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Thursday, 6 August 2015

Life in the garden over the last few weeks

Sometime during the week I spent mostly indoors after my last chemo, the birds stopped singing. My first time out sitting by the lake I noticed how quiet it was. I hate it when that happens, but then we've had them singing for five months or more, so I shouldn't complain. The swallows are still a-twittering overhead so it's a timely reminder to make the most of them because when they leave in September, it goes really quiet in the garden!

In the veg patch it has all got rather out of control, other than around our few rows of veg. The Cinnabar moths have been happy, as their larvae cover every little groundsel weed and I'm moving them round to fresh plants, as they don't seem to move off searching for fresh food themselves, just sit on defoliated plants. It's an easy kind of weed control, I must admit! 

Cinnabar moth caterpillar (Tyria jacobaeae).

The first lot of lettuce have long since bolted and get given to the chickens who love them and we are onto the next sowing. I sowed some veggie seed myself for the first time this year a few days ago - more spinach and the last of the pak choi seed which I bought in England. It has a sow by date of 2013 and only one germinated from Keith's previous sowing. I only sowed them in 2013 after buying the packet of seed the autumn before. I don't know why English seed seems to have a sow by date of precisely one year after you buy the seed, whereas French seed tends to give you a good five to seven years for most things (which don't actually always last that long).

As far as the courgettes go, we lost trying to keep up with them a long time ago so when their allocated fridge drawer is full, the older ones get composted. Had some barbecued on a skewer last night with whole mushrooms in between, just brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with oregano, delicious! 

I have another grump with my garden centre (Magasin Vert). Remember the Belle de Fontenay 1st early spuds which turned out to be 70% large red spuds like Desirees? Well this tomato which has big to huge fruit, which are yellow now, is labelled Sungold, which is an orange cherry tomato. Sigh. These are actually rather bland tomatoes and I would have appreciated the cherries more. 

Strange tomato which is NOT a cherry!

First carrots! There is a bit of root fly, but we are not leaving
them to become big winter ones, so not really a problem.

I thought I'd see whether growing radishes in July was possible - normally I wait until mid August because our flea beetle problem is usually mostly over by then. But it was not to be and with both these pests the poor plants never got past the little seedling stage. Never mind, we've been buying radishes instead (shock horror!). But they taste as good as home grown, which is often rare with supermarket veggies.

Flea Beetle and a nymph of that bug which eats my brassicas (Eurydema ornata).

The big blowsy flowers were in their element a few weeks ago, but now are looking a bit sad due to the dry soil (no matter how much I water, I cannot water enough). I'm doing the rounds with the hosepipe and currently am back to using mains water, as although we've got about 3/4 capacity of stored water after the dribs and drabs of rain we've had (not enough to water the garden but adds up in the water containers), as there is a drought in France and the departments with water restrictions are ever increasing, I am taking my chances of saving my stored water in case we get watering restrictions here in Ille et Vilaine, so using tap water whilst I still can. Of course it might well rain bucket loads and then I'll be cursing, but it's a risk we take. There's no sign of rain on the horizon and September is always a really dry month, so potentially two more months of watering the garden to go.


Hollyhocks. This plant is 10 foot tall now!




I enjoy sitting by the lake watching the dragon and damselflies and anything else that moves - including the carp, which come to the surface a lot and swim in the shallows in the summer. And pull silly faces.


White Legged Damselflies (Platycnemis pennipes) ovipositing whilst the males
keep a good hold of the females to make sure no other males
get to mate with them before they lay their eggs.

Every now and again when the water level drops in the pond and the muddy and rocky pond bottom is visible, we get a Common Sandpiper visiting. Though having looked at some online images, I am now sure this isn't one, as it doesn't have the CS markings.... in fact after a bit of googling and discussing with my OH, we think it is a Green Sandpiper, which is a new bird for our garden list, now up to 63!

Possibly a Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus).

A rare sighting of a Turtle Dove - that's twice this summer which is pretty good!

Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur).

And a juvenile White Wagtail was playing around on the grass.

Juvenile White Wagtail (Motacilla alba).

I'll finish with some of the butterflies I've been seeing - the hot days are the best and as well as these ones there have been Skippers, the occasional Peacock, one possible Common Blue, and Small Heaths flitting about in the lawn, as well as the ubiquitous Speckled Woods, Cabbage Whites and Meadow Browns.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui).

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni).

Second sighting of a Map (Araschnia levana).

Comma (Polygonia c-album) enjoying the coneflowers.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) with more normal lighting!

A greatly reduced in size Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta),
still able to fly and feed.

OK not a butterfly but it is nice to see the Jersey Tiger moths back again in the daytime as they are quite large and very colourful when they open up their wings!

Jersey Tiger moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria).

Hugely pleased to see the Silver Washed Fritillary back in my garden. I haven't been able to get very close (these are all zoomed in with my SX50) because they are very flitty, but are enjoying the Knapweed and other wild flowers down by my pond.

