"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas from The Big Easy

To wish all my wonderful blog readers and friends around the world a very Happy Christmas!

 door

Every day here is different, hectic and fun with no time to blog or paint yet..Wonderful food, great music everywhere, beautiful architecture and some of the friendliest people I have ever met.

I am hoping to be back to bees, blogging, writing and drawing very soon…… but for now…

Laissez les bons temps rouler”

A very Merry Christmas to you all from wonderful New Orleans!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The New Orleans Bee: 29 Nov 1910

n o b bg

It was inevitable that I, number one bee fan, would find this, wasn’t it? The wonderful old newspaper “The New Orleans Bee.” I was really only trying to find beekeepers or even a special Louisiana bee that I might be able to paint and write about. But what could be better than to start the New Orleans part of the blog with such a wonderful image from just one hundred years ago today.

It is really thanks to the Jefferson Parish Library who has digitised all of the publications from September 1827 to December 1923 which are accessible here. Their brief description of The Bee:

The New Orleans Bee/ L’Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléans was a French language newspaper published in New Orleans beginning on September 1, 1827. An English section was added three months later. The newspaper continued as a dual language publication until 1872 when the English portion was dropped and once again it became French only. Briefly [1829-1830] there was also a Spanish language section. The New Orleans Bee was originally published three times a week, but became a daily after a few years. Publication ceased in 1925."

Wikipedia here has a little more to tell:

“Initially published three times a week in French, an English section was added on November 24, 1827,and in this form it was the most successful of New Orleans daily newspapers in the middle of the nineteenth century….Until at least 1897 L'Abeille remained "almost certainly the daily newspaper of choice" for French officials in New Orleans. The title was purchased in 1921 by The Times-Picayune and was published weekly until it closed in 1925.”

We shall be here for a while so I shall be posting a few pieces from this fascinating paper on the corresponding dates.

So today, 100 years ago, on the 29th Nov 1910, the English section of the New Orleans Bee was concerned with the demise of the Passenger Pigeon, the lack of respectable refuges for women in London, the rebinding of an exquisite Book of Hours with a gold cover attributed to Benvenuto Cellini in Paris and this little story:

image

Transcript :

“Parrot mistaken for Man

Interrupts Young Woman’s Bath and the Human Pet Rushes in Causing Consternation

Philadelphia – Pat is a parrot owned by Mr and Mrs William Harrington. The other afternoon noticing that the door of his cage was unfastened Pat made for the window and perched on the sill of an adjoining bathroom window.

Inside there was much splashing and feminine laughter. Nora the maid was giving her young mistress a bath. Not finding the soap in its place she called to her husband whose name happened to be Pat “
Fetch the soap Pat and be quick about it”
The parrot hearing his name shrieked “Who wants Pat?”

Hearing the sound from the outside both women screamed and swooned thinking some one was endeavoring to enter by the fire escape. The man Pat hearing the commotion dashed into the bathroom and made matters worse, especially for the young woman, by breaking into the room.”

I am very taken with this newspaper and feel I might just appropriate the perfectly appropriate name for my stay here.
And where, might you ask, would a “New Orleans Bee” like to stay? Well, how about a Creole Garden? Which is exactly where I am. I’m at the delightful Creole Gardens B&B .. more of all that to come.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Road to New Orleans and a Chef with no Hands

We flew into Orlando on Tuesday and drove out again four days later. Our travelling day sandwiched between the retail frenzies of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A quiet “eye of the storm” day in the middle of the cyclone of 42 million people who were estimated to be swirling around the USA this Thanksgiving.

The directions to New Orleans couldn’t be much simpler. The 638 mile journey is detailed in just one page from Google Maps. You take the Florida Turnpike to Interstate 75, drive 107 miles and at junction 435 turn onto the mighty Interstate 10. Here Google maps merely says: “Go 478 MILES”.

And that is just what you do. Go..go go…for 9 hours and some.

