Let’s help the BEES…shall we?? It’s so very easy.

First bee sightings
I haven’t really been looking for bees yet but I know from BWARS reports many have been active in the south over this mild winter. On Saturday I saw my first 2014 bumble bees and a honey bee here the garden, along with a big bee mimic hoverfly.
The bumbles were the Buff tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus terrestris and the Early Bumble Bee Bombus pratorum. My bee friendly neighbour has an early clematis and we both have winter honeysuckles and the wild bird cherry is just coming into bloom.
The bees were busy around them all. We were talking today over the fence. “When I saw the bees were back it just made me smile” she said. Me too Carole!


My painting of the big beautiful Bombus terrestris on wonderful bee friendly early Mahonia.

The last bee of 2014 was this Bombus terrestris I photographed on Nov 30th on very late flowering comfrey.
The comfrey is such a star.



It was very depressing to hear of the discovery of yet more  new problems for Bumble Bees last week. It has just made me more determined to redouble my efforts this year to help wild bees and promote their conservation. I am just a small scale gardener and the easiest, most effective and cheapest thing that people like us can do is to plant more bee friendly flowers…and goodness,  that is easy enough.

What I am doing…
I am thinking of how I can get people to join me in planting more BFF’s both here in the village and wherever they live. Maybe I will set up something online … but for now here is what I am doing

1 Bee house clean out, repair, reassemble and restock the solitary bee house with new tubes. Maybe build an extra one…Yes!

2 Order some new bee friendly perennials. Lots of online shops, and garden centres now display the helpful RHS pollinator friendly logo.


There are also specialist suppliers. like Bee Happy Plants who I have bought from in the past.

3 Seed checking I am checking my seeds to see what annuals I might need to sow or restock. I save seeds from poppies, phacelia and  anything else I can think of that might help. It’s a random business but I end up with lots of seeds which I generally scatter on newly dug bits of the front garden. We are slowly getting rid of the grass out there.

4 Looking to see which flowers and trees the bees are visiting
We garden on very VERY heavy clay and the previous owners did not garden but put down grass. We are digging it up… slowly. I am not used to heavy clay and not all of the lovely bee friendly flowers will grow here. It is the beginning of year three for us here and I am beginning to see which plants are happy and which are not. Thistles absolutely love it..sigh…

5 Bee Fostering Collecting boxes for possible Bumble Bee fostering. My bee friendly local pest control guy Mathew brought 4 colonies to me last year. He is very VERY reluctant to move Bumble Bees and tries to persuade people they are benign, but some people just don’t listen. Three made it through to a certain extent. One lucorum, one very successful lapidarius and a huge terrestris colony. It was very rewarding.

Plant Lists For now if you are dithering about some new plants look for the many online resources and suppliers of Bee Friendly Plants. The RHS’ two PDFs Perfect for Pollinators: Garden Plants  and  Perfect for Pollinators: Wild Flowers are a good start.

Print them off… give them to your friends… pin them up at school, community centre, leisure centre, gardening club…anywhere….everywhere…  More bee encouragement to come… Oh and luckily my Tree Following trees, Willows and Horse Chestnuts, are very good for pollinators!!

I also decided my next bee painting will be Bombus Ruderatus the beautiful black version of the Large Garden Bumble Bee which I saw a couple of years ago in Dads garden. I made a sketch at the time but, especially as it is a fairly local species it’s time I made a good study.

A Start with the Bee Plants & Bombus lapidarius sketch

I have spent many, many hours over the past month reading books, seed catalogues and online advice about how to plan the garden, what to plant, where and why.
The planning has involved a lot of staring at the mud patch, a huge amount of digging and moving barrow loads of soil from A to B and then on to C and sometimes back to A again.

We have added a couple of new paths, constructed two simple raised beds, (hopefully correctly placed and orientated) and excavated a small hole, now plastic lined and water filled which will, without doubt, become a magnificent wildlife pond.

