a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

A discovery in the small vegetable garden


We have a part of the small vegetable garden that we try to keep for herbs. We have several friends who prefer tisanes to black tea so I grow mint, lemon balm. lemon verbena, camomile and dry them to make tisanes. I sometimes make them for myself, as I would like to wean myself off black tea, but it’s taking some time to change my preferences. We also grow any other bits and bobs and young plants that need keeping an eye on.

It tends to get a bit overgrown with the lavender encroaching and some seedling trees growing faster than expected and the Echium turning into amazing self-seeders. So, with our incredible spell of fine weather I decided to put some order into the plot and get lots cut back.

All went well until late in the afternoon, when it was sunny and warm, I noticed some Ivy bees flying around the border I was trying to straighten!

They looked as if they were trying to find their nests! I had a sinking feeling that I could have destroyed their nesting site.

I marked the edge with tiles and decided that all that could be done would be to cover the area with cardboard and leave it for a year in case the burrows were left intact.

I still surveyed the area daily and then I noticed two burrows.

The first was near tiles placed perpendicular to the edge, so at least all was not lost. The other was not far away but nearer the edge.

When I saw one enter the burrow, I waited patiently and photographed her as she made her exit.

I have been fascinated watching her enlarge the burrow. The proportions of earth that she is removing compared to her size is amazing. The slope of the hole is her total length long.

Now that I know that there are at least two active nests in that area, I will take the greatest of care and protect them until next year.

The female ivy bee is laying her eggs with a supply of pollen and nectar to nourish the future larvae and the adult bees will not emerge until this time next year.

I did see cuckoo bees on the same day I saw the first bees and I took this photograph.

I had already seen two different sorts of Epeolus bees on the asters. These bees are cuckoo bees and target Colletes bees like the Ivy bees (Colletes hederae). They will enter the Ivy bees’ nests and lay their eggs so that their larvae will survive rather than the Ivy bees.

Nature is tough but I will guard my nests of Ivy bees as best as I can.

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.

20 thoughts on “A discovery in the small vegetable garden

  1. Ivy bees? Here we have lots of lamb’s ears, and I have seen carder bees on it. For the last couple of years we have had nests that look like your ivy bee nests down in the lamb’s ears, making a mound of shredded lamb’s ears. One can remove some of the covering to see what’s down there, which we did to see if the nests were still being used. Thinking they were carder bee nests, which I think are vacated by now. I’m worried now that I damaged the ivy bee nests, that they were not carder bees. I looked the nests up on line and they seemed to look like the carder bee nests, but now I don’t know.
    bonnie in provence

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love watching the carder bees taking the wool of the lambs ears! Did you mean you saw a mound of “wool” from the stocks or shredded leaves? The carder bees don’t nest in the ground but in pre-existing cavities (I’ve had them in my bee boxes). I don’t know any bees that uses shredded leaves on the ground to nest in. A lot of solitary bees nest in holes in the ground. You will only see Ivy bees at this time of year when the ivy is out as that is all they forage from. There are other Colletes bees that will make their burrows in the garden but you would not destroy their nests by just moving some leaves on the surface. The bees are well protected in their burrows and hibernate for most of the time until it is the correct season for them to come out and start the life cycle once more. Amelia


      • These must have been ivy bees, as there were nests in the ground and sort of on the ground and covered up with a mound of shredded lamb’s ears leaves. I was making way for some digging to be done for installing the fiber optic cable. I tried to move them, but was not successful, they have rebuilt. The nest has a lot of bees, which makes me wonder as I read that Ivy bees are solitary. I can’t stop the digging because I’m not the only person who lives on this property and arrangements have been made for it to be done next week. Should I remove them again in the hope of reducing the mortality? I don’t want to be a bad bee person …
        bonnie in provence


        • What the term “solitary bee” means is that one female lays the eggs and is not helped by other bees. For instance, the queen honeybee is the only bee out of ten’s of thousand of female bees in a honey bee colony to lay eggs, therefore, she is not solitary but living in a colony. Just to complicate things solitary bees frequently build their “solitary” nest near each other. Ivy bees frequently build their solitary nests near each other. What is confusing me here is that your bees are covering their nests with leaves and I have never heard of this, Ivy bees nest look like tiny, little mole hills. The “hills” are produced by the earth being removed from the burrow she is excavating. Unfortunately, I do not think you will be able to move them. Have you taken any photographs?


  2. Hello Amelia,
    A wonderful series of photos and how exciting to have the ivy bees nesting on site, even if it does mean a little re-planning of garden management!
    best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I always learn something new from you about bees! My neighbour’s ivy is alive with bees so I will pay greater attention to who is visiting it now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Ivy bees are the same size as honeybees and I am sure there will be honeybees in your neighbours ivy. You will have to look for the ones with the really yellow stripes – they are pretty, those will be the Ivy bees and I am pretty sure you will see them. Amelia


  4. How exciting to have ivy bee nests in the garden. Let’s hope more females make their way to your garden to build nests in the border.
    I was out this morning watching some on an ivy bush in the town centre. It feels like an odd year for the ivy here in the UK, at least in my experience, with some not having come into flower yet. The Epeolus that parasiites ivy bees has not reached the UK which may account for how rampant these bees are here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have read that the Ivy bees are oligolectic on ivy which made me think how difficult some seasons might be for them if the weather and the ivy was not propitious for them. Their foraging season must be quite brief and autumn can be an unfavourable season, weather wise. The UK may not have the same species of Epeolus but Falk says that E. crucifer is a parasite abroad (he does not say in the UK, I do not know why.). I have seen what I think is E. fallax near colonies over here. Anyway, I am glad the bees do well in the UK as they are lovely bees and they are lovely to watch at this time of year. Amelia


  5. They have been busy, along with other bees, on the Ivy flowers in the garden. It shows what you can discover in a garden if you are observant.

    Liked by 1 person

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