a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

We have a very moderately sized patch for vegetables.  We grow only the vegetables that we know we will use.

The summer’s main crop is tomatoes that I have sown from seed that I kept back from the most successful tomato plant of last year.  I have three rows of tomatoes but as I do not have a proper green house, I cannot sow the seeds too early and so the tomato plants have still some way to go.

I must confess, I did plant two yellow tomatoes I grew from commercial seed and these seem to have produced the first standard sized tomatoes.

The Sungold cherry tomatoes on the Wigwam have already produced green fruit, so we should be starting to eat them soon.  I always plant Sungold as I have never tasted a cherry tomato that I find as sweet flavoured.

Some weeks ago our friend Michel asked if I had planted any French marigolds.  I said I had but strangely they had not come up so I was just going to rely on the self-seeders I knew would appear.  He was not satisfied with this and said I really needed them to protect my tomatoes and that he had plenty of little seedlings.  Kourosh duly planted a line of the seedlings and added a couple of my French marigolds for good measure.  We have now found we have a line of Cosmos sulphureus coming up so Michel has either got his seeds or planting markers mixed up!

Today I planted out fifty leek seedlings that Michel has given us.  It is more than I think I will need but at least I am pretty sure that they are leeks!

Elsewhere we have green courgettes…

…and a couple of yellow courgettes.

Last year I tried to grow butternut squash in a raised bed without much success.  This year I have raised more plants and the fruit has already started to form.

We also have another small patch that is given over to experiments and herbs.  The big blue untidy patch is Echium vulgare that I have grown from seed.  It is a biennial.  I have never grown it before and it seems like a long time to wait for the flowers.  The bees tell me it was worth it.

I grew Echium amoenum at the same time but I only managed to produce two plants into the second year to flower.  They flowered earlier, in May, and were supposed to provide me with flowers for herbal tea.  As you can see, there is not much to show for such a long wait.  However, the bees liked the Echium amoenum just as much and I reckon it might be easier to sneak them in somewhere in the garden so I have kept back the seeds for another try.  I think the E. vulgare takes up too much space.  The bees disagree.

We have been having cloudy, dull weather lately and I have been surprised by our little Judas tree producing red seed pods that are very decorative and something new, as the young tree had only this year started flowering.

I was delighted to see that our old bee house in the front garden has been taken over by some bees.  They are using the drilled holes and the bamboo tubes.  At the moment there is a lot of cleaning out going on.

I have no idea what they are but from the time of year they could be a species of leaf cutter bees.  Once they start to fill up their holes with eggs and start working nearer the end of their tubes I will be able to see them better.  Also once the nests are sealed it will give me a clue as I will be able to see what materials they are using to seal the nests. As you can see from the end of the bamboo tubes, they are very small (internal diameter of the tubes approximately 0.5-0.6 cm.).

The Magnolia grandiflora is getting bigger.  We have planted an apple tree to close to it and have decided to remove the apple tree in the autumn.   The white perfumed flowers only survive one day once they open just enough for the honey bees to gain entrance.  After that the bees come in groups of five or six and the petals and stamens soon hit the floor.

The bees provide never ending entertainment in the garden.  Watch this short video of the honeybees visiting the Magnolia flowers.

 

 


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My neighbour doesn’t have an ox

My neighbour does not have an ox that I covet but he does have a colony of Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) in front of these bushes.

He was concerned that our bees were coming out of the soil in his garden.  I had a good idea that it was a colony of Ivy bees and went round to confirm, taking my camera with me.  The colony had just started to appear with lots of males flying around frantically searching for females to mate with.  From even a short distance away they look very similar to honey bees and you have to look closely to see their banded abdomen.

I must admit that I did feel envious of having a colony of Ivy bees in your own garden.  I would appreciate them much more than he does.  His mother was born in the house and she had never noticed them.

This is a female, I think she is beautiful.

The bees, the butterflies and the flowers are all appreciating the sun and temperatures of 26 degrees in the afternoons after the cool, rainy start to September.

I am even mellowing and starting to appreciate the Tithonia rotundifolia – the tall, orange, sunflower-like plant in the above photograph.  It has gone on flowering and producing more heads than I thought it would, however, I cannot say it attracts pollinators more than a lot of the other flowers.

My aster Audrey is the big attraction in the garden at the moment.  This is a Brimstone butterfly ( Gonepteryx rhamni ).

This is a Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) and the most common butterfly around here in the garden and outside from early in the year.  The Asters attract a range of butterflies.

They also attract this cuckoo bee (Epeolus cruciger) which lays its eggs in other bees nests taking advantage of food stores left for the host bees young.  Most cuckoo bees are specific to one bee genus which in this case is the Colletes.

I cannot forget the honey bees that come to the Asters as they make the most noise.

After the Asters finish flowering they push out new rooted shoots to expand.  These are very easy to pull up and transplant and I have been able to increase my stock from the original single plant.

I know I am somewhat bee-centered but when you watch the antics of some other animals like this cabbage butterfly you wonder how the species survives.  This poor female butterfly was doing her best to raise her abdomen and co-operate but the male was perhaps not the best choice.

I think he managed eventually to accomplish his duty but it looked as if his big white wings were getting in the way.

Autumn is a busy time in the garden.  The Butternut squash have done well but we have not lifted them yet.

The tomatoes gave a super crop this year and my favourite is still Sungold as it is one of the first to fruit and the last to give up.  However, despite its superior flavour a lot of people prefer the look of small red tomatoes.  We grew a lot of “second hand” tomatoes which were raised by friends and planted in a random fashion that did not allow much comparison apart from saying they all tasted good and I have lots of tomato sauce frozen in the freezer for soups and other dishes in the coming months.

The strawberries keep producing too, although the raspberries are just about finished.

In fact, the vegetable garden has produced much more useful products this year than in other years and so I am inclined to adventure into new territory and I have planted onions for the first time.  Theoretically, I shall be using them as needed and not storing them.  Sarah Raven points out that to grow onions you should keep them free from weeds, we shall see – nothing ventured…

On the subject of food production – we have our first Gojii berries.

We planted the bushes as I read that the bees love the flowers.  Mmn. so far I have not seen the bushes crowded with bees but that might be because the bushes are still small, at least I had the consolation prize of being able to crop the fresh berries.  I had never tasted the fresh berries and being charitable I would call the flavour “disappointing”.

Perhaps a good choice of fruit for people who prefer a pretty colour to a full flavour?