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Monday, 23 August 2021

Harvest time and this year's planters around the pool

I feel liberated not having a huge veggie patch to have to look after, yet I still miss it in a way. However we absolutely have to have some home grown tomatoes, so I grow some in large pots on the patio around the pool. This year I also have three varieties of chilli (two hot), and two varieties of bell pepper. There are two varieties of cherry tomato and one large one, the Black Crimean, which is really tasty.

This year though, we also have citrus fruits! I have a few fruit slowly growing on my Kaffir Lime tree.

The Meyer Lemon is doing well too and these lemons are already about half size. The flowers are very strongly perfumed and the big blue Carpenter Bees absolutely loved them. I am battling insects on it though - first there was a regular looking scale insect, and now a weird kind of thing I haven't seen before, which I have discovered is Cottony Cushion Scale. The adults grow up to 5mm long and are disgusting to squish 😀 as they are soft and sticky. I've been using Savon Noir which helps to control the pests, and also washes off the sooty mould that is appearing thanks to the honeydew that they excrete. It's a natural product containing soap and olive oil, which I suppose helps make it stick to the leaves and stalks, and seems to be quite effective against unwanted critters. 

First real harvest of various tomatoes, peppers and chillies!

We sit out on the patio often in the early evening, even when it is hot (and we have a lovely air conditioned house!) because it’s just nicer being outside. Most evenings the Cirl Bunting comes around - on this particular day he was calling to the female. We were not sure if he was trying to entice her by the juicy grub or whether there were still chicks in a nest that he was going to feed.

I noticed this amazing view so had to grab a camera - whilst we see beautiful sunsets through our kitchen window I've never seen the sky like this before.

Bedding plants around the pool: Fewer geraniums this year to combat the pesky Geranium Bronze butterfly, although I've only seen one of them this summer! But my plan was that if they destroyed the geraniums, I would still have colour around the pool. The Bidens (the orange daisy like flowers) have been magnificent. I also have six Lantanas which I bought from the local nursery, who had sold out of most other plants. 😞 I ended up at the garden centre having to buy more expensive individual geraniums in larger pots as they had sold out of the small ones in trays of six or ten. Next year I will get on to this much sooner - I forget that I am in the south and everyone is buying their bedding much earlier than in Brittany!

This year's colour scheme is hot! Lantana:

Bidens with red Geranium and white Lantana in the background:

I've started collecting plants that I want for my nectar bar bed that hopefully will be created this autumn - as I need a 'helper' 😀 to clear the turf and prep the ground so that I can plant. It's annoying to buy the plants larger like this as the price is ridiculous, but buying them in season is often the only way to be sure of finding the plants that you want, and to be sure of the colours of the flowers. Oh well, at least the bed will look good from next year as some of the plants are quite mature.

There is a lot of watering to do though; often I need to water these plants twice a day as they dry out so quickly. 

Lavender, Nepeta, Perovskia and in the foreground, a really lovely purple Sedum called 'Dazzleberry'. The other Sedum in the glazed pot was left here for us! I also have Gaura and yet another Sedum hiding behind the pillar.

Salvia 'Hot Lips' and 'Amethyst Lips':

Next photo - Perovskia, Nepeta and Salvia guaranitica (which I hadn't realised were actually shrubs that grow to about 1.5 metres!). So I will plant these two beauties (the ones at the front) at each end of the bed.

I'm going to add some herbs to this bed, including Rosemary which flowers in the late winter, and bulbs for early spring flowers for the pollinators. Hopefully there will be about 9-10 months' worth of flowers for them. The Perovskia in particular is already covered in buzzy bees nectaring on the blooms. 🐝🐝🐝

The pool looking inviting on a lovely day (that's the robot in there cleaning it - it's just like a robot vacuum!):

We have been enjoying all the fields full of sunflowers around here, and I've been wanting to take photos for weeks, but it's hard to find somewhere to pull over when you are on a main road! Finally we found a place where we could stop, although the flowers were just starting to go over, but there were still some individual heads that were perfect. Honey bees were enjoying the pollen and nectar. I have other photos I will feature in another post later. 😀🌻🌻🌻

