….And overtaken by Summer

How have I managed to have written nothing for so long? Loads of garden stuff to mention, but it’s really the butterflies that are the stars of the moment.

A Marbled White. As always I’m pretty happy when these start appearing – they signify early summer for me. June flying and abundant this year in the meadows nearby.

A perching Comma. So called for the little white ‘comma’ on its wing. This one obligingly posed for me. There are lots more, but this year the absolute highlight, so far….has been my encounters with His Imperial Majesty : the Purple Emperor.

Last year was my first serious attempt to spot them. I was convinced that they should be here. There’s everything they want and need: oak trees aplenty – they live up in the canopy of the tree, feeding on honeydew and oak sap. And for egg-laying the females/caterpillars need sallow close by. The meadow and ‘prairie’ alternate oak, sallow, oak….

The problem is that they stay mostly up in the tree-tops. They don’t really need to come down to the ground at all. But the males will be tempted by the mineral salts they can take from a muddy puddle, or from less pleasant things like fresh fox poo, or apparently rancid fish paste. When the weather is so hot and dry muddy puddles are in short supply, but poo is available(!)

Having drawn a blank last year I wasn’t actually looking, but Fate was smiling on me…

And just when my cup runneth over, something made me look twice at this ‘small’ Tortoiseshell and take a quick photo. It’s actually a Large Tortoiseshell – extinct now in the UK other than as captive-bred and released, or a rare migrant. It’s not uncommon in the rest of Europe, but another first for me.

And I’ve not just been looking at butterflies. I nearly trod on this little chap – a bit early to be out of its nest perhaps. No tail feathers yet.

And finally my new friend. I’ve never come across such a fearless blackbird. One of this year’s nestlings. It’s spending increasing amounts of time sitting next to me under the parasol. Hissy doesn’t seem to care (yet.)

Catching up with Spring – but look at the date!

It’s been a fairly difficult Spring so far…Too many stops and starts in the weather. Too many cold days which meant the soil seemed to be taking ages to warm up. Now, even though it’s warm ‘enough’ theoretically, and things germinated well in the burst of extreme heat in early April. Since then they’ve just sat in the cold and shivered. A bit like me. But now it’s warming up! And we are rushing into Spring so fast that I can’t keep up with it. So here are some pictures of Spring before it all goes bonkers and out of control, and is in fact, Summer!

I found this little guy nestling in a tray of seedling Acers in the basement – just about warmer there than outside…

This was the first, proper asparagus harvest of this year. It was tasty. There have been several more since then.
I’m always impressed by Rhododendrons, but never really sure if I actually like them. This one, contrasted against the lime green Viburnum leaf is certainly zingy!

Blossom on ‘Reine de reinettes’

Freshly opening Chive flowers.

Will the rain ever stop so that Spring can get started?

It just won’t stop raining for more than five minutes to let the ground dry out and warm up. I am getting pissed off.

If I walk on the grass or on the soil it turns immediately into slippery, gloopy mud. And it’s not very warm – neither the soil nor the temperature.  And it doesn’t ‘feel’ like spring.

Of course, it is Spring. The garden knows and is waking up (thankfully slowly at the moment.) The blossom buds are swelling on the peach trees, cherries, pears and quince. These will break when there is the first, sustained, burst of sun and warmth. The apples and plums are taking a bit more time.

I’m hopeful for a good harvest after the disaster of last year’s devastating late frost. With luck the almost total wipe out back then which gave the trees an enforced rest means they’ll bounce back with bounty(!)

However, now I am in limbo. Waiting. Without heat and light there’s no point in risking much in the way of seed sowing as they’ll either sulk or rot. The potatoes are waiting too. And as the soil is unworkable they are going to have to carry on waiting.

I have planted onions, shallots and garlic. Although there’s nothing showing yet. And I had no choice but to get on and start grafting – some of the scions were looking on the edge of viability. So I braved the drizzle and climbed the ladder today. Not ideal conditions – cold fingers made me clumsy and the grafting tape less adhesive. The rain made me sulky.

The butterflies have been few and far between. A couple of male Brimstones, three Small Tortoiseshells and a Red Admiral that woke up a bit too early, and a solitary Peacock. Not all on the same day.

But, despite the grumbling, there has been much beauty:Crocus ‘Vanguard’

Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ (again – not last year’s photo, I love them!)

Now….I think this is a Ground Beetle. I’m checking ID

But this is definitely Ranunculus ficaria on the roadside, just past the house.


Brrrrrrrrr…….freezing temperatures and Hair Ice

The rather extreme (for here!) weather these past few days has shown me a couple things that have made me go ‘Wow!’

Putting aside the strange phenomenon of full-on sunshine in Central Brittany for six consecutive days. The first, admittedly banal, occurrence was that the sheets I put on the line to dry froze like cardboard in the icy wind!

However, much more interesting was finding hair ice  in Beffou Forest on Friday. I did not know what this was, nor that it even existed, and now after some research, and finding that it is quite rare, I wonder if I’ll ever see it again?

From typing ‘ice crystals wet wood’ into the machine  this is what I found….

Hair ice (also known as ice wool or frost beard) is a type of ice that forms on dead wood and takes the shape of fine, silky hair. It is somewhat uncommon, and has been reported mostly at latitudes between 45–55 °N in broadleaf forests. The meteorologist and discoverer of continental drift, Alfred Wegener, described hair ice on wet dead wood in 1918,[assuming some specific fungi as the catalyst, a theory mostly confirmed by Gerhart Wagner and Christian Mätzler in 2005.]

