a french garden


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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 


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Lavatera in the garden

Lavatera front of house

I have Lavatera at the front of the house.

Lavatera bottom of garden

I have Lavatera at the bottom of the garden.  In fact, it is an ideal plant for this area and I will have one anywhere I have a space in the garden.  The grey green leaves give a clue and it is indeed a well suited plant to withstand hot, dry summers.

It can get a bit untidy as its fast growth can take you by surprise.  It is not a long-lived shrub and we have already got a small shrub in waiting and some cuttings – just in case they are needed.  They root very easily and are not difficult to find homes for if you end up with an extra pot or two.

Lavatera Carpenter

Mine is a Tree Mallow but I have no idea of the species.  In French it is called Lavatère en Arbre or Mauve en Arbre – a very appropriate name as they are mostly this mauve colour.

They attract all sorts of pollinators, it is a Carpenter bee in the above picture.

Tetralonia from distance.JPG

However, it is at this time of year I love to check out the flowers in the morning and I often find what I think is a Tetralonia malvae bee still asleep in the flowers.

Tetralonia close.JPG

What surprises me is that she is not an early riser.  I took this photograph at 9.44 a.m.

Tetralonia v.close

You do not often get the time to get close up and photograph bees.  What appeals to me is that she is such a fluffy bee.  Her long feathery hairs on her hind legs look so silky but are perfect to transport caches of pollen to her nest.

Tetralonia with pollen

Once she starts collecting pollen the hairs are covered and take the colour of whatever pollen she might be gathering.  She is pretty faithful to the Malvaceae family but the pollen colours do vary.

Tetralonia in Guimauve

This is what she looks like gathering pollen from the Marsh Mallow.

Tetralonia in lavatera

So many reasons for growing Lavatera.

 

 


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Springtime?

Hellebore

January was so cold and I became so impatient to see the Hellebores open.  My Hellebores have obligingly self-seeded and I have tenderly spread them throughout the garden knowing how much I appreciate their colour and the number of bees that they attract in the early warm days of the year.

They are beautiful plants and provide both nectar and pollen for the bees.  The green tubes that you can see behind the bee in the last picture, are the hellebore nectaries.  There is an excellent site if you want more of an insight into the botany of Hellebores with superb photographs.

Sarcococca confusa

The winter flowers of the Sarcococca confusa are as important to me as to the bees and they bring their perfume to assure me that spring will not be long in coming.

Crocus

The crocus bring the longed for colour – no matter what the weather is like.

1st Flowers plum tree

The plum tree is just as impatient to flower, but with the first flowers opening so early I doubt whether the fruits will survive.  It is two years since we have tasted the plums as although these signs are encouraging, winter will not have finished with us yet.

1st pollen 17.2.19

The willow near the bee hives is covered with soft pussy willow and I saw the male stamens break out with their yellow pollen today.  If the weather keeps good the tree will soon be covered with bees of all sorts.

Carpenter.JPG

The carpenter bees (Xylocopa violacea) have returned.

Carder bumble bee.JPGMore and more queen bumble bees are topping up on nectar, but I have not seen any gathering pollen yet (they know it is too early.)

Red Admiral

The butterflies are around too.  I think this Red Admiral must have overwintered somewhere judging by the condition of the wings.

Macroglossum stellatarum

However, I was surprised to see a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) so early.

Bumble on Hellebore

All in all I feel disoriented by this spell of clement, sunny weather with temperatures going up to 17 degrees centigrade sometimes in the afternoon.

Perhaps not so disoriented as the bumble bee above who seemed to be looking for nectar in the wrong place.

Two bumble bees inside Hellebore

But finally we can take a lesson from these two bumble bees.  Life is not all about rushing to get nectar.  We need to make choices and decide to just enjoy it sometimes.