The rest of the garden is coming along fine, although I still haven’t seen a butterfly on my new Buddleia. The herb bed has been full of colour and bees enjoying the flowers, which has been great as I can see most of it through the kitchen window. The greengage was so loaded in fruit a few weeks back that I took about six bags around to various neighbours, and met some of them whilst doing so, which was nice. The neighbours whose house we look out over from our kitchen window gave us a bag of tomatoes last week, just at a point when we had no ripe tomatoes ourselves, so that worked out well! Covid has prevented us getting to know anyone around here other than exchanging a bonjour in passing. I still don’t feel like socialising with people I don’t know indoors though. You can't really say "Would you like to come around for a coffee, but you can only come if you've been vaccinated". :-/ Maybe next year.

Friday, 13 August 2021

Exploring the Montagne Noire part 2

This post is a continuation of my previous post here.

We came down the mountain a little to an altitude of 770m to the lake of Laprade-Basse, where I had read that there was a boardwalk and a peat bog, but I had no idea whereabouts on the 6km around the lake walk it was. We pulled up beside a parking area where I could see an info board, and as luck would have it - we were there - at the right place! This boardwalk and bog are actually beside/around the very small lake at the northern end of a much larger lake, only formed in the 1980s as a reservoir for drinking water, agricultural use and for producing electricity via the barrage. The road forms the barrier between the two lakes.

This was a lovely walk, nearly all flat, a perfect temperature and no more than about 1km!

There were plenty of boards giving info about various flora and fauna seen in this area and explaining all about peat bogs. This is an area classed as an "Espace Naturel Sensible" - the equivalent of a Site of Special Scientific Interest in the UK. Full information about the bog can be found here, a really good 11 page pdf. 

At the end of the pdf I discovered info I didn't know - that our department, Aude, is the richest in France for nesting birds, and amongst the three top departments for flora! It shouldn't surprise me really, given that we are one of the rare departments that has mountainous areas in the Pyrenees and then the mini mountains of the Montagne Noire and the Corbieres, the sea, both chalk and acid soil, and flora reflecting both Mediterranean and Atlantic climatic influences, so a huge range of habitats for fauna and flora. 

We saw a number of these dragonflies which we found out were Keeled Skimmers (Orthetrum coerulescens), another tick off the dragonfly list!

Lysimachia of some sort. It's beautiful.

Looking towards the divide between the two lakes and where the parking area was.

There were plenty of carp:

This area was very interesting and the board explained it all.

In short, it explained that peat bogs need management otherwise they get taken over by forest which dries them out and they disappear. What happens to start with is that certain grasses such as the one shown on the info board (Molinia caerulea) and willow start to appear; these start to dry out the bog which allows for other plants and trees to start to encroach the then less wet areas.

What is shown here in the fenced off area in the middle is a patch of bog that has been cleared (with the help of students) of the grass and willow. I could see water in that patch, but not where the Molinia is growing.

I was too close to get it all in one photo - this picture shows a willow growing in amongst the Molinia grasses. 

The lovely fluffy plant on the right is Meadowsweet, although it was labelled as Spirea ulmaria, not Filipendula ulmaria which seems to be the most common Latin name for it. I guess like so many plants it must have changed its name!

On the walk back along the road towards the parking area there were lots of butterflies around the grass verges so I took my time taking photos, of course!

Male Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

Left: a Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus), top right: a Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) and bottom right: a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).

After that, we came down the mountain some more in the direction of home, to the village of Brousses at an altitude of about 400m. It couldn't have been more different from the lake! Now we were back in the now familiar garrigue; it was much hotter and very much drier as well. However this was an acid garrigue, as shown by the amount of flowering heathers. Also seen, but past their flowering, was the Sage-leaved Rock Rose, (Cistus salviifolius) and the Butterfly/Papillon Lavender (Lavandula stoechas), both indicators of acid soil.

This was a thankfully short walk too, about 1.5km. The name of the walk was 'Le Sentier du Granite', as the ground was very rocky with big lumps of granite all over the place. Juniper and the low growning Kermes Oak are familiar plants on the garrigue as seen in the following image.

