a french garden


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We need rain

broad-beans-planted

Our region has had water restrictions imposed for agriculture use to protect water table levels.  There are still no restrictions on domestic use for gardens or washing cars.  I’ve planted my broad beans anyway.  I have been protecting unused parts of the vegetable garden with cardboard and I hope to put compost on top of it in the winter.

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That means mousie has been turfed out of his house.  It looks pretty comfortable if you could imagine it with a cardboard roof.

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Still the mouse did not do so much damage as the moles did in my saffron patch.  Last year I thinned out the bulbs and planted them in straight rows and then sowed Phacelia in between the rows.  All that went well and I covered the patch with cardboard after the Phacelia flowers had finished.  That really kept down the weeds down until now when the saffron is popping through…but not in straight lines.

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I rushed out and took a photograph of the first saffron flower of the season.  I think the soil is dry for them this year.

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On the topic of food, we have had a good bowlful of walnuts from the tree we planted about fifteen years ago.  You need to be patient if you want your own walnuts.

2-tone-cosmos

I have found a two tone Cosmos sulphureus.  It is half between my yellow ones and orange ones.  I have kept the seeds.  You never know…  It will be fun to try them next year.

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Meantime the bees are indifferent to the colour of the Cosmos.

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There are a lot going to seed now but I find the seed heads attractive too.  I have not seen the birds going for the seeds but I presume they must.

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The Salvia uliginosa attracts both the bumble bees and honey bees at the moment.

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I like to watch the honey bees on my tall dark Salvia.  The flower looks too long for them but they must just fit in as they disappear completely inside for some time before entering the next flowerlet.

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It has been too hot for my Madame Isaac Pereire rose this year but I am glad she has not lost her attraction for the bumble bees who go deep inside to buzz in satisfaction.

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I have a problem and was unsure if I should broach it but I took courage and ran outside and took a photograph of it.

Kourosh is an inveterate seed collector.  I have banned him collecting any more tree seeds because once you have a tree it is difficult to part with it.  The problem is we have a tree but we have no idea what it is.

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This is a close up of the leaf.

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This is a photograph taken of the tree in flower in Girona, Spain in May 2015 during their flower festival.

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The previous year’s fruit was still on the trees.  I was sure it would be easy to find the identity of these beautiful, sweet perfumed trees once we returned home.  I would like to know if it had a chance to survive here and of course I would be so grateful if anyone recognised it.

 


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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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It had to happen…

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The frost arrived this morning.

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The frost rimmed fuschia looked like a variegated variety.

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There is no time for the pumpkin flower to produce fruit in October but I am sure the bees will be happy to take advantage of its pollen and nectar at this time of year.

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All the seasons seem to be confounded at this time of year with frost on the flowers and the seeds providing a treat for the birds.

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I enjoy the confusion of the plants with the delphiniums coming up for a second round of flowers.

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Sunflowers in October make you think that summer is not really finishing.

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But mostly the plants know what they are doing and my saffron started to show two weeks ago.  I was rather worried about it as I had sown Phacelia for the bees there in the spring to add natural nitrogen to the soil.  Phacelia is one of these handy plants whose roots have nodules sheltering symbiotic bacteria that can fix atmospheric nitrogen.  Once the Phacelia had finished flowering I cut it down, contented that not only had I sheltered my Saffron patch from too many weeds but I had fertilised it too.  Then the Phacelia started to grow again fueled  by seeds dropped during the summer.  I wondered if the Saffron would be choked out and I would have killed it with kindness.  It seemed to be taking longer but when I checked on my blog last year it was coming up at the same time but the new row of thinned out bulbs was taking slightly longer to flower.  So far, the Phacelia bedmate seems to be working – until someone leaves me a comment that Saffron does best in nitrogen poor soil!

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I have to pick off the red stigmas of the saffron every day and  this afternoon I noticed a carder bumble bee burying its head deep inside the flower in search of nectar.  As you pick the saffron its perfume wafts in the air, I suppose it must smell just as good to the bumble bee.
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The autumn asters and cosmos are ideal for my solitary bee watching and I was very excited to catch a Megachile that I find so attractive.  I think it is a male Megachile willoughbiella (remember I am no expert) and I love his muff like forelegs.

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Close by was a Coelioxys bee which is cuckoo bee laying its eggs in the nests prepared by Megachile bees like the one above.

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The bumble bees are the most active bees in the garden, flying for longer parts of the day and making the most of the widest variety of flowers.

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As for us – we have been spoiled by an exceptionally tasty crop of sweet chestnuts in the woods around us.  We have been roasting them in the oven but soon it will be easier to put them to roast in the fire as the nights get colder.


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Heatwave October

Saffron patch

Anyone wanting to grow saffron should not leave their garden in October.  Of course, that is exactly what I did to catch up with the family in the U.K. but I was lucky and I don’t think I had lost too many of the flowers when I returned a couple of days ago.

