a french garden


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How not to plant daffodils

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March has almost finished and in this upside down year it certainly has not been “in like a lion, out like a lamb” as the winds are roaring down the country.  It continues to be exceptionally mild, going to 21 degrees centigrade a couple of days ago.  Seemingly this winter has been the mildest since 1880.

I hope the little plums on the large tree in the foreground of the picture above don’t all get blown away.Daffodil edge

This year the daffodils in the front garden were beautiful but the clumps were needing to be divided.  I cannot plant bulbs at the bottom of the back garden because of the tree roots but I had a cunning plan!  Kourosh was cutting out turf where he is planting wild flowers so I decided to cut out a shallow trough for the bulbs and cover them with the divots of turf.  I must admit I found there were more bulbs than I had expected and carting the divots was more tiring.  The resulting plantation is eccentric but if even twenty percent catch I shall be pleased.

Mass of wild anemones

Actually this is the sort of planting I would really like and there are masses of them all around us at the moment.  Nature is much more cunning than I am.

Wild anemone

The wild anemones are mainly white but some are a delicate violet or pink or a mix of the two (See, What colour is a white wood anemone?)

Pulmonaria

The Pulmonaria and

Violettes

violettes and

Potentilla sterilis

this little white flower are out in abundance in the woods nearby.  The white flower is Potentilla sterilis or the barren strawberry which I have been calling a wild strawberry up until today when I read this post on WordPress from Catbrook Wood.  We do get wild strawberries too, but later, of course.

Polygala myrtifolia

We continue to add as many bee and insect plants as possible into the garden.  Today it was the addition of Polygala myrtifolia.  It is of South African origin and tender but it is well protected in a corner of the front garden although it will need to be covered if we get hard frosts.

Polygala close

It is supposed to flower all year round but more plentifully in the spring.  You can see the stamens full of pollen tempting the bees.

Camelia and bee

Will it be more successful than the Camelia which has a successful but short season?

Osmia cornuta clearing hole (2)

The female Osmia cornuta have arrived to keep me amused.  I was amazed to watch this one decide to clean out a hole another insect has used so that she could re-use it.  I have a variety of empty holes available but she capriciously decided that this one was the one that she wanted.

Blue tit on car (2)

This blue tit has been providing us with entertainment every morning as he tries to see off another male that peers at him from inside our car.  I would imagine it is the spring and the mating season that makes him more aggressive but it does seem that he is rather looking for trouble.

Blue tit on car (1)

These intruders get everywhere if you let them.

Reinette on ferns

Continuing on the theme of garden animals, can you see the one in this picture?

Clue it is exactly in the middle of the photograph and is not easier to see in real life.

Reinette on hand (1)

Give up?  A frog in the hand is easier to spot.  There are a lot of these little tree frogs (Hyla meridionalis) around this year.

 

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A good year, so far

Back from the UK, I was curious to find out how all the rain that has fallen this year has affected the woods around the house.  Before I left some of the paths were still very muddy but the soil dries up quickly here.

Wild anemones

The wild anemones carpeted the ground under the trees still not fully in leaf.  They are more plentiful than last year and present in places I had never noticed them before.  They are mainly white and single but I enjoy finding the variants of other colours and the double variant.

Wild anemones

They are early this year and I would expect to find them at the end of April (See http://wp.me/p2cvii-6F ).

Path edge

The violets and lesser celandine stood out on the edge of the paths.

Dog violet

These are not the perfumed violets that I find in some places but they are just as beautiful.

Violet and butterfly

The yellow butterfly (maybe a Brimstone) seemed happy to accept the nectar, perfume or not.

Meloe violaceus

Always on the outlook for bees, I notice other things and I frequently come across the Violet Oil Beetle (Meloe violaceus ).  It is not a friend of solitary bees as its larvae find their way onto flowers and hitch a lift on the solitary bees that they encounter so that they can enter their nests.  The larvae then proceed to consume eggs, nectar and pollen.

Meloe violaceus matiing

I had never seen the beetle mating before and I was surprised that the female could scuttle through the leaves just as quickly while dragging the male behind her.  He did his best to stay upright but he often lost balance as it cannot be easy walking backwards with six legs that usually go frontwards.

I also noticed a lot of little flies on the female’s back and I have found out that they could be attracted to fluids that she exudes or they extract from her haemolymph.  This is an oily substance called cantharadin which can blister human skin.  This substance is produced by other beetles like the more well known Spanish fly (Lytta vesicatoria).

Pulmonaria

The Pulmonaria is abundant this year, usually with its mix of blue and pink flowerlets.  I read some interesting comments on colour change and pollination of flowers (more particularly on fruit trees) in Coloured clues; Mossy Mulch; and Easter Eggs at The Garden Impressionists.

