Bees and other busyness

I am a woman possessed. The air this week has exploded with a myriad flying insects, and with my ears tuned in for the merest suspicion of a hum or a buzz, I am darting around the garden in search of bees like a mad thing. I’m beginning to realise what a mammoth task I’ve set myself in trying to identify all the bees in the garden, there are already so many different species around and we haven’t even got to the time of year where an array of female workers and males are thrown into the mix. I think I’ve added a White-bellied or Banded mining bee (Andrena gravida), a Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) and an Orange-tailed mining bee (Andrena haemorrhoa) to my list but think is the operative word here since confident identification escapes me most of the time. I’m dipping into a wealth of excellent resources such as Steven Falk’s incredible collection of photographs but even then, not everything is helpful; for instance, the fact that honeybees have hairy eyeballs is an interesting one but doesn’t move me forward since that is the one species I can already identify correctly by sight and sound every time. I’ve also discovered they are one of the most accommodating species when it comes to photos, too, as demonstrated by this week’s ‘cover girl’ enjoying the newly-opened peach blossom.

A big part of the problem is that my subjects just won’t stay still long enough for me to get a good look. I spent ages one morning gazing up into a contorted willow tree where literally hundreds of small solitary bees were dancing and darting amongst the twisted branches . . . but not one would come low enough for me to see, yet alone land and sit still for a moment. Someone was kind enough to pose on a willow branch, though, as if offering me a small-but-perfectly-formed consolation prize . . .

If the bees don’t alight, then I have no chance of attempting an accurate identification. That said, even when they do give me the opportunity to snatch a photo or a good look if the camera isn’t to hand, pinning them down to the correct species is fraught with difficulty. I watched with fascination and absorption as the little bee below worked her way systematically through a dandelion flower but at no point did she present me with a view that would allow me to say with any certainty what species she was. I mean, where on earth do I start?

I just love those antennae! Possibly a White-bellied miner bee? Then again . . . 🤔

I’ve decided I need to keep things simple and approach this task in the same way I would have organised things for my primary school pupils: find the right level of challenge and break it down into bite-sized pieces. By the end of the summer, I would like to feel confident in identifying all the common bumblebees in the garden along with the most numerous solitary bees and beyond that, at least be aware of the main characteristics of different bee families to help me narrow things down a bit. I also need to refer to as many resources as I can and keep an open mind in the process; for instance, I was as sure as I could be that I had been watching an Orange-legged furrow bee this week until I read that they are a late bee and don’t usually emerge this early in the year. However, throwing my research net wider to include a few French sites, I read that in France it is perfectly possible to see these bees out and about now so perhaps I wasn’t mistaken. I also need to keep observing the same species as much as I can, not just in order to be sure of my identification but also to learn about their behaviours. Having spent time watching what I thought was a Tawny mining bee (Andrena fulva), I now think it is actually a Red-tailed mason bee (Osmia bicolor) which is interesting as it nests in empty snail shells and I would say that of all the gardens we’ve ever had, this has to be the one most devoid of snails. Definitely one to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.

I’ve been trying to capture a snap of the feral honeybee colony in action just to give an essence of what is going on at the end of the house. Unfortunately, the view is blocked by the large aerial we inherited, totally useless as we haven’t had a television since 2012 but yet to be removed. Still, hopefully you can see the returning bees clustered under the eaves to the right of the drainpipe from where they file upwards and left to the ‘hive’ entrance, stopping only to exchange messages with the outgoing foragers in the magical waggle dances I never tire of seeing. As a swarm, they would have arrived with a young queen last year and if the number of flying bees is anything to go by, she is certainly prolific. I can only imagine the nest of hanging wax combs secreted deep within the stone walls with their beautiful radiating patterns of brood, pollen and nectar but pressing my ear against the cool tiles on the bathroom wall, I can hear the soft susurration of thousands of tiny wings, fanning to drive water off the nectar and turn it into honey. Given the amount of activity, I’m surprised we haven’t found any lost bees in the bathroom yet but I’m wondering if perhaps nature has taken its course and the bees have plugged the hole with propolis from inside their nest? One thing I am sure of is that given the strength of the colony so early in the season, they are very likely to throw a swarm, probably in May. Many beekeepers spend much time ‘managing’ hives to prevent swarms but they are a natural and advantageous part of the honeybees’ life cycle, aiding propagation and helping to prevent disease; as with so many things, nature knows what it’s doing. We’re happy to let them get on with it.

