a french garden


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Mid January in the garden

The constant rain that was the garden’s lot before Christmas has eased up.  The temperatures have only teased around zero from time to time and the sunny days are rare but something that brings cheer.

When the sun does shine it is not the flowers but the willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”) that light up the garden.  I planted them in January 2014.

I was so optimistic about the effect my Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox) would have in the garden when I planted it in February of 2015.  I planted it not too far from the back door so that I could enjoy the perfume.  It took util last year to flower and whereas the perfume is striking sampled from close, I do not find it wifts any distance as do my other perfumed shrubs.

It did not start flowering until last year and I find at this time of year the flowers become damaged in the rain.

Perhaps it is not happy.  I admit it is in a fairly shady spot in the summer and if any one has any ideas how I can improve its performance, I would love to hear.

The Winter Sweet cannot compete with the density of flowers on the Viburnum tinus which started opening in December.

All these flowers attract the bees and provide very valuable pollen.

Quantity is important when attracting pollinators and although the Anisodontea is still producing flowers of a very good quality, they are not attracting the number of insects they do in the summer.

This large clump of heather (Erica darleyensis) is always well visited but I have several other newer and smaller clumps around the garden but they do not receive the same attention – just yet!

Only the tips of the Mahonia are in flower now and the berries are beginning to set.

I thought the Japanese Medlar (Eriobotrya japonica) would have finished by now but I could still smell the perfume and found several still flowering bunches in the more sheltered areas of the tree.  It has been flowering all December and is worth its place in any garden solely for the perfume.

As one plant finishes its flowering season another one starts.  This primula is a bit quick off the mark.

But the prize for precocity (or stupidity) goes to the apricot tree – already in flower.  We planted our fruit trees as soon as we bought the house, with little knowledge but great enthusiasm.  I wish we had had the knowledge at that time to look for fruit trees more suited to this area.  We bought them tempted by the pretty pictures on their labels.

Our plum tree, we inherited, although it was very small and it flowers very early, it usually provides a great source of pollen and nectar for the pollinators and very good eating and cooking little plums.  It seems as determined this year to get going as soon as possible.

The winter flowering honeysuckle will keep the pollinators happy until the early fruit trees are in flower.

The bushes are not too high and so provide lots of entertainment watching the bees gather pollen.  The honeysuckle roots fairly easily and we have taken cuttings to give us now five bushes around the garden.

At the moment there is a lot of blue Speedwell (Veronica spp.) in the grass and the bees visit these tiny flowers.  They must have good nectar as this bee looked quite comical pushing its way into a flower that was not completely open.

I was surprised to see this wild bee on the Speedwell.  You can see how small she is as she fits comfortably into the little flower head.  I tried to see what she might be as I had managed to catch sight of the slit at the end of her thorax so I suspected the Halictidae family.  Steven Falk writes that bees in this group often nest underground and some have communual nests and even primitive eusocial communities.  So she could possibly be a fertilised queen getting ready to start her new brood.  Or are they like the bumble bee queens that come out of their shelters during the favourable days of winter to restock on fresh nectar?


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The plum tree finds its name

We inherited the plum tree with the house so we never had any idea of what kind of plum tree it was.  It grew quickly and became a very special tree.  To begin with, it is the first plum tree to flower in the neighbourhood and I think it is admired by all as a sign of spring.  We can have lunch under its branches in the summer when it is so hot that parasols cannot protect you from the heat of the sun’s rays.  The branches are sturdy enough to support a swing and they give just enough shade for the colony of Ashy mining bees (Andrena cineraria) that lives in the grass close to its trunk.  We do not get plums every year because in the colder years the flowers or newly formed fruit get frozen.  We have had years that the grass has been carpeted with fallen plums and I can gorge on the little yellow fruits as I collect them and pass them on to friends.  Those are the years of plentiful plum jam and compote.

This year it has not disappointed us and on the 12 February I captured the first flower to open.  I was not the only person to be watching their plum tree, reading the blog of Vincent Albouy I have discovered the name of the plum tree that I had always referred to as my wild plum tree.  So now I have a host of names to chose from.  It is a Prunus cerasifera and has the common names of cherry or myrobolan plum.

By the 20 February many more flowers were open.  The leaves only appear once the flowers finish blooming.  There are cultivated varieties of this plum that have dark leaves and are grown more for their ornamental value than for the fruit.

It was only 8 degrees centigrade in the garden on the 20 February and we were amazed to see the bees and bumble bees on the flowers in the February sunshine.  Have a look at this short video to see what it looks like.

The plum pollen is a dark yellow/orange and it is easy to spot the bees bringing it into the hive.

Here is another short video of the bees bringing the pollen back to their hives at 3.47 p.m.

One advantage of the cherry plum tree is that it grows well from seed and a few years ago we found a sapling growing in the border not far from the big plum tree.  We hoped we were planting the right tree and we transplanted it to a better position at the bottom of the garden closer to the bee hives.  It has flowered for the first time this year, reassuring us that we have now got a second cherry plum tree in the garden.  It is now about the same size as the big tree was when we bought the house.  The bees will be grateful that the new plum tree is even closer to their hives on cold February days.