a french garden


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The good and bad in November

all-well

We were two weeks in the U.K. and returned home to sunshine to find all was well with the garden.

broadbeans-up

The broad beans had popped through while we were away.

courgette-for-soup

The courgettes had, not unexpectedly, finished but had left us three courgettes which went into some soup.

brussel-sprouts

The brussel sprouts are great.  You either love them or hate them and I love them.

img_7326

The medlar are still hard and their leaves look better from a distance providing a splash of yellow.

cotoneaster

I was pleased that the cotoneaster were full of berries.  After such a dry summer I thought the birds might be in short supply of food for the winter but it has not been the case.

eriobotrya-japonica

Our first loquat or Eriobotrya japonica flowers are progressing happily.

altea

The “Althea” which our friend Michel has given us is still flowering.  It is not a Hibiscus syriacus as those have larger flowers and have long since formed fruit and succumbed to the autumn.  The honey bees know it is not, as they are attracted to its flowers.  Perhaps it is a variety of Lavatera.  It is a much finer shrub with softer and more delicate leaves than the Lavatera I have.

elaeagnus

For me the star of the back garden just now is the Elaeagnus.  The wonderful perfume can be smelt metres away (I must check exactly how far) even when temperatures are as low as ten degrees centigrade.  I admit the flowers are far from stunning but it is all worth it for that delicious perfume.  In addition, the flowers provide nectar for the over wintering queen bumble bees.

clathrus-ruber

Not far away in the grass is the basket fungus Clathrus ruber with a diferent odour.  I am fascinated by its complex globe structure but you would not want to stay too close too long.  The rotting smell, thankfully, does not carry too far so I am quite happy when it pops up in the autumn.

clathrus-ruber-egg

Close beside it another fruiting body has pushed out of the soil.  This “egg” shape will eventually split and I will be treated to another red basket display.

mr-blackbird

The birds in the front garden have started feasting on the first ripe Persimmon.  We have since removed the ripest fruit to finish ripening in the house but we have left the birds their share too.  The greener ones will continue ripening slowly on the tree and we will collect these later.

mrs-blackbird

This foray looked like a family affair with Mr. and Mrs. blackbird although I thought male blackbirds had much yellower beaks than this male.

muzzle-trial

Our pleasure at returning home received a shock when we visited the bees.  The Asian hornets that had seemed fewer this year had profited from our absence and targeted the bees.  We saw hornets exiting from “Iris” which we fear lost.  We immediately put on a muzzle on the front of Poppy to see if it would protect her.  We chose her as the front of her hive is flat and so easier to fix the muzzle.  We have not decided whether this is helping or not.

8-hornets-001

Despite rain, which we thought would protect them, we found eight hornets had entered the muzzle in front of Iris.  There were not eight dead bees in the trap so perhaps they immediately took fright.  Once they realise they are trapped, the hornets lose their hunting instinct and will seek an exit until they die exhausted.

I phoned a friend to see how she was getting on and discovered she had experienced a surge in the hornet attack in the past two weeks (just when we were in the U.K.!).  She fears she has lost at least two of her four hives.

Sad news to end on.

 

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Autumn arrives in yellow

morning-mist

A misty start to a cool morning but at least we have had six millimetres of rain.

start-of-day

The early morning mist adds to the autumn feeling.

maple-leaved-ash

But the sun burns through and lights up the Maple-leaved Ash.  I don’t have many red leaves in the garden in the autumn.

white-mulberry

My best autumn colours are yellow, many of the trees brown and lose their leaves rapidly.  The Mulberry bush is starting to be eye catching.  Actually it was supposed to be a Mulberry tree but it had an accident just as it was really getting going but it accepted its unintentional coppicing with a better grace than Kourosh did.  This is another tree he has raised from seed.

I thought I would try and find out if we should hope for fruit soon and did an Internet search.  Taking my source as the FAO (Food and Health Organisation of the United Nations) I found out that Mulberry trees are commonly dioecious but may be monoecious, and sometimes will change from one sex to another.

This did not reassure me that we had any hope of ever getting any white mulberries.  So if it is dioecious we will not get any fruit as we do not have a second tree in the vicinity to pollinate female flowers and if it produces only male flowers we will still have no fruit.  Let us hope that it is monoecious and produces both male and female flowers as it can self pollinate.