Not sure if this is the female, but looking pristine.
Argynnis paphia.

A slightly tatty male
Silver Washed Fritillary (
Argynnis paphia).

Silver Washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia).

I'll finish up with this self seeded Marjoram which appeared some years back and I'm very happy to find it has self seeded in the gravel as well. It is a Gatekeeper magnet - they really love this flower as you can see! I count eleven of them and a bumble bee. You may have to open this full size to see them properly. I'm glad to see that Gatekeepers are having as good a year this year as last, and whilst they are common, and everywhere, I still enjoy seeing them!

Gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus) galore!

Lots of photos in this post but then I'm signing out for a week or so because chemo round 9 has started again. My last session will be mid September, so there really is light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully there will still be some nice weather in October for going to the coast again to eat moules frites and wander the coastal heathlands. :-)

I'm also pleased because I've just found a French moth and butterfly site which is quite easy to search with good sized thumbnails, so hopefully it will make my moth IDing easier! I've had the trap out three times in the last week but the vast majority that I've caught I haven't been able to ID yet.... it's like looking for a needle in a haystack and can take hours for each one. I am also able to click on my department and look at the butterflies that have been recorded here - good grief, there have been the following blue butterflies seen here - Mazarine, Adonis, Silver Studded and Idas!!! Mind you, it doesn't say when or how many - might have been one of each, ever. :-)


  1. fab pictures as always. I have never seen a map butterfly

    1. Thanks Red - the Map butterfly is a continental species and I live just outside their breeding range, so happy to see them a couple of times a year!

  2. Hi Mandy, great pics, and also enjoyed reading about your moth traps. Good that your health is better and that you are starting to see the end of the chemo. Just arrived in Brittany, seen Swallowtail butterfly and hummingbird hawkmoths so got the camera out which made a change from mowing and cultivating courgette/marrows. Oh and no rain please :-D

    1. Hi Ian and thanks! Dare I ask how big your marrows were? :-) You are on hols so no rush to do the gardening chores..... surprised your grass needs mowing but you are probably up the wet end of Brittany. Some of my lawned area hasn't grown for two months - too hot and dry.

      Great to hear you've been visited by some cool Lepidoptera that you wouldn't and probably wouldn't (respectively) see at home. Would be nice to see your photos. Have fun! :-)

    2. Hi Mandy, Marrows are 17". I am in Central Brittany, I guess its been dry here as my potted Clematis is completely dead, and the grass, considering the last time it was cut - 10 weeks ago is not bad, still get mower through it - I was expecting worse as I missed out a visit here. I haven't put pics anywhere, I think you said you were on FB? although I don't use that much.

    3. That's a decent size - do you still eat them that big? I prefer them around 6"! But you get a lot more of them when you keep picking them. I'm a bit surprised you would have a plant in a pot when you are not there to water it. I understand needing to mow after 10 weeks - time has flown by because it doesn't feel that long since you were last here!

      K's mown a couple of times just to remove the hawkbit seedheads which grow so well when the grass stops growing, it's good for the bees but tickles the ankles annoyingly. But it always comes back. Now the Queen Anne's Lace is flowering happily in my brownest area of lawn. :-)

      Yes I'm on facebook and post photos there too, but not so often this summer. Some people there like to read my blog and comment there so I post links to the blog posts there. No matter if your photos are kept privately - I just wondered if you had put any on Twitter or somewhere where I could see them, as you have taken some cracking photos round your local area which you put on your website.

    4. The plant in a pot came with the house Mandy, its been happy until now so we left it, its on a trellis on the wall so not easy to untie. There is now a shoot coming up so if it does survive I guess we will have to decide what to do with it. Not a marrow fan but will need to do something I guess, those climbing Courgettes I bought by mistake are worth growing as unlike the other courgette plants that are sporting marrows they have not.

      Forgot to say, I took your advice on the pollinator strip and sowed seed last visit in May, it now looks really good, my knowledge of flowers is poor but there are poppies and I think Borage flowers.... the insects love it so thanks to you for inspiring me to do it.

      Not added any shots on Twitter or Facebook lately need to at some point.

    5. Oh glad to hear the clemmie is shooting again - tough old plant! I'm happy you have sowed pollinator seeds and that you've got a patch of pretty flowers which I'm sure is full of bees and hoverflies and butterflies. If you want to find me on facebook this is a link to me (too many people with my name)
      If you want to friend me then I'll know it's you - (so long as your name is really Ian!) otherwise you can always contact me privately using the Contact Me form up the top of the blog page and give me a link to you. I'd love to see your pollinator strip.

  3. Gorgeous photos - your garden must be looking lovely at the moment. Wonderful selection of butterflies too :)

    I do like your courgette idea - we're growing some this year so will try that. I sometimes remove the seeds to make a boat shape, bake until soft, then add a mixture of grated cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle with cayenne and put back into the oven until cheese has melted.

