a french garden


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A confused spring

For the past couple of days we have had sunshine and temperatures going up to 26 degrees centigrade.  Sitting outside (in the shade in the afternoon) it feels more like summer.

The large plum tree has finished flowering and yet many of the trees like the Ash and Poplar still look skeletal from afar.

The Salix chermesina (foreground) have been cut down to leave pride of place to the Amelanchier.

I never had a species name for my Amelanchier but it is always full of blossom in the spring and I like its branched form.  Unfortunately the bees and pollinators are not impressed.

The peach tree is in blossom and…

the apricots have plenty of green fruit.  However, April can be cold here and frosts can be expected until the beginning of May, so I am not counting my apricots yet.

I have been starting to change the very bottom of the garden into a “Spring Walk”, inspired by Christina her Italian garden.  This part of the garden had been overrun and thick with brambles and ivy and had to be left on its own for many years.  Because of the trees there is little light in the summer but I thought I could introduce some spring flowers.

There were too many daffodil bulbs in the borders in other parts of the garden which had to be thinned out.  I thought that if they had prospered and multiplied with little care in the various borders then they might survive at the bottom of the garden, which is very dry in the summer.  The problem was there is little soil over the tree roots so it was a case of sticking them in during the autumn and covering them up with divots taken from clearing the borders.  Miraculously, they survived and have flowered.  We have also been trying to seed some of the woodland flowers from around us in this area for some years now.

We have been keeping the path strimmed roughly and after the daffodils  finished there was a beautiful path of dandelions.  It is not only here that the dandelions are prospering but all over the garden and over the fields outside.  I have never seen so many dandelions in the spring.  It must seem like manna for the bees and other pollinators.

I now have a request.  The white flowers look like snowdrops (sorry about the photograph but white flowers on long stems are past my photographic ability – just think big snowdrops) but I have forgotten their name.  I have a feeling I saw them in Cathy’s garden some years ago.  I don’t think this should be too hard for you gardeners out there.

Next I.D.!  This has been grown from a cutting from a dubious source.  It is not fast growing but it is very tough and makes excellent ground cover.  The leaves are small – check out the nettle in the foreground for scale.

This year it is covered with little white/pale lemon flowers which the bees like (which is the reason we took the cuttings in the first place.)  It is evergreen and keeps mainly a low profile put it has thrown up the odd higher shoot this year.  Perhaps this is a more difficult one to name?  Any help with the names will be welcomed.

I am always impressed with tough plants.  This picture was taken on the 14 March 2017.  This is my Anisodontea which was still flowering last December although the leaves were starting to go red in the cold and now it has started to flower again!  I think I will try and take some cuttings.

Another new plant is my Lonicera tatarica which is covered in these delicate dark pink flowers.  All the bees like it but they are a bit spoiled for choice with the number of flowers available for them at the moment.

The Viburnum tinus has masses of blossom and is that bit earlier to flower.  We have divided the shoots from our large bush to provide hedging for the side of the garden so we should have even more flowers next year.

I used to love the chrome yellow flowers of Forsythia in the spring and I have several plants but since I have become interested in the bees it has dropped low on my list of favourites.  I see very few bees on the flowers – but there will always be the one to keep you guessing!

Our bat is still with us and is enjoying the sunny weather.  It let me get a good photograph to show the white tips of its black fur.  I had read that the Barbastelle bat’s have white tips to their black hairs but they are not always apparent in the shade.  It flies off on its adventures at dusk, just as night falls.

Just now the moment is around 21.00 hours and we watch it take flight, never knowing if it will be the last time we wave it goodbye – for this year.

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Hot August Days

parched grassAugust has been hot and  dry.  Rain showers have passed to the north of us and to the south of us but we remain parched.  The trees must be able to reach lower damper soil with their roots but even they are tiring.  The leaves are starting to change to autumn colour because of the drought stress and the apples are falling.

weeded look

I have to water the young plants and the judicious watering is creating a well-weeded took as even the weeds are succumbing.

Saville gdns hydrangia

My “Savill Garden” hydrangea has survived and flowered for the first time but only the cared for plants can make it through the hot sun and dryness.  Even the lavender requires some water.

