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Friday, 26 April 2013

French Friday - Magnolia time at the Parc du Thabor, Rennes

I was in Rennes last week and went for a walk in my favourite park, taking my superzoom camera thinking I'd have a practice shooting birds, as they seem to be so much tamer in public parks than in the wild. As it happened, I was far more captivated by the sight of the magnificent Magnolia blooms and other tree blossoms, not to mention the formal spring bedding in the French garden which is reaching its peak now. I did capture a few birds which I've shown at the end of this post, but the flowers steal the show.

I hadn't actually intended to take photos for my blog; it wasn't until I downloaded the photos several days later that I realised I had taken so many! I wish now I'd taken a few more of the formal French garden, but if you'd like to see more pictures of, and info about, this park, and the beautiful buildings both within and surrounding it, I already featured it last year in this post which I made during Rhododendron season in May. In fact it is one of the most popular posts featured in the sidebar here.

This is such a beautiful park which is brimming with colour from April through to September. June will be the month that the early Roses start to bloom; the remontant varieties will continue all through to autumn and from high summer onwards there are the Dahlias too. Not to mention the botanical section and the formal bedding!

I won't caption these photos as I don't know the varieties of Magnolia and there seemed to be so many!

Below is a typical spring scene, with Magnolias at the top, the middle layer of colour are Pieris and I think Camelias, with Daffodils just flowering on and on in the foreground.

A couple of views of the formal French garden in front of the Orangerie.

An ornamental cherry of some sort!

This is one of my favourites, due to the different colours coming from the various stages of opening of the buds through to flowers. I'm pretty sure this is a Crab Apple. Now I wish I had one of these at home!

I did manage to capture a few birds, but these are fairly common birds.

Top: Left: Mr Chaffinch Right: Mrs Chaffinch looking coy
Middle: a Robin singing and looking a bit ruffled by the breeze
Bottom: Left: Jay and Right: Song Thrush 

You can click on these collaged photos (or indeed any of the images) to view larger. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Blossoms and butterflies

My fruit tree blossoms look quite meagre compared to their more showier ornamental cousins that I see elsewhere, but I still bask in their glory and hope this spell of dry weather continues so the bees can do their job of pollinating. It would be nice to have some plums and pears this year! Cherry blossom is just starting to open now and the season is over so fast that I like to capture it to look back on. Some days have been fairly cloudy or hazy blue so I took some more pictures yesterday whilst the sky was a lovely blue, as that shows off the blossom so much better.

My only flashy ornamental Cherry a few days ago

Yesterday: the blossoms are opening up fast and it's looking like my cover photo

One of my Plum trees with Forsythia behind.
Spindly, I do try to prune 'by the book'
but really they just grow how they please!

Forsythia - not strictly blossom but just putting this here anyway because I can,
and yes I played with a 'soft focus' effect!

Plum blossom against grey sky

So much better with blue sky!

My Greengage is a large tree and I only get a good harvest every 3-4 years due to disease,
or the fruit not getting pollinated, like last year when it rained all through blossom time!

Greengage against blue sky

A Plum blossom on the ground reflected in a dewdrop on the grass.
Kicking myself for not having removed the blade of grass in the foreground!

I love the pink of Peach blossom

Strange Peach fruit!

Now, butterflies. I already have hundreds of photos of most of these common butterflies and have featured them here many a time..... but I can't resist the first butterflies of spring, and what I'd like to show here is how tatty some of these butterflies look. All of the butterflies I'm showing here overwinter as adults (i.e. as butterflies) with the exception of the Speckled Wood, which can overwinter as either adult or pupa. I wonder if some get nibbled at whilst in hibernation, or the weather/wind can harm their wings? I hope they have a chance to reproduce. 

The one butterfly looking fresh is my first ever capture of a Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni), not a brilliant shot as I had to really stalk this one carefully and couldn't get close and it was in full sunshine. Brimstones also overwinter as adults and are great fliers and never seem to settle or feed. They do, obviously but I am only aware of them when they are flying by, quickly, and they fly a lot faster than I can follow them about the garden! They are one of the first butterflies to emerge in the spring and this is the only time that I see them, and their pale yellow colouring is a lovely sight. What was interesting here is that this butterfly settled on these leaves, but with its wings held together on its side. I think it was trying to hide from me by blending into the foliage, which they do remarkably well. I was lucky to spot it but had been following its flight path and knew it was here somewhere. Gotcha!

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)
I think this is male as it has a brighter yellow colouring
but they all look yellow to me when I see them flying by
(or maybe I've only ever seen males!)

