Mr Blue Sky, please tell us why…

You have to hide away for so long?

First time that the Sky has been so blue for what seems like ages. It was accompanied by some strong breeze so it felt like some good drying weather was happening. All undone now as I hear the rain pattering on the roof as I write. So here are some pictures of lovely things that don’t need the dry to still be beautiful!

Stuff harvested from the garden this week. Another post will describe how underwhelmed and just pure unhappy I have been with what I’ve managed to produce this year, but this isn’t it. So, tomatillos, Uchiki Kuri and Delicata squash and some strawberry (popcorn) maize.

A friend of Caroline’s had made this sugary confection for her birthday. A boiled sweet stained glass with licorice lead-work. She gave it to me, I ate a little but the rest decorated the garden for a while!

These last three were taken on the Presqu’île de Landrellec. After heavy rain it miraculously stayed dry for my walk across it and back, only to rain again as I got to the car.

More good stuff…

Well the rain continues – obviously not absolutely non-stop, but every day there have been some showers/drizzle/sustained pouring… There have been a couple of interludes where the sun has appeared albeit briefly, and the difference that burst of warmth and brightness makes to my mood is remarkable.
But everything is still sodden, squelchy and muddy. And the forecast is for more of the same but colder.
It now seems unlikely that I’ll get to see and photograph my much anticipated Clouded Yellow butterflies this year (although it was mid-November last year that they were in the garden, so I’m still hoping against hope…)

So, it’s great to have some lovely mushrooms – which don’t seem to have minded the weather.
Cantherellus tubaeformis – Tube Chanterelles – back again right on cue. Huelgoat Forest was completely carpeted with them. Every placement of every foot risked crushing some.
They are possibly my absolute favourite mushroom (alongside the Miller). They’re definitely one of the most fun to pick when they appear open such quantities that you can leave behind the tiddlers to grow on and concentrate on searching out the biggest.

So far they have been risottoed, cooked in butter as an accompaniment to roast veal, and today in a creamy sauce with pasta. I’ve also been distributing them amongst friends – I can’t eat them all quick enough! I’ve never really seen the point of frozen mushrooms, and drying them in the kind of weather we’ve got now is hardly an option!

Voilà:

Quick, find something else to keep positive…

So here I am scrabbling through photos to find lovely pictures of things that haven’t been affected by rain! And obviously I’ve come up with rocks. Seeing as I know next to nothing about geology, this is hardly going to be an informative post. Some of these rocks have lichens on them and some of them are (somehow) growing seaweed on them. They are all beautiful. (or at least interesting). And none of them are rotting, squelching, sodden or soaked.

And then it rained, and rained some more…

Having got accustomed to no rain, it’s taking a while to re-adjust to ‘normal’ Brittany weather. It seems to have rained non-stop in my absence. I say that because the garden I left ten days ago is now a sodden, mouldy mess – with grass ankle high and toppling over. Flower buds have balled instead of opening. In fact the garden seems to be almost flower-less, and the tomatoes are engulfed with Blight. Not a single healthy fruit to be found anywhere…

There are collapsed (voled) chard plants dotted around. The bulb fennel transplants from Michel have similarly disappeared. The mache that I sowed either didn’t emerge or got eaten the moment it did. Either way it needs re-sowing, although it’s a bit late now. Cabbage white caterpillars are making lace of various brassicas – and are moving on to the Rocket. Mice have nibbled the beans and slugs have scoffed the lettuce. Not good.

However… here’s where I try to be ‘glass full…’ I gathered the best crop so far of walnuts from the two trees in the garden. I have got back in time for the chestnuts. The mushrooms are still coming – Chanterelles, Boletes, Millers, Deceivers.

I’ve planted about half of the Narcissi I brought back with me – ‘Martinette’ – finally finishing the bankside. Until now it’s been all ‘Tête-à-Tête’ so I’ll actually be able to see how well these come up as they are so markedly different with their orange trumpets. I had to check back on photos that Caro had sent me earlier in the year to see how far my planting had progressed. I’ve also begun hacking back the grass…hopefully there will be some properly dry days soon and walking on the grass won’t be such a problem. I’ve scissored about half the path through the middle o& the garden and will carry on tomorrow.

I’m trying not to sink under the huge list of things that are ‘to do…’ and also to keep in my head all of the ‘improvements’ that I can see need doing… I just hope I have the energy/inclination to carry through. The main thing is that so much has outgrown its allotted space, especially trees! And as a result the garden feels overcrowded, claustrophobic even. Massive pruning/hacking back required. But, of course this is now, at the end of the growing year – I’m always shocked when I look back at the photos and see how empty and sparse the planting seems early in the Spring.