Canna

Only the Canna has survived and flourished without watering.  I don’t actually like it and years ago I presumed I could kill it if I never watered it.  Not so.  Now I keep it as it provides a trouble free hedging and it is easily controlled by pulling out the new plants once a year either in autumn or spring.

A gold star goes to a tough, yellow flower that I was given, I think it must be a perennial sunflower.  This on the other hand is a favourite as the bees adore it.

B.sylvarum.. (1)

I could do with a help on the I.D. here.  Even the bees are getting bleached in the sun!  I would like to know if this is a Shrill Carder bumble bee or just a very bleached other carder.

B.sylvarum.. (2)

Here is a side shot if it helps.

Whip snake long view

One creature that was enjoying a hot sunny spot in the garden was this Western Whip snake or couleuvre.

Whip snake portrait

They are not venomous and very shy, not hanging around when disturbed.  I was surprised, therefore, to see it later in a different part of the garden.  Coincidently, it was near a hose each time.

garden hose

In view of the colour of our garden hose, I wonder if it was just looking for a friend?

Bumble bee mint

Outside of the garden the wild mint is in flower and attracts loads of bees and butterflies.

honey bee mint

I have let our mint flower in the garden too and notice our bees on the flowers.  Does this meant that our honey will have mint overtones?

honey bee gaura

The Gaura is the favourite flower of the honey bees in the garden at the moment.  The pollen is all carried away by mid-morning but I notice the bees fill-up on the nectar while collecting the pollen.

Artemisia absinthium

I am fascinated by my Artemisia absinthium bush.  This is the plant used in the production of absinthe and known commonly as Wormwood as it was used in the treatment of intestinal worms.

What fascinates me is that I never see an insect on it: not a fly, or bee or butterfly.  Yet it has pleasant little yellow pom-pom flowers that remind me of Mimosa.  It was at one time used for strewing on floors to keep insects away or for folding into materials to protect them from damage by mites.

I have tried rubbing it in my hands and it has a not unpleasant odour and I wonder how it would fare as an anti-mosquito treatment.  I think I will cut the branches and try it in the cupboards this winter as an anti-moth remedy.

Sphinx caterpillar

This caterpillar did not come from my garden.  My neighbour Annie brought it down to me as she knew I would be interested.  It was 12 cm. long and 2 cm. tall (?), a real chunky chappy.  I recognised it as a Sphinx caterpillar but as it happened our beekeeper friend, Michel, was here too and correctly explained that these caterpillars grow into Death’s head hawkmoths; moths that love honey and can invade bee hives.  I must admit I was a bit sceptical of moths attacking bee hives but check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death%27s-head_hawkmoth.

Poor bees they have a lot to put up with!

 

 

 

 


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A Regulus ignicapillus in the hand

Back door

Our dining room faces onto a small patio facing the front garden.  Water and food is placed on the patio for the birds to eat, drink, bathe and generally frolic for our amusement summer and winter.

We get large numbers of sparrows and tits with the flock mentality of one for all.  This means that when one is startled they all take off en mass.  Sometimes the startled birds lose their sense of direction and we occasionally hear a tell tale knock on the window.  Usually, they fly off but sometimes they are stunned.

IMG_0004

The other day we heard the fateful rap on the window and ran to check that all was well.  A stunned bird was lying on the patio, so I picked it up and even I with my limited birding knowledge realised that it was not a sparrow.

Firecrest

It was completely stunned so Kourosh quickly took a few photographs and then dashed off for a cardboard box.  He found a conveniently small one and I placed the bird in the box and closed the lid and left it in a quiet place.  A couple of hours later we heard a scrabbling from inside the box.  We opened the box outside at the back of the house and the bird flew directly into the trees.

The dark box treatment is the best course to take to prevent a stunned bird from freezing in the winter or dehydrating in the sun of the summer.