Interstate 10 is the magnificent 2,460 mile long road that straddles the south of the USA from Santa Monica to Jacksonville. On the way to New Orleans you pass through the Florida Panhandle, Alabama and Mississippi. You cross the Suwanee River whose sign is printed with a couple of bars of its famous song. You stop at the pleasant rest areas and you stop for coffees. You try to find cheap petrol, try to find something on the radio that isn’t Country and Western, try to count the number of Waffle House restaurants there are on the way and stop very quickly when the maths becomes complicated and of course you stop for a bite to eat here and there.

We have done this trip once before and as luck would have it, found our way back to Sally’s Restaurant for lunch. Sally’s is just off the Ponce de Leon junction and although its very pink décor - both inside and out - is somewhat faded you will find a warm and smiling welcome and some wholesome food. It’s a local place where locals come to eat and after the dreary conformity of the chain restaurants which line the main road, Sally’s is quite a change!

sallys bg

One thing that might make you hesitate though is the frightening statue of the leering chef outside whose welcoming outstretched arms are horribly handless.

chef bg

The Handless Chef at Sally’s

In this quiet wooded area it is easy to let your mind wonder as to the fate of those hands. But just ignore him and the abrupt sign on the door which says “we no longer accept checks of any kind unless you are personally known to us.” and go and enjoy some Southern cooking. There is an astonishing paper frieze around the top of the room of a French Boulangerie and an extraordinary clock and if the chef outside is handless the cook inside certainly is not and you can see Sally at work in the kitchen and the waitress was just lovely.

Then it’s on and on. The broad flat road is flanked by ever present dull green pines which march along the whole route regardless of state lines, relieved now by a sprinkling of copper tinged autumnal trees. There are swampy areas whose black waters contrast starkly with the white skeletons of drowned trees and then there are the bright steely city skylines of Mobile and Biloxi.

All the way the medians and the verges are wide and immaculately mown, presumably at night by elves who live in the adjacent forests as, on none of the three trips, have we ever seen any mowing activity at all. In the v-shaped medians occasional wooded strips act as cover for the stealth police cars and as you near the towns, the gleaming silvery domes of water towers rise, UFO like, above the tree line on thin spindly legs.

On the way I saw little rolling pastures with round straw bales which could have been in England and I saw the same long watering gantries that span the fertile fields of East Anglia. I saw some pretty perfectly spotted appaloosa horses grazing in a green green field. I saw beautiful longhorned cattle. We thought it might be nice to stop at Niceville one day but decided to give the Gun and Knife show at Mobile a miss this time.

There are many many billboards to entertain you on the way, some that make we two liberally minded, non religious Brits shudder but, as one sign simply said, “ Billboards Are Groovy”.

On the road we leapfrogged the slower RVs, the Winnebagos, a few cigar shaped perfectly preserved Airstreams, and the magnificent gleaming rigs that are American trucks. “Without trucks America stops” read the stickers on the back. We stopped to rest only to catch up with them again further along the road. The “Florida Beauty Flora” truck from Miami was with us all the way. We passed big old rolling saloon cars driven by impossibly small Hispanic men, their heads barely visible from behind. Huge people in huge pickups pulled huge trailers and a family car towed a canoe full of bicycles, topped with the cat basket... minus cat, I hasten to add.

The sun travelled with us on our left all the way, casting long black strobe like shadows across the road until we crossed the long low concrete bridge which skimmed the now placid Lake Pontchartrain and headed into New Orleans. There it crossed our path and from our right blazed onto the gleaming Superbowl turning it into a beacon of dazzling fiery-gold. We arrived in New Orleans at 5 pm, exactly on time... it was a fine trip.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Two Lovely Bees for Liz; The Early Bumble Bee and the Grey Mining Bee.

The last few weeks have been very busy and, with hardly any internet connection, very frustrating blogwise. However in my makeshift studio at my father’s house, (rickety picnic table with clip light fixed to hoe handle) I could at least work on my two bee commissions.

It gives me great pleasure to work on commissions because they are a chance to make paintings which are very personal to your clients. We will discuss the whys and wherefores at some length and this collaborative approach means they will have a painting which is just for them and has a resonance and meaning beyond just the image.

So Liz and I had discussed which bee and why and decided on the Grey Mining Bee which is such a favourite with its beautiful black and white silky coat and secondly the lovely Early Bumble Bee with her smart red rump.

