a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


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Reflections at the end of September

The weather has been fine, so we have left the butternut and the potimarron to finish ripening. Some days have been warm enough to enjoy the last days at the beach. Fruit wise this year, it has been poor. Some apples only and a second crop of raspberries that go very well with yoghurt and our new honey.

The Salvias are still adding colour to the garden and at last I was in the right place to get a photograph of our Hummingbird Hawk Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum). We don’t have hummingbirds in France but these day-flying moths are beautiful and hover close to the flowers they take nectar from. Their wings beat at 80 times a second and so appear as a blur in my photograph.

I had a quick look on the net to find out where they lay their eggs and what their caterpillars eat. Their preferred plant food comes from the genus Gallium. I was horrified to find that “Sticky Willy” (Gallium aparine which I loath but I admit does find its way into the garden. I’d have liked to encourage it – but that is going too far. I have been trying to grow Gallium odoratum as a groundcover but so far I have been unsuccessful so this is a reason to try harder.

The cosmos are finishing but the asters are still providing lots of colour and attracting butterflies and bees.

The new queen bumble bees are very grateful for the nectar the aster provide.

This is an Epeolus bee which is a type of parasite or cuckoo bee as it lays its eggs in the nests of other bees. The ivy has just started to flower here and I have seen the solitary Ivy bees (Colletes hederae), it is likely that this cuckoo bee is looking for the nests of the Ivy bees and just stopping on the asters to refuel on nectar.

We have always had to put up with moles but this year they have invaded the front garden. There are even more molehills there since I have taken this photograph. I do not go for perfection in the garden – but this is a plea for help. Is there anything that can be done to dissuade them?

They are usually mainly confined to the back garden – but there too they are running riot. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Finally, a tribute to the cosmos that are still attracting the leafcutter bees and other pollinators.

Some of the cosmos are falling over while still flowering but also producing seed heads that bring the goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) into the garden. It is well worth having the garden a bit messy and watching these lovely birds.


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The summer garden

We don’t have a big vegetable garden. I like to have plenty of tomatoes for eating and also for freezing as sauce. This year they are very behind. It is the same tomatoes that I have been growing for some years but they are about a month behind their usual growth but it is the same for everybody else nearby. Instead, we have plenty of lettuce this year – just one cucumber plant grown from seed but you can’t win them all.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have sown parsley without success, so far (any hints gratefully received). I have planted my leeks for the winter as I am already thinking of winter soups.

It looks as if we are going to have at least one butternut.

I also grew some Uchiki Kuri plants from seed as I thought they were the same as the French Potimarron. I was also in search of the fragrant pumpkin flowers I raised in the garden one year. So far, I have not noticed any perfume from these flowers but it is very fleeting and maybe I was not around at a propitious time. I’ll keep sniffing them as the season advances.

Kourosh has always fancied a climbing grape vine. A friend brought us this vine and assured us it was a type that would climb. It looks as if we may get our first grapes from it this year.

The vegetable garden is hard work. I would rather be watching the Megachile bees building their nests in the bee house. These are leaf cutter bees and they seal off each cache of egg and pollen with either a piece of leaf or chewed bits of leaf. You may see some suspicious circles on your plant leaves as if someone has been at them with a little hole punch. I hope you don’t grudge them these little bits of leaf as it does not harm the plant.

Actually, it is tough to have favourites as I love finding the Tetralonia bees still asleep in the summer mornings tucked inside the flower of a Hollyhock.


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Bees in the heather

“That’s not a honeybee!”, said Kourosh. He was right! There were plenty of honeybees in the winter flowering heather but he was not one of them. Yesterday morning (16 February 2021) was warm and sunny and the cute little bee was not a honeybee. I thought he looked like a male bee because he had elegant long antenna and the furry face looked like some of the solitary male bees I have seen.

As I watched him another, slightly larger bee, alighted on some nearby heather flowers and he immediately leapt on top of her. Well, that settled the question rapidly.

You would think I would know what type of bees they are but these photographs are not good enough to identify them. There are just under 1,000 species of bees in France (20,000 species in the world).

However, it was a very special moment and it brought home to me that spring is coming. Everything is on the move and it is worth keeping your eyes wide open.

If anyone is interested I have more photographs in Bees in a French Garden.


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A stowaway

The saffron has just about finished now and I am only getting two or three blooms a day. I took this picture on the 21 October 2020 to show the average daily “harvest” I was getting at this period.

I always leave collecting the saffron until late afternoon so that the bumble bees can enjoy them before I pick them. However, after I collected flowers, I got busy and left the bowl until the next morning.

In the morning I started to open up the flowers and put the pistils to one side to dry. Then I saw my stowaway!

A little bee was in the saffron! At least this time I can be sure of my identification down to the family level. It is a female from the Halictidae family as you can see the groove or rima at the end of her abdomen. She is likely a Halictus scabiosa as I see them frequently in the garden.

She had slept inside the saffron all night in the dining room and was still sleepy in the morning when I discovered her.

She had the intention of passing the night outside inside the flower until I had picked the flower with her fast asleep inside!

She flew off quite happily with a little bit of encouragement from me.

She could be an over-wintering queen.

I wonder if I will see her in the garden next spring?


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Colour in April

Border in front gdn

This part of the front garden border provides lots of colour near the house but I have not planted anything there for years.  I first sowed forget-me-nots in the garden over ten years ago and that one sowing was all that was needed to ensure their appearance every spring.  Sure they will have to be hauled out later in the year as they get untidy, but it is nice to see them again in spring.  I am getting a bit worried about the white alliums though and I think I might have to be more severe this year.