Where my bee identification is lacking, my knowledge of birds is much greater so I can say with all certainty that a fluid warbling of rapid notes means the blackcaps are back in the garden and the dark robinesque bird flicking its tail to reveal underskirts of scarlet is a redstart, returned to nest with us for another year. The swallows have also arrived, just squeaking in at the end of the month, and as ever I am overjoyed to welcome them back. No cuckoo yet but it won’t be long and I have been listening out for that first evocative call whilst catching up on a pile of garden jobs after our week away in the UK. It’s the start of the silly season with a to-do list as long as my arm, which makes me a very happy bunny: the housework will suffer serious neglect from this point on. I was relieved to find that my tender little plants had coped with my absence but are now at a point where it benefits them to spend the day in the warmth of the tunnel before returning to the house in the evening if night-time temperatures fall into single figures; it’s a tricky time of year. I’m left wondering again how I ever managed without those fat ball buckets, they make the best windowsill cloches ever and now double as handy plant carriers, although the potting bench is now so crowded there is no room for, um, potting.

Sweet pepper plants basking in the free heat of the polytunnel.

Apart from the lovely wrap-around warmth, the tunnel is currently a pleasure to visit as the broad beans are in flower and their gorgeous perfume meets me at the door. I’ve noticed that something has been piercing the flowers at their base to dip into the nectaries without actually climbing inside the flowers; clever stuff, but not very helpful where pollination is concerned. Thankfully, they are partially self-pollinating but insects do contribute to a higher yield so I’m hoping there are a few willing volunteers to crawl inside and do the business.

No problems with the indoor peas; the row isn’t particularly dense but it won’t be long before we are tucking into those little green treasures.

There’s much planting to be done at this time of year, starting with potatoes and onions which for us is always a team effort as it’s a pretty big task. I realise just how lax lazy relaxed I’ve become this season: I haven’t bothered to label the different varieties of pepper and aubergine plants and this week I decided against counting the number of potatoes going into the ground. I might be wrong, but does it really matter? I know the bulk of spuds are ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Blue Danube’ (also know as ‘Blue Sarpo’, an early maincrop potato which makes the best roasties on earth) plus a few free ‘Acoustic’ from the local country store and a handful of special Scottish gift potatoes which I’m very excited about growing. If I can recognise them as seed potatoes then I’ll know them as plants, flowers and crops so why worry about numbers or labels? We’ve opted to use the Not Garden as the main potato patch this year; we’ve worked hard at improving the soil and Roger’s hedge renovation has made a huge difference to the amount of light and air circulation so we’re hoping for a much more successful crop this year . . . and no, I won’t be tucking a layer of mulch around the emerging plants until the soil is good and wet this year, even if that means hauling lots of cans. You live and learn.

It doesn’t look much of a patch in the photo but it’s crammed with enough potatoes to feed us for months.

The Mandala Bed has been an exercise in experimentation right from the start and I see no reason why it shouldn’t continue in the same vein. After all, if food crops fail, we have the insurance of plenty in other places and I think it’s important to keep on pushing boundaries and exploring possibilities in safeguarding our food production in the future. I’ve been planning to try some no-dig potatoes since last year, the idea being to lay down some sheets of cardboard on grass and grow them under hay; however, it occurred to me that I could grow them on the Mandala Bed without any need for cardboard, just sit the chitted potatoes on top of the mulch and cover them in a thick blanket of old hay.

A ‘Charlotte’ seed potato saved from last year’s crop: our favourite second early variety, a fantastic waxy salad potato.

In theory, they should send roots down into what is fast becoming wonderful soil, push plentiful foliage upwards and produce a mass of potatoes on the surface of the soil which can be easily harvested by lifting the hay. We’ll see. It was certainly much easier than planting in the conventional way, although I had to water the hay heavily to hold it down as high winds were forecast and I didn’t want to have to retrieve it from the other end of the garden (as happened with the rhubarb). I planted a mix of ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Blue Danube’ so that I can compare directly in terms of growth, health and yield with what comes out of the Not Garden patch. I had a handful of tiny onion sets left over so I popped them in to fill the bed section; last year, everything went in as pre-sown plants in pockets of compost but as soil is rapidly forming, I’m interested to see how direct sowings do this year. My own little garden laboratory: I love it.