On the path K spotted these two beetles digging in some holes. We spent some time watching and trying to figure out what they were doing (not having any idea what they were). A bit of research lead me to blister beetles, possibly Mylabris variabilis. The life cycles of blister beetles is very interesting as some lay their eggs in the nests of solitary bees so their beetle larvae would eat the food that the bee has left for its own larvae (and maybe the beetle larva would eat the bee larva as well). Some larvae crawl out of their underground chambers and up onto a flower, where they will climb onto a feeding bee and hitch a ride back to the hive, where they will live off bee eggs and pollen! Mylabris lay their eggs in the nest (ootheca) of grasshoppers, and the beetle larvae eat the eggs (and maybe larvae) of the grasshopper. All thoroughly interesting. In the second photo, at the bottom, you can see the beetle coming back out of the hole covered in soil and dust.

Finally, a picture of an old granite quarry. X marks the spot! Actually that is a footpath sign saying don't go this way. 😀

The end of the day was a little disappointing as we intended to visit Montolieu, a little town famous for its 15 book stores. But could we park? You gotta be joking. We tried the two well out of town car parks as well as all through the town, which is quite spread out up a hill. Not a chance - of course it was late July and full on tourist season which we had forgotten about! It looks amazing, a little like Minerve, perched up high with a gorge along one side and a bridge which crossed over the gorge. So we will come back in the autumn when hopefully most of the tourists have gone home! 😀

I'm looking forward to exploring more of the Montagne Noire now - it's not that far from home and as shown in these two blog posts, has a huge wealth of habitats and scenery. We both really enjoyed this day out! 😀

Friday, 6 August 2021

Exploring the Montagne Noire Part 1

We have been meaning to get up into the mountains for ages, and now that holiday season is upon us, it's better to avoid the coast and keep away from the crowds.

As we have only explored a tiny part of the Montagne Noir, yet we look out at it every day from our house, that was the destination we chose. After some research on places to visit, we headed for the highest point to start with - again we can see that from the house. Sensibly we left Mary Moho at home and set off in the car - a good thing after having navigated some of the smaller roads, especially through little villages!

On the way, we stopped beside a pretty mountain stream to have a look - you just never know when it's a Dipper type river what you might see - but no, no Dippers in sight, however... lots of lovely butterflies enjoying the wild buddleia bushes.

Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius):

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia):

Once at the top of the Pic de Nore (altitude 1,211m) we had an amble around. The building here is a transmission tower and is visible from a long way away. Wildflowers were everywhere! It must be very windy up here as many of the plants I know to be normally much taller such as Knapweed were very short, like most mountain flowers. Certainly the temperature reduced by about 5C from lower down. Later on in the afternoon it was so hot I think we should have done our itinerary the other way round!

Knapweed (Centaurea, pink flower, don't know which species), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium, white flower) and Jasione Montagne, blue flower, which has many common names, one of which is Sheep's Bit Scabious, although it is not related to Scabious. I used to see this plant around the coast in Brittany.

Red and white markers beside the road for when it is covered in snow, and blue Campanula of some sort.

A shame that it was so hazy, that we could not make out the Pyrenees at all! I think here we are looking towards the Haut Languedoc range to the south.

Parasol mushrooms:

The paler pink flower is Scabious, which is flowering everywhere at the moment. Around home it has lasted a long time as we are getting a decent amount of rain this summer, so the countryside inland is still quite green.

Female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) and a bee on Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum). This is a different variety of thyme from that which we see growing on the garrigue (Thymus vulgaris, or Common Thyme) - serpyllum is the one I have in my garden which I grew from seed for the Thyme bank in my Breton garden, and have brought here with me via some self-seeding in pots of other things!

After that we started to head down towards a lake but on the way stopped in a picnic area for lunch. I walked back a little to a wildflower meadow full of Scabious that we had just passed, which you would think would be teeming with butterflies, but really there were very few. I did walk past the first Comma that I think I have seen since I moved here though! There were quite a few Silver-washed Fritillaries in this meadow and some Gatekeepers.

This Silver-washed Fritillary posed for me on the gravel of the parking area near where we had our picnic:

The rest of the day out will be posted in Part 2 another day.