a french garden


48 Comments

Return to the garden in March

After two weeks of holidays we were happy to see the garden again but it was at a slow, measured pace we gave the garden its customary “so good to see you” check over.  We have returned with a ‘flu the like of which we have not suffered from in many a year.

Even the dandelion clocks in the grass look good.

There is more red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) than grass but that suits the Anthophora and bumble bees.  The Anthophora fly very quickly but look very similar to fluffy grey bumble bees – only there are no grey bumble bees (in France, anyway).

The Hyacinths where we sit at the front of the house smell delicious, overcoming our poor sense of smell at the moment and kindling the hope that soon all will return to normal.

We have missed the main pollen fest from the big willow (Salix caprea) at the bottom of the garden.

All kinds of bees are still visiting the tree.

There seems to be plenty to satisfy the needs of all comers.

The Hellebores have done well this year and are constantly visited by the bees.

In the vegetable garden the broad beans are doing well and are very attractive to all sorts of solitary bees.

I wish I could have stayed looking longer as I saw these two almost immediately.

Certainly the wild bees are wherever you look.

Our apricot trees are flowering and I am sure will be well pollinated but whether the weather will allow us to have apricots this year remains to be seen.  Temperatures of 21 degrees yesterday and 23 degrees today are warm for this time of year and we can have frosts up until May.

But the one thing that lifted our spirits was to find “our” Barbastelle bat was waiting for us on our return.  He had taken up his usual position behind our living room shutters.  He is only little, I would estimate about six centimetres from the back of his body to the tip of his head.  He has been visiting us annually for about four years now and we look forward to his visits, see “Many Happy Returns” for last year’s visit.

I find him very attractive and he does not seem to mind me taking photographs although I try to be as rapid as possible as it does disturb his beauty sleep.

 

Advertisements


15 Comments

A welcome home

Male Osmia cornuta

Back from two weeks holidays and the first thing I saw as the car turned towards the house was the bees flying around my bee hotels.

Male Osmia cornuta waiting

It was so good to see them chasing each other and flying from beehouse to beehouse.

Male Osmia cornuta patient wait

These are the male Osmia cornuta with longer antenna than the female and cute white tufts on their heads.  I don’t know when they hatched out but last year there was a two week gap before the females hatched.  Perhaps this wait weeds out the weak and the impatient.  The males seem to spend most of their time chasing each other or looking longingly inside the holes which must contain females.

Male Osmia cornuta shelters in hole

When there is no sun and it gets cooler they retreat into a spare hole to wait.

They gave me such a welcome back home!


36 Comments

It had to happen…

IMG_2615

The frost arrived this morning.

IMG_2623

The frost rimmed fuschia looked like a variegated variety.

IMG_2618

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.

IMG_2633

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.

IMG_2530

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

IMG_2534

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

IMG_2471

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!

IMG_2649

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.
IMG_2441

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.

IMG_2509

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

IMG_2423

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.

IMG_2542

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.


47 Comments

More bees in the garden

Swarm 2 6.00 pm

This week has been a busy “bee” week.  We had been sure that the bees had intended to swarm into the ruchette before we left on holiday but they obviously delayed their arrival until we were back home.  This time we missed the exciting arrival as we were working in the backgarden during the afternoon and it was not until 6.00 p.m. that we realised what was happening.  Just over an hour later all looked quiet so perhaps it is a smaller swarm than the first.  We have left them in peace but whatever the size it is an extremely active swarm and was happy to join the first one at the bottom of the garden.

Carboard hive

When the last swarm was moved to the bottom of the garden some stragglers kept returning to the spot on the roof where it had been.  They looked very pathetic huddled together in a ball at night time and we tried to brush them off into a box and release them near the new emplacement.  As they seemed so reluctant to move the last time, Kourosh constructed a mini cardboard hive and put it on the roof where the ruchette had been.

Carboard door

We put some hastily made hard sugar and water mix (faux candy) to keep them going and the next night they were swept into their box and unceremoniously united with their swarm at the bottom of the garden.  So we did not have to endure watching any homeless bees passing and re-passing over the roof.

Extension board

It is not that Kourosh is over anxious but he has put an extension board in front of the hive because he noticed that some of his girls were so heavy with pollen when they returned to the hive in the morning that they missed the entrance and landed on the stone underneath.  He is a lot happier now that they have a longer runway.

Phacelia patch

My Phacelia patch is in full flower now but I am disappointed with its pulling power.

Bumble on phacelia

I am getting a reasonable number of bumble bees but not more than I get on borage or nepeta or a lot of other flowers.  I have not seen any other bees but I have been busy.  Perhaps this gives me an excuse to stand and stare for longer, just to make sure.  I would love to hear about other peoples’ experience with Phacelia.

Amelanchier fruit

These are the last berries growing in my Amelachier.  I had read in a post of New Hampshire Garden Solutions earlier in the year that the berries were edible and was looking forward to trying them.  I tried the first few berries that ripened and found them sweet and delicious.  My intention was to harvest them all but the birds stripped the tree before I got the chance – they went the same way as our cherries go every year.