There were several things which made these choices special to Liz. She particularly wanted the ginkgo leaves to be included as she has a magnificent old ginkgo tree growing in her garden. So the leaves I drew are from her tree. The hawthorn leaves were from the local hedgerow and the two little bees had been found near Lincoln, which was a strange coincidence because Liz once lived near there many years ago.

I had written about the Grey Mining Bee Andrena cineraria  before (see “The Glamorous Grey Mining Bee”) Here is Liz’ bee hovering above a sprig of hawthorn, a favourite flower with this and many other early bees.

 final cineraria 2

The Grey Mining Bee Andrena cineraria and Hawthorn.
Watercolour and pencil 9 x 9”

I drew and wrote about handsome the Early Bumble Bee here Bombus pratorum …and Mr. Sladen” and included Sladen’s poignant piece about the death of the queen. It’s a lovely piece of writing as is all the writing in his wonderful book about bumble bees, The Humble Bee' It's Life History and How To Domesticate It. I now have the reprinted copy which also contains the facsimile of his first handmade bee book. It’s completely charming.

Here then is Liz’ Early Bumble Bee flying up through the ginkgo leaves which are catching a light spring breeze. Bees do not forage from ginkgo trees but Liz’ garden looked to be a haven for wild bees and I just know she will be seeing these pretty bees in the spring next year.

ginkgo and bee

The Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum and Ginkgo leaves.
Watercolour and pencil 9 x 9”.

I am so delighted when people commission a bee. It’s not perhaps the most usual request but gives me hope that bees are getting a higher profile and winning a well deserved place in people’s hearts.  I am really looking forward to the day when bees outsell fluffy kittens…OK, I know… I may have to wait a while :). There is more work to be done to popularise bees, their undoubted charm and tireless good works and I will be continuing that next year both in the UK and in the USA…

But, for the next few weeks I will be somewhere completely different, I will be seeing what is happening in New Orleans for a while! Bees ? I hope so. What else? Who knows. It will just be a voyage of discovery!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Honey Bee and Lavender

Bee watching is one of lifes gentle and absorbing pastimes and something which should be prescribed as a perfect stress reliever. This past summer I spent many hours watching different bees coming and going on the lavender.  So, for this commission I wanted to portray this little honey bee just as I had seen them, busy in amongst the lavender stalks and enthusiastically throwing their front legs up in the air as they are about to land. As well as my own observations I had the help of Elivin’s bee, Dads lavender, and some scientific research about how bees land.

The research really just confirms what common sense and observation tells you and if you watch bees fairly closely you can see for yourself how they land and how they use their feet and antennae. But the study “The Moment before Touchdown: Landing Manoeuvres of the Honeybee Apis mellifera”  by Mandyam Srinivasan is interesting, (you can read the whole study here)

The Journal of Experimental Biology here reported on the study:

…….Srinivasan began wondering what happens in the final moments of a touchdown. Flies landing on a ceiling simply grab hold with their front legs and somersault up as they zip along, but Srinivasan knew that a bee's approach is more sedate. …..Initially, the bees approached from almost any direction and at any speed; however, as they got closer to the test platforms, they slowed dramatically, almost hovering, until they were 16 mm from the platform, when they ground to a complete halt, hovering for anything ranging from 50 ms to over 140 ms. When the surface was horizontal or inclined slightly, the bees' hind legs were almost within touching distance of the surface, so it was simply a matter of the bee gently lowering itself and grabbing hold with its rear feet.

However, when the insects were landing on surfaces ranging from vertical to inverted `ceilings', their antennae were closest to the surface during the hover phase. When the antennae grazed the surface, this triggered the bees to reach up with the front legs, grasp hold of the surface and then slowly heave their middle and hind legs up too. `

bees landing

In conclusion: “During the actual touchdown, bees simply use the appendage closest to the landing surface to make first contact – that is, the hind legs in the case of horizontal surfaces, and the front legs or antennae in the case of vertical or inverted surfaces.”

It doesnt really surprise me that bees are sensible and adopt the easiest possible landing strategies without any of the showy back flips of flies. But the  use of their antennae is fascinating. Really useful things, antennae!

