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  • Debi Holland

The Secret Lives of Garden Bees Review


The Secret Lives of Garden Bees is the wonderful new book by author and bee champion Jean Vernon which has certainly caused a buzz.

Entomologists, melittologists, apiarists, gardeners and wildlife enthusiasts are going to find this fun and informative book a delight; paving the way to open our eyes to what is going on around us in our own gardens and local countryside.

I have to say I love everything about this book. The attention to detail is meticulous down to the honey coloured hardback cover beneath the photographic book sleeve to the 192 glossy pages within, saturated with 100 sumptuous photographs which pictorially explain bee identification and behaviour alongside plants that are beneficial to our furry friends.

The book itself is nice to hold, it has a quality feel to the touch and measures in at just under 25.5cm high and 18cm wide, it is just the right size to be comfortably hand held rather than a heavy, oversized coffee table book but large enough to allow the exquisite photography room to shine.

There are a vast collection of topics covered which are descriptive but easy to read; from anatomy to DNA, the mechanics of the dreaded sting to bee's feeding habitats, pollination and rituals, from bee robbers to buzz pollination, birth, sex and death to the complicated finely balanced workings of the bombus community - who knew pheromones could be responsible for so much!

The more I read about bees, the more I am fascinated by these tiny creatures with an active social life. Some of their behaviour truly horrifies me and other aspects fill me with endearment. Jean has a knack for explaining even the most complicated process with ease and humour; her natural style flows through the pages showing her genuine passion and love of bees.

The more we educate ourselves to the insects that grace our gardens and surrounding landscapes, the more we can understand how to live in symbiosis with them and appreciate how critical these stripy creatures are to life as we know it, without them a tremendously large amount of our everyday food and flowers just would not get pollinated.

Jean clearly talks us through how we can all help bees, showing us what we plant and how we behave in our gardens can really make a difference to the bee's survival and help other wildlife along the way too. We can all do our bit!

I think one of the greatest achievements with this book is that Jean shows us there are many more bees in the garden than simply honeybees.

In her book we get to explore the unusual world of Wool Carder bees (Anthidium manicatum) who shave the woolly hairs off Stachys stems and leaves to line their nest cells, Leaf Cutter bees (Megachile species) who chomp semi-circles out of our pristine foliage, the rather cute solitary Hairy-Footed Flower bees (Anthophora plumipes) which nests in cobb walls, banks and cliffs as opposed to the Snail Nester bees (Osmia bicolor) who favour laying their eggs in discarded snail shells to the bees that have faddy diets focussing on specific plants such as the aptly named Yellow Loosestrife bee (Macropsis europaea) and Ivy bees (Colletes hederae) - guess what they like to eat...? We are also enlightened to the mad world of cuckoo bumblebees who masquerade as their host species, laying eggs in their nest to cheat them into bringing up their young. There is much to ponder!

The book has a good balance between the written text and images. The reader is not bombarded with vast blocks of text but information is broken down in to bitesized accessible portions, juxtaposed with stunning descriptive photography, taken by Jean and her husband Martin Mulchinock, which allows you to properly digest what is being presented.

The book commences with a lyrical forward by Brigit Strawbridge Howard, author of an enlightening rediscovery of the natural world 'Dancing with Bees, a journey back to nature.'

I cannot recommend The Secret Lives of Bees enough. Alongside the book being a fantastic factual source of reference, which the reader can dip in and out of for planting and habitat tips or bee identification advice, the book is a beautiful photographic record of the life and loves, the ups and downs, the good, the bad and the ugly sides of our dearly cherished but often underrated garden bees. Jean brings all these elements together into what can only be described as a work of art, brimming with personality and I urge you to read it so you too can share Jean's passion for bees.

The Secret Lives of Garden Bees is published by White Owl, an imprint of Pen and Sword books and retails at £25. ISBN: 9781526711861

Author signed copies of The Secret Lives of Garden Bees can be purchased at

Jean Vernon's website: Addicted to Bees

Please note I have not been paid to review The Secret Lives of Garden Bees.

The review is my own personal independent opinion.