Loquat.JPG

We have a happy event this year with the Loquat tree or Eriobotrya japonica.  This is another of Kourosh’s seedlings!  (We do buy most of our trees, this is just coincidence.)

loquat-buds

For the first time the tree has flower buds.  They are just starting to shoot out.  The tree has not been watered over our dry summer yet is not showing any signs of stress.  In fact, it looks as if it has enjoyed the hot weather.

close-up-mousmoula

The flowers are not yet mature and the fruit, if we get any, would not be ripe until next year.  I doubt whether any fruit would survive the winter here but I am curious to know what the bees will think about the perfumed flowers.

single-walnut

I thought we had gathered all the walnuts but as the leaves start to fall they reveal still more fruit on the tree.  Sometimes the outer green covering cracks and the bare walnut falls to the ground but usually the whole fruit falls and you have to remove the outer covering as best as you can.  You can usually break off the green coating with your foot or wear plastic gloves as it stains your hands dark brown.  The dark brown stain will also stain fingernails a permanent dark brown.  I did not find this out from Wikipedia.

kaki

In the front garden the Kaki or Persimmon fruit are just starting to peep through the mainly still green leaves.  Soon the leaves will fall but the fruit will remain (I hope!)

Bumble bee in sage

The bees are all happy with the sunny weather although the activity starts later in the day.  I had been a bit disappointed in this sage “Hot Lips” (Salvia microphylla) in the summer time, I had not realised it would perform here better in the autumn than in the summer.

The honey bees too are very active and still bringing in lots of pollen.  They have been treated to control the varroa and they all have a full hive of honey to go into winter.  Even the divisions we made earlier in the year have full frames while last year three of the hives needed partitions.

The bees may be ready for winter but there is a lot of work still in the garden.

 


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Persimmon Sorbet

Persimmon flowers

The persimmon fruit starts its life as very discrete white flower about the beginning of June.

persimmons and asian hornet

By the middle of November some are starting to ripen and being burst open by birds, and in 2015 being feasted on by the glut of Asian hornets (Vespa velutina).

Persimmon and Great Tit

This poses a problem as the Persimmon ripen slowly and if left on the tree very little whole fruit will be left to harvest.

At first we were reluctant to gather unripe fruit but we have since discovered that they will happily ripen indoors and maintain their flavour.

The Kaki or Persimmon is not well known in this area but we have now successfully converted a couple of friends who, much to their surprise, discovered that they too enjoyed this sweet winter fruit.  Nevertheless, this year we had an exceptionally large crop and had to leave a box of unripe fruit while we visited the U.K. at Christmas.  I quite expected to return to a box of mushy rotten fruit but all the Persimmon had ripened with no spoiled exceptions.  However, there were too many to deal with in the immediate so I decided to experiment.  I gave them a wash and then packed them individually into the freezer.

defrosting Persimmon

The frozen Persimmon retain their shape as they defrost and the frozen flesh, though slightly softer than the fresh, is almost the same texture and just as sweet.  We can enjoy our defrosted Persimmon as a fruit on its own or add it to yoghurt as a dessert.

Persimmon sorbet

Flush with the success of my freezing experiment, I decide to try for a sorbet.  I treated three Persimmon to a mix with the hand blender and poured the result into the ice cream maker.  The resulting sorbet has a beautiful colour and was ready to eat.  I do not have a very sweet tooth as far as desserts are concerned, so for those that like something sweeter I would recommend the addition of a sugar syrup which would also keep the sorbet softer if re-freezing.

However, for me I was pleased to have discovered another way to use the fruit of the garden without adding additional sugar.


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Getting used to November in the garden

At this stage in the year it is usual to accept that winter has come.  I just want to know where autumn went to.  We did go back to the U.K. for a couple of weeks late in October, coming back early November.  We came back to sunshine and tales of summer-like temperatures whilst we were away.

Mahonia Charity and queen bumble bee

Arriving back I checked out the garden before I went inside the house  and went straight to the Mahonia “Charity” that was planted last year.  The Mahonia was already nourishing a queen bumble bee.  “Charity” is a big variety and has put on quite a bit of growth since last year.  I had also planted two “Winter Sun” Mahonia which flowered in October.  I felt that was a bit early but they were mostly in the sun this year.  Perhaps when they get more shade they will do better.

Worker bumble bee on Mahonia

As well as the queen, there was a worker bumble bee on the Mahonia but she did not get that purple pollen from the Mahonia!

bumble bee on Phacelia

She had been working the Phacelia only a few metres away.

Barn owl in roosting box

As I was checking out my flowers and bumble bees, Kourosh had noticed a lot of white splashes on the floor of our outbuilding and set up a ladder to check for occupants of his barn owl nest box.  The owl does not look overjoyed to see us but we are happy he has returned to use the nest as a roost, if not to nest.

persimmons and asian hornet

We are not  so happy to see the Asian hornets much in evidence in the garden.  The persimmons were ready to harvest when we returned and we are content to share some with the birds but not so pleased to see them being enjoyed by the Asian hornets.