Linden tree

The Linden tree (Tilia platyphyllos) has started to flower.  I love its perfume and I also love the tea made with the flowers so I must remember to collect some before the flowers are over or spoilt b the rain as we have been having some thundery episodes.

Food shelter bumble

After a night of particularly heavy rain I was surprised to see the poppies being worked early in the morning while still wet.

Food shelter bee

The bumbles are hardy bees and fly in much cooler and inclement weather than many bees.  However, these poppies must provide very valuable pollen to make it worthwhile for the honeybees too.  The poppies higher petals bend over like an umbrella keeping bee and pollen dry.

Wet pink poppies

The double pink poppies alongside the red poppies were not being visited by the bees as their petals turned outwards and the pollen had soaked up the rain making it far too heavy for the bees to carry.

Bee diamond

Talking about bees – and I know I tend to a lot – one has left what looks like a diamond in the bamboo sections.  I can’t take a better photograph but it actually sparkles and appears to have facets.  I would love to know what it is.  I have seen the bamboo being closed with a substance that reflects like a mirror but it has a flat appearance and I thought that those could be possibly made by Hyaeus bee species.

Shaved verge

This week the powers that bee (sorry be!) have mowed or rather shaved all the roads around us making the place look extremely sterile.  This is where I see so many wild bees on the wild flowers in springtime.  Some more will push through but in the meantime?

shaved verge 2

It seems practical steps in helping pollinators is taking a long time to arrive at grass root level.  Jeff Ollerton explains how important a later mowing of these verges could be in his Biodiversity Blog.

Hare

It’s not often a cute furry mammal makes its way into my blog.

Hare 2

Actually, the photographs were taken by Kourosh as he watched the hare (Lepus europaeus) from the kitchen window.  We often see hares in the nearby fields but we have had no trouble from them in the vegetable garden.

Hare 3

We have no problem with this one either as it is heading straight to the neighbours garden!

 


35 Comments

Mason bee hotels or houses

We have been having our share of cold weather this week. Our weather is still very tempered by our position and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean so I am talking about temperatures dipping below zero centigrade at nightime and rising to a high of 7 or 8 degrees during the day.  From comments I am receiving on the blog, I get the feeling that a lot of gardeners are nevertheless eager to get their seeds sorted and start with the spring planning.  If you are restricted in your gardening activities at the moment, it might be the time to think about building or looking for a bee hotel.

My first bee hotel had been a gift that had languished under the lilac tree until in March 2013 I had seen the male Osmia checking out the holes in search of newly hatched females. (Short Mason Bee Update).

I found watching the bees as they nested fascinating and decided to add more bee hotels to the garden. (New Mason Bee Nests)

I decided to examine the best places to mount the bee hotels and monitor the best designs and sizes of holes.

Osmia leiana

What I discovered is that it doesn’t matter!

Megachile at bee hotel

Once you have provided the holes, the visitors will begin to arrive.

Solitary wasp

You are likely to see more than just bees.  I get solitary wasps.  These are not aggressive creatures so no worry about being attacked and stung, unless you are a caterpillar!  These solitary wasps are the gardeners’ friend and will stock their nests with caterpillars and other goodies for their carnivorous larvae.

Osmia ...

If you give them a varied selection of holes and hollow stems, they will do the rest.   Here is an Osmia bee (I think caerulescens ) cleaning out the holes drilled in a cut log.  This is in June.  Some bees will come to my garden in March or April, others will come in the summertime and others may return for a second time in the same year.

Megachile emerging

I must admit to have been pretty excited the first time I saw a bee emerging from “my” bee house in May 2014. This is the very bamboo cane that had been so carefully sealed with a rose petal by a Megachile the previous September.

Heriades t.

It is also exciting is to watch which bees decide to take up residence.  This little bee (Heriades truncorum, I think) is less than a centimetre long and as well as nesting in the bamboo canes was also quite happy to use the much finer old, cut stems of my Leycesteria formosa (Himalayan nutmeg.)

So the most important action is to put something up.  Whether it be approaching a work of art or some hollow stems stuffed into an empty plastic bottle: there are lots of ideas out there on the web.  I think they like the sunny spots but all my bee hotels have been used, even the ones in shady places.  If you hope to photograph the nests you should think about having good natural light available as you will need to be using a fast shutter speed.

For the curious, like me, there is also a solitary bee nest that can be opened so that you can see exactly what has been happening over the summertime.  I found it on http://www.wildlifeworld.co.uk/p/solitary-bee-hive?pp=24

I did not buy it until the end of the summer but I could not resist putting it up, although I thought it was much too late to attract any interest.

Anthea

But then on the 29th. of September last year Anthea arrived.  Yes, it has got that bad!  I’ve started giving them names – Anthea, the Anthidium manicatum.

Anthidium chooses wrong hole

We had lots fun watching her bringing her bales of cotton to make her nest.  She harvests her cotton wool by clipping off the soft hairs that cover the grey/green leaves of plants like sage, stachys, artemisia and verbascums.  But sometimes she gets it wrong and flies into the wrong hole and makes a hasty turnaround like she has done here, to return to the correct one.

