a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Birds and other beasts in the garden

We were checking out our Persimon tree for ripe fruit when we noticed that the bird house had opened by itself, so it was a good time to clean it out. However, instead of old nesting material there was a little tree frog inside it.

We were not sure whether the tree frog had hoped to take shelter in the nest box or had got trapped there but we felt it wiser to put him out.

A little inter species help never goes wrong. Can you see the hole the bumble bee has made in the Sage flower? A honey bee could not make holes in the outside petals of flowers to get quickly and easily at the nectar, but the honey bees and other bees can make use of the holes made by larger bees.

We have Redstarts that visit the garden and several couples nest in the garden. We enjoy seeing them, of course, but as insectivores we hope also they could have their uses.

We have a mass of wild Fennel in the front garden for the birds.

The little Warbler that is often in the Fennel eats insects too, I believe.

We even provide a variety of bathing places for all the birds.

So I was a bit surprised when I saw all these caterpillars eating a rose shoot.

I am not too into butterflies so I was not surprised when I could not at once find what butterfly these strange caterpillars would turn into.

When I realised they were sawfly larvae (probably Arge ochropus) and in addition, they were going to turn into flies, I felt a bit let down by our feathered friends.

You’re on half rations of seeds from tomorrow!


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Persimmon and Saffron

The Persimmon tree, at the front right of the photograph, is still hiding its fruits well.

You have to get right underneath it to realise that there are already ripe fruits on the tree. Of course, the birds found out first.

We did not realise how much fruit there was until one of the branches broke. We will keep the fruit indoors and hope that it ripens. Persimmons will ripen indoors and once they have fully swollen we will be able to bring them in. They are delicious to eat just as they are or to make them into a dessert with fresh yoghurt.

The first saffron bulbs have flowered although most of the bulbs have just broken the surface of the ground. From now on I start my daily collection of the pistils for air drying inside the house.

I had this planter full of basil and lemon balm but decided to change it to spring bulbs. I am going to see if I can grow different bulbs at different depths. So I started with hyacinths and tulips and then added crocus and muscari. I have never tried this before so we shall see what happens in the springtime.

To empty the container we had to tip it right over onto the grass and much to our surprise we found four marbled newts (Tritorus marmoratus) and what I think looks like a little toad. The newts are such gentle creatures and it was easy to displace them and suggest they found a better place to hibernate.

Autumn is being kind to us here and we have sunshine after the rain. The cosmos have almost finished flowering and I am itching to remove them to tidy up the garden. I have left the straggling plants as the seeds are appreciated by the goldfinches and warblers. I prefer to see the birds than to have a tidy garden.


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Life and death in the Asters

There are lots of asters in groups in the garden just now.

The queen bumble bees are the most amusing to watch. They are big and graceless. Speed a low priority attribute.

The Small Copper butterflies have enough time to play with such a bounty of available nectar.

It’s not just bees and butterflies that come to the asters, lots of different flies, like this hover fly, are attracted to them.

Of course, the honey bees don’t miss out either.

I’ve noticed the lizards keep a beady eye on the proceedings. There are plenty of wall lizards in the garden that must appreciate the little flies.

I was just about to take a photograph of the European hornet when a honeybee that I had not noticed suddenly disappeared.

After the sudden strike the hornet dropped lower into the asters and with commendable care and precision, started to dismember and package the prize. I was surprised at how rapidly the honeybee succombed to the hornets sting. There was no struggle as the bee hung limply in the hornets grip, pollen still attached to her hind legs. Once the bee was firmly installed in the hornet’s powerful mandibles, the hornet took off rapidly and easily. A redoubtable hunting machine.

So although the asters are a constant source of pleasure and amusement for me, the many visitors risk their lives for the nectar.

My French marigolds are till providing colour and nectar for the bees. I mentioned that I have read that they are edible.

I did not exactly risk my life to try one but I felt I really should. I was pleasantly surprised as (although a bit crunchy) they had a fresh herby flavour. I even convinced Kourosh to try one (it was easier than I had anticipated ;)). He said they had a similar flavour to fresh dill with a peppery plus.

It was after I ate the first one, which I had only given a brief flush under the water tap, that I started to think how much grit and insect life might be concealed tightly inside the flower head. They were pretty crunchy, after all, and grew quite close to the earth.

I decided to give them a quick flush and then soak them inverted in clear water.

Thankfully, no sediment or bodies dropped to the bottom.

I would recommend a thorough clean – just to be sure.


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Rain at last!

The rain has come too late to have much effect on the summer vegetables but in the end the tomatoes yielded enough fruit for our needs for sauce and late salads.  The butternut have yielded seventeen – not all very big but an improvement on the raised beds of last year.

