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Thursday 29 March 2012

Bees for Real and Bees in Art. “Winged Saviours” at Nature in Art Gallery, Gloucester..Oh, and me too!

I am just getting prepared for 10 days at the wonderful Nature in Art Gallery at Twigworth, Gloucestershire where I am teaching a two day drawing and painting course on Saturday and Sunday, and am Artist in Residence  for a week.

At the same time to celebrate all things bee there is a small exhibition of paintings, drawings and sculptures. “Winged Saviours” runs from March 27th - April 29th It will be fascinating and I am so delighted to be included in the exhibition.

“A small exhibition focusing on bees, a subject matter that has provided inspiration to artists, not just because of the intricate beauty of the bee, but because, in a sense, we should see them as ‘winged saviours’.

We have gathered together a selection of work from public and private collections, and had a number of pieces produced especially for this exhibition to help put a focus on the bee through art.

Four prints from Graham Sutherland’s famous ‘Bee Series’ will be shown amongst prints by other printmakers like Louise Bird, Greg Poole and Robert Gillmor. Russian artist Vadim Gorbatov and painters like Val Littlewood, Mark Rowney, Janet Melrose, Gary Woodley, Clifford and Rosemary Elliis and Jane Tudge help provide a great diversity of approach.”

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Graham Sutherland… from his bee series

Read more about the exhibition HERE

I am so looking forward to my time there. The workshop I am teaching will be about drawing, painting and looking harder at the smaller things in the natural world.  I am hoping it will be fine weather so we can make the most of the lovely wild grounds there.

Live bees!

At the same time there will be a stand from the charity Bees Abroad (  together with an observation hive. How wonderful! I am not sure I will be able to drag myself away from it to do any work. Bees Abroad are a small charity who work to support beekeeping in small communities abroad.

“They use their expertise, working in the local community group to develop a viable project which will become self-sustainable. Using indigenous bees and techniques appropriate for each location, Bees Abroad offers training and support in beekeeping including making hives and protective clothing from local materials, managing honeybees, collecting honey safely and handling and storing it hygenically.”

It will be a fascinating 10 days.

Do come along if you can and say hello.  Nature in Art Gallery is rather a hidden gem!

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Tuesday 27 March 2012

Basking Bee Fly

As well as more and more bees, including a Tree Bumble Bee , B hypnorum and the most beautiful big queen Common Carder Bee,  B pascuorum, the funny little bee flies are making an appearance. They, too, are feeding on the buckthorn.
Bee flies, Bombylius major, are experts at hovering. I watched one hover by a flower almost motionless while pushing that long snout deep into the flower. I don’t think bees can hover and feed at the same time.. but I could be wrong.

This bee fly had been flying with its characteristic, dart-and-hover movement just above the paving stones, then came to rest on the side of the shed. In flight its wings are a blur, but here you can see the beautiful dark markings on the forewings reminiscent of some dragonflies.

bee fly

Although they look a little like bees they are true flies and parasitic on some bees and wasps. It seems they need to keep warm and according to the Natural History Museum :

“Many individuals fly along the ground to absorb heat, whilst others fly further up trees to maximise direct sunlight.

When cold, the bee-flies perch vertically, pointing upwards, and they can remain in this position for a week or even longer (Knight 1967)”

I have not seen a motionless bee fly pointing upwards yet :)

I walked up by the reservoir today in the glorious sun, where dozens of bumble bees were feeding on the willows and cruising low to the ground looking for nest sites.

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And the early blackthorns were swarming with hundreds of tiny solitary bees. I just wish I knew what they were!


Thursday 22 March 2012

Spring Bees on the Buckthorn

On Tuesday, the first day of Spring, the bees were out and about, even in the Empty Garden. I have three things in bloom now, a pretty magnolia just starting, a wild plum of some sort and the biggest hit with the bees, the vicious purging buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica, which has won itself a reprieve of at least one more season by being such a brilliant early bee attractor.