Hair ice forms on moist, rotting wood from broadleaf trees when temperatures are slightly under 0 °C (32 °F) and the air is humid.  Each of the smooth, silky hairs has a diameter of about 0.02 mm (0.00079 in) and a length of up to 20 cm (7.9 in). The hairs are brittle, but take the shape of curls and waves. They can maintain their shape for hours and sometimes days. This long lifetime indicates that something is preventing the small ice crystals from recrystallizing into larger ones, since recrystallization normally occurs very quickly at temperatures near 0 °C (32 °F).

The hairs appear to root at the mouth of wood rays (never on the bark), and their thickness is similar to the diameter of the wood ray channels. A piece of wood that produces hair ice once may continue to produce it over several years.

In 2015, German and Swiss scientists identified the fungus Exidiopsis effusa as key to the formation of hair ice.  The fungus was found on every hair ice sample examined by the researchers, and disabling the fungus with fungicide or hot water prevented hair ice formation.  The fungus shapes the ice into fine hairs through an uncertain mechanism and likely stabilizes it by providing a recrystallization inhibitor similar to antifreeze proteins. (Thanks Wiki).

And here’s what it looks like!

It melts, as you would expect, the minute you touch it. That it stayed in such good condition even in the sunshine, until I got back to the car to photograph it shows how cold the day was!

Away from Balanou, what shall I do….?

Well…. Lots of shopping for seeds, bulbs, onion sets and seed potatoes! The seed shopping I suppose could have been done from France, as it’s almost all online, but I like the ritual of it in London – mainly because it reminds me that I’ll be going back to sow them all. That said, looking at the array of packets it’s a bit of a daunting prospect!

I’ve taken full advantage of Pound Lands/Worlds and Stretchers, as well as Wilko, Lidl and even Bunnings,    which was new to me. Now I have a substantial stash of Dahlias, Gladioli, Sparaxis, Ixia and other summer flowerers. I’ve also got a new gadget: a maximum/minimum thermometer to be geeky with the weather. And books… quite a few, including a couple that I hope will help me get on with identifying mosses and lichens.

But I have been watching the weather forecast with some trepidation. Today and yesterday have been two of the balmy, sunny, beautiful February days that send you rushing into the garden shouting ‘Spring is here!’ It isn’t. Not yet. I’ve finally got wise to the fact that every year Nature plays this same trick, and I’m no longer falling for it. Especially after seeing this:

Look at those temperatures. We’re arriving just in time to walk right back into mid-winter.

Winter loveliness and signs of Spring…

After a few days of the kind of weather that, if it persists, makes winter here dreary. A few images taken during the dreariness that show the beauty that is still there if I open my eyes to it!

Huelgoat forest. The Mare aux Sangliers after the rain… Late December.Lichens from a fallen branch of oak after the wind… One day I’ll get to grips with their identification.

A Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) flower in the garden. Freshly opened and almost pristine, after the rain which had spoiled the others.

Chinese Witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis, ‘Pallida’) flowering now. Little slivers of yellow, crinkly crepe paper petals with a delicious, if sometimes elusive perfume.

An an unexpected, very early surprise… Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’. Why this one flower now when all the others are only just showing above ground? I have no idea. But how beautiful and how welcome!

All of these, plus the emerging Crocus, Narcissus and,   – I kid you not – Tulips(!) and more daylight. I know there’ll be bleak days ahead, but Spring is just around the corner. Time to start looking at the seed catalogues.

Bloody rain…but at least it isn’t snow!

The rain just doesn’t seem to have stopped. I’m sure it must have at some point these last days, but I was either asleep or I somehow didn’t notice. Actually, it did for about 30 minutes this morning – and probably did for some of yesterday, so I’m being overly dramatic.

I’m listening to it now falling on the window panes – which is better than Monday night when it woke me up dripping on the floor near my head! (There’s a waiting bucket now. It only happens with a combination of very heavy rain and strong wind from a particular direction…)

This of course means that I’ve got almost nothing done. In that little thirty minute window I did finally plant several pots of tulips that have been waiting to go in for ages. I don’t feel too bad about making them wait as, apparently, they do better planted once the cold weather hits and are less susceptible to diseases. Which is a comforting excuse for laziness on my part.

But here’s the garden from my window last week before the rain set in:

And the Miscanthus lit by… a little bit of sun!

As winter draws in…

I have to scrabble around and grab hold of the good at this time of year. Outwardly everything is rotting, withdrawing, collapsing and dying around me.

It’s  cold. It’s damp. I can’t walk on the grass without turning it into a slippery mud trail – but I have to walk on the grass and wheel my barrows full of manure over it, so it looks dreadful.

So… I have started raking and collecting the fallen leaves to use as mulch.  I have pruned my black currants and other soft fruit. I have started the long process of renovating and weeding the flower borders. I’m wandering around with secateurs in my pocket snipping when I see the need. I have smothered the Asparagus bed in manure and am gradually doing the same elsewhere.

There are Blewitts now. The last mushrooms to fruit. Even after the frosts. I’m still collecting Chanterelles (Cantherellus tubaeformis) and the day before yesterday got some Saffron Milk Caps (Lactarius deliciosus) as an unexpected surprise.

Scratching the ground I’ve seen the blunt snouts of daffodils already waiting to emerge. So, although it seems on the surface that it’s all decaying, there’s a whole world down below slowly preparing for the Spring. I love that.

Oca might be ok…

I’ve just started lifting the Oca in a serious way – rather than just scratching around the plants to see what’s there.  It’s been so damp and chilly the leaves are starting to drop and rot even under the netting and, though I’d rather wait longer, I can’t. Major vole depredations as usual. But I got out this handful of sizeable beauties. I hope there will be lots more – but there will at least be enough to have another try next year – The eternally optimistic (delusional) mentality of a gardener…