a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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A discovery in the small vegetable garden

We have a part of the small vegetable garden that we try to keep for herbs. We have several friends who prefer tisanes to black tea so I grow mint, lemon balm. lemon verbena, camomile and dry them to make tisanes. I sometimes make them for myself, as I would like to wean myself off black tea, but it’s taking some time to change my preferences. We also grow any other bits and bobs and young plants that need keeping an eye on.

It tends to get a bit overgrown with the lavender encroaching and some seedling trees growing faster than expected and the Echium turning into amazing self-seeders. So, with our incredible spell of fine weather I decided to put some order into the plot and get lots cut back.

All went well until late in the afternoon, when it was sunny and warm, I noticed some Ivy bees flying around the border I was trying to straighten!

They looked as if they were trying to find their nests! I had a sinking feeling that I could have destroyed their nesting site.

I marked the edge with tiles and decided that all that could be done would be to cover the area with cardboard and leave it for a year in case the burrows were left intact.

I still surveyed the area daily and then I noticed two burrows.

The first was near tiles placed perpendicular to the edge, so at least all was not lost. The other was not far away but nearer the edge.

When I saw one enter the burrow, I waited patiently and photographed her as she made her exit.

I have been fascinated watching her enlarge the burrow. The proportions of earth that she is removing compared to her size is amazing. The slope of the hole is her total length long.

Now that I know that there are at least two active nests in that area, I will take the greatest of care and protect them until next year.

The female ivy bee is laying her eggs with a supply of pollen and nectar to nourish the future larvae and the adult bees will not emerge until this time next year.

I did see cuckoo bees on the same day I saw the first bees and I took this photograph.

I had already seen two different sorts of Epeolus bees on the asters. These bees are cuckoo bees and target Colletes bees like the Ivy bees (Colletes hederae). They will enter the Ivy bees’ nests and lay their eggs so that their larvae will survive rather than the Ivy bees.

Nature is tough but I will guard my nests of Ivy bees as best as I can.


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The Garden Jungle

Bumble on dead nettle

The Garden Jungle is not a reflection on my garden it is the new book by Dave Goulson.  Or rather the full title is The Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet.

There is so much information presented in such a stimulating style that I recommend it for all gardeners everywhere.

Brown-banded bumble bee

Dave Goulson is a university professor, author of several best selling books and a keen amateur gardener.

Bombus praetorum.30.4.13

In addition, in 2006 he founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust which has had a tremendous impact on raising the awareness of the decline in Bumblebees in the U.K. in the past eighty years.  The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has spearheaded many successful projects in the U.K. and involves and encourages the public to become part of the conservation effort.

In fact, if each time you access Amazon through this link the association will receive a donation from Amazon on qualifying purchases (they raised £3,500 last year in this way.)

Bumble on Echinacae

So the bumblebee theme is in honour of Dave Goulson and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and also to recommend his new book as a great read.  However, the book is not just about bumblebees but concerns all of the natural life that you find in the garden.

Although written with his gardens in the U.K. and France in the background, his writing resonates across the continents.

Bumble on Sedum

I’ve read a lot of books about gardening for nature but this is definitely heads and shoulders above anything else I have read.

Anyone who has already read his other books will be familiar with his light-hearted, easy to read style but for those who have not read his other books, I also wanted to point out his credentials as a seriously well-informed writer.

Bumble Bramble pollen.jpg

This time I decided to go for the Kindle edition but I think I will also buy a paper copy.  It is a book that I know I will want to refer to and although the Kindle version does have an index it is rather that I am personally more adapt at the “flick” method when I want to retrieve information from a paper book.  I must get used to using the highlighters but until now I have reserved my Kindle purchases to light reading for beach or while travelling.

Clover pollen

I hope you enjoy reading this book wherever you are and whether you have a postage stamp size garden or a huge spread or whether your garden is still in your dreams.

 

 

 

 

 


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Jumping spiders!

I think most of you will have seen the great video by Jürgen Otto’s of the jumping spider Maratus speciosus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_yYC5r8xMI.  It is coming up on six million views now.  I really like some of the other ones that are set to music like the YMCA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYIUFEQeh3g which always makes me laugh.