Honesty

Kourosh flung a handful of Honesty seeds in front of the green plastic composteur and that has created a bright screen that I expect will be self perpetuating.

Male orange tip Anthocharis cardamines

The Honesty is very popular with all the pollinators and I see a lot of orange tip butterflies on it.

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This is a male Anthocharis cardamines.  They look so good against the purple petals,  I wonder if he is just showing off.

Iris

The purple Iris outside the front walls are beautiful and provide lots of colour but I have a difference of opinion with Kourosh here that they create too much work.  After the flowers have past I find that Iris stems provide ideal nursery spaces for all sorts of weeds and prevent efficient strimming along the base of the wall.

Choisya Sundance (1)

Contrary to the Iris, is the Choisya “Sundance” which is in flower just now and is a workhorse.  It gives you perfumed flowers and the yellow, evergreen foliage light up the winter garden.

L.tatarica

Another impressive evergreen is my Lonicera tatarica.  It is in flower just now and survives in a dry, shaded spot in the back garden.

Camassia in pots

I don’t keep too many pots, but I love to have pots of Camassia on the patio at this time of year.  They attract a lot of bumble bees, so as soon as the sun is out in the morning we are out with a coffee and the bees are on the Camassia.

Carder in Camassia (1)

The queen bumble bees make a lot of noise as they go about their morning tasks.

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The Anthophora bees are frequent visitors too.  This could even be a female A. plumipes as we have only the grey females here.

Victoria plum tree

In the back garden it is the Victoria plum tree that attracts the bees at the moment.

Andrena fulva in plum tree

I am pretty sure that this is an Andrena fulva.

Bee in plum tree

However, this one I am not so sure of, but it might be an Andrena flavipes or Andrena nitida – see comments.  All comers are very welcome on the plum tree.

Thyme

Another flower attracting all comers is the thyme.

Thyme and tulips

I started this thyme off to cover a difficult patch between two tree.  I had already tried other options but this is thyme taken from patches growing wild in the garden and I have supported it by covering the edges with wood chip.  The tulips are from a previous idea and I’ll let them fight it out themselves as they seem pretty determined.

I am very happy with its spread and I am considering using it in other places to inhibit weeds in sunny spots.

Cerinthe

This is a clump of self-sown Cerinthe.  Probably the biggest draw for solitary bees in the garden at the moment.  It is so thickly sown that it has completely suppressed weeds (well the nasty ones, I am not counting the borage and a bit of fumitory).  So, I cannot ask for more colour or more bees from this clump of flowers.

 


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Flowers on the roof

Flowers on roof

I have flowers on the roof.  I have not planted them but the seeds have found a home and the rain has done the rest.

Anthophora plumipes

This solitary bee (Anthophora plumipes) takes shelter in the house wall as it whiles away the time until the females are hatched.  If it was sunnier he would be out patrolling the garden but he is inside – like me.  The continuous clouds and frequent rain makes the garden option less attractive than usual at this time of the year.

Another male, this time an Osmia cornuta, continues his vigil outside the bee hotel.

He had less time to wait after the photograph as the female Osmia cornuta are now hatched and busy filling up the holes and bamboo sticks in the bee hotel.  She makes her own mortar to carefully seal in each egg she lays, tamping it in place with the little horns or “cornes” she has on her head.  One of the horns is visible in the photograph, she has two, but the other is obscured by the antenna.

At least during the bright spells I have had some chance to check out some of my newer plants for the bees like the Lonicera tatarica.

The flowers have been given the seal of approval by the bumble bees.  I would be interested if anyone had any other shrub type of honeysuckle other than the L. fragrantissima which I have also got.

It also let me have my first view this year of the early bumble bee (Bombus pratorum) which looked like a queen with full pollen sacs starting up her colony.

Another new shrub flowering this year for the first time is the Elaeagnus umbellata.  I was pleased to see the bees on its flowers as I have bought quite a few of them.  They are covered in flowers although they are still small and are in their first year in the garden.  I think they should look quite impressive next year.

A lot of the fruit trees are in flower just now.  The apple, Belle de Boskoop gets first prize at the moment for the most beautiful flowers.  The buds are a beautiful deep pink that softens as the flower opens.

The bees, however, differ and award first prize to the cherry trees.  It is interesting to see that, despite being offered apple, pear and plum tree flowers at the same time, the bees favour the cherries.  Obviously, they visit all the flowering fruit trees but they do have their favourites.

The Victoria plum gets its fair share of visits.

But what had me guessing was this bee that was only visiting the faded flowers of the plum tree.  I find that so unusual as their were plenty of fresh flowers around even on the same tree.  So why should she do that?  Just to keep me guessing?

We do care about the other visitors to the garden and we have put up some more nest boxes this year.  However, the wren has decided to make a nest in the coils of rope Kourosh has left in the outside workshop.  We try not to go too near it but it looks beautiful constructed from moss that has been gathered.  At least it must have been easy gathering moss this year!

We always hear the cuckoos at this time of year but rarely see them, however, this year we have spotted one that comes in a tree at the bottom of the garden.  Kourosh has even managed to take a short video of it “singing”.  It is fun to hear the first cuckoo but if you are working a lot in the garden it does not take long before you wish it had another tune to sing.

We are now being promised more sun and less rain.  I truly hope the forecast holds true this time.

The bees have had enough of being stuck in the hives sheltering form the rain.  They are hoping for sunshine as there are plenty of flowers available for them now.

 

 

 

 


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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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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.

 


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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!


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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.