Honey bee and Lavender

Coming into land on a sprig of lavender is my little worker honey bee, pollen baskets part full and front legs raised in anticipation of touchdown. 

Hbee  bg 

“Honey Bee amongst Lavender” watercolour and pencil on Arches HP 9”x 9”

It has been a lovely commission to work on especially as I have been working on it in between entertaining my father. As a beekeeper many years ago he was interested in this painting and it’s slow development has been a jumping off point for general honey bee discussions, anecdotes and fond memories of times long past. The beehives are still behind the garage. Next spring I intend to brave the Sleeping Beauty barrier of brambles and explore a little. Dad and I have been wondering what little bee or bug may have taken advantage of this ready made if crumbling shelter. I think there will be a big gang of slaters.. but who knows, there may even be a bee or two?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Sketchbook Rooks and the Food Music of Worms

I am still up in Lincolnshire having exchanged the high flying seagulls of the south east coast for the lovely wind tossed, scrappy black rooks who circle high above the big copper beech and roost noisily in the nearby sycamore. I am very fond of rooks and have written about them before on the blog,  see “Beastly Birds”. They are not only very bright birds but are also beautiful and very funny.

In between working on commissions I am entertaining my elderly father who luckily shares my fondness for rooks. On a recent trip out we passed a little gang of rooks who were intently prospecting for grubs on a grassy verge. We stopped to watch them for a while. They hopped and strutted about, sometimes stopping to stare at the ground, sometimes with their heads on one side, adopting a sort of listening pose.

“They always remind me of people concentrating on some sort of orchestral performance” said Dad

“Who is performing,  do you think?” I ask.

“Worms” he said, without a moment of hesitation,  “They are listening to the music of worms, they are listening to the worms playing food music.”  That’s why they are listening so carefully”

Ahhh, “food music” of course.  My father is not mad, he just has a lovely turn of phrase.

Some Sketchbook Rooks

rooks sm bgrook 1 bg rook2 bg

Listening to food music….

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Pollen:Beautiful colours, fascinating form.

The honeybee I am about to paint is carrying pollen and is foraging on lavender, so it’s important  that I make sure the pollen colour is correct. Lavender pollen is a rich yellow colour, which you can see if you look closely at the flowers.

From the wonderful UK microscopy site, PS Micrographs, here is a thumbnail of a coloured electron micrograph of a lavender pollen grain Lavendula dentata.

 lavender-pollen-grain--lavandula-dentata--80200172-m

Lavender Pollen Grain © by Cheryl Power  

When I first started my work on bees, I had a vague idea that pollen came in different shapes and colours but in fact the variety of colour and shape is really quite stunning, beautiful, both in colour and form.

pollen

Mixed Pollen: Image : http://en.wikivisual.com/index.php/Sporopollenin

You can find pollen colour guides on the internet. There is an excellent interactive chart on the Bristol Beekeepers site, http://www.bristolbeekeepers.org.uk/.   Go  there, and click on the colours to see which pollen belongs to which plant.

pollen chart 

Don’t you just love colour charts!
You can buy printed guides such as this one, by William Kirk from IBRA.

512NPGF7GZL._SS500_  

And if you are rich you can acquire one of the very desirable “The Pollen Loads of the Honey Bees” published in 1952 by beekeeper and artist Mrs Dorothy Hodges.

 hodges

I have, sadly, not seen an original copy but I do know it has wonderful tipped in colour samples. She not only painted pollen colours but described the process of pollen gathering. I quote from a thesis on “Willow” written by Syliva Briercliffe and published on Dave Cushman’s Bee site here

“She (Dorothy Hodges) describes in her book the pollen packing process, of bees on poppies (papaver) - these flowers yield only pollen. The bee scrambling among the anthers gets dusted all over with pollen grains. She leaves the flower and hovers, stroking her tongue over her forelegs and moistening the pollen with regurgitated honey. Using brushes on her legs and the antennae on her head… she moulds the pollen pack around a single hair on her corbicula (pollen basket). “

Here is a reproduction of the (printed) Summer Pollen chart from a later edition of the book. 

Hodges pollen loads 

Thanks to Denver Botanic Gardens' Botanical Art blog for reproducing this.