However, I had never expected to see a jumping spider waving its legs at me in real life.  Especially not on the dining room table.

saitis-barbipes-2

I would like to point out here that it is only 5mm. and apart from scuttling very rapidly – it can jump.

saitis-barbipes-1

Even a bad photograph is better than none as I am not sure whether I would have believed it myself since the famous Maratus spider is a native of Australia.

Working back with the help of Wiki I found out that there is a large family of Salicidae or Jumping spiders and there are members of this family present in Europe.  My spider bears a striking resemblance to Saitis-barbipes which is present in France.

I feel rather favoured that he waved his fluffy orange legs at me before skilfully disappearing under the books and papers on the table.


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Have you seen a glow worm?

glow worm

This is what a female glow worm looks like and as you can see from its size against the grass stem it is not very big, maybe two centimetres at a stretch.  However, at night time all you will see is a spot of green light.

The group Estuaire is trying to study glow worms in France and if you have a garden in France your assistance is invaluable to them.  They would like to find out where glow worms can be seen in France.  Are they more common in city gardens or country gardens?  Are they on the increase or decrease?

So have a look after dark in the garden and if you do see a glow worm let the association know http://www.asterella.eu/index.php?.

In addition, you can check out the summer skies and maybe even spot a shooting star.  Late July and early August might give you an even higher chance.

Close up of glow worm

In fact, glow worm hunting would be the ideal pastime for insomniacs, you just need to wait until it is really dark to start your hunt.  Like all sports it has its dangers and unless doted with extra sensory perception it is best to have a torch at hand to avoid the odd rake or misplaced rockery.

Last year I was given a “Special Mission” by the Association, so you are warned that glow worm hunting can become addictive.  I have other blogs and pictures of glow worms I have met but for more information check out the Association’s web site and good hunting!

 

 


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Glow worm update

Yesterday I was contacted by the Observatoire des Vers Luisants that is the Observatory of glow worms.  I was asked if I would be willing to repeat my “Special Mission” looking for glow worms on the same route any day from yesterday until the weekend.  I happily agreed as I find glow worm searching fun.

glow worm on grass

This time we found 14!  Much more fun than the last negative survey we had made.

Close up glow worm

We had been asked to take photographs if possible.  That is not so easy!  My built in flash is all I have got and so Macro shots have too tight a field of focus.

Male approaches female

Kourosh resorted to his old Canon PowerShot SX210IS which leaves a small black mark on the photos (cut out here).  He managed to capture the winged male edging up the ivy leaf towards the female.

Glow worms Mating

And then mating.

We even found three glowing away in our front garden – but they did not count.  I wonder if it was the 15 mm. of rain that fell during thunderstorms Sunday night/ Monday morning?  Everything feels better now.

Any advice on taking photographs of glow worms would be appreciated.

 


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Special Mission

Last Saturday night I went on a special mission.  Being me, I was very excited about it.  But to begin at the beginning it had all started when I was contacted by the Observatoire des Vers Luisants by email in early July asking me if I had seen any glow worms in my garden this year because I had let them know that I had seen at least one in the summer of 2012.

As it so happened my husband had spotted one in the garden the day before we received the email.  I was able to reply that we had already had a sighting in the garden.  There are two possible insects that could emit light in the evening, the fireflies or the glow worms.  What we have seen are glow worms.

1-Glow worm 1

This is a photograph taken in 2012 from a post “It is a matter of perspective”.  I did not think to take a photograph this year.

When I responded to the enquiry that we had a sighting in the garden, I also indicated that I would be prepared for any “Special Mission” that might be forthcoming.

Last Friday I was contacted by telephone and asked if I would be able to follow a given route from the house between the 24 and 26 July after sunset.  This is the first time I have taken part in one of these “Citizen Science” projects and I was delighted to agree.

