Alliums And Echinacea

Its summer, despite the recent cooler wet spell, and the borders are full of echinacea and drumstick alliums. Despite all this loveliness, I am also on budwatch again. I missed the emergence of the first of the Japanese Anemone flowers, I just turned round yesterday and there it was, the first bloom where before there had only been apparently tightly furled buds.

Anenome 'Robustissima'

I’d intended to go for ‘Honorine Jobert’, I liked the idea of the pure white flowers singing out from the back border in late summer, but it is famously vigorous. I went for ‘Robustissima’, which despite the (rather unappealing) name, is supposed to be less likely to take over the entire garden in a year. She is pleasantly understated in her pale pink, making up for it with the vivid yellow centre. I’m quite surprised to see her out so early, but I’m not complaining!

Crocosmia Lucifer Bud

The towering foliage of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ has been throwing up flower spikes for a few weeks now, and finally the buds are beginning to show the vivid colouration that suggests the flowers won’t be long in opening. I look forward to the fireworks.

Aster x frikartii Opening

I’m new to asters, in fact it was the blogging community filling their posts with stunning photographs of them that persuaded me to dip my toe in the water. Last autumn I picked up a little Aster ‘Samoa’, which brightened up the patio, but I had promised myself Aster divaricatus, and this Spring I bought one, together with Aster x frikartii. They are in pots so that I can take them with me easily, and I wasn’t expecting either to flower until mid August, but here we are, still in July, and the frikartii is about to show me her first bloom.

Dahlia Roxy

Dahlia ‘Roxy’ is one of the new dahlias bought to replace the ones I lost in the cold of the last winter. She has wonderful deep purple leaves and these gorgeous velvety flowers – and I am clearly not the only one who is glad to see her:

Bee On Roxy

Which brings me to my problem. I love that I have lots of insects in the garden now. People like Gail@Clay and Limestone, Donna@ Garden Walk, Garden Talk, Cat@The Whimsical Gardener and Liz@Gwirrel’s Garden have all inspired me with their photographs and writing to want to attract more of them to the garden. If my computer hadn’t crashed part way through uploading some photos I could even show you actual butterflies, which I haven’t ever seen in my garden before (apart from the Cabbage White of course). But mostly I haven’t a clue what I am looking at.

Some things I can identify with relative ease. I was surprised to see crickets in the garden at all (although I’ve noticed that they are prolific this year in the fields around the village), and am fascinated to see that they apparently love the Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’.


All well and good, but I struggle to put names to the many and various pollinating insects. Some are so tiny I find it impossible to get a good enough photograph of them to stand a chance.

Tiny Visitor On Euphorbia

I’m pretty sure this is a hoverfly. Or a honey bee. I thought I knew the difference until I started trying to double check online.


I initially assumed that the critter on the dahlia was a bumblebee, but then I saw a picture on the Garden Safari site that made me think that perhaps it was a hoverfly too, just a different sort. Of course, most of the photos I am managing to get don’t really allow for accurate identification. Its all very well them being all friendly and feeding from the same flower, but it doesn’t make my attempts to label them correctly any easier!

I think this is a hoverfly too, though I haven’t been able to decide which kind:


But is this a bee? Or yet another hoverfly? I’d have said bumblebee, but there are hoverflies that mimic them too, and having spent over an hour online I am now more confused than ever.


Can any of you lovely people out there recommend a good online identification site I can use to attempt to rectify my ignorance? I’d love to be more educated about the critters I am getting in the garden. In the mean time I will practice patience in the photographing of them, so that hopefully I wind up with images that make working out what they rather easier…

48 thoughts on “New problems with identification

  1. Hi Janet,

    Ok… You’re stealing all my plants!! How very dare you ;)

    As for Bee Vs Hoverfly… Well, the main differences are the eyes the flies have bug eyes, which are big and round on the head, but the Bees’ eyes are more tear-drop across the head. I’ll have to post some on my blog to illustrate what I’m trying to say.
    Another is the wings and then of course the abdomen. Hoverflies are generally sparsely haired on their bum but the Bees more so.

    Here’s a hoverfly, see the big rounded eyes? Also see the little knobbly bit sticking out of its head?

    The tail pattern is made up of pigmentation on the abdomen rather than coloured hair like that of Bees.