I’m definitely happy with my Pea-Off Rodent experiment, those tubes of young plants haven’t looked back and not a single one has succumbed to beastie attacks. I will certainly carry on collecting cardboard tubes for next year and I think I’ll plant the sweet peas in them, too, as they hate root disturbance. I’ve planted up a couple of wigwams made from hazel poles, one in the Bonfire Circle in the potager and the other in the Mandala Bed as these are areas I’ve earmarked for tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, all of which need some pollinator attention. The sweet peas hated the hot, dry weather last year and were over all too quickly but I’ve planted them in deep pockets of compost and muck as they like plenty of nourishment underneath them and hopefully it will help with moisture retention. I know they will go into a bit of a sulk now, especially as the weather forecast is for that classic April cold (yet again) but with any luck we will have a gorgeous scented show to enjoy later this year.

Hard luck, voles . . . I think I’ve won this round.

Fruit has been a bit of a theme this week and as I eat my way through the last few bags of frozen gooseberries, redcurrants and cherries for breakfast, I’m looking forward to some new additions to the menu this year. I really ought to be pulling a few rhubarb sticks by now but all five plants continued to grow far too much through autumn then collapsed in a pile of mush once the first hard frosts arrived. I covered them in hay to protect them from the worst of the weather and they are coming back strongly now, I just wish they’d hurry up. I made a lasagne bed against the west wall of the Oak Shed a couple of months ago and have bought two vines to plant in it this week: a white ‘Birstaler Muscat’ and a black ‘Muscat Bleu’, both table grapes with excellent reviews. The shed wall is made from galvanised tin and enjoys maximum sunshine from now on so I’m hoping the vines will luxuriate in the warmth as well as cover what is a bit of an eyesore; as metal paint is expensive and packed with unpleasant chemicals I think living camouflage is the best bet. Like the broad beans, vines are self-pollinating but benefit from extra help so I deliberately made the border wide enough to accommodate some of my beloved frivolous flowers, too. 😊 The goji berry and three honeyberries I bought as tiny bare-rooted sticks struggled with the weather last summer but have clung on and put in a tremendous surge of growth in recent weeks; the latter are now covered in creamy tubular flowers which have been visited by Red-tailed and Early bumblebees so hopefully we will have our first crop of berries in a while.

While I was mulching their bed with grass clippings, I found stems on the goji berry and one of the gooseberry bushes which had layered themselves down on the woody winter mulch and grown some wonderful roots so I’ve potted them up to make new plants. I do love a freebie! Talking of which, all six stems from a broken blackcurrant branch that I potted up a few months ago have made healthy, sturdy plants so now I need to find some spots to plant them, possibly in gaps as part of our ‘edible hedge’ project. Roger was very chuffed to be given a saskatoon bush for a birthday gift as when he lived in Canada, saskatoons were his favourite berry; given they can survive the rigours of winter in Alberta then produce a mass of delicious fruit in summer, it’s surprising they aren’t better known in more temperate climates. The first flowers are just opening in a mass of little white stars so fingers crossed for fruit to follow; we don’t normally bother netting fruit bushes as we work on the theory that if we grow enough of everything there will be plenty to share with the birds . . . but somehow, I think this special one might need a bit of protection from gourmet blackbirds.

It’s also been a lovely week for flowers as, despite the rollercoaster weather ~ t-shirts and outdoor living one day, woolly hats and stove-hugging the next ~ spring has really started to burst forth. The front of the house is looking pretty as the windowboxes of pansies and violas have filled out and the sweet-scented species narcissi and first of the tulips in pots have opened. I’m hoping for great things from the gravel garden this year and as I’ve forgotten exactly what was planted in there last year, it’s good to find a few colourful surprises popping up.

We’re so lucky to have the space and attitude that allows us to mingle the cultivated with the wild in a chaotic abundance and I find much pleasure in both. The soft pink of the peach blossom is truly beautiful but then so are the delicate white stars of blackthorn; we have swathes of (cultivated) periwinkle flowers in stunning blue but I’m just as charmed by the carpets of red deadnettle and celandines. Interestingly, although periwinkle is cited as being a great source of early nectar, I’ve yet to see a single insect feeding on the flowers which is a shame as we have masses of them. No such problems with the flowering currant which is a-buzz with foragers and the sunny dandelions are doing a roaring trade 😂 (sorry, couldn’t resist that one . . . especially as March is going out like a lion rather than the proverbial lamb!). The air smells of pollen, leaf buds are fattening and creating a soft haze in the woods, birds are nesting and my fingers are itching to sow seeds. What a special time of year it is. 😊