I duly received my map which showed me a route from the house towards the village for about a kilometre.  I was very pleased with the route because it was exactly where we had seen the glow worms in previous years.  The 24 th. was a fine summer evening and we decided to make a supplementary search in the garden before starting on the given route.   I am not used to wandering in the garden at night with no light so I managed to fall over the wires holding up the vine posts – I hadn’t expected this mission to be so dangerous!

Whether by coincidence or not, that night the street lighting in our little hamlet was not switched on. Despite walking the route slowly, one behind the other, we did not spot any glow worms.  Even the glow worm we had seen in the garden was not there.  We were very surprised but posted our zero count as every result is important especially a negative one.  We have had an extremely dry period and the edges of the road had been closely cropped in June leaving hardly any vegetation.  I do not know whether this would make a difference but I added it to the comment section of my return.

Do you see fireflies or glow worms in your gardens?


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Back home in June!

Front garden

Back home and it looked as if I hadn’t missed as much of the flowers as I thought I would.

Pink rose

The roses are still flowering.

World domination

And the Arum lily at the back looks as if it is set for world domination again this year.

Back garden

The back garden looks good from afar.

Stick garden

But when you look closer into the borders, the weeds have out-competed the plants.  Especially in my new border where I have been wise enough to mark my new plants with a stick, otherwise I would lose them to the competition.

growing stick

I had to put in so many sticks beside the plants that I named it my “stick garden”.  I prefer to use sticks from the trees in the garden to lessen the unpleasant impact but I had not counted on so many of them sprouting so vigorously like this one!

Early bumble Veichenblau

I have spent most of my days weeding since I have returned from my holidays but I still like to watch my bees like this early bumble bee in the Veilchenblau rose.

Bee in Viechenblau

It is not always that the bumble bees and honey bees like the same flowers, however, the Veilchenblau pollen is a favourite with both of them.  The pollen is this lovely yellow/orange shade.

Chafer

The bees have got competition from the chafer beetles so pollen gathering is done rapidly in the morning and there is plenty to go round for everyone.

Bee in poppy

The poppies are another sought after source of pollen, even if it looks as if they are carrying little sacks of coal.  There are some poppies with yellow pollen but if anything the black pollen seems to be favoured by both the bumbles and honey bees.  This means that by the afternoon the poppies are in a sorry state with the stamens completely decimated.

Bee in Cotoneaster

Another joint favourite of the bumbles and honeybees at the moment are the tiny flowers of the cotoneaster for their nectar.  I have seen a lot of hornets, both Asian and European on the cotoneaster recently.

Peony 2 bees plus

I had never noticed peonies being very popular  with the bees but these little wild bees like this one’s pollen and there is something more.

Peony and bug

I presume this is another type of chafer – more furry and cuter, but I have never seen one before.

Macroglossum stellatarum

The weather has been getting warmer these past few days and yesterday was 35 degrees Centigrade.  It feels like summer with lots of Humming Bird Hawk Moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) flying through the Centranthus ruber and Nepeta.

Ruche

When we left on holiday the captured swarm was still in its polystyrene temporary accommodation but when we returned Michel had kindly transferred it to its proper home at the bottom of the garden.

Yellow pollen

I now know where to find Kourosh if he is not around.

Black pollen

He will be watching his girls at the bottom of the garden.  I know where that bee got her black pollen from!

Bee gym

He is a well-behaved beginner and does not disturb the bees but he has lifted the top board to slide a Bee Gym on top of the frames.  I had read about this on Emily’s blog http://adventuresinbeeland.com/2013/11/03/into-the-dark-of-winter/.  I had thought it sounded a novel and interesting idea.  You can read more about it here at Bee Gym.

Empty ruchette

However, the second “ruchette” has remained empty, although it had looked like a swarm was very interested in it before we left on holiday.   Our neighbour Annie said that the weather turned cooler when we left so that might be the explanation.  Never mind, Kourosh is more than pleased with his swarm…and in addition interest has been renewed in the “ruchette” with the onset of warmer weather.

 

 

 

 


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Mason bee hotels or houses

We have been having our share of cold weather this week. Our weather is still very tempered by our position and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean so I am talking about temperatures dipping below zero centigrade at nightime and rising to a high of 7 or 8 degrees during the day.  From comments I am receiving on the blog, I get the feeling that a lot of gardeners are nevertheless eager to get their seeds sorted and start with the spring planning.  If you are restricted in your gardening activities at the moment, it might be the time to think about building or looking for a bee hotel.