    We've grown some marjoram this year and I've noticed how much the Gatekeepers love the flowers - been a good year for them here this year too :) Glad to hear you've found a local moth id site - should help enormously. As I've said before id does get easier the more you do :)

    Hope the next round of chemo doesn't knock you around too much. Take care.

    Best wishes Caroline

    1. Thanks Caroline - well some of the garden looks lovely but I always think mine is more of a spring garden, even though I have plenty of summer and autumn flowering plants too. It just looks more of an overgrown jungle by this time of year - I need to do some serious sorting out and replace plants that need too much water with drought resistant ones, but of course that involves a lot of time and energy.

      So that oregano or marjoram is going to be chopped up a bit and spread out to other places as it suits my dry soil! I have another marjoram which the Gatekeepers like too but it is more of a sprawling one which doesn't look very pretty when flowering but is bigger leafed and probably more of the culinary type.

      I'm always looking for new courgette recipes so will try your one next time I'm doing some baked veggies or anything in the oven.

      Too early to say how I'm feeling post chemo, still at the tired lethargic stage. Thank you. xx

  4. A lovely post Mandy and everything in the garden looks beautiful. Fab about the Turtle Dove and a picture too! I am jealous :o) The Map looks very like our White Admiral doesn't it? Funny about your birds going quiet- mine have just started to sing again, Robins, Dunnocks, Greenfinches, Nuthatches all in noisy voice now xx

    1. Thanks very much CT! A few times when I've seen the Map I've thought it was a White Admiral at first until I got close up. Still to see a W. Admiral around here, although they do exist in this department. There are plenty of chips and tweets in the garden, just no actual bird song. Though I heard the Tawnies hooting last night! xx

  5. You have a lot more patience than me when trying to ID anything. There always seems to be too muc to do here and my mind wanders.....

    Fingers crossed that this bout of chemo doesn't floor you too hard. Sending positive vibes

    1. Hi D-woman - thing is I am so curious I want to know what everything is that I come across! I have spent probably hundreds of hours over the last 3 years or so trying to ID insects and spiders! Moths are as difficult as solitary bees and wasps as there are too many of them and too many that look alike. When I do manage to ID something though I get a real buzz out of it. :-)

      Not too floored at the moment, we will see. I always hit my bed when I come home from the hospital the two days I get the chemo as it makes me really tired. Then I spent half the night reading last night cos I wasn't tired, which will probably mean I'll need to sleep this afternoon! Can't win. :-) Thanks.

  6. Wonderful post Mandy with lots to see, love all the Butterflies and glad you have found some local stuff on Moths, caught my first Elephant Hawk Moth, not in the trap but just by putting the light out and the moths land on the house wall, I keep popping out to see what's about, just came out at the right time.
    Hope you get through this next round OK and yes the end is in sight... Take care XX
    Amanda xx

    1. Thanks a lot Amanda! So pleased you found an Ele Hawkmoth - aren't they gorgeous?! I'll have to try that with the light outside my back door sometime too, only thing is dark is an hour later here than it is in England although that's not so bad now, but I couldn't do it in June as it's not properly dark here until nearly 11pm, by which time I want to go to bed! :-) xx

  7. we do have birds in the new garden, but nothing like the constant white noise in Porterville. The eerie day it went DEAD quiet, and then all hell broke loose. A sparrowhawk must have caught a songbird.

    How different it is here. The same plants moved in pots, half of them planted in the ground. No longer on life support watering. Just ticking over with the post in waiting.

    Wish you an easy time thru the last round of chemo. Then a fresh start in your life.

    1. That's so true, you get so used to noise that it's when the noise stops that you notice! I've lived by busy roads in London and didn't notice the noise at all. When we move house half our plants go with us too. Thanks Diana, I'm looking forward to the fresh start. :-)

  8. Fantastic photos. Your garden looks so pretty and i love the Turtle Dove. I hope your next lot of chemo goes ok, sending you more positive vibes.xx

    1. Thanks very much, Deb. Still feeling tired but not sick, which is great! :-) xx

  9. Hi Mandy, its a Green Sandpiper and the SW Fritillary is a female. I love the Sunflower shot and I still haven't seen a Painted Lady this year.{:(

    1. Thanks for the confirmation on both, Roy. I only have one other shot of the sandpaper which has a pale eyestripe so was a bit confusing as this photo doesn't! It also has a very white rump in flight because I saw it the next day but it flew straight off! I hope you get some Painted Ladies - I've only seen one Small Tortoiseshell this year - some years are like that, though. :-)

    2. Sandpiper! Damn you predictive text!! :-)

    3. Yes Sandpaper Mandy, that was a "Rough" mistake,
      but you smoothed it out eventually.{:))

  10. nice article Mandy , I hope it gets me out there gardening , mine is in such poor shape I hate to look at it :)

    1. Note the pics of individual flowers, Dan, not the whole beds. It's a bit of an overgrown jungle in places, now getting rather dried out! :-) Thank you. xx

  11. OMG my heart just skipped a beat at the shear beauty of it all. Thank You Mandy for sharing your beautiful world with us