Next we had to find out what it was!  I thought it might be a Goldcrest (the smallest British bird – I’m not sure why that stuck in my mind.)  I was on the right track though – it is in fact a Firecrest.  I think I have heard it in the back garden, it has a very distinctive call, you can listen to it here http://www.oiseaux.net/oiseaux/roitelet.triple-bandeau.html

My book on the birds of the Charente-Maritime calls it the Roitelet triple-bandeau and says that it nests in this region but can also migrate in winter.  It also identifies her as a female, the male having a bright orange stripe instead of the females more yellow stripe on the head.  I hope her disagreement with our window does not put her off nesting in the garden or visiting the patio.


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Special Mission – Year Two

Last year we undertook a “Special Mission” to count glow worms on a route of  500 metres in length near our house.  I posted about the Special Mission in July last year.  We were contacted again this year and were on the road at 11.00 p.m. last Saturday.

glow worm

I was a bit disappointed with the photographs I took but it was important to try, as seemingly they are often able to tell which species they are, even from fuzzy photographs.  We saw eight females but no males and no couples mating.  Last year we had found fourteen on our second attempt and we were able to photograph a couple mating.  This year has been very dry so perhaps less snails for the larval food?

Sous apricotier

The previous day Kourosh had noticed a glow worm under the apricot tree in the back garden when he had been pulling back the weeds.  So we checked if it was still there.

Glow worm with snails

She was still there on Saturday night and we also noticed a lot of little snails ( of the Clausilies family, I think).

Un autre dans le jardin clignotant

This one was in the front garden and she was producing a strong light but still no male.

I posted this just to give everybody a poke if they had intended to notify http://www.asterella.eu/index.php? in France (or indeed to notify the various organisation with similar projects in other countries) and might have forgotten to check their garden.

We do not often go wandering around after midnight but with the street light extinguished it is beautiful to watch the stars in a cloudless summer sky.

Deilephila elpenor.Elephant Hawk Moth

When we got back to the house we found an Elephant Hawk-Moth (Deilephila elpenor) waiting for us on the kitchen window ledge so perhaps we should take after dark walks more frequently.

 


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The bees and Sweet Chestnuts

Rucher

Last week I was very worried about the bees.  We are new to beekeeping and we visit the girls everyday (often more than once) just to see how they are getting on as you can learn a lot by just watching them.

However, I noticed a strange odour around the beehives and Kourosh confirmed that he could smell it too.  When it lasted more than a day or too I began to recall bee diseases that had unpleasant odours attached to them.  However, the bees were doing so well and the odour, although unusual, was not unpleasant.  In fact, it smelt familiar but I could not place it.

Chestnut flowers overhead

It was not until we went for a walk into the woods that I traced the source of the perfume (?).  We had been watching the Sweet Chestnuts (Castanea sativa) throw out the unripe catkins and knew that the flowering was imminent but we had never suspected that the bees could bring so much pollen back that we would be able to smell it in front of the hives.

Chestnut flower stamens

The male flowers produce long stamens and the quantity of pollen produced by the tree is enormous.  One method of testing to see what type of honey that the bees produce is to examine the pollen grains trapped inside the honey.  However, the quantity of pollen produced by the sweet chestnut can complicate the analysis and I have read that some honeys in France which are 100% Latifolia (the commercially grown lavender for perfume, essential  oils etc.) and, therefore, monofloral could containe 80% of sweet chestnut pollen!

Stand of Chestnut trees

We are lucky to be surrounded by woods containing Sweet Chestnut trees so the bees are happy just now and we are happy to collect the chestnuts in the autumn.

Chestnut flowers and stamens

The female flowers which are tiny and insignificant in comparison to the stamens of the male flower.  After receiving comments provoked by the Facebook page of the BBKA I need to clarify where the nectaries of the Sweet Chestnut trees are situated.  I have found a paper in which one of the main criteria was to study the morphology of Sweet Chestnut flowers. ( Flower morphology of Castanea sativa Mill From Bulgaria and characteristics of unifloral chestnut honey ( Comptes rendus de l’Académie bulgare des sciences: sciences mathématiques et naturelles · January 2013.Juliana Atanassova, Spassimir Tonkov (Submitted by Academician V. Golemansky on April 19, 2013))  This paper quoted, as a reference, Farkas A., E. Zajacz.  ́ Eur. J. Plant Sci. Biotech., 1, 2007, No 2, 125–148. but I was unable to find this on the internet but it appears another quirk of the sweet chestnut that this mainly wind pollinated tree produces nectar from nectaries situated on the male flowers which also produce pollen, although at different times to avoid cross-pollination.