Magnolia Grandiflora seeds

The seed pods of the Magnolia Grandiflora are literally bursting at the seams.  I wander whether this increased fertility could be due to the pollination by our honey bees.  They seemed to be much more attracted to the flowers than the solitary bees.  It is only thirteen seconds long but the video shows you how much fun the bees were having in the flowers during the summer.

I managed to buy some some bee friendly plants in the U.K.  I bought Monarda “Jacob Cline” and an Eucryphia nymensis.  My friend Linda had been busy growing lots of Knautia so I now have a good size patch that should be a magnet for bees next year.

sedum

I am also replacing my sedum with varieties I which I know will attract bees.  Even though it was not the right time I did find a Sedum “Autumn Joy” and a small variety “Dragon’s blood” whilst I was in the U.K.  There are lots of little changes to be done and some bulbs yet to be planted but each change adds and an extra for the new year.

Willows

I planted the willows (Salix alba “Chermesina”)in January 2014 and now they are starting to fill out and add colour to the winter garden.   Although I am already looking forward to the spring when their task is to form a screen around a seating area.

 

 

 

 


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Autumn discoveries

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki'

Some plants just seem to work harder than others.  My Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ is full of flowers and these tiny flowers emit a heady perfume.

Osmanthus heterophyllus

I wish it could be near a door but it sits in the shade of the wall to the back of the front garden, its glossy leaves providing a year long green backdrop.  The RHS suggests it should be pruned in April or May or after flowering.  We pruned it last spring and I think this is the reason for our heavy crop of flowers this year.

Persimmon

The Persimmon tree is holding on to a heavy crop of fruit this year.  I suspect some will soon be ripe enough for the birds to start to peck but the tree is too big to net.

Medlar

The Medlar tree is heavy with fruit too this year but they will not be ripe enough to eat for a while yet.

Nerine bowdenii early bumble bee

I have made some discoveries about bumble bees.  The first is that they like Nerine bowdenii but the second is an identification that has been puzzling me for some time.  I am now sure that the bee above is an early bumble bee.  How come early in October you say?  Checking with BWARS they note for the U.K. the early bumble bee is  “bivoltine in the south, with a smaller late-summer generation”.

Saffron bombus pratorum

These must be Bombus pratorum queens, like the one in my saffron, but I have never seen any males or workers at this time of year and I wonder if some queens might come out of hibernation for a top-up of nectar before the final last months of hibernation.

I also decided to try and and find out the meaning of pratorum (I erroneously guessed spring but Latin was always my worse subject).  It appears that pratum is a meadow or hayfield so these are the bumble bees of the meadows.  May there be many meadows for all the bumble bees.

Mahonia eurybracteata

My Mahonia eurybracteata “Soft Caress” that I planted last year is just starting to flower.  I had not realised it flowered so early but that is fine, I have other ones that will come on later too.  I am just looking forward to see which of the bees find it first – my bet is the bumble bees.

Apple cider vinegar

Another “discovery” or surprise was that I was able to make apple cider vinegar from our glut of apples this year.  I love apples and we have been eating them raw, stewed and baked.  They have also gone into jams, jellies and chutney but the vinegar is a new product for 2015.  We can now take jars of our honey as well as apple cider to my daughter in the UK – sweet as well as sour.

 


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Last persimmons of the season

Khormolu side

The fruits of my labour in the garden are an incentive whether they are a vase of flowers or new potatoes from the potager.  They also maintain a connection with the changing seasons.

Today I noticed I was down to my last eight persimmons.  These amazing fruits ripen as winter is coming on and in our area of the Charente Maritime there are huge trees in gardens that look as if they are decorated with red Christmas baubles.  Many local people are completely unaware that they are edible and are highly suspicious of these beautiful red fruits.

I had a good crop that I took in before Christmas –still largely unripe- and kept in my unheated utility room.  They had the convenient ability to ripen at different speeds and could be sorted, the ripe ones being eaten and the others left for later.  My fruit has lasted until February, as long as my Golden Delicious apples – but that is another story.
Kaki leaves  30 Oct 2011

In addition to the crop of delicious fruit in the winter my kaki tree decorates the front garden giving us shade in the summer.The leaves change into varying hues of red and soft orange in the autumn as can be seen from the picture taken at the end of October.

Kaki 1 Nov 2011

By 1 November the fruits are yellow and will take another month to turn red attracting the attention of the local birds.