….

And a few days later and the rain still keeps falling… So, a few cheery photos of non-rainy times to boost the spirits!

Blackening Waxcap (Hygrocybe conica). Found at the Gorges du Coronq.

Walnuts and Chestnuts from the garden.

Doyenne du Comice from London, ripening in Balanou.

Down by the stream in Huelgoat Forest.

The last days of Summer. The beginning of Autumn?

September (and sometimes October) can be one of the absolute best times of year here. The holiday season finishes, the beaches empty, people go back to work or school and… the weather is generally marvelous!

This year proves it again. Almost unbroken sunshine until today – which is why I’m writing this rather than doing whatever outside. The garden in particular and the wider countryside in general will enjoy today’s rain. It’s been very dry. And although I’ve been watering the real priorities – newly planted shrubs and stuff in pots – everything is thirsty.

There have been mushrooms: Millers, Saffron Milk caps, a few ceps and a beautiful Cauliflower fungus. But the main season has probably been waiting for this rain before it gets going properly.

The butterflies have continued to impress me, but there’s still time for some late special appearances so I’m not posting pictures of any just yet. Instead, more garden loveliness and a little bit of out and about:

Tigridia pavonia. The flowers only last a day and I think they’re amazing to look at rather than beautiful. I’ve got the (edible) bulbs in a pot sunk in the soil to keep the voles away. I might not want to eat them but I’m sure they would.

Venidium ‘Zulu Prince’. From seed this year. I’ll be growing them again. A bit of an untidy, sprawling plant that needs a lot of dead-heading, but it’s been flowering since June. Well worth it.

This poppy was self-sown and I left it to flower despite it being inconveniently placed amongst my onions. I’m glad I did as the yellow stamens are quite unusual and very pretty. The bees seem to prefer this poppy to others in the same patch with inky black stamens. The yellow attracts them perhaps?

Cyclamen hederifolium with more flowers than I remember before. These have seeded themselves (helped a bit by me) around the garden from one initial corm (sadly voled this year – one of many casualties.) They enjoy a summer dormancy so don’t seem to care about the drought, and come bouncing back – flowers first, leaves later with their ivy-like markings; hence the ‘hederifolium’.

Asters and Sunflowers lasted well as cut flowers…

The wonderful and huge Cauliflower fungus (Sparassis crispa). At the foot of an enormous pine tree in Huelgoat Forest. Some of it got eaten and some of it got dried and jarred for later.

Wild rocket in flower at the coast.

Sea holly (Eryngium maritima) in flower. The first time I’ve seen it growing in the wild.

Shells from Beg Douar cove near Plestin. The ‘sand’ is made of tiny fragments of crushed shell – like Porthcurno beach in Cornwall.

A new favourite place to explore. The Gorge de Toul Goulic. Not that far away, so I’m not sure how I didn’t know about it before? A rocky chaos and meandering paths through steep sided beech and oak forest…. and a stream that was gurgling gently as it appeared and then disappeared underneath the boulders. I’m looking forward to seeing it after heavy rain when I imagine it will feel and look completely different.

Buddleias and Butterflies…

I wasn’t as rigorous as I should have been with the pruning of my various Buddleia bushes this Spring. I had done a cursory cutting back in the winter, just so that branches were shorter and less liable to damage by the wind. But, as the winter was mild, (and I was still in London in late February when I would normally have done it). Arriving back, the shrubs were in full leaf and I didn’t have the heart to cut all of that growth off…

Result being that most of my Buddleias have almost finished flowering, when they really should just be starting. They are such an invaluable late Summer food plant for so many Butterflies, and having them almost guarantees sightings of most of my garden’s regulars, that I’m hoping that they’ll still find reasons to visit. I’m deadheading constantly, hoping that I can encourage a later flush of flowers.

So, here are some of my Buddleia bushes, and an assortment of this Summer’s butterflies:

Buddleia davidii ‘Royal Red’. Obviously not ‘red’, rather a wonderful, intense violet/magenta. Not as vigorous or hardy as the bog standard ones, but very special.

Buddleia davidii ‘Dark Knight’. So purple that in some light it assumes a velvety blackness… Again, not as vigorous here as the more common colours, and I’ve had more trouble striking cuttings from this one, (I have got some in a pot from last autumn which seem to have made it.)

By complete contrast. Buddleia weyeriana. Sunny yellow, globes of flowers. A vigorous thug of a plant. Easy to grow and easy to propagate. Mine came originally from a neighbouring allotment in Walthamstow and was one of the first things planted when I started turning my corner of a field into a garden…

And, having said how much butterflies love Buddleia, not a single one of these beauties were photographed on it!

