a french garden


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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.


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See saw seasons

October finally decided to be a proper autumn.

We had a morning mist and cold nights making me think of the bees clustering around their queen and young brood to keep them warm.

Even in the muted light the falling leaves of the Liriodendron or Tulip tree add colour to the scene.

The dull morning light showed up the traceries of spider web linking the buds of the Loquat tree.

The willow leaves are turning yellow and dropping and the young stems are beginning to look reddish.

The bright blue flowers of my leggy Salvia Amistad stand out even in the dull light.  This year I tried to control its height and I cut it down in May.  It did not appreciate the intervention and has deliberately thrown out shoots just as tall as in other years but with less leaves making it look leggy and not just very tall.  In addition, I thought that it was going to refuse to flower as it usually flowers at the end of August to the beginning of September.  However, it has grudgingly flowered now and I will leave it in peace next year as it has clearly demonstrated who is charge of plant height.

The bees don’t mind waiting.  Perhaps, the nectar is a nice treat at this time of year.  I notice though that they obtain the nectar by pushing between the calyx and petals.  Earlier in the year they can enter the flowers directly, as well.  The flowers might not be so turgid after the cold nights making it more difficult for them to try a frontal entry.

The bees have also got the Mahonia for nectar.  I thought that this bee was exceptionally black.  She must be from the Poppy hive as those are our blackest mongrels.

The plants are just as confused as I am and the Mullein has pushed out fresh flowers into the sunshine that has arrived with temperatures up to 23 degrees centigrade on the 2 November.

So it was lunch on the patio again but today the outside table has again been carried under cover as rain has been at last forecast for the weekend.

 


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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!