My first bee hotel had been a gift that had languished under the lilac tree until in March 2013 I had seen the male Osmia checking out the holes in search of newly hatched females. (Short Mason Bee Update).

I found watching the bees as they nested fascinating and decided to add more bee hotels to the garden. (New Mason Bee Nests)

I decided to examine the best places to mount the bee hotels and monitor the best designs and sizes of holes.

Osmia leiana

What I discovered is that it doesn’t matter!

Megachile at bee hotel

Once you have provided the holes, the visitors will begin to arrive.

Solitary wasp

You are likely to see more than just bees.  I get solitary wasps.  These are not aggressive creatures so no worry about being attacked and stung, unless you are a caterpillar!  These solitary wasps are the gardeners’ friend and will stock their nests with caterpillars and other goodies for their carnivorous larvae.

Osmia ...

If you give them a varied selection of holes and hollow stems, they will do the rest.   Here is an Osmia bee (I think caerulescens ) cleaning out the holes drilled in a cut log.  This is in June.  Some bees will come to my garden in March or April, others will come in the summertime and others may return for a second time in the same year.

Megachile emerging

I must admit to have been pretty excited the first time I saw a bee emerging from “my” bee house in May 2014. This is the very bamboo cane that had been so carefully sealed with a rose petal by a Megachile the previous September.

Heriades t.

It is also exciting is to watch which bees decide to take up residence.  This little bee (Heriades truncorum, I think) is less than a centimetre long and as well as nesting in the bamboo canes was also quite happy to use the much finer old, cut stems of my Leycesteria formosa (Himalayan nutmeg.)

So the most important action is to put something up.  Whether it be approaching a work of art or some hollow stems stuffed into an empty plastic bottle: there are lots of ideas out there on the web.  I think they like the sunny spots but all my bee hotels have been used, even the ones in shady places.  If you hope to photograph the nests you should think about having good natural light available as you will need to be using a fast shutter speed.

For the curious, like me, there is also a solitary bee nest that can be opened so that you can see exactly what has been happening over the summertime.  I found it on http://www.wildlifeworld.co.uk/p/solitary-bee-hive?pp=24

I did not buy it until the end of the summer but I could not resist putting it up, although I thought it was much too late to attract any interest.

Anthea

But then on the 29th. of September last year Anthea arrived.  Yes, it has got that bad!  I’ve started giving them names – Anthea, the Anthidium manicatum.

Anthidium chooses wrong hole

We had lots fun watching her bringing her bales of cotton to make her nest.  She harvests her cotton wool by clipping off the soft hairs that cover the grey/green leaves of plants like sage, stachys, artemisia and verbascums.  But sometimes she gets it wrong and flies into the wrong hole and makes a hasty turnaround like she has done here, to return to the correct one.

Anthidium cocoons

In the middle of December I decided to take my boxes down and I had a look at the inside of the new box.  The cocoons were beautiful with no sign of mites.  I will take another look before the bees come back to see if they have survived the winter intact.

I also decided to buy some nesting tubes and paper liners from the same site, Wildlife World.  The tubes are well cut and will save time as I have been promised another new bee hotel for this year 🙂

Lizard in bee hotel

One problem I have had is that our lizards love to sun themselves on top of the bamboo stems of the bee hotels.  However, to make themselves really comfortable, they kick out the tubes.  This year the tubes must be firmly wedged with pieces of wood so that not even the strongest lizard can displace them.


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Hollyhocks revisited.

Three Tetralonia (2)

This morning (Saturday 5 July 2014) I had a look in the Hollyhocks and saw two Tetralonia bees still not properly awake at 8 a.m.  They are not early risers.

Three Tetralonia (1)

As I bent to take the photograph from a different angle I noticed that there were three!  It had been a rainy night with cooler overnight temperatures so I wonder whether its warmer to share your hollyhock shelter with others?