To bee or not to bee

Where reading material is concerned I’ve been in the mood for fiction of late so the copy of Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s Dancing With Bees, which I picked up in a charity shop, has been completely neglected for several weeks. Not any more! This has to be the most enchanting and fascinating book I have read in a long, long time and I am enjoying it so much that I am rationing myself to a few pages at a time as I really don’t want it to end. I’m glad I paid a generous price for it, too, since it won’t be going back for re-sale; like other treasured tomes on my shelf, I suspect I will be reading this one several times over. I’m not new to the world of bee love ~ my chosen WordPress profile picture features a beautiful bumble climbing into a Japanese quince flower, after all ~ but I am beginning to look at them through very different and extra-enthusiastic eyes.

There is so much in this book that resonates deeply with me that it could almost have been written for me. It arose from Brigit’s awareness that she had somehow lost the connection with nature that had been very profound in her childhood and studying wild bees has been a way for her to renew that lapsed relationship. I haven’t lost my connection with nature (far from it, in fact) but I am the first to admit that despite spending a large part of my time outdoors and immersed in the garden or coppice, I am woefully ignorant when it comes to identifying and identifying with much of the life around me. As a teacher in a rural primary school, I was saddened to find how few children in my class could name or recognise more than a handful of garden birds; however, there are 24 (or 25 depending on who you talk to) species of bumblebee in the UK and 44 species in France . . . and I’m not sure how many of those I could identify with complete certainty. I have no problem distinguishing between honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees, or telling bees apart from wasps which I know some people can find tricky; I also have a reasonable idea about their different social set-ups, nesting behaviour and foraging preferences but when I analyse my knowledge honestly, it’s all very generic. There is so much I don’t know, which is fine because I love learning. There’s certainly a lot to do.

It’s not that I’m not interested, engaged or observant. Quite the opposite, in fact; I would say it’s a rare day that I achieve everything I set out to do in the garden, such is my habit of being distracted by the life forms around me. Trust me, once that new pond is established and teeming with life, whole days will be lost! I was absurdly excited last year to find horned bees in the garden and some of my most absorbing moments were spent watching a solitary bee building tiny nests in the wooden handles of tools hanging in the Love Shack. Of course, there’s a lot more out there than bees and anything that catches my eye or imagination presents itself as a worthy excuse to down tools, grab the camera and observe.

I enjoy a bit of research so whenever I see something I don’t recognise, I’m happy to spend time identifying them and then reading up about them. The problem is retaining the information and then building on it, instead of ticking the box and moving on in a sort of mental ‘Eye Spy’ book way. Take carpenter bees, for instance, a species I came across for the first time when we moved to this area over ten years ago. I was totally captivated by their size and noise, their shiny black metallic armour and stunning bluey-purple gauzy wings, their restless habit and busy movements . . . and more than a little horrified when an initial internet search threw up far too many sites about how to destroy them. I love to see them in the garden but capturing them with the camera is always a challenge; I spent half an hour one day last summer trying to get a decent photo of a bee in the sweet peas (my inner colour nerd thought the combination was perfect). Sadly, my energetic subject had other ideas although I finally managed a shot in a patch of phacelia a few days later.

Half an hour of observations . . . but what do I know about these incredible creatures, without cheating and looking them up again? Well, what I think I know is that they are solitary bees, that the females are all black and the males have yellow on their face, that they like to nest in holes in wood hence the ‘carpenter’ bit (this is a habit which gets them a bad name as people fear their domestic wooden structures will be undermined), the female can sting but rarely does, the male can’t sting but can display aggressive behaviour in defending the nest. That’s pretty much it and I admit it’s really nowhere near enough, and even worse, might also be incorrect; even just writing this paragraph, I realise that the bee in the photo above is different to the others I’ve seen here before and in our Asturian garden because its wings are brown, not the startling blue that originally captured my attention. Have I been glibly referring to everything similar as carpenter bees without bothering to distinguish between different family members? As for what I don’t know about them, the list is a long one and I already have many questions to answer.

