a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Plants and places

Sometimes you get it right – sometimes you are a bit off. Here, I am happy we have a Madame Isaac Periere rose just by our doors.

The rose is a deep rich pink and highly perfumed.

What is a bit off is the bright red poppies that I have sown underneath. Not a harmonious choice of colours at all.

The poppies will only be there in the spring and I would prefer to see the bees in them than to go for the colour match. I have also noticed that Anthophora “buzz” pollinate. I thought that it was a phenomenum unique to bumble bees but these Anthophora bounce on the flowers and buzz them to release the pollen.

One of the most difficult places in the garden are the shady, dry spots. I find the Arums cope well. They have huge tubers at their roots and they must store the moisture in the winter and survive on this during the summer.

The Tellima grandiflora manage to survive in the shade and dry and provide delicate flowers that are appreciated by the early bumble bees. They are good at providing a ground cover during the summer and self-seed but are never over powering and unwanted plants are easily removed or transferred.

I am not so lucky with the Iris. Just now, in this region, even the most reticent gardeners have beautiful displays of Iris in a host of beautiful colours.

These Iris are in the border of the front garden. I am not sure how they got there (Kourosh?)

These Iris are at the bottom of the back garden and have been taken over by weeds. There lies my problem. Iris are beautiful when in flower but they do not have the decency to disappear afterwards, like tulips or daffodils. Their rhizomes should be left open to the sun but other plants and weeds seem to find this a great place to grow in.

These Iris are growing outside our front wall and although they look charming at the moment, their ever increasing rhizome base makes it difficult to control throughout the rest of the year.

I do like Iris but I would love to hear how I could grow some or rather where the best place is to put them in a garden.

Some flowers I do not like. These are red hot pokers or Kniphofia. They are just not my colours. We were given a split for our early garden but even with few flowers, I asked Kourosh to dig them up. He did, but pleaded for their relegation to a stony, inhospitable site where nothing else could grow. I relented and then noticed that the bees like them!

I had thought the flowers too narrow to allow the bees to enter. I had not realised that the flowers widen as they mature and the bees can access the flowers. I have never seen any take the pollen.

Here you can actually see the drop of nectar that the bee is lapping with its tongue.

Well. despite the colour the Kniphofia has the right to a place in the garden!

We choose the plants but the frog chooses us. He is happy as we have had our first rain in ages and he likes to sit on the potted lemon tree and make his presence known.

Don’t jump!

Please do not go in there. It may look like fun but you always end up getting stuck in the spout.


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First days of May

House front

This is the time for the first and best bloom of the roses.  The climbing rose at the front of the house is Madame Isaac Pereire and has just started flowering.

Madame Isaac Pereire and bumble

The early bumble bees have claimed this rose as theirs.

IMG_1734

The male early bumble bees have started to appear.  They will be looking for the new queens so their cycle will soon be finishing.  I will miss them, they are so quick and lively.  I will have to wait until next spring until the new queens appear and start their own nests.

Rosa Mutabilis on side

My Rosa Mutabilis is making a bid for freedom.  I planted her too close to the willows, which were cut short at the end of March, and now she is trying to escape from them before they shade her again.  The willows will win the race so I must really find a better place for her in the autumn.

Rosa Mutabilis

The colour of this rose changes as the flower matures.

Rosa Mutabilis and bee

Of course, the best feature is that the bees love the rose pollen.

Red hot poker and bee Kniphofia

It’s amazing how my view point of plants can change.  I was given some Knipofia or red hot pokers but never really liked them and I removed most of them.  Kourosh saved this one.  It is in a very poor position but it attracts a lot of honeybees.  It must have a lot of nectar as they stay inside the flower a long time and I often see two or three bees on the same flower.

Smerinthus ocellata Eyed Hawk moth 1

It is not only bees that we notice.  The “dead leaf” on the young willow shoots looked a very unusual shape – for a willow leaf.

Smerinthus ocellata

A closer look showed us a beautiful moth, Smerinthus ocellata, the Eyed Hawk Moth, I think.  It looks so clear in a photograph but the resemblance to a dead leaf is uncanny in the light of day.

Laurel hedge (1)

The bees are omnipresent in our lives at the moment.  Our neighbour opposite has a laurel hedge and I had warned her to tell me if she saw any strange insects flying near it because Asian hornets often nest low in hedges for their first small nest.  Two days ago she came to see me because of the flying insects and the noise of buzzing in the hedge.  I immediately got on my bee suit as the laurel was not in flower so I presumed a swarm had landed in the hedge.

She was quite right.  There was a lot of noise and it was honey bees!  I searched all through the hedge, it was empty in places, but there was no swarm and the noise was not in the one area but all over.

Laurel hedge (2)

Then we noticed that the bees were all doing the same thing.  They were on the underside of the very young shoots and lapping up the surface exudate.

The laurel is known as Laurier palme here.  I checked on it and its latin name is Prunus laurocerasus.  The leaves are actually toxic if you were to choose to chop up the leaves and make cherry-laurel water.  However, small doses of this water has been used in the past to give an almond flavour to pastries and sauces.  Traditional medicines have used the cherry-laurel as an anti-spasmodic and sedative and to treat coughs.  It contains hydrocyanic acid and I can think of better things to flavour my sauces with.

However, the bees want it.  Could it be an ingredient of propolis?  Propolis is what the bees use to fill any holes in their hives and has antiseptic, antibacterial and antioxydant properties.

Swarm in hawthorn

The bees are omnipresent.  They tax our ingenuity by swarming in tall Hawthorn trees but Kourosh has improvised with very long stick and a plastic bucket secured with packaging tape.  I did not think it would work – but it did.  We are at swarm number seven now.  It has been a busy time for the bees.

Tree frog.JPG

At the moment I look forward to a quieter life, like that of our little tree frog that sleeps under the plastic cover of our outdoor table.  He only wakes up when we lift of the cover to have our morning coffee.