Bee fly

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of bee flies on the spring flowers.  These flies are also parasites of solitary bees laying their eggs on flowers or near the nests of the solitary bees.

Asphodel

It’s not all bad news for the bees as the Asphodel are starting to flower and it has been a mild winter with lots of rain which has suited them well.

Lady's smock, Cardamine pratensis

The Lady’s smock (Cardamine pratensis) seems early and is more abundant.

Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea

The Greater Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea is everywhere and is attracting the attention of an Andrena bee here, probably Andrena Willkella.Fern frond

Everything is fresh and pushing through like the fern fronds unfurling.

Bumbles

This is a time of activity and as I walk I hear the bumble bees, not just in the flowers but searching.  They are searching for just the right place to build their nest.  I often follow them as they explore and vanish into holes but they always return to continue their search, never seeming to find just the right place.


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Weeds in the garden

I recall when I was very young often asking my father the names of various plants, specially the flowers of the beautiful wild weeds in the garden.  I remember him looking at me and saying: “Why do you call them weeds?  They are only another pretty flower that as yet we do not know their names.”

In our garden in France we do not to use chemical pesticides, and as much as possible we have learnt to live with the wild flowers.  There are patches, specially near the river bed that all sorts of wild plants grow.  They seem to add some special charm to the rustic nature of our garden.

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There are, nevertheless a number of plants that I have systematically pulled out, as they tend to become  invasive.  One such weed is a little green plant with yellow flower that often grows in the crack of the walls.  It is pretty whilst it is in flower and is still small, but the plant soon seems to grow smothering anything else around it.

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A couple of weeks ago when, in Amelia’s absence, I visited the Fête de Printemps at the neighbouring village, I noticed that one nursery lady had potted the very same plant and was selling them, each at 4 Euros!  I learnt that the little plant is called in French chélidoine, or the Chelidonium majus (greater celandine).

Greater Celandine

This plant does have a confusing name, as the greater celandine actually belongs to the poppy family, whereas the lesser celandine which frequently grows along the paths in early spring belongs to the buttercup family.  We have a clump of lesser celandine at the bottom of the garden which attracts a lot of bees and butterflies in the early spring, much to Amelia’s delight.

Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria

Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria

The orange colour juice (the latex) oozing out of the cut stems has been used throughout centuries for the treatment of warts, giving the common name of the plant as tetterwort.  Different parts of the plant have numerous pharmacological properties.  It is said to be analgesic, and the latex has also been used to cauterize small wounds.

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Chelidonium majus – Greater celandine

The greater celandine is considered toxic and should be handled with a little care as it might be allergenic and cause dermatitis.  Nevertheless, I will not dig this little plant as ruthlessly as I used to do and remembering what my father told me, I have yet again gained greater respect for the weeds that often I do not know their names.


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Beginning of April

It has been a dull start to April.  Heavy clouds hanging over the garden dulling the colours of the flowers and keeping the bees in their nests.

I shouldn’t complain; the north of France has had snow and we are only suffering from a lack of sunshine and below normal temperatures.  It has reduced my walks as I am more tempted when the sun is shining.

Still clear canopy

Still clear canopy

The trees are budding but the sun easily reaches the ground bringing out the spring flowers.

Dog violet

Dog violet

The violets are everywhere but I haven’t found any perfumed ones yet.

Geranium robertinium

Geranium robertinium

The wild geraniums are plentiful.  Unfortunately, they are difficult to tell apart from the perennial geraniums I have planted in the garden and I cannot always remember where they are so it makes the weeding difficult.  I am very fickle, outside the garden I admire them and take photographs: inside they get short shrift and are summarily removed.

Cardamine pratensis (Cuckoo Flower or Lady's Smock)

Cardamine pratensis (Cuckoo Flower or Lady’s Smock)

I must admit that the common name, Cuckoo Flower, was right on target as I heard my first cuckoo just days  before seeing the flower.  The French name for the flower is La cressonnette ou cresson des prés as it resembles cress.  It is reputed to be edible and can be added to sandwiches to spice up the flavour.  I have never tried this so I cannot recommend it (yet).

Pulmonaria and Lesser Celandine

Pulmonaria and Lesser Celandine

The Pulmonaria is everywhere and is enjoying a spring that has been wetter than usual.

Grape Hyacinth, Muscari

Grape Hyacinth, Muscari

I am always surprised at what grows under the vines.  The vegetation is controlled under the vines in this area by spraying but come spring a variety of plants appear undaunted.

Dandelion and bee with pollen

Dandelion and bee with pollen

My favourite weed at this time of the year is the dandelion.  Its pollen is a magnet for the bees.

