a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

My neighbour doesn’t have an ox


My neighbour does not have an ox that I covet but he does have a colony of Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) in front of these bushes.

He was concerned that our bees were coming out of the soil in his garden.  I had a good idea that it was a colony of Ivy bees and went round to confirm, taking my camera with me.  The colony had just started to appear with lots of males flying around frantically searching for females to mate with.  From even a short distance away they look very similar to honey bees and you have to look closely to see their banded abdomen.

I must admit that I did feel envious of having a colony of Ivy bees in your own garden.  I would appreciate them much more than he does.  His mother was born in the house and she had never noticed them.

This is a female, I think she is beautiful.

The bees, the butterflies and the flowers are all appreciating the sun and temperatures of 26 degrees in the afternoons after the cool, rainy start to September.

I am even mellowing and starting to appreciate the Tithonia rotundifolia – the tall, orange, sunflower-like plant in the above photograph.  It has gone on flowering and producing more heads than I thought it would, however, I cannot say it attracts pollinators more than a lot of the other flowers.

My aster Audrey is the big attraction in the garden at the moment.  This is a Brimstone butterfly ( Gonepteryx rhamni ).

This is a Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) and the most common butterfly around here in the garden and outside from early in the year.  The Asters attract a range of butterflies.

They also attract this cuckoo bee (Epeolus cruciger) which lays its eggs in other bees nests taking advantage of food stores left for the host bees young.  Most cuckoo bees are specific to one bee genus which in this case is the Colletes.

I cannot forget the honey bees that come to the Asters as they make the most noise.

After the Asters finish flowering they push out new rooted shoots to expand.  These are very easy to pull up and transplant and I have been able to increase my stock from the original single plant.

I know I am somewhat bee-centered but when you watch the antics of some other animals like this cabbage butterfly you wonder how the species survives.  This poor female butterfly was doing her best to raise her abdomen and co-operate but the male was perhaps not the best choice.

I think he managed eventually to accomplish his duty but it looked as if his big white wings were getting in the way.

Autumn is a busy time in the garden.  The Butternut squash have done well but we have not lifted them yet.

The tomatoes gave a super crop this year and my favourite is still Sungold as it is one of the first to fruit and the last to give up.  However, despite its superior flavour a lot of people prefer the look of small red tomatoes.  We grew a lot of “second hand” tomatoes which were raised by friends and planted in a random fashion that did not allow much comparison apart from saying they all tasted good and I have lots of tomato sauce frozen in the freezer for soups and other dishes in the coming months.

The strawberries keep producing too, although the raspberries are just about finished.

In fact, the vegetable garden has produced much more useful products this year than in other years and so I am inclined to adventure into new territory and I have planted onions for the first time.  Theoretically, I shall be using them as needed and not storing them.  Sarah Raven points out that to grow onions you should keep them free from weeds, we shall see – nothing ventured…

On the subject of food production – we have our first Gojii berries.

We planted the bushes as I read that the bees love the flowers.  Mmn. so far I have not seen the bushes crowded with bees but that might be because the bushes are still small, at least I had the consolation prize of being able to crop the fresh berries.  I had never tasted the fresh berries and being charitable I would call the flavour “disappointing”.

Perhaps a good choice of fruit for people who prefer a pretty colour to a full flavour?



Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

27 thoughts on “My neighbour doesn’t have an ox

  1. I wuld be VERY envious of those ivy bees … your pictures of the late summer garden and her bounty are beautiful – the insects are glorious. What a wonderful testimony to organic living it is.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very nice. New stuff I didn’t know so that’s always a treat.

    As for food, it does often seem as if presentation takes precedence over taste. Besides, I like my food bland.


  3. The row of Butternut squash looks great. What do you call Butternut squash in French?


  4. Your garden looks really beautiful; the aster is especially glorious. I love the combination of stone walls and seats, and mixed planting – it looks natural and lovely. Good to know how productive the veg and fruit have been – the squash look very inviting. As for tomatoes, our heritage varieties almost totally flopped this year, though the Chadwick cherry variety is making a late comeback. You are very observant of the bees, and the story of your neighbour’s mother and the Ivy bees is priceless!


  5. What a productive garden and I love all your insects. Our ivy flowers are always abuzz with bees, I didn’t realise there was such a thing as an ivy bee.


  6. I’ve seen more bees lately than I ever have and most of them are on the asters. Bees of all kinds, so maybe your neighbor’s ivy bees will have a taste of your asters.
    I’m glad your garden has done well in spite of the dryness.


  7. I love the way we bloggers seem to hit on the same topics at particular times of year. I just wrote about bees on asters, too. I thought your Brimstone butterfly was a Luna Moth at first, until I saw the antennae. Same color, same wing shape. A very enjoyable post, Amelia!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lovely that everything is flourishing, including the bees. I haven’t noticed any bees on our ivy, but there are certainly lots of bees about enjoying the spring blossom.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lovely photos Amelia. Our ivy is also flowering now and attracting pollinators including hornets, but it is too high up to identify the bees. I was intrigued by the title of this post and feel I have missed something…
    I love those asters – mine are just opening too, but most of the insects are going for the sedum and Teucrium still!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A gorgeous garden and I envy your Tithonia. Being tall and orange is something that would spark up a dull corner… this is now on my ever lengthening ‘wants list ‘..Sue

    Liked by 1 person

  11. #3: a very fine bee, Amelia.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Our neighbour doesn’t have an Ox but they do have bees coming out of the ground. Are Ivy bees the only ones to do this?


    • No, a lot of solitary bees live in burrows in the ground but not all some live in hollows above the ground like in hollow sticks (those are the ones you will see nesting in insect houses.) The time of year gives you an idea of what species the bee might belong to. The Ivy Bee feeds almost exclusively on Ivy nectar and pollen and so you will see it when the Ivy flowers. If the bees come out of the ground in, say, the spring time then they will not be ivy bees. Amelia


  13. I completely agree with you about the ivy bees, they look so beautiful when they emerge and fuss over the ivy flowers. I know of a large nest aggregation on a soil bank in a public park in Torbay and I love watching the males as they fly about in a frenzy waiting for the females.

    Liked by 1 person

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