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

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Learn to Love Dandelions: Dandelions and Bees

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Photo by Ernita at Shutterstock.com

The Enemy of my Father

I used to earn my pocket money by gardening. It left me with a delight in growing things, a love of digging, a hatred of mowing and a passion for weeding. This was instilled in me by my father who, although a passionate gardener was adamant that things had their place and in our garden, then surrounded on every side by fields, ancient grazing, hedges, dykes, and flower filled verges ( yes this is some time ago) the place of the “weeds” was very firmly on the other side of the straggly wire fence.

My father battled with everything in the garden, with mice, birds, squirrels, this pest, that pest , this canker, that whitefly, the insidious “Yorkshire Fog” and creeping “twitch”, but his greatest foe was, and still is, the Dandelion.

At 92 he is now incapable of much weeding, but if the CIA really could have floored a goat with one stare, my father would have been lining up for training, so that he could march around the garden glaring at dandelions, in his endless and hopeless campaign to eradicate these cheery yellow interlopers. He wasn’t a great user of chemicals mostly because he was thrifty and, in his eyes, hard work can accomplish most things, so I have fond memories of crowbar-ing flagstones and lifting patches of lawn and excavating huge holes, deep enough to find bedrock, in our relentless search for the dread taproot.

On my last trip home I was ordered to weed the flagged patio. Dandelions love these little narrow gaps between stones don’t they? No hoe or fork or knife can do much more than behead them, which is as nothing to a dandelion. I am sure that one day soon my father will glance out of the French windows, see a new, dancing, mocking dandelion thumbing its nose at him from between stones and die of apoplectic rage. At first I just did a bit of beheading but, if my father’s hearing is non existent his eyesight is excellent, and I was told I had been sloppy, and sent back out to do a proper job. I was reluctant but they had to go, I just can’t be held responsible for my father’s early demise (if at 92 that is possible) can I?

 

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“Bee” in Dandelions by Duncan de Young at Shutterstock

 

The Friend of Bees

Despite my tentative pleading of the benefits of weeds, my fathers position remains firm. I have learnt to love them, especially dandelions and I have said before on the blog that one very good way to help bees is to stop weeding, or at least have a weedy wild patch. (As I write this I feel waves of stunned and pitying disapproval winging their way from the UK.. “my daughter has completely lost her mind”.. he will be thinking).

I am currently drawing some of the tiny little solitary bees, and they love the dandelion family.. as do all bees. The importance to bees of this pretty, if tenacious, weed cannot be over emphasised. Their long flowering season and rich nectar and pollen source, gives an early boost to emerging bees and keeps them going in the autumn too. 

Some different bees enjoying dandelions;

shutterstock_29155132shutterstock_47459008 Photos Kirschner and  Anna Dorobek  

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Photos  Yaroslav and dpaint

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Photos  Dmitri Melnik and Alexander Maksimov

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Photos Hway Kiong Lim and Laurie Barr

…and of course they are not just for the bees;

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Photo, Titus Manea

All the above photographs are reproduced with the very kind permission of Shutterstock.com…

A Childhood Sweetheart and Artist’s Inspiration

I am sure you all know the other benefits of dandelions.. it would be a dull and sad child who has never blown a dandelion clock or made a little salad for an apprehensive parent, and the internet is full of excellent info and enthusiasts! 

But my blog friend Curtiss Clark who aside from running the Newtown BEE  newspaper (Hmm, I wonder how we met :) )  keeps a lovely blog and back in 2006 wrote this; “In Defense of Dandelions” . It’s as thoughtful and delightful a piece as any dandelion lover could wish for. He extols their virtues, reminds us of carefree days and wants to restore the place they had in our hearts when we were children:

“We are beaten year after year by the botanical equivalent of a smiley face. For certain scowley-faced green-lawn-obsessive guys I know, it’s infuriating.

Sometimes our own ideas ruin the world for us. While we are feverishly poisoning dandelions and pulling them out by the roots, we are often simultaneously enriching the soil of garden beds so that we may plant asters, or daisies, or marigolds, or sunflowers, or zinnias, all of which are first cousins of the dandelion in the family Asteraceae.

If we can ever reconcile the green lawn guys with the dandelion, the world would be a brighter place. But getting them to lie down with their rival weed is a little like getting the lamb to lie down with the lion.

It’s a lovely piece Curtiss! (Which I may read to my father when I am home in June, if he has survived the spring emergence.)

 

The humble Dandelion has inspired many artists and designers.. hundreds of us appreciate its beauty, intricacy and mystery, in every part of its life cycle, especially those gorgeous seed heads.  Here are two 2 favourite images of mine which go a little beyond the cheery yellow.

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A beautiful intricate Stewart Maclennan, woodengraving made in 1940  

from the Museum of New Zealand here. I am very fond of his work, as I am of Charles Burchfield who I have written about before. Here is a late work Dandelion Seed Heads and the Moon (1961-65)

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This painting is mentioned in a conversation about Burchfield between Hunter Drohojowksa-Philp and Robert Gober, which you can read online at Artnet here

HDP: And in this room is one of my favorite watercolors of the dandelions, where it looks like he’s lying down in a field of dandelions.

RG: Exactly. In the middle of the night, at 70 years old, with his head on the ground, looking at the moon through dandelions. That’s the way to go.

Yes indeed Charles, you and my father, but yours would have been more restful! 

The next painting .. a start

Meanwhile back at the bee house here, I am drawing a Lassioglossum and, happily, Jane at the excellent Urban Extention Blog has a super photo which vindicates my choice of a dandelion of some sort to accompany this smart little bee.

image Photo Jane Adams here

I have painted the bee and will probably perch him on the leaf of a dandelion or at least one of the related family, but am procrastinating about the flower … all those petals..sigh. Of course I should say flowers because the dandelion is a composite flower, so made up of many separate tiny flowerlets, each with their own petals and nectar source.. a true bee banqueting table.