Dandelion and bee

Dandelion and bee

Last year I managed to take many photographs of beautiful bees on the dandelions and other flowers and my winter task was to identify them.

Another bee on dandelion (Halictus ?)

Another bee on dandelion (Halictus ?)

Ah, the innocence of ignorance.

I have not identified most of them but I think I have got this one that I saw on the first of April this year.

Rear view

Rear view

If you will note, this little lady has a longitudinal slit in her last tergite.  A sign of the Halictus I have read.  I find identification frustrating, you try for a wing shot to see if the venation pattern will be useful and then find out that a rear end photo would be more useful, anyway she kept her wings folded too.

Red-tailed bumble bee ( Bombus lapidarius

Red-tailed bumble bee ( Bombus lapidarius)

At least I have got the bumble bees that are a lot easier to identify.  The white-tailed are the most common around me and I am still seeing the queens frantically patrolling at ground level looking for a nesting spot.  These are obviously the late risers as I have already seen my first worker, so someone was quick off the mark.

White-tailed worker bumble bee

White-tailed worker bumble bee

The white-tailed queens are very big and can be told apart from their smaller workers.

Mining bee nests

Mining bee nests

I had never noticed  the Mining bee nests in the paths before.  They must surely have been there last year but I must have stamped over them unaware.  Now I see them where the agricultural machinery hardens the paths.  I suppose the ones built on the edges must do better than the ones that will be compacted by the tyres as the seasons pass.

Fox peacock

Fox peacock

I know the eye spots on the butterflies are reputed to deter predators but I had never noticed such a striking resemblance to a fox face as this photo presents.  Does anyone else see a face instead of butterfly wings?

I am waiting for the sunshine which has been forecast to return late next week.  I feel very much like hibernating until then.


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To a daisy

We have had much more rain this winter than usual, even the water table level that has been getting dangerously low for some years has returned to normal.  This is all good stuff for gardeners and I look forward to seeing many more wild flowers this year.  What has surprised me is the crop of daisies that has appeared in the grass around the house.  I had not noticed their absence until they appeared in quantity this year.  In the wet west of Scotland there is no shortage of daisies in the grass and making daisy chains was a summer pastime.  I hated the lawnmowers that put an end to them and created a boring green plain.  I was difficult to console and had little sympathy with the adults who assured me the daisies would soon reappear.

I have my own daisies now and I have enjoyed photographing them and capturing the variety of shapes and colours as they unfold.  Some   begin with deep raspberry-tinted petals and some are round like miniature peonys.  Some unfold coquettishly, others  frankly becoming completely white, while others retain a pink rim to the petals.

But the fateful day was sure to come.  I was informed that if the grass was not cut the machine would not be able to cope.  I begged a stay of execution for a patch with speedwell and dandelions near the plum tree and my mining bee nests.  The rest of the grass is now more or less green.

At least I have my photographs.

And I am comforted that Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s national poet felt pretty bad about seeing the daisies cut down too. His poem is to a Mountain Daisy but I’m sure its like my daisies.

To A Mountain Daisy (Written in 1786)

Wee, modest crimson-tipped flow’r,
Thou’s met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure
Thy slender stem:
To spare thee now is past my pow’r,
Thou bonie gem.

To read more or to listen to it being read, http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/works/to_a_mountain_daisy/

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Sunday afternoon walk

It had been raining all morning and was forecast to continue raining in the afternoon.  Then after lunch the sun appeared and we quickly flung on a waterproof, willing to accept walking in the rain later for some  some sunshine in the present.

Moss

Despite the earlier rain most of the water had soaked into the sandy soil but there is much more moss in the woods this year.

Moss on old tree trunk

This moss had found a moist base on a fallen tree trunk.

Germinating acorn

I’m not sure how this acorn had become so embedded into the same fallen tree trunk.  Hardly a propitious site but the acorn had heard the call of spring and was germinating all the same.

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

The Lesser Celandine has been out for some time now and the bright yellow flowers brighten up the woods.

Ant and Bombylius major

Ant and Bombylius major

The Lesser celandine is a favourite with all sorts of insects, including bees, flies, hover flies and Bombylius major.

Bombylius major, Large bee fly

Bombylius major, Large bee fly

I only see these around in the springtime as they are parasitic on solitary bees, wasps and beetles.  They lay their eggs near the nests of these species or on flowers that they visit.  After hatching the larvae parasitise the host larvae which they consume.  Not very nice.

Bombylius major on Pulmonaria

Bombylius major on Pulmonaria

I usually like fluffy things but the Bombylius major doesn’t quite do it for me.