I was very pleased to see that almost all the bulbs that I had planted last year had come up and some will need to be lifted and split again this year.  This year we have had a lot of rain and we had been told by a saffron producer in the area that some of her bulbs had rotted in the ground, so I was concerned that I might have lost mine too.

I find saffron my most pleasant crop to harvest.  The flowers are not produced over a long period and picking the flowers on my small scale is not tiresome.  All that remains for me to do is fold back the petals and remove the three bright orange stigma and place them on a plate to dry.

I would like to grow an annual plant over my saffron during spring and summer, especially one that might enrich the ground and save me constantly weeding.

Any ideas?

 

Bumble bee asleep in saffron flower

I was a bit late last night collecting the flowers and this bumble bee had already settled down for the evening.  I’m afraid I turfed her out but she was so sleepy she did not mind me swapping her saffron crocus for another just as comfortable flower.

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My self-sown tomato plant is still happy and producing tomatoes beside the ferns in the well.  It seems not only happy to produce tomatoes in this strange place but to continue producing them into late October.

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With temperatures between 26 and 28 degrees Centigrade these past few days it is hard to believe we are in October.  The Cosmos is looking tired but I cannot lift it yet as it is still flowering and is being visited by the Carpenter and other bees.

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The Dahlias are still going strong and are a magnet for all the bees – this one is a male Halictus bee.  My sister brought me some seeds of the dahlia “Yankey Doodle Dandy” and although I planted them in early June I now have several flowering plants like the one above.  I’m not sure if it was the flower shape or the name that spurred her to purchase the seeds.

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One of the Philadelphus has pushed out a flower on one side whereas it looks as if it is going into its autumn shut down on the other side.

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The Tradescantia has popped up again.

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And the some of the Hollyhocks are on their second flowering.  The bees are still busy but some of the bumbles, like the one above are getting tired and their colours are fading.

The cool weather must arrive soon but until then I can enjoy another “last day at the beach for this year”.


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I’m just mad about saffron

First saffron flower

At last the glacial cold spell is loosing its grip and the thermometer is rising above zero!  However, the crisp, icy weather and blue skies has been replaced with a thick cloud covering.  Somebody nearby is getting snow. I should be grateful – it could have been worse.  Never-the-less I fret for my plants and it will not be for some time before I will be able to count all the damages.  I doubt whether my saffron bulbs will return this autumn.

I had always nurtured a desire to grow saffron.  I use the saffron to colour and aromatise my rice and the idea to actually produce my own home-grown variety was tantalising.  I had never had the time to consecrate to the finer details during my first years battling in the garden, there was just too much to do.

It was when we went on a trip to the Limousin 2008 that I noticed a mention of an exhibition by a saffron producer in a touristic leaflet. I wanted to explore the region and so set of on the hunt for the saffron exhibition.  Very little information had been provided but after a visit to the local Mairie where they kindly photocopied a local map I had a better idea of where it might be. Furnished with improved directions I headed off in search of my saffron producer. After some time and having exhausted all possible leads I stopped to ask the only human I had seen since leaving the Mairie.  He was tending to something in his field and I approached clutching my tourist brochure and asked him if he knew where the saffron exhibition was that was mentioned in the leaflet.  He seemed quite bemused and pointed out to me that it was September.  Tourists only come in July and August.  I apologised but pointed out that here I was and I was indeed a tourist even if it was September, as he had quite correctly noted.  To my surprise I discovered that I was talking to my saffron producer himself and after our initial misunderstanding and realising we were from the Charente-Maritime he kindly invited us to have a private viewing of his exhibition which he kept in his shed next to his house.  It was not an extensive collection but the visit was memorable by its warmth and shared interest.  As we left he selected six bulbs for me to try in my garden.  I was very touched by the gift which increased my determination to try my own saffron plantation.

My bulbs were duly planted on the 5 September 2008 and much to my surprise all produced flowers the following year!

Such a beautiful crop!  Watching the purple flowers push through and snipping off the stigmas as they opened is such suitable occupation for a lady gardener.  Here, I note, I am fantasising not only of being a gardener but being a lady gardener!

My saffron producer advised me to dig the bulbs up each year and store them in a cool, dry place where they would not be frozen.  I forgot, but the following year I was rewarded for my carelessness by an even larger crop of saffron flowers.  I assumed that our mild winters allowed the bulbs to be left in the soil and I liked the idea of the leaves enjoying our warm, sunny autumns to provide plenty of energy for more bulbs and flowers in subsequent seasons.  I, therefore decided to leave the saffron bulbs in the soil all year round.

The saffron crocus (Crocus sativus ) likes warm, free draining alkaline soil and sunshine, perfect for my garden.  However, it takes 500 flowers to produce 3 grams of dried saffron so I am not yet self-sufficient in saffron.  Only the three red stigmas are used but they air dry easily if left inside before being stored in a sealed container.

Part of last year's harvest

I have been looking forward to my autumn saffron as even from my first harvest of 18 stigmas I was able to make a little saffron rice which I presented with pride to my sister who was visiting.  This year I must make a decision.  Should I buy more saffron bulbs in August or leave my saffron plantation to chance?