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) with a tiny spider top left corner!

Peacock (Inachis io) feeding on a Dandelion.
I took this shot just because it hardly had any hind wings left!
I've already seen several Peacocks this year.

First Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) of the year,
which I spotted on corrugated iron covering some of our firewood!

It too has some chunks missing from its wings!

Elsewhere here in the garden and the surrounding countryside the change during this last week, since our first warm sunny day last Sunday, has been incredible. Daily I see more green, more flowers, more blossom and I'm now thinking, slow down! Oh that we could have a time freeze on blossom time and that first fresh foliage for a few weeks..... but I also want warmth and sun for my body and soul. Yes I know, I can't have it all!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Emerging green and veg patch update

I just knew there would be a total explosion of swelling leaf buds and fresh young leaves unfurling just as soon as we had some warm weather. Oh the joy of working outside in a T-shirt (albeit with a cool breeze) and we even didn't light the woodburner at all yesterday! As with every year, some trees in the warmer parts of the garden are ahead of those in the frost pockets, even though they are the same species. But that's nice. Who wants it all to happen at once? It's such a joyful time I like to see it spread out over a few weeks.

One of the most obvious of these trees laden with leaf buds is the Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). I have two, although the original owners of this house had planted a whole row of them, most of which had to be removed, as these are large trees often planted in parkland, and require a lot of space. I tend to look towards the future and the next owners of Chateau Moorhen when working out spacing for planting trees; others think only of now, which then leads to problems 10, 20 or 30 years down the line.

For the moment though these trees are still juveniles and probably will remain so during the time that we live here, although I am glad that they are mature enough now to flower, but flowers will come later after the leaves have opened.

I had to show the blue sky!
'Sticky buds' (the brown scales that protect the leaf bud during winter)
opening up and the emerging leaf bud is growing daily.

More advanced, this one is just starting to part
into the separate leaflets of this large palmate leaf

I hadn't meant for this to be an educational post about Horse Chestnuts but I've just been reading about sticky buds as I remember us calling them that from childhood. It seems to be a form of protection (known as scales) around many leaf buds on various trees during winter, but it is so much more noticeable on Horse Chestnuts because the leaves and buds are enormous. I expect as kids we would touch them and remark upon the stickiness, but that was a long time ago and I've forgotten!

OK, so onto other smaller leaves emerging. Young trees are generally getting their foliage before mature trees, and in the case of the Elm suckers (which are everywhere) leaves are already appearing, and the 'forest floor' areas of my little woodland will appear green well before the tall trees above get their leaves. For the moment the woodland area is filled with light which allows early wildflowers to bloom, but in a couple of months time will be a dark imposing place, apart from the few clearings that we have which allow sunlight, or dappled sunlight, to get through.

Elm leaves

A spindly Mirabelle Plum beside the pond.
It never has fruit but I like the early blossom and leaves.

Wild Spindleberry (Euonymus europaeus).
Unfortunately this kind doesn't have colourful leaves in autumn
and is very invasive (birds dropping seeds?), but as this grows
in my really wild 'don't even rip out the brambles' area,
I leave it be.

The wild Euphorbias (E. amygdaloides)
in the woodland are flowering now
and their fresh lime green colour with purple stems is so vibrant

Flowers and blossom I will feature in another post as for now I am rejoicing in the emerging leaves, but wanted to show this flowering evergreen tree. The Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is far more commonly known as a hedging plant, and as such never has a chance to flower. I much prefer it left to grow wild as a tree, because these flowers are beautiful and have a lovely scent. New plants can appear in other places as those flowers turn into large black berries which birds eat, so seed is distributed due to bird droppings, but that has never been much of a problem here and is far less of a nuisance than the Elder saplings which emerge absolutely everywhere, thanks to the birds!

Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) in bloom

So onto the veg patch. What are these flowers then, you may be asking? Well these are weeds :-) Four out of five of my cultivated plots are all ready to rock 'n' roll with new planting, but this last plot contains Purple Sprouting Broccoli and purple Curly Kale, which we are still harvesting, and has not been hoed for at least 6 months due to incessant rain. Now the weeds are flowering and are a source of nectar for the pollinators, and as I have no need for this plot until much later (it will be mostly tomatoes and courgettes here) then the weeds can stay for the moment. Anyway, they are pretty.

Speedwell, one of the many Veronica species, but I'm not sure which one.
This one is low growing.

Purple Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) on left,
Common Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis) on the right.
This is such a pretty 'weed' that I often leave it to grow in flower beds
then just weed it out when it is past its best!