 

 

Close up Chestnut flowers

Looking closer at the flowers you can see the formation of the prickly green cover that protects the mature chestnuts.

Chestnut flowers

The form of the female flowers remind me of the hazel nut flowers but perhaps the hazel flowers are more stunning with their surprisingly red colour.

Honey bee on Bramble Rubus fruticosus

What did intrigue me was that in spite of the abundance of the chestnut nectar and pollen the bees were still visiting the brambles (Rubus fruticosus) that were growing in the undergrowth beneath the trees .  This will alter the flavour and constituency of any honey produced if the bees mix the nectar of different plants and I am sure ours will.

Megachile on Bramble

It was not only the honey bees.

Butterfly on bramble

But other pollinators were attracted to the brambles.

Honey bee on old man's beard Clematis vitalba

I saw honey bees on the Old Man’s Beard (Clematis vitalba) despite the feast of plenty overhead.  An abundant source of nectar and pollen does not stop the bees visiting the other sources.

daucus carota Queen Anne's Lace

Checking out for bees and nectar sources under the trees I noticed this lovely Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) or Queen Anne’s Lace with its sole red floweret in the centre of the bloom.  This has nothing to do with Sweet Chestnuts and bees but I just thought it was so lovely.

Bees in super

So the odour has disappeared from the hives and it will be something we will expect to reappear next year when the Sweet Chestnut trees flower.  Perhaps we will be less nervous and more confident then.  Until then Kourosh has fitted all the supers with clear plastic covers so that we can have a peek at the bees filling up the frames without disturbing them.


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Still running to keep up

Garden April 2016

The winter was mild and now the spring is coming, as it should, with sunshine and rain showers but I am still running to keep up with the changing season.

The star of the moment is the Amelanchier – the blurry, white blossoming in the middle of the photograph above.  It looks better for real.

Bee in Amelanchier

It attracts some honey bees and bumble bees.

Bumble bee in Ribes Pulborough Scarlet

I have been so pleased this year with my Ribes sanguineum “Pulborough Scarlet” as I have managed to kill off two different varieties over the years before they even flowered.  They are usually hardy shrubs but I am pleased that this one looks very healthy and has the pulling power for the bees that I had been hoping for.

Halictus in Ribes

These tiny bees appreciate the flowers as much as the large bumble bees do.

Bee in Coronilla

The Coronilla, coaxed from cuttings from a friend’s garden, has been flowering through the winter but on sunny days its perfume becomes strong and I notice the bees in its flowers.

Anthophora in Coronilla

Perhaps the plant only produces the perfume and nectar to coincide with times when pollinators are likely to be around.

Prunus mahaleb

Another new comer is Prunus mahaleb which I planted at the beginning of last December and has now flowered despite it only being about 90 cm. tall.  It seems to be living up to expectations of lots of flowers from this little tree.

IMG_4053

We are glad there are plenty of bees around as the cherry and plum trees are flowering.

Quince flowers

I have always been fond of our quince tree but now it appears to have become a firm favourite of our bees too!

Redstart

I do love the birds we get in our garden too, so I was very happy to see the first redstarts returning.  I was rather pleased with this photograph of one seeing as it was taken with a 100 mm. Macro lens at about 25 metres distance!

Bumble in broad beans

Our broad beans, despite one cold spell, have come through the winter well and the bumble bees are making sure that I will have plenty of broad beans to shell and peel.

Outside the garden is particularly beautiful this year after a second wet winter in a row.  Bluebells, anemones, violets and Asphodel are shooting up in places I have never seen them before.  I just bent to take a picture of some Stitchwort when at the last moment I saw a dappled white butterfly watching me.

Dappled white butterfly

Another example of great camouflage.


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How not to plant daffodils

IMG_3895

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?)

Pulmonaria

The Pulmonaria and

Violettes

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.