Anthidium cocoons

In the middle of December I decided to take my boxes down and I had a look at the inside of the new box.  The cocoons were beautiful with no sign of mites.  I will take another look before the bees come back to see if they have survived the winter intact.

I also decided to buy some nesting tubes and paper liners from the same site, Wildlife World.  The tubes are well cut and will save time as I have been promised another new bee hotel for this year 🙂

Lizard in bee hotel

One problem I have had is that our lizards love to sun themselves on top of the bamboo stems of the bee hotels.  However, to make themselves really comfortable, they kick out the tubes.  This year the tubes must be firmly wedged with pieces of wood so that not even the strongest lizard can displace them.


43 Comments

Je t’accuse!

je t accuse

Je t’accuse!

yes you

Yes, you!

Put it back!

That’s not your bit of grit.  Another bee laboured long and hard to seal up that bamboo tube so it would keep their offspring safe through the cold winter and safely into next summer.

Pollen out

And you!

You are supposed to go and find pollen to take back to your hole – not take it out of someone else’s.

Action in the bamboo tubes

I have been watching my bee hotels lately and was pleased to see lots of little black bees with yellow scopa – a new species for me and my bee hotels!

stop or i will put you back in fridge (2)

Stand still or I will put you back in the fridge!

My new arrivals have some different behavioural traits that we don’t associate with the hard working industrious bee.

I think they are Heriades truncorum and although they look quite cute and are only about 7 mm. long they are of a dubious, moral character.


39 Comments

Green grass!

1-From potager

It’s the middle of August and the grass is green!

1-Back garden

In the summer the vegetables get watered and any of the new or less drought tolerant plants but not the grass.  The grass gets left to go brown and anything that grows up after it rains is mowed.  However, this year the rain has kept the garden and usually the vegetables sufficiently watered.  My neighbour, Annie, who has gardened here for many years does not remember a year with such constant rain.  In between the rain there has been plenty of sunshine and the temperatures have not been low.

1-Wisteria

After the first blossoming in the spring the Wisteria usually blossoms another once, sometimes twice, later in the summer but this year it has hardly stopped flowering.

1-Philadelphus

Even the Philadelpus that I cut back heavily after it flowered in May has decided to push out a few more blooms.

1-Tall Cosmos

That’s the problems with plants.  They don’t do what you expect them to.  I like to have Cosmos in the garden in late summer to add some colour and give plenty of flowers to cut.  I sowed this “Sensation mix” for the border, the  120 cm. marked on the seed packet seemed a good height for the borders.  However, these are now taller than I am and are hiding a sunflower I planted behind them.

1-Earthwalker throwback

The sunflower they are obscuring is grown from the seeds I kept from my “Earthwalker” variety which has not bred true but it is a very attractive colour all the same.

1-Short Cosmos

Returning to my Cosmos problem some of  the Cosmos on the other side of the garden have kept to their expected height – but not all.

1-Vanilla Ice

I am a bit disappointed with my pallid “Vanilla Ice” sunflower.  These ornamental sunflowers seem to flower later and be more delicate plants than the plain ones my husband sows from the birdseed.

1-Lilac Aster

This year I sowed Asters for the first time.

1-Puple Aster

A 60p packet of “Duchess mixed” bought in the UK has provided a lot of colour.  I bought them to attract the bees but I have not seen a lot of action around them yet.

1-Halictus scabiosa in Aster

But this Halictus scabiosae bee was using the Aster as shelter in a windy day and did not want to be disturbed.

1-Wildlife Word box

This week I bought a new bee box from Amazon.  I am quite excited as it can be taken apart in the autumn when the bees are finished laying their eggs.  I thought the design was simple and innovative.  The holes look rather large but I have been surprised by some little bees tackling large holes or canes.  It is a bit late to put one up so I may get nothing this year.

1-New this year box

The newest “husband made” box has almost got a full occupancy.  The three holes that look empty on the log are in fact partially filled.  Some bees appear not to fill the holes or canes fully.

1-Megachiles

These tiny Megachiles are very busy at the moment and I wonder if they will be tempted by the new box.  Some people are concerned that the bee boxes can be parasitised and prefer to use paper tubes that can be opened to remove and clean the cocoons.  I asked on a bee forum and found that opinion was very split on this.  It has to be born in mind that parasites are part of nature and if you accept one part you have to accept the other.  I think the bee boxes are fascinating and a wonderful way to observe some of the bees.  My box originates from Wildlife World which is a UK company that supplies tubes and paper liners that I might try, although they do not deliver outside the UK.

1-Hoopoe

The other evening we had a surprise visit from two pairs of hoopoes.  We had never had four hoopoes on the lawn before!  They made themselves at home and were extracting lots of juicy looking treats from the moist grass.  They came right onto the patio and helped themselves to some bird food.  We were very hopeful that they would become permanent visitors but unfortunately that was the last we saw of them but we can always hope that they’ll come back!