At least now I feel confident enough to put in some brussel sprout plants.

Golden leaves carpet underneath the Liquidamber.  The leaves are golden as the Liquidamber has not changed colour yet and these are dry leaves it has cast off in an effort to survive the lack of water.

The Ginkco is turning yellow and the parched leaves give the garden a true autumnal feel.

In the middle of the photograph is the struggling hydrangea “Saville Garden” that I planted in 2014.  I really must find a better place for it.  there is just not enough moisture for it in this spot and even too much shade for a hydrangea.

The Nerine Bowdenii fair better as they have bulbes that allow them to survive through the dry months.

I’m glad they provide nectar for the bumble bees, too.

I’m not sure where this bumble bee has been to get so covered with pollen, I think he needs to stop and have a good groom.

The Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) is still coming to the asters.  I misidentified this last week as a blue.  In fact it is a native of Southern Africa but has been introduced with Pelargoniums for gardens.  Pelargoniums are hugely popular in France to be used in pots outside houses in France.  They do not survive the winter and so have to be re-bought the following year.  Good business for the suppliers but I personally prefer the perennial geraniums which are very easy to grow in pots or the soil and can be divided and propagated year after year.

And also, (I am sure you have guessed,) the bees and pollinators can use the perennial geranium flowers but not the pelargoniums.

A bee that I have seen often on the asters is Epeolus fallax.  It is a cuckoo bee; like the cuckoo bird it does not have its own nest but lays its eggs in the nest of other bees.  The cuckoo bees are usually parasites of a limited number of species and not just any bees in general.  The Epeolus are cleptoparasites of Colletes bees and I have found them at nesting sites of Ivy bees (https://beesinafrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/la-bourgade-revisited/).

However, the Ivy flowers are not open yet and the Ivy bees will not be building their nests yet.  So perhaps they are targeting another Colletes bee at the moment.

I saw this tiny bee sitting on the leaf of our potted lemon tree.  You can get an idea of how tiny it is as the photograph has made the leaf’s stomata visible.  I was not absolutely sure it was a bee but the photograph allowed me to see the three simple eyes placed in a triangular pattern on the top of the bee’s head.  It looks much more like a bee now, magnified larger than life-size.

The French marigolds (Tagetes patula) that I planted as companion plants in the vegetable garden are doing well now and are popular with the honey bees.  In France they are called “Oeillets d’Inde” which roughly translated means Indian carnations!  If you ignore the orange colour they do ressemble carnations.

I like to use flowers, like borage, on salads and cakes but I did not realise that French marigolds are edible too.  their petals can be used to colour desserts like fruit salad and have been given the name of saffron of the poor.  I have to look into this!

Temperatures have dropped considerably these past few days and it is hard to imagine that we were watching the sun set on the beach at Mescher-sur-Gironde a week ago.  The beach is only a half hour drive from the house and we were able to enjoy an evening swim with temperatures of 34 degrees as the sun was setting.

I do not think that will be repeated until next year.


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The last of the lavender

The lavender is just about finished in the garden now but this carder bumble bee seems determined to extract the last drops of remaining nectar.  There are several clumps of lavender in the garden and the lavender that was in full sun is well and truly grilled.  These clumps were in partial shade and flowered later.

The Russian sage is likewise pushing out the last flowers.

The Verbena bonariensis is losing the round shapes of the flower heads as the last flowers push forth.  Just as well for the short tailed blue butterfly (Everes alcetas), (actually  Geranium Bronze [Cacyreus marshalli] see Dromfit comment below)who is still around for the moment and is pleased to pose for photographs.

The sedum which I always think of as a butterfly trap has been disappointing.  I have not found it covered in butterflies as I had hoped, in fact I have found this year generally a poor year for butterflies in the garden.

However, just as I was mulling this thought over, a Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) came to my dahlia – something I have never seen before.  I think the butterflies just like to keep me guessing.

My fuschia have been coping very well with the heat and lack of rain.

On looking closer, though, you can see how damaged the inside petals are.  Any ideas what causes that?

There are always lots of bumble bees visiting the fuschia and their front legs grip tightly onto the petals so that they can get to the good stuff.  From the number of marks on the petals it looks like the fuschia provides generously for the bumble bees.

I don’t grow a lot of clematis but this “Helios” has always been a favourite of mine.  It grows on a north facing wall and is not abundant.  I would really like to find a better place to grow it as it cannot be seen to advantage – a project for next year.