I don’t want to become an ‘expert’ or bee bore and I have no intention of going around quoting Latin or Greek, although binomial nomenclature is helpful in distinguishing between different species . . . and I must confess, I do quite like the word bombus (I think the photo above is of bombus lapidarius, the red-tailed bumblebee, but please don’t take my word for it). My plan is to become properly curious about the creatures we share our patch of earth with, to start with more focused observation and take it from there. No more stopping once I’ve taken a photograph and watched it for a bit, I need to climb inside the life of each one and search out the answers to many questions. Take the bee in the picture above, for example:

  • Am I right with my identification? Is it common, rare, endangered . . ?
  • Is it a queen, worker or male?
  • Where is it nesting? What are the preferred nesting sites/materials? (Follow it and see . . .)
  • How many bees are there in the colony at any particular time of year? I know bumblebee queens are the only ones to survive winter, but when does the first brood hatch? What size will the colony be at its maximum (and when)? Do all the bees live together or do the males live separately?
  • Are there interesting behaviours typical of this species?
  • What is its preferred forage? Are these leek flowers typical /a good source of food? Is it taking nectar, pollen or both?
  • What are its main predators?

Such questions are, of course, just a starting point and an example of how I’m planning to frame my investigations; I’m quite excited about spending time trailing these creatures round like some kind of zoological sleuth! More than anything else, I need to give myself time to stop and stare and wonder. I used the photo above a couple of blog posts ago and I’m as certain as I can be that it’s a buff-tailed (bombus terrestris) bumblebee queen; as I decided to focus on a single bee, what isn’t obvious from the picture is that there were at least half a dozen all feeding on that single heather plant. What a fascinating sight, those large velvety matrons, newly-emerged from their hibernation and feeding up in preparation for the busy breeding season to come. How I wish I’d taken a break from whatever I was doing in the garden to watch them ~ really watch them ~ and then perhaps follow and see where they were making their nests. One of the things I loved to do as a beekeeper was simply watch at the front of the hive, all the comings and goings, the exchange of messages at the hive entrance and the extraordinary variety of different coloured pollens being collected. My mission is to find bumblebee nests this spring, hopefully of several different species and spend time watching them throughout the year.

As a former beekeeper, I will always have a soft spot for honeybees (apis mellifera, the European honeybee pictured above) and I know a lot more about them than other bee species. I love to see them working around the garden, so industrious and focused in their foraging activities. Some afternoons last week when the sun had warmed the west wall of the house, our resident feral bees came piling out and made a beeline ~ literally ~ for the area around the front door. Puzzled as to what they were up to, I stood and watched them for a few minutes and realised they were taking water from the damp soil in the pots I had been watering and were trying to drink from the buckets of grey water waiting to be used. Bees need water in their nest for several reasons and some workers will have been assigned to water duty rather than food forage; in the current drought and dry air, it’s possible they are having to work hard to keep the young brood moist. It might seem strange, but they actually seek ‘dirty’ water from ponds, puddles, birdbaths and the like ~ it’s thought because of the nutrient value ~ so hence the attraction of wet soil. I wasn’t sure about the grey water, though, as despite the fact that our dishwashing liquid and bath products are all ‘eco’ it’s possible there could still be some harmful chemicals in there. I swapped the bucket for its lid to make a safe and shallow drinking spot for them, full of saved rainwater, and at least that meant we could use the front door again without being mobbed. Contrary to the last, they still preferred the plant pots.

Fond as I am of the little honeys, it’s sensible to keep their importance and role in perspective. There is a huge discrepancy in assertions about how much of the world’s food production is reliant on pollinators and in turn how much of that comes down to honeybees ~ a quick scout round the internet threw up figures ranging from 7% to 90%! Whatever the figure (it’s easy to forget that many plants are wind-pollinated or self-pollinating), pollinators do have an essential role to play but honeybees are a long way from being the only ones or the best ones. Perhaps it’s a result of their commercial value both as pollinators and honey producers that there has been such a spotlight on their plight in recent years, while so many other species of bees and insects have been in serious decline in the background. In the photo below, there are two insects busy in the flowers but only one is a honeybee.

To put things in perspective, of the 267 species of bee in the UK over 250 are native solitary bees (in France, there are over 800 species) and they win the brownie points every time when it comes to being the most efficient and effective pollinators. I’ve already mentioned carpenter bees but how about mason bees, miner bees, leaf-cutter bees, carder bees, blood bees, mourning bees, sharped-tailed bees, nomad bees and the delightfully-named hairy-footed flower bees to name but a few? I’m beginning to feel like this could take another lifetime. Let’s throw the net wider still: hoverflies, lacewings, wasps, beetles (including ladybirds), butterflies, spiders, moths, worms, snails, slugs and a whole host of other invertebrates, then of course reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. Mmm, several lifetimes, maybe.