Some fascinating pond progress:

pond 1    pond 2  

pond 25     pond 3

It’s a small thing, but wonderful because a patch of shimmering sky has suddenly appeared in the lawn and, when the light is right, is bounced up into the kitchen to dance high on the tops of the cabinets and ripple on the ceiling..Quite lovely.

Planting the pond This is not my first pond but the first I have tried to create with regard to native plants and wildlife. Luckily I found the extremely helpful Puddleplants who can provide wildlife friendly collections for native and ornamental ponds.

So the pond is now started and after some excellent advice from Annette at Puddle, the first plants to go in are:

Deep water plant: Fringe Lily,
Oxygenator: Starwort
Marginals: Marsh marigold, Purple loosestrife, Yellow flag, Water mint, Forget me not, Bog bean, Brooklime, Cotton grass, Carex and Penny Royal.

I will add more as they become available, but (and this is doomed to fail) will try not to plant too much. It’s a problem because I tend to get over-excited about the possibilities and over-optimistic about the greenness of my fingers.
I am beginning to edge the pond with stones, have made two escape slopes for hedgehogs and small mammals, have an overhang to create a shade area and some old roof tiles and bits of wood waiting to be placed around the edge which will give cover for frogs etc.
I won’t be having any fish.
Advice indicates they are not compatible with other wildlife, although I did like to see the brilliant orange flashes of my small goldfish in the previous pond who, for years, seemed to share their home companionably with frogs, newts and sticklebacks.

And more working bee drawings… Working on the the garden, revising the rats nest of electrics in the roof and trying to get some heart into the ugly bungalow by opening up the chimney for a woodburner, seem to have caused a huge and disproportionate amount  of mess and chaos.
Everything has been covered in plaster dust and mud and my work room has been piled up with “stuff” so artwork has had to take a back seat for a couple of weeks.

But I am back to the working sketches now and to Bombus lapidarius, the Red Tailed or Stone, Bumble Bee. I never get tired of watching this bee. Luckily for us they are very common.
The queens are big and extremely beautiful, so very velvet black and so very flame red. They were the stars of my bee walks at Heligan. Every day for two weeks, at 2.00 pm,  perfectly on cue, the workers zoomed in and out of their nest.

We would walk over to a patch of rather unpromising ground by a tree where there was a small hole in the earth. “Just watch” was all I had to say. The Oohhs, Ahhhs and delighted smiles were very rewarding.

They like to nest on the ground, under things, often at the base of walls or under sheds (yes…I am hopeful).. hence the name the Stone Bumble Bee. I have been looking out on BWARS for early sightings, one was possibly seen on Christmas Day but nothing reported since then.  Looking at the forecast for this week I hope they are still hunkered down.

I am still undecided about the flower. The possibilities are many because they forage from a wide range of plants.  Thoughts are maybe a scabious of some kind.

lap rev lap3 bg

PS. Most fun and satisfying recent gardening activity:

buying a cheap garden shredder to chop up the massive pile of mixed hedge loppings and then using them for mulch… How green are we?? …3 hrs of legal and productive destruction…highly recommended 🙂

A Week of Walks: Day 1

A path, bees and (killer) teasels. Yesterday I met with my artist friend Jean after visiting the Aged P. The Aged P is not doing too well and is a profound worry.
We are doing the best we can for him and life must go on, but it is a situation which weighs heavily on the not-so-broad shoulders of myself and my sister… so, to mull it all over, I go for a walk.

I have been walking for days now. Jean and I were talking about how good it is for body and mind to sketch out of doors. Its something I have not done much of recently. So today for my mind clearing walk I also took along the sketchbook. It has to be simple for me so a pen, a pencil and a sketchbook.
Sketchbook work is always so good for looking and seeing, and recording thoughts if you have a mind to do that.
Today then, the path, which follows the reservoir shore. It is lined on one side with a very tall unidentified crop which looks almost like sugar cane.

walk one bg

As I stood sketching,a gusty wind started at the far end of the field and slowly worked its way towards me, thrashing the tops of the tall crop, rustling and advancing in an unnerving way.