Its thorny, whippy branches are smothered with sweet smelling white blossom. Tiny simple flowers came long before the leaves which are now just beginning to emerge and the bees love it. It hums with honey bees and the occasional huge bumble bee. I have seen 2 very dark B terrestris, a white tailed of some sort, B pratorum and what looked like a B lapidarius. Then there are the little bees whose identity I am much less certain about. Most are flying too high for me to get a decent photograph but below are just a few. Standing for a while and watching them all makes me realise how quiet some of the solitary bees are. You have to look hard for them.

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One of the many honey bees..

honey bee

..and a hover fly.


Some bees come to rest nearer the ground. This gorgeous gingery bee with gingery hairs on its hind legs I think might be Andrena clarkella (*** please note Alan's comment below so I am revising this to A bicolor... Will I ever get to grips with these mining bees!! )

This one, who I am not sure about, was sunning itself on a magnolia flower. (**for ID see Alan's comment below..possibly A flavipes)

It’s so lovely to see the magnolia in bloom. Evolving before bees, magnolias don’t rely on flying pollinators but the big smooth petals provide a handy sunbathing spot. I have seen several insects taking a break there. Our tree is very small, nothing like the magnificent grandifloras of Florida, but it is a poignant reminder of Leu Gardens and all my friends there, both legged and leafy.

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Monday 19 March 2012

Honey Bee and Rosemary

I have just finished a small commission for some friends.. not really bee people as such but there is a honey and cooking connection… so a combination of honey bee and rosemary seemed just perfect. 

Rosemary is one of my very favourite herbs. I tried to propagate a piece from Dads garden but it has not taken so in the end I had to buy one…

But I intend to have another go and will try this advice from Thomas Hill, writing in 1577

“Before you set your Rosemary Slips in April or March, wrap the bottom end or slip with Clay about the bignesse of a walnut, and put it in the ground and it will grow better. And about Midsummer following take it up again being well rooted …then make close to your wall a trench…In this trench set your Rosemary roots ; then fill the trench with water almost to the top and put in you earth little by little. In this manner I have set Rosemary which in two years have spread and covered a Wall. I have also known Bowers and Arbours made all of Rosemary which was wondrous sweet and pleasant.


Rosemary,  bottom right… from  fols. 20v-21r  Ps. Apuleius, Herbal
England, St. Augustine's abbey, Canterbury; c. 1070-1100: Bodleian Library, Oxford here

Then, when it has grown a bit, I will take Rycharde Banckes’ advice from his Herbal of 1525..

'Make thee a box of the wood of rosemary and smell to it and it
shall preserve thy youth.'

I am thinking it better hurry up and grow extremely fast !

Here is a lovely drawing of Rosemary by Charles Rennie Mackintosh


ROSEMARY / WALBERSWICK / 1915" from the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow 2012  see here .

It is interesting, particularly because of the informality of the line drawing of the leaves. The line just follows the shape of each leaf without erasing the crossovers. It is a lightness of touch that typifies his drawings. Lovely

 M detail

And I am in good company with my “Bee and Rosemary” because in the late 1500s Sir Thomas More wrote;

“As for Rosmarine, I lett it runne all over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance, and, therefore, to friendship;”

Bee and Rosemary

j&a bee

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP, 8”x8”.

And a big thank you to Dorset Wildlife Trust who invited me down to talk about my bees last Friday. My very good friend, bee and general wildlife lover, Jane Adams joined me with her brilliant photos and local knowledge. And thank you, also, to all at the Dorset Owl and Hawk Trust who I met the night before. I had a wonderful time…. there is a lot going on in Dorset!

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Chimney Pots and French Gardening

Last week we finally moved some furniture from Dad’s house and suddenly the Ugly Bungalow is looking a bit more like a home and less like a transit camp. Over the last few weeks we have worked like dogs to try to get a few walls painted, electrics done, shelves up, boxes moved, (again and again and again) and finally emptied…At last Chris has Dad’s old desk instead of a picnic table to work on and I have some shelves and I’m hoping the 60’s style glass fronted bookcases will come galloping back into fashion very soon.