The blue and purple pollens are astonishing, aren’t? I knew about the wonderful dark pollen of poppies, but here again from the PS Micrographs site are some thumbnails of extraordinary pollen grains. Do go and have a look at their wonderful work. Some of the bits and pieces of bugs are really amazing.

hyssop-pollen-grains--hyssopus-officinalis--80200693-t ivy-pollen--hedera-helix--sem-80016111-t
Hyssop Pollen and a very timely image of the super important Ivy Pollen.

leucospermum-pollen-grain--leucospermum-sp---80200528-t marrow-pollen-80200001a-t
Leucospermum pollen and  Marrow pollen, all images from PS Micrographs.

I am back up in chilly Lincolnshire for a while and although we have ivy here I have not seen much life on it, mostly just hoverflies.. but then it has been very very cold. But I am going out to have a look at the pollen!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Lavender update and “Nature's Sting”

I mentioned “Project Lavender” a couple of posts ago, which is a project to find out, amongst other things, which lavender is the best for bees. Downderry Nursery have kindly sent me the names of the varieties which are being tested. Here they are:

Ashdown Forest
Blue Mountain White
Folgate
Hidcote
Imperial Gem
Maillette
Melissa Lilac
Princess Blue
Rosea
Edelweiss
Dutch Group
Gros Bleu
Grosso

Don’t get too excited though because they won’t know which one is the favourite for 3 years.. but you could always just get one of each of course and do your own experiment.

And big thankyous to all the people who send me bee news as I have been very cut off from things recently. Ben Bulow sent me the link to the BBC´s excellent piece:
Nature's sting: The real cost of damaging Planet Earth by Richard Anderson Business reporter, BBC News

It’s interesting that the article falls under the “business” rather than the “ecology” category and is about “just how expensive the degradation of nature really is.” For example, the staggering cost to the world “of replacing insect pollination is around $190bn every year”

You don't have to be an environmentalist to care about protecting the Earth's wildlife. Just ask a Chinese fruit farmer who now has to pay people to pollinate apple trees because there are no longer enough bees to do the job for free.

It’s a sobering article, highlighting some recent reports which show how our disregard for the natural order of things can cost us very dearly. The decline of bees and other insect pollinators is just one small part of the whole mess we are finding ourselves in.

Recently I have been reading more about the Insect Pollinators Initiative that was announced in April 2009. The projects sound interesting and much needed and I am glad and 10 million pounds is a fair bit of money but, a year on, it seems it is still being “announced”. I am just wondering why they don’t get on and do something. However, I am reassured by the Living With Environmental Change newsletter who say this about the project

The causes of pollinator declines are likely to be multifactorial, involving complex interactions between pollinators, their pests and pathogens, and the environment. Multidisciplinary and systems-based approaches will be important in elucidating them. In particular, the funders are keen to bring to bear on these issues - alongside the expertise of the existing pollinator research community - relevant new skills such as state-of-the-art and high-throughput “post-genomic” technologies, and the latest techniques in epidemiological and ecological modelling.

Hmm.. that’s a fine and dandy bit of writing but I am still not sure what they will be doing and anyway it will be five years before there is any conclusive evidence. I hope they all keep daily blogs and account sheets, so that we can see what they are up to. Perhaps they will ? Perhaps we can be given some info along the way so we, the public, can do something about it, or perhaps we have to wait for the “fully funded presentation” in five years time… sigh… I know research takes time but by their own admission the decline needs “urgent” attention.

However lots of non scientists are getting on with things right now and this year has been wonderful for "bee awareness" and I hope it will be carried over into next year and the year after that. I shall be doing what I can with my “Buzz” exhibition and some talks and generally enthusing ( might that be “boring”?) people about bees. I do think I need to start including some other pollinators in the blog too. And we can all plant a few more wildflowers and of course, some more lavender…Sorry my faithful blog readers, I am preaching to the converted I know.

Here are a couple of studies of a little lavender sprig I found yesterday. Yes, despite the biting north east wind which has been ripping leaves off the trees and making a sea front walk just sheer unadulterated misery, there are still a few lavender flowers to be seen. Tough little plant this!

lavender 2 smlav flower sm

A (hardy) lavender sprig … pencil

Monday, 11 October 2010

Life on the Elegant Ivy.