I’ve written more than once about how so much of our project here is about protecting and increasing biodiversity through providing a range of habitats and supporting various ecosystems: it’s not a case of ‘us and them’ but all of us together. It’s a given that we use no toxic chemicals anywhere. Ever. So far we have restored native hedgerows, planted trees, dug a pond, provided bird feeders from November to April, built stone walls and domes, made log and brush piles, left wide corridors of long grass and wild flowers around the boundaries, started to develop wildflower meadow and woodland areas, put up nestboxes for birds, bats, red squirrels and insects and planted or sown nectar- and pollen-rich flowers and shrubs. I think the time has come now to be really specific about what we do or grow in order to support as much life as we can and I’m hoping to get a better handle on that by studying a wide variety of beings more closely and tapping into advice based on research that isn’t often at the forefront of things. For example, many of the commercial ‘bee friendly’ seed mixes on sale are actually based on a list of plants favourable to honeybees and may not offer much in the way of forage for solitary bees which tend to have more specific or specialised requirements.

What, then, should we be growing and doing for the benefit of the widest range of bee species (and others)? One of the effects of media focus on the plight of the honeybee has been an upsurge in interest in beekeeping and an acknowledgement that perhaps the conventional approaches aren’t necessarily the best for the bees. I’m all in favour of this but the danger of an increased number of hives in any area is that it can have a detrimental effect on the non-honeybee populations whilst research suggests that greater numbers of honeybee colonies in itself does nothing to help them. It’s another reason for us not to have hives again, but be content with our feral wall-dwelling colony and focus on consciously supporting all the bee species and other insects with whom we share this space. In short, it’s time to welcome everyone to the garden party.

There’s certainly no shortage of advice available but finding helpful information about some species is easier than others, and often everything seems to be set out in strict, unyielding black and white so I think a pragmatic, common sense approach is essential. For instance, I respect the sentiments behind schemes such as ‘No-mow May’ which are designed to encourage people to move away from manicured, weed-free lawns towards something more wildlife-friendly. However, it must be remembered that a short sward actually suits many species, especially those bees who build underground nests and ground-feeding birds, and also encourages low-growing beneficial plants such as bugle and white clover to flower. Our mown areas will soon be covered in dandelions in the insect version of a food festival, every bright flower an ‘eat all you can’ buffet which is a crucial source of forage at this time of year. Of course, areas of long grass and wildflowers have huge benefits, too; it’s all a question of balance.

Now, I realise that where I personally see a thing of beauty in the picture above, there are many gardeners who would recoil in horror at the idea of allowing even a single dandelion into their patch. I understand completely, because if I am going to commit to doing the best I can, then I will have to get over myself and introduce plants which aren’t exactly top of my favourites list. Let’s talk about heather. I don’t mind heather per se, I’m just not a fan of it in gardens (especially mine); I have hills and moorland in my blood and that’s where I love to see the cloaks of wild purple in late summer, preferably intermingled with some very productive whimberry bushes! However . . . I can’t deny that the handful of winter-flowering heathers planted in the bank behind the house is currently Bee Central and they are undeniably an excellent source of forage at a time when flowers are few and far between. That bank has proved to be an ongoing nightmare when it comes to making it an attractive part of the property: it’s heavy clay, so steep that it’s impossible to work in organic matter to improve it and overrun with couch grass, periwinkle and a host of other things that have simply got out of hand. The heathers are surviving despite everything so perhaps there’s a lesson to be learnt here: plant more and accept that although they’re not really my thing, the bees will be well catered for.

What has made me happy is that a brief look at the quick planting guide on the excellent Bumblebee Conservation Trust website shows me that of the 23 recommended plants, we are only short of three: pieris, viper’s bugloss and Californian lilac (ceanothus). Well, there’s something we can do about that but I also want to find out exactly what would help all those solitary bees, too. Watching a short video clip of 25 suggestions on the Nurturing Nature website, I realise we’re already a long way there; obviously, these are UK sites and we have to be aware of a more diverse bee population in France and tap into local resources accordingly. I’m encouraged, though. We can do this. It might just take me even longer to get anything done in the garden, mind you . . . 😊