As well as furniture we also brought back the two old chimney pots which were a present from me to Mum many years ago. They are not the fancy beautiful twisted ones but are quite plain and square. However they do have a known history, being the old Post Office pots from the village where I used to live.

One of my relocated Chimney pots. Now the right way up.

For some reason these poor things spent their life upside down at my parent’s house..something to do with “practicality” and the sizes of plant pots and I don’t think my father liked them very much. He though it odd to use chimney pots as decorative items… maybe for forcing rhubarb…but his rhubarb never seemed to need forcing. 

I haven’t got round to rhubarb yet but when I do  "Every Woman's Encyclopaedia", has this useful advice and a photo.

The Garden - Small Holdings For Women By A. C. Marshall, F.r.h.s.,

Ordinary chimney pots costing Is. 3d. apiece may be used for forcing early rhubarb, and are as effective as rhubarb pots costing 3s.

“Ordinary chimney-pots costing Is. 3d. apiece may be used for forcing early rhubarb, and are as effective as rhubarb pots costing 3s”

This is of course Old Money…about 6p in today’s currency. Now they cost just a bit more.

I have always admired chimney pots, with their mixture of practicality and design. A great example of “form following function”. The whole subject, the varieties and their manufacture, is endlessly fascinating. Many are very beautiful and decorative and there is one called “a beehive”.. a good plain speaking and practical design.

Here is a Yorkshire “Beehive” chimney pot from Leeds. Excellent I think for rhubarb.
Leeds beehive pot

The image is from the American Company where you can find many beautiful repro and original pots. 

Lance Bates in the UK is a chimney pot lover, spotter and collector and owned  the Museum of Chimney pots up in Burslem.. In 2009 Lance appeared on the BBC talking about his passion and here he is with some of his 2,500 pots at an exhibition at Ceramica in 2010. I think they are magnificent.

"I liked the shapes, and the fact that to produce a chimney you need a combination of art, science and engineering," ..


I know the Museum had to close (due yet again to the joyless ones) and was hoping to reopen with some funding. I wish him well and do hope he succeeds in finding a home for his fabulous and enviable collection. He compiled this sheet of images for the chimney pot spotter. The designer in me loves it!

Lance Bates chimeny pot guide

If you are a real enthusiast and are rich you can maybe find a copy of "Chimney Pots and Stacks - An Introduction to Their History, Variety and Identification ", written by Valentine Fletcher. It is the standard work on the British domestic chimney pot. Published in 1969, it is now very expensive! He made a collection of over 150 chimney pots from all over the world, which you can now see at Bursledon Brickworks. Here are a few ….


Photo from CleanerChimneys  who are helping the museum identify them.

It seems that chimney pots appeared in the UK in the 13th Century .. here, from those early days: “This cheeky chimney pot (or, more properly, a smoke-vent) once belched smoke from a merchant’s house in the High Street of fourteeth century Oxford.

Image and more info at the Ashmolean Museum Oxford.

Wonderful things chimney pots!

French Gardening

Reading down further in the article : The Garden - Small Holdings For Women By A. C. Marshall, I came across this fascinating insight into “French Gardening” which somehow immediately conjures up visions of saucy frolicking in the veg patch.

In dealing with market gardening for women, the writer has so far refrained from approaching the subject of Intensive Cultivation, or French Gardening. Briefly, the system is to force along very early crops by means of bell-glasses and immense quantities of manure, or else by a system of hot water pipes running beneath the ground. It is a style of gardening that has been much discussed, and there are in this country lady gardeners who are finding it most remunerative. At the same time, the adherents of French gardening who are reaping striking benefits are they who have actually studied on the Continent or under Parisian exponents. Certainly the system is one demanding great financial resources, and the lady with slender capital and only a beginner's knowledge of the rudiments of horticulture should leave French gardening severely alone. After all, we cannot war against our fickle climate; and the Frenchman, with his thousands of cloches, or bell-glasses, has not only the experience of generations on his side, but the sunshine as well.