My Leycestria has survived the heat well and is now producing its pretty deep red/black berries.  They can be eaten and have a caramel flavour.  Unfortunately, they often squash between your fingers as you pick them so they are not a good berry to harvest for enjoying later.  In France the common name is “Arbre aux faisans” or pheasant tree.  The perfume of the fruits are reputed to attract pheasants who are apparently extremely partial to these berries.  We have not been overrun by pheasants yet and none of the local birds seem interested in the berries and they are left to dry up on the plant.  I don’t know why.

It is the season to say goodbye to a lot of the bees.  I do not usually see the wool carder bees (Anthidium manicatum) now.

It is likely to be the last time I see this Megachile (probably centuncularis) if the predicted storms and rains arrive and keep the weather cool and wet.

It made me realise how long our carpenter bees keep us company as I don’t think a week of rain will keep them away.

And lastly, our first queen bumble bee has arrived in the garden and taken possession of the caryopteris bush.  She is a white tailed bumble bee and a considerable size with a bumbly comportment fit for a queen of her dimensions.  She has fallen asleep on the bush some nights but I am sure the light shower of rain this afternoon will alert her to find a dry spot under some leaves to start her hibernation.  We will not have seen the last of her this autumn and she will be back visiting the flowers on the better autumn days.


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Comet Neowise – Take 2

Last night I could not resist trying for an improved photograph of the comet Neowise.

I felt this would be a “historic” photograph for the garden, so the camera is pointing straight down the middle of the back garden.  I ramped up the ISO to 6,400, opened the lens to f4 and held the shutter open for 17 seconds.  This time gave me the most pleasing photo.

Strangely, the comet was more difficult to see with the naked eye last night although I think the photograph is better.

It is just as well we don’t have comets too frequently because I do not think I could cope with going to bed at 1 a.m. on a regular basis.


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May in abundance

Robinier (2)

When we first started the garden each new plant that managed to flower was greeted with amazement and it received daily pilgrimages  so that we could wonder and admire it.

Robinier flowers

I must admit the Robinia (False Accasia) manages to still attract our attention with its perfume.

Choisia

As does the Choisya in the different places in the garden.

Arum

The groups of Arum are in shadier spots, and with the rain this spring, have done remarkably well but I have just noticed the abundance of their flowers this year.

Cherries

The cherries…

Plum

The plums and…

Raspberries

The raspberries are powering on, thanks to this warm, wet, thundery weather we are experiencing.

B.pratorum

Of course, many thanks to the bumble bees for the sterling pollination service for our raspberries.  The little Bombus pratorum are great pollinators in the spring.  This one is a male so that means their season will be finishing soon.

Eaten rose

It’s not always good news in the garden.  The flowers and leaves of a rose (‘Madame Alfred Carrière’) were badly eaten.

Caterpillar (1)

I decided to look for the culprit.  Here it is on the stalks of the leaves it has eaten.

Caterpillar (2)

This angle gives you a better view and the little feet at the bottom LHS of the photo are a giveaway.  It was such a good camouflage I could not squash it.  I think it was just about ready to pupate anyway.

Broad beans

The broad beans have succumbed to ants and blackfly that stopped them reaching their full potential.  I still got a decent crop and I have finished the grueling podding and preparing and have frozen my booty.

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We have decided we like the white Camassia we have in the pot, even though it was supposed to be dark blue.  I think they should really be planted out for next year in the garden but I will keep them in a pot for one more year and hope they will still flower.

Swallow on wire (2)

The swallows have returned and sit on the telegraph wire.

Swallow on wire (1)

They look fairly innocent and casual whereas, in fact, they are casing the joint.

Swallow in house

Leave the French windows open and in she comes!

Swallow on beam

We will have to stay vigilant until she chooses somewhere else.

We share the garden with nature but we draw the line at swallows nesting in the living room.


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Isolation in the garden

Back potager

The vegetable garden remains untouched although it is not from want of time as we are now in our third week of isolation.

Back plum tree-001

Despite the unprecedented events in the outside world the large plum tree fills its branches with leaves to provide shade.  This is a favourite spot for outdoor eating, but when will be able to eat again under its leaves with friends and family?

IMG_3363

We are never the less so grateful for the warm weather and sunshine that allows us to watch as the tulips take over from the daffodil bulbs.  It is an unsettling feeling as I think of so many people obliged to stay in appartements or who find themselves alone.

Cerinthe (1)

I stalk my bees and find the Cerinthe are the noisiest flowers at the moment.  They are a great place to see the Anthophora, like the one above.

Cerinthe (3)

The Cerinthe are a great favourite with all the queen bumble bees at the moment.

Cerinthe (5)

I love these teddy bear shaped bees and remember searching in vain to discover what sort of grey bumble bee it was, and being so puzzled to discover that bumble bees did not come in grey.

Red dead nettle

Outside in the wild, Anthophora (and bumble bees) love red dead nettle, so it is a good time to see them at the moment.

