

I was able to measure this one’s size through the window and the body length is only 3 centimetres (not counting the head), which is very small compared to the ones we have seen before.

La Rainette, Hyla meridionalis 1.4.12
Relaxing in the garden in April this year

I remember the first time I saw a Rainette.  It was a rainy afternoon several years ago and I had just started to draw closed the patio window to stop the rain coming in.  She was sitting comfortably on the hand grip of the door frame and I saw her just in time to draw back my hand without touching her.

We were both startled.  I had never been that close to a bright green frog before.  I didn’t move but neither did she, except to move her head to the side as if to ward off an imminent blow. I felt chilled by the thought that I could have inadvertently squashed her and then by the thought that she was expecting an aggressive blow.  She still didn’t budge and I realised she had no intention of moving unless forced to.  She was enjoying watching the rain from the window as I frequently do myself.  I retired leaving her to her reflections.

On chair in the garden
On chair in the garden

From then on she turned up in the garden whenever she fancied, usually when it is warm and damp.

Among the Wisteria in April
Among the Wisteria in April

I have identified the Rainette as Hyla meridiaonalis, a little green tree frog that lives in our garden and is common in this area of France.  They differ from any other frogs that I have come across as being much calmer and less easily startled.  I see them more often during warm, wet weather anywhere in the garden and our old well (see my post The old well ).   The well had no water this summer but a plentiful growth of ferns on its walls is a favourite haunt of the tree frogs.

Oooh that sun feels so good on my back!
Oooh that sun feels so good on my back!

They surprisingly enjoy basking in the sunshine.

Blending into the colour of the unfolding Arum Lily.
Blending into the colour of the unfolding Arum Lily.

Despite being bright green they can be difficult to see.

Inside on side-table
Inside on side-table

They occasionally come inside and can take you by surprise because once comfortable they can remain motionless.  This one appeared in the dining-room and I only noticed as I bent to put a cup of coffee beside her!

This year they were very quiet as usually we hear them calling from the river in the summer evenings.  Their call makes us laugh and I had missed it this year, so I am glad they are back.

You can hear their call if you go to this excellent site and press the button under the Call heading http://www.herpfrance.com/amphibian/stripeless_tree_frog_hyla_meridionalis.php.