    A bee:
    Compare the eyes which are more long and the long antennae which they use to feel the flowers and find food. You may also be able to see the hair on the bum in the above photo.

    When it comes to IDing them, well I find lots of Bee websites a bit rubbish tbh as they’re often diagrams which don’t help a great deal. So it isn’t often I ID them unless it’s say a blue mason Bee which is very easy to distinguish from the many types of Bumble or fake bumble bees out there – which I think the only way to distinguish them is via the stinger.

    1. Sorry to have pinched your plants Liz! Thanks so much for this, its exactly what I needed, I’ve even managed to spot the different eyes on the two critters sharing a meal. Eyes and hairiness seem to be easier than number of wings, as the wings tend to be so indistinct in the photos. Which says more about my photos than anything…

  2. Janet, I can’t recommend a site but I’ll be looking forward to other people’s suggestions. The differences between insects are so subtle that I find it very difficult to identify them as well.

    1. Hi Marguerite, glad I am not the only one to get confused. Fortunately, there are so many others out there who know what they are talking about! Aint the blogging world wonderful.

  3. Gorgeous blooms and shots Janet! The crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is definitely one to watch as it bursts into bloom. The fiery red blooms are unbeatable for its intensity, hot stuff :)

  4. Love the pictures Janet!
    I was trained as a (field) entomologist and spent many hours observing insects when I did my PhD so I find it quite easy to see the difference between hoverflies and (bumble)bees. One of the main differences is that hoverflies have 2 wings and bees and wasps have 4. Also, hoverflies have these typical HUGE eyes that flies have. I think wikipedia has a pretty good description ( Have fun!

    1. Brilliant Ellie, thank you, that really helps. Now all I have to do is get a good look at their wings…

  5. I’m in the same boat. My knowledge of what is what is a bit limited. Now that I have taken up photography I am more aware of the wildlife around me, but that doesn’t mean I know what it is. I’m posting about my insects tomorrow, but I’ll struggle to match your photos!

    1. Hi Mark, taking loads of photographs really does change what and how you see things doesn’t it. I sometimes have to remind myself to just look and enjoy without staring through the lens. And I wouldn’t worry about your photos, you have been taking some wonderful shots.

  6. The trouble is getting a good picture so that you can look it up at leisure. Identification is also not easy as there can be so many small differences. Those insects mimicking others – that is downright sneaky.
    As for online guides, some specialise in particular insects and they seem to be better but I have never found the perfect site, especially for a beginner. I think books are easier to use. Overally I tend to avoid getting too involved in identification. I am never confident I have got it right :-)

    1. I suspect you are right to stay out of attempting “proper” identification. I am relieved to find that it is difficult, and its not just me that finds it so. I think you may be right about a good book trumping all, will have to look out for one. If the blasted creatures would only stay still long enough to have their portrait taken!!

  7. Wow, this has been an eye-opener! I thought the main difference between hoverflies and bees was in the way they fly, at least that’s what I tell the children. Hoverflies tend to fly in very geometric lines whereas bees (and wasps) zoom all over the show. I don’t know if I’m right but it’s made the children a lot more confident around flying insects and they’re happier to stand and watch (rather than running away!).

    1. Hi Caro. Oh heck, another thing to watch for! Maybe if I can cram all these bits of info in to my brain I may stand a chance, but I am beginning to think I will settle for being a “oh look its a pollinator” sort of bug identifier…

  8. Thank you so much for the shout out. I cannot believe you got a photo of a cricket. I can never get any of the jumpers. They are just too darn fast and hoppy.

    1. Its a pleasure Donna. The crickets were surprisingly easy, they just sat there, barely moving – of the four I saw only one leapt away between me lining up my camera and clicking the shutter. Maybe they were sleeping?

  9. I was an entomologist (blowflies and beeflies and other forensicly significant carrion-associated insects) prior to retirement. There are SO MANY insects out there and they are not only geographic, they are also peculiar to certain seasons, months, or even weeks of the year.

    You’ve touched on a subject that even the experts have a fair amount of difficulty with, so don’t fret! I worked with insects but was never really crazy about them. (They can answer very important forensic questions scientifically). Seeing all the photographs of the insects here on everyone’s blogs has made me look at them in a totally different light. I can’t tell you off the top of my head what is what, but I CAN say that I LOVE your photos!