Lasioglossum…a start…

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17 comments:

Benjamin Vogt said...

Lovely post, and a necessary look at the dandelion. I have an essay forthcoming in ISLE that you might enjoy reading--I posted it on my log a year or so ago: http://deepmiddle.blogspot.com/2009/01/why-we-need-dandelions.html.

Lucy said...

I thought I was the only one!

I weed ROUND dandelions!

Lucy

Blackbird said...

Superb post! Thank you! Love dandelions :-)

Marcia said...

What a beautiful blog you write .. I teach adult nightclasses on beekeeping and one of the first things we talk about is how important dandelions are for bees, all season, there are wonderful cheery yellow faces out there on the lawn - I say to them as they look at me in stunned silence - `let a wilderness area happen in your garden, let all the weeds and especially dandelions, grow, flower and seed`. I have them growing all around the edges of my lawn, and the back of the house is really a hay paddock now after summers long reign. Such fantastic plants for the garden and for the human body - a weed - never ..

Jane said...

He's gorgeous. When you said you were painting a Lasioglossum I didn't realise it was "my" Lasioglossum! If you need any other photos, of this (or any other UK bees) please just shout - there are some that aren't on my blog or Flickr. Thanks again. That's made my day. Jane

Gail said...

A splendid post! Beautiful photos and delightful drawings! I so loved the family story...I remember believing dandelions were the enemy...but leave them bee now. gail

gretchen said...

Delightful posting today-in fact l shall be rereading it this afternoon over a cup of tea when there is more time to explore all the links you have provided. I suspect more than a bit of literary restraint was used when you wrote about your father sending you back out "to do a proper job" on those dandelions?
Thanks for all that you share,
~gretchen

Melanie said...

Your drawing of a bee is exquisite, I would love to see it after it is finished. A friend of mine had bees for years. When the dandelions flower I know summer will be arriving soon.

Threadspider said...

What a great post! Brought to mind my dad too-not a man to tolerate weeds in the garden! Unlike his, my lawn is only green because of the weeds in it-especially clover and daisies. I shall explain to anyone who comments that it's a bee lawn from now on.

sharp green pencil said...

So lovely to hear from you all. I needed a bit of a boost today as I have spent all day wrestling with Illustrator and Photoshop to get a few card ideas together.. Photoshop I am fine with but Illustrator drives me to distraction. As an old designer I just wanted some cowgum and my typescale back!

But I have laughed at how many emails and comments I have had about parents who hated dandelions!

Mark: your dandelion post is so wonderful. Had to tweet about it yesterday! Do hope my readers check it out !

Ah Lucy: eliptical weeding: an excellent idea.

Blackbird: thanks I bet the south Yorks dandelions are doing well. I have been meaning to check out your blog too for lasioglossum bees..

Marcia: how marvelous! all the way from New Zealand from whence came the lovely dandelion print. Keeping bees must be wonderful in such a beautiful place.. I am looking forward to reading more..

Jane: yes immortalised..!

Gail: thank you so much .. I am thinking that maybe accepting them is more therapeutic too! :)

Gretechen: you are so right and I bet the same dandelions will be there when I get back in May I didn't do quite the proper job even the second time! It's funny how my deaf father can always hear those muttered asides though!

Melanie: thank you so much and you will!! hope to get onto it tomorrow. Sometimes I just want to leave them like that. He is so cute.

Threadspider: Oh my poor Dad. The lawn is like a big sponge now with so much moss growing in it. I like a variety of plants and never minded clover. Tried a small chamomile lawn once.. not the most attractive thing really. Another of his irritations is plantain.. and that's good for bees too! He just cant win ! :)

Shady Gardener said...

When our dog was a puppy, he used to hang out in the front yard with me. When he saw me digging dandilions, and be-heading them, he took to doing the same. No, he didn't dig them, but he'd bite the head off any flower-head that was near!! ;-) He would even bite off the seed heads. Can you imagine?? ha!

James said...

Hey Val,

Great blog post, really laughed at your comments about your Father and the CIA eyes!

Well done for highlighting the plight of the solitary bee and the importance of the dandilion to them. We need those bees!

James

www.surreybeekeeper.co.uk

Kari Lønning said...

Speaking of bees and the arts, this is closer to you than to me: The Honey Bee and the Hive is at Contemporary Applied Arts, 2 Percy Street, London W1T 1DD, from 26 March – 1 May 2010.

Here's the article in Crafts Magazine: Waxing Lyrical About Bees: http://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/crafts-magazine/latest-issue/upfront/2

Shawna Coronado said...

Love your post and the photos too. I may just have to have a dandelion patch in my garden plan this year.

Meredith said...

I love dandelions, always have. Beautiful post, and thank you for reminding us of the value of this unsung little plant for the pollinators. :) Your painting in progress is lovely!

sharp green pencil said...

SG . I have such a wonderful vision of your puppy decapitating flowers.. must have been a thing to see! Can you train him to do something useful.. my father used to also rail against our dachshund bitch who peed on the lawn..leaving nice dead patches, but never of course on the dandelions.. there is some clever turn of phrase in there somewhere to link with the dandelions coloquial name!

James thank you, hope you have plenty of weeds in your garden for your bees! best excuse for the not weeding ever!

Meredith I do so agree.. they are very pretty, useful and a designers dream!

sharp green pencil said...

Kari .. thank you for the link sadly cant get there. It looks like a good show. Wont be in UK till late May :(.. your baskets are stunning by the way !

Shawna: just think of it as a little patch of sunshine, which you just might need occasionally in Chicago! Love what you do.. green is very good!