Oh dear…as a poor creature of “slender capital “ and, sadly not having studied “under Parisian exponents” I guess it’s not for me. But I don’t think we do too badly for sunshine.

Read more:

Sunday 4 March 2012

Tiny Mouse Sketches

Every morning Chris throws out a handful of bird food onto the concrete slabs by the kitchen door. It’s usually the robin, the blackbird and the “Gang of Three” starlings who are first there.

Now we have a tiny mouse who creeps out from behind a planter.. rushes over to snatch a seed or a piece of cheese and rushes back. It is so charming. We only see it when it’s just getting light. It’s hard to see, but the scampering movements and those huge, shining, night vision eyes give it away.

I am sure it is a common long tailed field mouse. Apodemus sylvaticus. All ears, eyes and whiskers, dark grey brown on top with a paler fur underneath.

A few sketches to try to get my right arm and hand back into action. It’s reluctant and tells me it would rather be gardening, and I am very rusty.. in all senses. But work is piling up and its actually lovely to be able to sit down with the radio and my pencils again!

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Friday 2 March 2012

Big Bee Value at B&Q

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The DIY store B&Q sometimes have some very good plant bargains, (US readers think “Home Depot”)  Yesterday in Huntingdon a stand of marked down heathers were basking in the early afternoon sun and were covered with bees!  I counted 12 x B terrestris, 2 x B lucorum, 1 x B pratorum, 3 x honey bees and had my first sighting of a solitary bee this year. (Hopefully ID to come.) Some were busy feeding and some tucked in between the flowers, sleeping. For once I happened to have my camera with me so took a few quick snaps.

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2 Buff Tailed Bumble Bees, B terrestris

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B pratorum, The Early Bumble Bee

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A rather blurry B lucorum, The White Tailed Bumble bee.

Also enjoying the heather were quite a few flies including two hover flies, which, after my one day course I can now hopefully ID. One was Scaeva pyrastri, the little black and white striped one ( no photo sadly) and this one,

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which I guess is an Eristalis, a Drone Fly.
Heather is brilliant for bees and there were reports on BWARS, of bees on the heather in Windsor Great Park all through the winter. See Winter Bumble Bees thread on the Forum.
On a neighboring stand, high up, were some small narcissi being visited by both B terrestris and this gorgeous B Hypnorum.

B hypnorum, Tree Bumble Bee.

I had not really thought of daffs as a particularly good bee plant but I guess these early bees will just find nectar and pollen where they can. They were also visiting primroses, and big flowered pansies. It is quite a small plant department at Huntingdon but does demonstrate the advantage of having lots of flowering plants all together, making it a worth while stop off for the bees. My three crocuses are not quite doing the job!

Bees in your Bonnet

The bees were delightful to watch and I stayed for about 20 minutes, the staff mercifully just ignored me and although I am not too fond of heathers I did buy a box, (how could I not!) to help fill the Empty Garden along with a great bargain sedum, pretty little “Rose Carpet” which will, I hope, thrive in a sunny spot and be enjoyed by many insects.

I had to gently shake the heathers so as not to inadvertently take home a sleeping bee and I also had to shake my hair because, as well as the heathers, the large drowsy bees are also partial to my hair, which is, to put it mildly rather fluffy and unruly.
Although I seem unable to fight off the inevitable slide into 3rd age eccentricity, I am just not ready to arrive at a shop counter, albeit to buy plants, with bees in my hair .. no, really, not yet.

Perhaps I should take it as a compliment that these lovely creatures find me a reassuring resting point. I remember years ago waking up one spring morning having slept with the window open, to find a large bumble bee next to me on the pillow. It was snuggled up in my hair, buzzing softly and was rather grumpy when asked to move.

Bees in your hair. It is the stuff of limericks.. where is Edward Lear when you need him?

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