    1. Thanks Cathy, its good to know that even the experts struggle with identification. Am so pleased you enjoyed the photos, thank you for taking the time to comment. Studying blowflies etc sounds very CSI, and rather fascinating, but I can imagine that it failed to give you any great love for the critters themselves…

  10. Wonderful photos of wonderful blooms! I love most specifically the lavender Japanese anemone. How i wish that green stem is removed from the photo though. If only it will thrive in hotter climes!

    1. Hi Andrea, I know what you mean about the stem, but there was no angle to get both a good view of the flower and avoid it. I could have photoshopped it out I suppose, but I didn’t mind it enough to bother.

  11. What an utterly fab eye you have – breathtaking! Can’t help with the id, but thrilled to look at the detail you’ve captured!

  12. I have the same problem with identification; last year an entamologist friend came to take samples of the many insects many bees and hoverflies that cover the lavender and perovskia, he also took butterflies. He promised to let me know the results but I fear he’s still trying to identify them all! So if he has trouble what chance do we have? All lovely flowers by the way. Christina

    1. Thanks Christina, it has been really comforting to know that it is a genuinely difficult problem, and if an entomologist has difficulty, even with actual specimens to refer to, I stand no chance! I think I will stick to the bee/hoverfly distinction, at least I think I have a grip on that now, provided I get a close enough look!

  13. Hi Janet – just spent a wonderful few minutes simply enjoying your flowers and their visitors. The emerging Aster is one stunner. How inviting the garden looks to those flower foragers (and the yellow and pink scheme is proof that this combo works very well as per Christopher LLoyd). Once you’ve sorted your Apoidea from your Diptera, it’s easy to sex the hoverflies – you need only look into their eyes; males have unseparated holoptic eyes whilst females wear ‘glasses’.

    1. Hi Laura, somehow I thought you might be one of the truly knowledgable ones. I fear my chances of getting a good enough photo to gaze deeply into a pollinator’s eyes remain remote though… Glad you enjoyed the photos!

  14. Such lovely flowers, no wonder those pollinators are aplenty in your garden. Ive yet to see a bee in my garden! Crickets?…never! Just some little flirting white and yellow butterflies, dont even know their ID!

    1. Hi there, at least you have butterflies – I still don’t manage to attract many, though I am working on it. My head knows that the insects I do get are invaluable for pollination, and the increasing variety is a sign that I am doing something right. My heart yearns for lots and lots of butterflies. Crickets in the garden are a first for me.

  15. I’m very envious of the fact the at you have crickets in your garden. What a treat! Are they an annual visitor? I’ve never really rated asters among my must have plants but your photo of the emerging bloom might make me change my mind!

    1. Hi Janet, if we’ve ever had crickets before, I’ve never noticed them, and I think I would have seen them last year if they had been there because I spent so much time out there with my camera! Will see if a fully opened aster bloom can tip you over the edge into buying one, it’s what did for me last year, so you have been warned!

  16. Definitely a post about names and naming… Robustissima as a name for an anemone that’s less robust than others? And crickets (or grasshoppers?) congregating aroung Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’–would they be so entrance if it were named…I don’t know…”Robustissima?” I suspect that you as someone used to teasing apart plant identities would be able to manage well with insect names, but it’s a big commitment, so many plants still left to learn… I’m glad summer has found you, even in the cool weather. Your garden is beautiful this time of year!

    1. Hi James, some plant names are utterly absurd, aren’t they! If I start to spot lots of holes in the leaves of my eupatorium I might become less enamoured by our new bright green visitors, but otherwise, they are rather magical looking critters, with their absurd legs and huge antennae. I’m glad you enjoyed a look at my summer garden.

  17. Our Lucifer had been in flower a while but not the anemones. We seem to have a similar taste in flowers as I have bought an aster frikartii Mönch

    1. What a lovely compliment, thank you, you made my day! And thank you for the book recommendation, have added it to my wishlist.

  18. Hi Janet, you know, sometimes with ID’s on something other than plants….I figure that I don’t need to ‘know all’. This is especially true in the pollinator catagory…. I can get general ID’s but when the differences are so slight, I allow others to have the knowledge.
    Seems everyone has Crocosmia these days….wish mine would come up!!