Narrow-leaved lungwort, Pulmonaria longifolia

Narrow-leaved lungwort, Pulmonaria longifolia

The Pulmonaria is opening now, it deserves its place minus the bee fly.

Wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa

Wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa

I saw my first wood anemones of the year but none in full flower.

Wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa

They are usually white when fully open but the buds are usually pink in colour.Wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa

As the flower head matures the petals become paler in colour.  They look so elegant just now as they are just breaking into flower.

La Dame d'onze heures, Ornithogalum umbellatum

La Dame d’onze heures, Ornithogalum umbellatum

Another first sighting on the walk was my first  Ornithogalum umbellatum or Star of Bethlehem.  It is such an elegant flower that I prefer the French name of La Dame d’onze heures which I find much more fitting.  She is elegant but not shy and does not disdain to grow in the “lawn” in our back garden.  This causes a very irregular mowing pattern in the spring as my husband refuses to go over them with the mower.

Dog violet, viola

Dog violet, viola

The dog violets were open in the woods and have been in the garden for a couple of weeks.  Most of the violets are the unscented dog violets but I did find a clump of perfumed ones last year.

Bumble on Red dead nettle, Lamium purpureum

Bumble on Red dead nettle, Lamium purpureum

The queen white-tailed bumble bees (Bombus lucorum) is the most common bumble around us at the moment.  I often see them on the look out for a likely nesting spot flying close to the ground, not interested in finding flowers.  This one has no pollen so perhaps she too is on the look out for a good site.

So we managed our walk without getting wet.  Just as well as the rain seems to have set in again.


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January walking

January sunrise

January sunrise

The sun rises late in January and the shorter daylight hours mean that walks are best taken in the early afternoon.  It is our best chance here to get some sun in what has been a rainy January.

Mistletoe in trees

Mistletoe in trees

Most of the trees around us are deciduous and in the winter once the leaves have gone you can see clearly how much mistletoe is carried by some of the trees.

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

There were several large clumps of mistletoe lying at the bottom of these trees and I was surprised by the girth of the branches.  The berries, although poisonous for humans, provide a good food source for berry-eating birds like thrushes.  The woods around here are not managed and many support a large proportion of mistletoe and are also used as supports by seemingly smothering runners of ivy.  A tough life for the trees but the ivy flowers provide a valuable source of food for the bees and other insects and again the birds eat the berries.

Ruscus aculeatus

Ruscus aculeatus

The Ruscus seems to be enjoying its increase share of the light now that the leaves have fallen.  The berries are staying plump in contrast to the Spindle tree berries which looked beautiful in the woods in December but are now dry and inconspicuous.

Bolbitius vitellinus

Bolbitius vitellinus

The relatively mild temperatures for January mean that the fungi are well represented.  I saw this chrome yellow toadstool on the roadside near our house.

Older Bolbitius vitellinus

Older Bolbitius vitellinus

There were a few more mature specimens close beside it.

Mucilago crustacea

Mucilago crustacea

This slime mould was also beside the road and taking advantage of the mild damp weather to consume a rotting stick.

Toadstool in maize field

Toadstool in maize field

This toadstool had pushed through the stubble left in a field that had grown maize last year. When the cold front arrived it was frozen solid.  I tried to make a spore print to identify it but when defrosted, it transformed into a pile of jelly .  So I have learnt something else – you can’t make spore prints with frozen toadstools.

Fungus on tree bark

Fungus on tree bark

I have to admit that I can manage to identify only a very small portion of the fungi that I see.  This one was appealing as it reminded of raw jewel stones as it was a mix of black with amethyst glints to it.

Dichomitus campestris?

Dichomitus campestris?

I found this one different and attractive also, but I am not sure if I have identified it correctly.

Group of yellow Calendula

Group of yellow Calendula

These were flowering by the roadside not particularly near any houses but I think they must be garden escapees that have managed to flourish on the verge.

Flower full of rain water

Flower full of rain water

This seems to sum up our January up until now.

Winter heliotrope, (Petasites fragrans)

Winter heliotrope, (Petasites fragrans)

When I saw these flowers I at first thought that these too were garden escapees.  When I knelt down to photograph them I was surprised that they were beautifully perfumed.  The perfume is described by UK Wildflowers as vanilla, I found it hard to describe but very pleasant.  Strangely, although they flower in the middle of winter they are frost sensitive perhaps because they originally came from North Africa.

Close up Winter heliotrope ( Petasites fragrans )

Close up Winter heliotrope ( Petasites fragrans )

It was tempting to try and introduce some into the wilder parts of the garden but they are extremely invasive and can smother anything in their path.  I have enough to cope with in the garden without bringing in flowers that could take over!