With sleet falling as I write this and yet more snow and sub-zero temperatures forecast for the week ahead, gardening in France so far this winter has been impossible. Whilst my fingers (and legs!) are itching to get out into the garden, due to the current French winter conditions I find myself relegated to sitting at my computer, poring over gardening books, magazines and seed catalogues, constantly changing the ideas for my garden in the year ahead.
For most of us, gardening in France, means one thing; a big garden to plan and fill with shrubs and flowers. Whilst wildlife in France is, I’d say, more abundant than in the UK, we still can not be complacent and one thing I want to make sure I do this year is to attract as much wildlife as possible into my French garden; birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects.
Below is a list of plants and flowers I have put together which will help provide year long nectar for pollinators and vital food for birds during the autumn and winter months. There are so many plants I could have chosen, but these are my favourites, which will not only help the French wildlife, but will also make your French garden look beautiful all year long. All the plants and flowers are readily available here in France.
Mahonia x media ‘Winter sun’ – Spikes of vivid yellow flowers appear on this evergreen shrub from November to March. The flowers are followed in early spring by deep purple berries which are hugely enjoyed by the birds and perfectly fill the early season feeding gap. Plant in full or partial shade and in well-drained or moist soil.
Pyracantha angustifolia ‘Saphyr red’ French name: Buisson-ardent ‘Saphyr rouge.’ This is an evergreen shrub with small white flowers in spring which are enjoyed by bees, butterflies and other insects. The flowers are followed in autumn by a profusion of orange-red berries which are adored by birds. Plant in full sun or partial shade and in well-drained soil.
Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea . French name: Berberis Thunbergii pourpre, épine-vinette de Thunberg naine pourpre. A dwarf, deciduous shrub with sumptuous deep purple leaves which turn blaze red in autumn. Pale yellow flowers in spring provide pollen for bees and other pollinating insects and are followed by deep red berries which are enjoyed by birds. Plant in full sun or partial shade and in well-drained soil.
Sambucus nigra ‘Black lace.’ French name: Sureau ‘Black lace.’ Deep purple, almost black leaves contrast beautifully with the pale pink, musk scented flowers which adorn the shrub from May to June. In autumn blackish-red berries appear which attract birds and provide a late autumn snack. Plant in full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
Climbers (Plantes grimpantes)
Honeysuckle ‘Dropmore scarlet’ Lonicera x brownii ‘Dropmore scarlet.’ French name: Chèvrefeuille ‘Dropmore scarlet’. The highly scented flowers of any honeysuckle will attract bees and butterflies to your garden, with the berries produced afterwards providing a lovely source of food for birds. I have chosen Dropmore scarlet as it flowers from mid summer into autumn, providing a good source of nectar late in the season and then autumn berries for birds. Plant in full sun or partial shade and in moist but well-drained soil.
Perennials (plantes vivaces)
Sedum ‘Autumn joy’ (Herbstfreude group). French name: Orpin pourpre ‘Autumn joy’. Above succulent green leaves, flat clusters of flowers change colour throughout the seasons, going from pink, to dusky-bronze until they finally reach a coppery–red colour in autumn. These flowers provide an invaluable source of late season nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects. The seeds found in the dried flower heads then also provide a wonderful source of autumn/winter food for birds. Plant in full sun and in well-drained soil.
Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen.’ French name Achillée ‘Cerise Queen.’ Flat plate-like deep magenta flowers appear above ferny foliage attracting bees and butterflies from May well into autumn. Plant in full sun in moist but well-drained soil.
Crocosmia. My all time favourite flower, flowering from August to October, even November if you are lucky and attracting butterflies, bees and hoverflies in abundance. You can choose from the 100cm tall, scarlet flowering giant Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ or one of the smaller 70cm varieties which have more delicate, yellow, orange or orangey-red flowers such as Crocosmia ‘Star of the East.’ Plant in full sun or partial shade and in moist but well-drained soil.
Foxglove, Digitalis. With flowers which fill the metre high stems, this short-lived perennial is a nectar filled heaven for pollinators. From whites and creams to the deepest pinks, there’s a foxglove to suit any border. Happy in partial shade, foxgloves will light up your garden and entice pollinators from June to July.
Lavender ‘Munstead Purple’ French name: Lavande vraie ‘Munstead.’ This lavender is highly scented, highly floriferous, and highly reliable. In addition it produces rich pollen and nectar all summer long making it irresistible to bees and butterflies; heaven for all. Plant in full sun in well-drained soil.
Annuals and biennials (plantes annuelles et bisannuelles)
Verbena Bonariensis. French name: Verveine de Buenos Aires. (Hardy annual). On top of a tall, transparent shape, clusters of small purple flowers appear in June to September. Adored by bees, butterflies and other insects, this elegant flower is best planted in swathes throughout the border. Plant in full sun in moist, well-drained soil.
Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens.’ (hardy annual)French name: Grand Cérinthe or Mélinet. With silvery green leaves and beautiful nodding, purple bell flowers, this is one of my favourite flowers for attracting bees and butterflies who adore feasting on its honey-like nectar. This plant flowers constantly from May to August and freely self seeds making it an easy to grow plant for any garden. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil, and then just leave it to do the rest itself.
Rudbeckia. Flowering from July into October, any Rudbeckia will provide important late season nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects. My favourites are the golden-yellow Rudbeckia speciosa ‘Goldsturm’ and the deep crimson Rudbeckia hirta ‘Cherry Brandy.’ Plant in full sun or partial shade, and in moist well-drained soil.
Nicotiana sylvestris. French name: Tabac géant or Tabac sylvatique. (Hardy annual) This is a tall, stately plant which produces long, white trumpet flowers from June until the first frosts. It is during the evenings that this plant truly comes into its own with the flowers opening and emitting the most wonderful, heavenly scent attracting evening feeders including hummingbird moths. The plant is easy to grow from seed. Plant in full sun or partial shade and in moist, well-drained soil.
Sunflower, Helianthus annsuus. French name: Soleil. From 1ft to 12ft, from the brightest yellow to the deepest crimson, whichever style of sunflower you love, they are equally adored by bees, butterflies and of course birds in autumn when their centres turn into huge, natural feeding stations full of plump seeds. Plant in full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
Whichever plants and flowers are your favourite, it’s vital that we all try to do what we can now to help out the local wildlife and to keep it going strong. I’d love to hear about your favourite plants and flowers for attracting and helping out French wildlife, so please feel free to leave your comments in the box below.