Yesterday on a beautiful sunny Sunday I spent a good hour just watching the comings and goings on one of the ivy bushes which grow on waste ground near the railway tracks. These scrubby bits of land are a tangle of brambles and ivy and both yesterday and today the ivy was alive with happy insects.

Here are a few:

Ivy bee sunning itself,

Honey bee and ladybird,

Bombus lucorum I think,

image

Drone hoverfly I think and lucorum..

beefly and luc

A very sleepy and slow B terrestris. I wondered if this lovely big bee was getting close to the end of its days?

bterr

As well as bees, wasps, flies and ladybirds, the bushes were covered with butterflies but just the one species, the pretty Red Admirals and so many of them. All were so intent on feeding that I could get quite close.

There was one huge hoverfly. I think the biggest in the UK and another insect mostly found in the South. Sometimes called the hornet mimic hoverfly, (you can see why), this is the splendid Volucella zonaria.

There were many other little hoverflies, and two sorts of wasps, this one was having a brush up.

wasp

and on some nearby brambles, what I think is a ruby tiger moth caterpillar

which will, with a bit of luck, turn into one of these,

Wonderful picture of the Ruby Tiger moth Phragmatobia fulginosa from the Lepidoptera Breeders Association.

Everything seems to like this ivy bush much more than other varieties in the town. I wonder why? Perhaps the nectar is different. But this particular bush was covered with life whereas other were largely unvisited. This one has very elegant deeply lobed leaves. I put a leaf on the windowsill to sketch it (the dead fly has now gone..). This is my only available surface at the moment so I sit with my sketchbook on my knee, but the shadows are lovely.

Elegant Ivy Leaf….

ivyb ivybg

Pencil sketch 6”

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Elvin’s Bee, and Natural Beekeeping

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Elvin, a local beekeeper who has found me a model for my bee and lavender painting, a deceased little worker bee, just perfect for some studies for the painting.

It was particularly interesting to meet Elvin because he is a “natural “ beekeeper and builds Top Bar and Warre hives, in which the bees build their own combs.

image

Picture of Abbe Warre with his hive from Biobee site

This is the wonderful Abbe Emile Warre who developed the hive also known as “The People’s Hive”. There is a super site called biobees.com where you can find extremely comprehensive info all about Warre hives. It is written and compiled by David Heaf , see more here.

It’s an interesting story about a kind man who wanted to develop a simple, natural, bee friendly hive. He apparently experimented with over 300 different types of hive before coming up with a top bar hive which basically allows bees to do what they do naturally and build their own combs. There is a lot more to it than that of course…go and read more, it's fascinating!

From Elvin’s site Majorbeehives.com you can order one of the beautifully simple Top bar or Warre hives and here is photo from his site of a Warre hive in the snow, reminding me just how cold it can be in the UK.hive in snow

Elvins snowy beehive.

He has some wonderful photos of the natural combs too.. top bar

I am going to read more about natural beekeeping. If/when I eventually have a house or a garden I will be very tempted to have one of these bee friendly homes.

top bar h

Some busy happy bees arriving with some very full pollen baskets to Elvin’s Top Bar hive yesterday. There was also some sun, unlike today which has been relentlessly cold and miserable.. that’s the East coast for you!

I asked him where his bees would be foraging now..where else but on ivy of course.

wasp

And today I found some more ivy with more ivy bees, wasps and honey bees. The ivy is also festooned with many spiders webs, those big fat spiders that come out in Autumn (photos to come). I spent quite a long time rescuing a couple of honey bees from the sticky webs. A wasp had already been wrapped up and stored for later…oh dear. The bees took some time to rid themselves of the remnants of the web but eventually flew away just fine. I am rather hoping they were Elvin’s bees.

Elvin’s Honey Bee Sketches.

It’s a while since I drew a bee so I wanted to make a few studies. Little honey bees have endearing heart shaped faces and rather attractive spiky hair on the top of their heads.

elvins beebg

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Bees, Flowers and “Project Lavender”.