Strawberry flowers all of a sudden!
These are 'escapees' from the veg patch and have
now ended up amongst cultivated
herbs and flowers!

The early PSB 'Rudolph' has been feeding us on and off for a couple of months, but doesn't have the real burst of growth like the later varieties such as 'Red Arrow' in the photos below. From now on we'll be having a feeding frenzy of PSB until we can no longer keep up and then the flowers will open up for the benefit of the honey bees, which adore Brassica flowers. I have lost a few PSB plants due to voles eating the roots in situ; my third no-name variety are really stunted as something munched on the roots back in the autumn, which may have been grubs.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli 'Red Arrow' and a little tinker who thinks I can't see her

Watching the birds? Behind her is my 'Wildflowers for Pollinators Meadow', Year 2.

The Wildflower strip has been left to see what the perennial and biennial plants turn out to be, and to see how attractive they are to pollinators. Anything perennial that I particularly like can be transplanted elsewhere at the end of the season, but I don't yet know what everything is. Unfortunately some plants have been lost due to voles eating their roots. You can just see a few flowers out already, featured below. I haven't seen any pollinating insects on them yet but quite frankly, who cares? They are early flowering and they are very pretty!

Yellow Wallflower (Erysimum). But is this the biennial or the perennial kind?

Orange Wallflower

As for this year's veggies, I have so far only sown parsnips and some lettuce seeds, and finally finished getting in my shallots and onion sets. Today is spud planting day but it's cloudy again and cooler, and the forecast whilst fairly sunny does show more average April temps (about 14/15C) than we had on Sunday and Monday, but I can live with that!

Finally, just because I can, here's a gratuitous pic of a couple of the ducks just chillin' and floating about on the pond (even though this pic was taken about a week ago in slightly drizzly weather!).

Doris at the back and Freckles at the front. Life is good when you are a pampered duck.

Whilst on the subject of birds, our Swallows are back properly now with plenty swooping over the garden. I was even standing in the veg patch this morning when a couple landed to take some soil for their nests. Of course I didn't I have a camera with me, because a few minutes later I saw some Long Tailed Tits collecting duck feathers to line their nest. If I had had a camera, none of this woud have happened in front of me, believe me. :-)

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The garden in which time stood still

We've had late starts to spring before, but this is the first time that I've seen the garden start to spring to life quite early and then go into a sort of suspended animation! It's hardly been worth sharing photos of 'what's flowering now' as it's been the same plants for a month. Very little has changed over the last 3 weeks and what change there has been, has been so slow it has been barely noticeable (with the sole exception of the Forsythia, whose yellow blooms are hard not to notice). So time to post these pictures now as I see in the last few days a perceptible difference, just due to suddenly having more normal April weather - not yet warm, but a lot warmer than cold, with a bit of sun interspersed with heavy showers. Warmth is apparently coming our way from Sunday onwards and then I expect the garden will change dramatically over the course of the next week and I really hope for some riots of fruit tree blossom against a backdrop of blue sky...... I can hope, can't I?!

So for now I share my March garden pics, most of which were taken during the last week of the month. More pictures, fewer words.

Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa)
taken a few weeks ago and has only just
finished flowering

The first flush of flowers from Aubretia
growing through a large lavender

A self seeded Oriental Hellebore flowers for the first time;
this is a paler pinky purple than the others that I have.
I love that they can cross, just like Aquilegias, and you never know what colour
you are going to get! Much like the multi coloured primroses in the background -
now I have far more pink ones that I had a few years ago.

Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles) in the background
with Photinia x fraseri 'Pink Marble' foliage in the foreground

Various Euphorbias by the steps leading up to the garage

Euphorbia Characias

The Euphorbias have given a sunny appearance to the front garden
whilst the weather has been miserable

Spot the little spider!

'That' purple leafed Prunus tree, which sadly was never really a
blast of colour as the leaves come soon after the flowers -
but this year it's been both seeming to happen at the same time.

I never tire of the catkins on
the Corkscrew Hazel
(Corylus avellana contorta)

So here's some more catkins!

A bit of blue sky that day!
Lake seen through a Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles)

These last two are poor quality due to being taken through double glazing but highlights how little has changed, and shows we still had some snow even at the end of March.

30th March - Hellebores, Primroses, and still
the first daffodils which have lasted for ages!

9th April - same flowers still in bloom, including 'that' Prunus tree again.
Against the trellis is my Honeysuckle which blew off the wall,
trellis and all, during a storm last year.

And so far the only sign of any fresh green leaves are on my Hawthorn, seen here against the backdrop of my big old oak tree. I'm so looking forward to seeing leaves again!