    1. Hi Janet, now that I know how tricky it is, I think I will give up on my idea that I should recognise all regular visitors and know what they are. Re crocosmia, I lost my favourite – Emily McKenzie – and my yellow one shows no sign of flowering at all, but ‘Lucifer’ is going to do me proud I think. Hope yours appears.

  19. What fabulous flowers, and fabulous pictures. As usual! I do admire your cricket shots; I can hear them, and the grasshoppers, but I can’t get anywhere near even seeing them, let alone sneaking up on them and taking their picture. Gorgeous…

    I bought an identification guide a couple of years ago – taking the laptop into the garden having proved impractical, dur – and it helpfully says things like ‘even the experts find it difficult to distinguish xxxx from xxxxx’ which is a fat lot of use. Gr.

    1. Hi Kate, thank you, but you would have laughed yourself into a stupor if you had seen me trying to get the shots of the pollinators on the the flowers, most of the time they had moved on by the time I had the lens zoomed appropriately, it was exasperating! The crickets, however, were obligingly still, which is the only reason I managed to get my camera to them. I see so many people taking fab photos of bugs I set myself the challenge of learning how to do it better, but I think the id part of the equation is going to be of the order “probably a bee” and “I think that is a hoverfly” rather than my planned “that’s an X bee”… Though I do like the idea of a photo-rich book that I can easily flick through…

  20. Gosh, Janet, you have such a lovely variety of flowers–every time I visit, I see something new here! I just bought an ‘Honorine,’ but I thought it wasn’t supposed to be as aggressive as some. I guess I’ll see next year, if I have little seedlings everywhere:)

    As for the pollinators, I’m not much good either. I know bumblebees, but I don’t know the different types, and I think I know hoverflies because they’re the tiniest bees in my garden. I’m just thrilled to see them in my garden! Your photos are beautiful, and whether you know what type they are or not, it’s obvious you’re providing a healthy habitat for them.

    1. Hello Rose, hope your anemone behaves itself – I am lusting after the one launched at this year’s Chelsea, called “White Swan”, which apparently has a really long flowering season, and the backs of the white flowers are marked with a wonderful blue stripe.

      I’m going to give up on trying to exactly identify all the critters, but I am pleased that they enjoy visiting the garden, and find that if the pollinators love the plants I tend to as well, which is rather good.

  21. Janet, I’ve nothing on the insect ID, unlike your incredibly knowledgeable commenters. I would say though that in my own garden, Miss H. Jobert sulks and does very little, while robustissima does in fact want to take over a bit. Interesting that others experience the opposite!

    1. Hi Cyndy. You now have me a little worried about ‘robustissima’. I’d been pinning my hopes on the name being to do with its ability to stay healthy rather than its colonising tendencies. Ah well, I can assess its vigour and decide whether I gift the next home owners with it or take it with me accordingly! Sorry you have a sulky little missy – guess that’s one plant you won’t be digging up to take with you?

  22. Thank you Janet for the shout out! So many things to say! First, your photography is stunning. The velvet quality of the Lucifer is captured beautifully! Second, I’m in the same boat with identification…I’m slowly learning as I read so many blogs. So glad you asked for the assistance, I’ll look at the links mentioned. Wonderful post!

    1. Hi Cat, you’re welcome, you are a big inspiration to me, particularly on the garden photography front. One of the things I love most about blogging is how knowledgeable so many people are and how generous they are with that knowledge. Though I despair of ever being able to know for sure which particular kind and gender of bee it is I have buzzing around my echinacea!

  23. Janet, terrific shots of the insects, the last one of the cricket is just outstanding. As you can imagine it is even cooler up here, absolutely terrible today. Good to see your Japanese Anemone in bloom, we have a pink one which is pretty far on, not sure if its ‘Robustissima, it grows to 5ft tall. I prefer the pure white blooms of Honorine Jobert, behaves itself in our cooler climate.

    1. Hi Alistair, I am beginning to worry about just how robust “robustissima” is going to prove, I may have denied myself white flowers for no reason! I was very lucky with the crickets, they seemed happy to sit still and let me take their picture. Today is the first day it has truly felt like high summer since early May, which is mad, particularly reading about the heatwave in the US.

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