Comma on Bracken.

Purple Hairstreak on Bramble.

Silver-washed Fritillary on Knapweed.

Brown Argus on Sow Thistle.

Map butterfly on dried grass.

Swallowtail on Verbena bonariensis.

So much to show… not all of it good!

It’s been a while and I have oodles of wonderfulness from the garden and beyond, and a few horror stories to balance things out. So this is Part One of a few posts to bring me back up to date.

It was a very hot and dry June and July. Although we didn’t have the absolute nightmare temperatures that the rest of France (and Europe generally) suffered; Brittany was almost the only green – normal – patch on the map during the recent heatwave. But the maximums were still in the 30’s… not normal for here. This place is renowned for its cool, damp and rain whilst the rest of France burns…! Consequently the garden has suffered. Despite the layers of mulch, I think that plants that are just not used to searing heat don’t know what to do when it’s that hot – just like me really. I clung to the shade and wilted the moment the sun beat down on me!

So…what’s been good?

Verbascums and Verbena bonariensis with Bronze Fennel everywhere else just beginning to flower.

Salvia ‘Amistad’ with some Black Eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata) starting to climb through it. The Salvia is one of the plants I brought back with me from London recently. I’m hoping I’ll be able to overwinter it successfully. I’m going to take cuttings soon to improve my chances.

The Pink Pelargoniums starting to fill out and flower more – the French Marigolds in front of them taking an age to get going…

Looking out to the garden from the house. I’d forgotten it looked this good in July – writing as I am in mid August and wondering where the flowers have all gone.

‘Carouby de Mausanne’ mange-tout peas. Something that the voles haven’t discovered yet – they normally prefer to wait for the peas to be nice and fat before they scoff the lot. Whereas with these I pick them when the pods are still nice and flat.

Welcome rain…and unwelcome consequences

Watched this one journey across the window pane this morning. Nothing for it to eat on the glass, so I left it to get on with it. Its many other friends and relations were not so lucky… A mixture of picking and squashing, or the blue pellets of death for them. I don’t use the pellets indiscriminately, but I’ve lost too many plants over the years when I was trying to be ‘kind’ to slugs and snails. So now I’m merciless if they’re in the garden.

But the past few days of rain has been good for the garden. Now for some sun and warmth to give everything a lovely spurt of growth!

These are all general views of various parts of the garden, and roadside planting:

Middle patch newly planted…
End of the garden. Dad’s Hebe cutting to the left.
Roadside after rain.
Close to house – semi circle border.
Onions in foreground, broad beans and main crop potatoes behind (and some lovely chives)
Late evening, looking out…

Wow!

The ‘perfect’ May weather continues.

If only there hadn’t been that little cold snap this would be even more amazing. And if there could be one overnight downpour it would be even better… Look at that. Never really happy with what I’ve got!

But the butterflies know better than me. They’re not complaining.

A male Orange Tip ( Anthocharis cardamines) loving the Hesperis matronalis.

Perhaps the same male roosting on an unopened Campanula persificolia

My first ever photo, and only third ever sighting of a Green Hairstreak. I’d first seen it in North Devon on the Coast Path in a damp valley at Heddon’s Mouth. Then, the second time on a track not too far away from here. I’m thrilled to have added this species to the ‘seen in my garden’ list. And, similarly, this unassuming, unremarkable next one:

A Mallow Skipper (Carcharodus Alceae). New to me and helpfully identified by contributors to UK Butterflies forum. A butterfly not found in the UK however.

And neither is this one… My favourite European Swallowtail (Papilio machaon). A female, egg laying on this year’s tender leaves of Bronze Fennel.

Balanou…best bits today. Quite a few rhododendrons

Who would ever think that such deep crimson buds would open and fade quickly to such a delicate peachy, pale loveliness. Somewhere, I am sure, I will have noted it’s name. It’s the first I planted. And it’s huge now. Not as many flowers this year as last, but they are beautiful.

A chance planting of Hesperis matronalis alba with this deep red rhododendron. It works!

Not a favourite colour. But this is the only rhododendron cutting that I’ve successfully rooted. And this year is its very first flower. The cutting was taken at Begard in 2012. Seven years of waiting. A very good reason to pay more for a good sized rhododendron plant!

I love this Iris. I’d like more. But the voles won’t let me!

Spring salad: Rocket, Land Cress, Magentaspreen, chicory, and the first few leaves of ‘Marvel of four seasons’ lettuce.

Asparagus and Artichoke. Spring luxuries.

A view out over the garden from the house. Late evening.