a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France


Summer approaches in the woods

Everyday sees changes in the countryside.  The warmth, the cold, the rain, the sun all conspire to bring about subtle changes that made no two days the same but there comes a point where our coarse senses remark a change that cannot be ignored.

The vibrant, frenetic days of spring are past and summer is approaching.

I feel this in the woods as the canopy of the trees fills in and covers over, changing the flowers that grow underneath.  A few still linger, like the Asphodel but the Wood Anemones have totally disappeared leaving only their leaves as witness to their presence.

Only an odd violet can be seen here and there along the path.  I shall be sorry to see them go but I took my first photographs of the wild violets in my garden at the end of March so their season has not been short.

The Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum commutatum) is content to stay in the shady areas under the trees and so is just starting its flowering season.

Once open the elegant bells attract the bees and bumbles who feast on the pollen which they carry off in their pollen sacs which become  stunningly white.  I tried to get a photograph but they were too quick for me, trying to manoeuvre amongst the long stems of the Solomon’s seal which are over a metre tall.

I couldn’t miss the swarm of bees over a puddle in the middle of the path.  I had read that bees have a requirement for water but I could not understand what attracted so many of them to the same puddle at the same time.  When I got closer I discovered it was not the water that they were interested in but the mud it was providing for them!

They are Mason bees looking for a supply of mud to seal up their cache of eggs which could be somewhere in the woods in a hollow twig or convenient hole in a tree.  Mason bees belong to the genus Osmia, I cannot go further than that with identification but I do think they have really cute eyes!

The butterflies still accompany us on our walks like this Comma butterfly ( Polygonia c-album) and

the Red Admiral (Vanessa Atalanta) which always adds colour in the woods.

The Common Heath Moth (Ematurga atomaria) enjoys flying in the daytime in sunny spots but

the Speckled Yellow moth (Pseudopanthera macularia) was a bit more frisky.  It is always lovely to have their company even though they are less appreciative of ours.

These two seem a bit surprised to see each other alight so close to each other when there are so many flowers to choose from.

The Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) is in luxuriant bloom on the edges of the woods and roads and is being visited by an astonishing number of insects.  The bees and bumbles are visiting in substantial numbers.

Predators will always be attracted to to the abundant food supplies of their prey.  The European Hornet (Vespa crabro) did not find any bees on this fly past and rapidly left our presence.  They are an unloved species and their nests are frequently destroyed by humans, however, it is a protected species in Germany and a native European insect.

For me it just does not have the same appeal as a fluffy bumble bee clutching onto the clover flower and  sipping the nectar.

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Keeping focused…

I do try and keep focused on the garden.  The problem is that as soon as I put a foot outside the door I find other things staring me in the face.

Take this bee, he has decided to take up residence in our cellier wall, which adjoins our back door.  If you see a face like that looking out at you, it is impossible to ignore it.  So it’s off for the camera to record it for posterity.  I am not really sure if posterity will care about this bee (Anthophora plumipes, hairy-footed  flower bee)  but I find him very appealing and I’m going to keep my eye on him.

Once I have been distracted I find it very simple to carry on down my distracted path and check out the garden.  The blackcurrants are in flower and I am very excited about spotting a new bee.  This one has a gorgeous auburn hair-doo, a sort of all over Mohican.  He is definitely as fluffy as a bumble bee but has no stripes so I think he might be a fluffy bee.  I thought this would lead to a prolonged identification search on the Internet but I posted it on Flickr in the Bees,bees,bees! group and it was identified as Anthophora plumipes male by eucera – thank you again.

The rain has stopped and I think the bees and bumbles must be famished after the recent heavy rains and high wind, not typical weather here at this time of year.

This leads me to the Wisteria which is providing nectar for a large range of bees and bumbles.

What I notice is that the early bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) are robbing the nectar from the Wisteria.  The Wisteria provides nectar for pollinating insects.  That is the insects are theoretically attracted into the flower for the nectar.  They then brush against the pollen laden pistils and carry the pollen attached to their bristly, hairy body, to another flower.  However, if your tongue is a bit on the short side, the length of the Wisteria flower may pose a problem.  So these bumble bees have solved the problem by piercing the flowers at just the right place to take a short cut to the nectar.

The flowers are left with a hole which may be used later by other insects and bees eager to reach the nectar as rapidly as possible.

They are very welcome to made holes in the Wisteria flowers.  The damage is not too obvious and if there are a few less pollinated flowers there will be less seed pods for me to have to prune later in the season.  I prefer my Wisteria full of life.

Not all the bumbles go for the nectar in exactly this way, this red-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lapidarius) looks as if he has gone the more conventional route of approaching from inside the flower but in fact he has just pierced a hole under the upper lip of the Wisteria flower.

The Carpenter bees follow the same practice.

Never the less, collecting nectar can be a tickly problem.

Dandelions on the other hand are very accessible to all the bees and insects providing both nectar and pollen.

Seeing all the bees foraging on the dandelions has made me rethink my gardner’s attitude to this common , invasive weed.  I now look at the dandelions from a totally different prospective.

Now I appreciate their bright yellow flower that stands out so well against the green in the springtime.

I even admire the seed head with its beautiful symmetry and think of the food it provides for the seed eating birds.  The bees and the bumbles have really softened my heart towards the weeds in my garden, sorry not the weeds, the wild flowers in my garden.

Attitudes can change with more understanding.  When you find a newly hatched and groggy Bombus pascuorum you feel you  have to give it a hand to get started on some Bugle.

I’m not sure if it needed a helping hand but it was fun anyway!