a french garden


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The bees in December

We celebrated the first of December by taking the muzzles off the front of the hives.  A cold spell had at last stopped the hornet attacks.

It was good to see the bees free at last and flying unimpeded by the wire netting.  We put on entrance reducers to keep them cosy.

Kourosh is very proud of his Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) tree and rightly so, as he grew it from the seeds we recovered from the fruit that we had eaten in the U.K, only seven years ago.  We were looking forward to seeing the bees enjoying the flowers as they had done last year.

Then more cold weather and frosts hit, freezing the flowers.  Our dry spell has at last ended and we have had rain.  The days have been often cloudy and damp.  Low temperatures and rain keep the bees clustered in their hives.  We miss watching them and it keeps us out of the garden.

This last week we have had some sunny days and the frost and cold weather has not damaged the Loquat flowers.

What does surprise me is that the bees fly to the Loquat tree when the air temperature is no higher than 9 degrees Centigrade.

You can see the bee dipping her tongue into the flower to dab up the nectar that has been warmed by the sun.  The flowers are also well insulated by the sepals which are covered by fluffy hairs.

The flowers also supply a plentiful pollen and you could see the pollen sacs growing as you watched an individual bee.

This bee is moistening the pollen in her front legs before passing it back to join the rest of the bundle stuck to her back legs.

 

Sometimes it all becomes too much and she has to sit on a leaf and have a good groom and retrieve all the sticky pollen in peace.

I noticed that at 9 degrees Centigrade the bees were only on the Loquat tree and the Winter Flowering Honeysuckle which are both very close to their hives.

However, yesterday when the temperature went up to 10.5 degrees Centigrade the bees flew further to the Mahonia and…

even the winter flowering heather which is in the front garden.  A warmer couple of days must be making them more adventurous.  I  have seen no queen bumble bees at these temperatures.  They should be hibernating in a shady spot that will not be over-heated by the sun as they are on their own and coming out at these low air temperatures would not be wise as they have no warm hive and cluster of bees to keep them warm.

I also noticed my first Hellebore in the front garden but the others have still a long way to go, so the bees will have to wait a bit for their next treat.

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Frost

The last day of November brought frost to the garden.

For some flowers like the rose above and the pink Anisodontea it will herald the end to their flowering season.

The Mahonia will shrug off this slight inconvenience…

as will the winter flowering honeysuckle.

The frost will help keep the other Camelia buds tightly closed for a few months yet (I hope).

The flowers of the Loquat tree shrug off the frost and later were happy to diffuse their perfume and supply the passing queen bumble bees with nectar in the afternoon sunshine.

My Viburnum davidii looked attractive with its frosted flowers but I thought it was a spring flowering plant (?).  I must admit it has had a hard life.  In an effort to care for it I gave it a good dose of horse manure a couple of years ago.  Unfortunately, I had not left the manure long enough to compost down and the leaves promptly started to crinkle and look burnt at the edges.  The plant has only just recovered and is perhaps still reeling from my over zealous attention.

Its not just the flowers that look good frosted.  The Linden tree still holds some of its fruits.  I pick the flowers for their delicious tea but I have to leave some for the bees.

This cotoneaster looks particularly good as some of its leaves have turned red.

This is the only cotoneaster bush that still has berries.  All the others have been stripped completely, which seems a bit early for us.  I cannot understand how they could miss this bush.  The berries are bright enough.

They say Medlars taste better after a frost but we have already been eating ours and I have never noticed an appreciable difference in the taste.  We must take them in now, or at least a good portion, to finish ripening inside.  We will leave a share for the birds who have already been sampling a few of them.

I always feel sorry for the bees when it is cold, but their hives are in a very sheltered spot of the garden and they were able to get out for a while in the afternoon sun.

 

 


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After the big chill

 

back-garden

Little has changed in the garden in the past weeks, but this says a lot for the hardiness and resilience of the plants as they have weathered a period of constant sub-zero overnight temperatures that dropped to minus eight degrees centigrade.

frost-on-primrose

Frost on primroses makes them look sugar-coated and they are tough as old boots but…

frost-on-loquat-19-1-17

The first flowers that I have ever had on my Loquat ((Eriobotrya japonica) were also frozen.

loquat-after-freeze

What has surprised me is that now after the freeze, it is continuing to flower.  The fresh buds have opened releasing their perfume and are still being visited by the bees.  The terminal leaves that surround the flowers have been badly damaged by the cold but the buds are obviously made of sterner stuff.

broad-beans-and-peas

The broad beans too have survived.  I confess to having covered them with a fleece and I do not think they would have survived without the extra help.  Just before we left at Christmas I hastily planted some peas which you can see to the right of the broad beans.  I reckoned the germination would be much poorer so I planted the peas close together (also I did not want to be left with half a packet).  It looks like every single pea has germinated so I will wait to see what the future brings but perhaps they should be thinned.

polygala-after-frost

The only obvious casualty is the Polygala.  I planted it last spring because it was supposed to be attractive to bees and butterflies but I was very disappointed as far as pollinating insects were concerned although the flowers are very pretty.  Perhaps it just gave up the struggle because I did not love it enough.

label

I was not idle during the freeze, I made labels for some of our plants.  Some are for plants that are small and could get lost, others are for those plants whose name always escapes you, and I have tried to date when they were planted so that I have a better idea of how long they take to grow.

violette-ruche

I took the opportunity during the bitter cold days when Violette was safely tucked up inside her hive to repaint her “au vent” or sun shade, which was peeling, and add a new Violette design on her front where the sun would damage it less.

violette-with-pollen

This week the amazingly mild temperatures have allowed all the bees out to gather nectar and pollen.

bee-gathers-nectar

The winter flowering honeysuckle is close bye and provides nectar for them.

1-bee-gathers-pollen-on-winter-honeysuckle

It also provides pollen, and they stroke the stamens lovingly to gather the much needed pollen.  The winter flowering honeysuckle gets my top mark for supporting pollinators during winter as the queen bumble bees visit it too.

mahonia-and-bee

We planted the Mahonia mainly for the bumble bees but I notice that the honey bees help themselves too.

viburnum-tinus

The Viburnum tinus is covered in buds that are slowly opening but not attracting any pollinators at the moment.

rosemary

The prostrate Rosemary has opened its first flowers with the promise of more to come soon.

hellebores

The Hellebores too are waiting in the wings.

snowdrops-1-2-17

My snowdrops are few and struggle hard to survive here but I am grateful a few determined individuals keep up the fight.

clematis-buds

Otherwise, the season advances with clematis pushing out tentative buds.

clematis-seeds

While higher up the seed heads from last year still decorate the stems.

stripped-cotoneaster

After the cold spell I noticed that all our cotoneaster bushes were stripped of their red berries.  We have several different varieties of cotoneaster in the garden but they all provide masses of flowers for the bees  followed by great autumn decoration for us, then on to become a winter larder for the birds.  All this from drought resistant, frost tolerant plants that are cheap to buy and can even be grown from seed.

cotoneaster-4-11-2014

I had to go back to the autumn of 2014 to get a photo of the cotoneasters before stripping but that’s what they look like – only bigger now.

cerinthe-in-lawn

Overall, the prolonged cold spell has had much less of an effect on the garden than I would have imagined.  I think the cold weather in January should delay any precocious blossoming or budding.  It has not helped me keep the Cerinthe in their place and a lot of them are making a break for it onto the lawn.  I am just debating whether to leave them there or dig them up and re-house them elsewhere. I need to keep a good stock of them in the garden to enjoy watching the Anthophora bees in the spring.