 

 


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A new year starts in the garden

owl 2

Arriving back home from our Christmas break we caught our barn owl in the glare of the car headlights.  I thought the sudden interruption would be sure to disturb her but instead she looked more put-out, as if to say “Where have you been?  It’s been pretty quiet around here with you gone”.  It gave a chance for Kourosh to get out the mobile phone and try for a photograph (not the best quality, but a touching memory.  She only flew off slowly when we got out of the car.

used bird box

January has been disappointing to work in the garden.  Cold and too frequently cloudy.  Still the bare trees show up the bird boxes to be brought down and cleaned ready for spring.

old wasp nest

This one had been home to some wasps, most likely after the birds had left.  We often find these delicate paper nests tucked away around the garden and the wasps help themselves to the water put out for the birds.  The nests are never very large and we have had no problem with the wasps themselves.

queen bumble bee mahonia

We have had some sunny days when the queen bumble bees are warmed up enough to come searching for nectar from the Mahonia flowers.

pelote d'ivoire

The honey bees are doing fine and are happy to see the Viburnum tinus starting to open its flowers.  Can you see the shiny ivory pollen sac on her back leg?

pelote jaune

The other pollen the bees are bringing in is the winter flowering honey suckle.  The bees in the garden surprise me by flying at temperatures of under 10 degrees when their hives and the plants are in the sun.  I feel they take a risk, for when the thick clouds take over the temperatures drops noticeably.

I can’t help but empathise with the attraction to leave the house when the sun shines.

hellebore

The first Hellebores are pushing through, they seem late this year.  Perhaps I’m just willing the signs of spring to appear.

reinette 9.1.19

The Hellebore leaves provide good cover for the little “Rainette” tree frog but It was hardly weather to sun bathe but perhaps he too felt the need to get out.

old smaug

But too often this January we have had to retreat inside to the fire.

 


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March in the garden

Up till now we have been subjected to chaotic changes in the weather this March.  High winds, freezing temperatures overnight, sunshine and rain and more rain and clouds with temperatures about ten degrees under seasonal average take turns to fill the days.

The first of March saw the plum tree flowers frozen and brown.

Whereas a week earlier it had been full of flowers.

Four rows of broad beans were frozen overnight in an extremely low temperature.  I could have avoided the damage by simply covering the plants with a fleece or even some newspaper but they completely slipped my mind.

It has not been all bad news and the Goat Willow (Salix caprea) is open and welcoming the honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees and butterflies – especially when it is sunny.  As you can see our hives are very close to the willow, which is on the left of the picture, so they can take advantage of short sunny spells in between the rain.  Standing under the tree and listening to the hum above your head feels so peaceful.  There is a 19 second video if you would like to share the bees.

It is good to see the girls collecting such healthy sized sacs of pollen.

The willow provides nectar as well as pollen.  This is a  Andrena cineraria (Ashy mining bee).  They have nested in the past under the large plum tree.

Checking under the plum tree I saw a number of male Andrena cineraria flying over the ground and this one was kind enough to pose on a daisy for me while he had a snack.  It looks like they are keeping to the same nesting area.

Last week the Osmia cornuta emerged from their holes.  The males emerge first and on sunny days they fly constantly around the bee hotels hoping for a female to emerge.  I have just seen a female prospecting one of the bee hotels so it will soon be time to watch the nest building.  Check out last year’s post if you would like to see more.

On the opposite side of the garden from the bees is an area that has always been full of lesser celandine (Ficaria verna).  I do my best but I find it difficult to do more than try and keep it out the borders.

I probably would not mind it so much if the bees liked it but usually it is only flies that I see on them.

One thing you can be sure about bees is that you can never say never, when it comes to their behaviour.

Keeping on the unusual – this is a double headed daffodil.  It is the first one I have seen.  Is it unusual?

This hyacinth is probably easier to explain, as it looks as if it has self-sown.  Not very striking but at least it is a pretty colour.

It might be worth looking under your Hellebores as there are lots of seedlings under mine.

Looking closer the second leaves are just starting to appear but they could easily be overlooked by an enthusiastic weeding.

This spring has been so wet and windy that I have come to realise how useful the downward facing flowers of the Hellebore are.  The pollen is kept dry for the bees and they are sheltered from the winds that make flying and nectar gathering difficult.

The green tubular structures are that the bee is visiting are the Hellebores nectaries and provide nectar which is collected by honey bees and so very valuable to the overwintering queen bumble bees when they awaken on warmer winter days.

This year my previous year’s seedlings have all done well and are settling into positions at the base of deciduous trees and plants.  I have my seed trays all ready so my next job in the garden is to fill them up with more Hellebore seedlings as I have already marked out in my mind where I can plant them in the autumn.