The lavender here in the south is still going strong which is good because  I have a lovely commission to paint a honeybee with some lavender. They do go together so well don’t they?

I have been quite taken with the many different varieties of  lavender that I have seen growing in peoples gardens locally and all bee lovers know that lavender is a top bee magnet. It is included in all the bee friendly plant lists… but who knows how accurate the lists are?? 

Project Lavender

To address the rather random collections of hearsay, The University of Sussex is doing an interesting trial this year to find out which garden flowers are really the very best value for bees and other pollinators with an emphasis on urban, garden and park plantings. They are looking particularly at lavender, 14 different types to be precise.  The project is called appropriately “Project Lavender”

Here is a quote from their site

“late summer and autumn are difficult times for honey bees to find forage, as opposed to spring, when most plants are blooming. Therefore, lavender was chosen for its late flowering period. Fourteen popular varieties of lavender to be tested in this experiment were recommended by Downderry Nursery… In addition, other common garden plants will be tested, such as geranium, nasturtium, dahlia, borage and others. The results of this experiment will help people make well-informed choices for their bee-friendly gardens, helping not only honey bees, but also bumblebees and other pollinators facing current declines.

The project started in May and you can read more about it here. Endearingly, they are also looking at 

“..the efficacy of hedges or lattice fences around an apiary in reducing stinging, by forcing bees to fly high, thereby reducing collisions with humans.
A
key aim of this research is to provide information that will allow honey bees to be kept in allotments, thereby providing urban beekeepers places to keep hives and at the same time providing pollination.”

Nice! I am not entirely sure about the policy on bees and allotments, it seems to vary. 

Below: Dad’s unnamed lavender in July just beginning to blossom..spot the red tailed bumble bee.

dads lavender

Downderry Nursery has a site full of lavenders and lavender info. I had no idea there were so many different classifications. At the Nursery they breed new species and also tip their hat at the enthusiastic contribution made by bees.

“we’re often surprised by the wonderful plants produced by open pollinated ‘breeding’, courtesy of bees!

Thanks to their nice site I now know my bracteole from my calyx. Their plant pages are beautiful shade cards of pinks, mauves, purples and blues, with wonderful names like Twickel Purple, Miss Muffet, Night of Passion and Walberton's Silver Edge.

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I haven’t got very far with the painting due to relocation ups and  downs.. but we have decided that this little honey bee, flying in amongst the lavender, will be carrying a nice full load of pollen, because Debbie, my patient client is a beekeeper!

Rough sketch for bee with lavender:
  

bee 2 sm

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Ivy Bees everywhere..how lucky I am!

I have been walking a lot these last few days.. up and down the coastal path, miles and miles, between the two castles and on to the edge of the cliffs. On the way I pass some ancient ivy covered walls and overgrown thickets where ivy has grown tall and become tree like. It is in full bloom right now, its strange little greeny yellow flowers glistening with nectar and every patch is covered with Ivy Bees.. pretty stripy Colletes hederae everywhere… just everywhere…

If this delightful bee is rare in some parts of the UK, here in the South East corner with France clearly visible across the Channel this morning, it is making itself very much at home. I wanted to check its progress on BWARS but the site is down at the moment, but I don’t think they have spread as far as Lincolnshire yet.

I watched these charming bees for some time. They are quick and very very quiet. Even standing right in amongst a big clump of ivy and allowing for noisy seagulls, it was hard to hear them.  But they are easy to recognise because of the gingery furry thorax,very distinctly striped abdomen and big dark eyes.  

My camera is inadequate but here are a few photos…This one stopped to brush off some of its load of pollen.

When they are busy feeding they are quite oblivious of you. They work each flower very intently. I only have enlarging rings on my camera for close-ups so have to get very close and then focusing is hit and miss.. but do have one reasonable photo…

 

and a rather blurry one…

This is such a pretty bee and one I wrote about and painted for “Buzz” see blog post hereThe Delightful Stripy Ivy Bee . They are fairly new to the UK. I am so lucky to see them!

Enjoying the ivy along with the bees were hoverflies, regular flies and wasps. I hope for more and better photos soon..