Borage (2)

Only the Borage can attract similar numbers of bees just now.

Broad beans (2)

Our broad beans are doing very well this year.  I plant the seed in the autumn and often the young plants get hit by winter frosts but this year was the first year that we have had no sub-zero frosts in the garden.

Broad beans (3)

The broad bean flowers are a magnet for pollinators.  The Carpenters, like the one above, are particularly fond of them but all the bees come for nectar.  The beans are setting but the ground is getting dry as we have had no rain for some time.

Back walk

This has been our wettest winter and early spring.  The river at the bottom of the garden is still full of water.  Our daffodils put on a good show but it was too wet to enjoy them when they were at their best.

Hellebore (1)

Some plants seem more value than others.  Our Hellebore are still blooming in the shadier spots, they first started flowering at the beginning of February.

Hellebore (3)

When the flowers start to produce seed, the petals lose their colour but I still find them attractive with the softer hues.

Lily beetle (2)

I made an unpleasant discovery in the garden.  A lily has been infected by the lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii).  The only way to get rid of them is to squash them until they pop.  I recommend using some kitchen towel to perform the dirty deed.  It is best to surround the plant with a white paper kitchen towel because if you drop one, it will lie on its back and you will never find it on the ground.  I did this on three consecutive mornings and I have got rid of this infestation but I am sure others will follow and I am keeping my eyes on them for the moment.

Coronilla (4)

The Coronilla is another worthwhile shrub that is still flowering and providing nectar for the bees.

Coronilla (7)

Even very little ones.

Eleagnus umbellata (2)

In February 2017 we bought 10 Eleagnus umbellata for 1.71 euro each from the Pepiniere Bauchery online.  We planted 7 and gave 3 to friends and this year we are reaping the rewards.  They are pretty, small trees which survived well the drought of last year to flower profusely with these attractive white flowers, to the delight of the bees.

IMG_3410

Not all our trees have survived.  One of our two quince trees is dead and a young self sown plum tree that we had transplanted the previous autumn.

IMG_20200327_092817

After the intense heat and drought of last summer, I decided to grow more succulents in the pots and they have survived well through the winter.

Osmia cornuta (3)

Our Osmia cornuta continue their nest building oblivious to the trials outside in the human world.

Keep cool

We just follow the example of our little tree frogs and stay peaceful in the calm of the garden.

 

 


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Beginning of February

February sees me still struggling with a ‘flu/virus that I cannot seem to shake.

However, last Saturday I read Murtagh’s Meadow and she informed me that the first of February was Saint Brigit’s day and was considered by many in Ireland to be the first day of Spring.  Physically this made no difference to my cough but it did considerably lift my spirits.

IMG_3174-001

The hazlenuts outside of the garden are in flower and for the first time I saw bees gathering pollen from their catkins.  I have never seen this inside the garden and I have a sneaky feeling that our bees prefer other pollen.

Bee on Hellebore (1)-001

The Hellebore have started to open and get a lot of attention from the bees when the sun shines.

Bee in white Hellebore-001

I started with dark purple ones from my sister’s garden and bought some white ones little by little.

White Helllebore-001

The Hellebore self-seed liberally and I do my best to recuperate as many as I can.  I am hoping to get lots of crosses like the one above, but it takes time for the plant to mature and flower.  I am just getting to the fun part of the exercise.

Bumble bee on Hellebore-001

They seem ideal plants for me as they provide ground cover and will survive drying out and quite severe conditions during the summer.

Bee on snowdrop-001

I’ve struggled growing snowdrops but I now have an established clump in a very strange uncared for spot at the bottom of the garden.  I’ve never managed to grow them close to the house where they could be seen and enjoyed even in inclement weather.  Fickle flowers!

Plum tree

The plum tree is beautiful at the moment and full of all sorts of pollinators on the sunny days.  It is good to just stand underneath it and listen to them.

Plum tree canopy-001

It feels so good to go underneath it and look through the canopy of flowers – but it does not cure a cough.

Bee on plum blossom-001

I think the easy pickings on the plum tree distracts them from the less generous hazelnut trees.

Tree frog-001

In the meantime, I will take the example of our little green tree frog that finds a comfy spot to enjoy the winter sun whenever he can.

Bee on Speedwell-001

I still keep an eye on the Speedwell which is growing in the grass, happy in the moist spring conditions and untroubled by the lawn mower, yet.

Wild bee (1)-001

I have not seen the pretty grey wild bee again but this bee looks like an Andrena flavipes but if it is, she is flying a month earlier than Steven Falk suggests they might fly in the U.K.

Any comments or identification will be welcome.

 

 

 


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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.