You would surely think there was a tiger in there somewhere. Willows line the path on the other side, with the occasional conifer and birch.

walk 2 bg

Then there were the wonderful teasels. They are widespread here and I have been watching them develop from little green prickly rosettes into the tall and beautiful flower heads, beloved of bees of course.

I watched the bees carefully work their way systematically round each ring of flowers. I also now realise that teasels start flowering from one central ring , then as those flowers die and fall away the flowers develop both up and down making two ring of purple.

Fascinating and geometrically stunning.

Bees on Teasels

walk3 bg

I sketched them in pencil while I was out and added a bit of colour on my return. The bees today (cold windy and occasionally wet), were mostly pretty gingery B pascuorum. I wrote about teasels before here, beautiful and useful!

However they do have a dark side where insects are concerned … read two fascinating posts from two excellent natural history blogs, first Killer Teasels post over on Cabinet of Curiosities blog and again on Wasp and Teasel Water Cup on A Bug Blog.

It seems that teasels thrive on drowned insects!

Wild about bees: The “Buzz” at Easton.. what a Great Weekend!

My wild bees and me; we are just back from our weekend show at Easton Walled Gardens.

I had such a wonderful time and talked bees non stop to so many very nice people. (I haven’t met a bad bee lover ever!!). I have never thought of myself as much of a campaigner but, as was pointed out to me several times, I have, perhaps, found my “cause”.
I try not to slip into “bee bore” mode and try to stop before people glaze over .. but  “Thank you, I have really learnt so much today” was the best feedback I could hope for.

So many people said they would now think more about our bees when they plant the gardens, all my leaflets on bee flowers went and so did my small stock of BUZZ books and I’m printing prints for orders on the day and re-ordering the postcards.

People reading the flowers notes were either congratulating themselves or making notes for future planting but were also telling me all about their own observations. One of the first ladies who came into the show brought a photo, on her mobile phone, of a bee nesting in a bird-box on her wall… I was able, very confidently, to tell her she has a little colony of the lovely Tree Bumble Bee, Bombus hypnorum. She was delighted!

Many people also have humming houses like our cottage, full of mason bees. People were surprisingly fascinated by the pinned specimens and my small collection of deceased bees and stroking a tiny velvety bee proved popular with both the kids and their parents.

There were lots of “Ahhhs”. So it’s thanks to all who came, those who braved the rain on Monday and those who said such very kind things about the paintings and the bees.

And a specially big thanks to bee fan Ursula, Lady Cholmeley and all the staff at Easton for not only making the show happen but also for creating a fabulous bee friendly garden with many bee favourites and gorgeous drifts of wildflowers and natural planting.  We got a mention in The Times, Country Life, Woman and Home and Radio Lincs…

Hurrah.. let’s hear it for our wild bees!!!

We are considering something bigger and better next year.. watch this blog! Currently the Easton bees are particularly enjoying the huge exuberant border of catmint and the self seeded phacelia! So just a few more of the bees that you will be able to see right now: Lovely lapidarius, with her glorious red tail,  such a favourite bee with everyone, on the catmint.


Pretty Phacelia is one of the top 20 honey-producing flowers for honeybees! Check out its amazing blue/black pollen on this bees legs!

black pollen
Pascuorum on lupin


also on the drifts of pretty little speedwell…

Little HHFB,  the hairy footed flower bee on this beautiful blue green plant that I can never remember the name of…


and a late and hopeful male osmia.. I think..


Do visit this beautiful garden if you have a chance.. it’s wonderful.. and my favourite lunch there is the pea green soup.. its like eating all the goodness of the earth whizzed up together and served with gorgeous locally baked warm bread..




*******  BLOG UPDATE 2nd June… Blackbird has come to my rescue..and not for the first time .  The beautiful plant I could not remember the name of is Cerinthe Blackbird has the really excellent BUGBLOG check out her fascinating post on the lovely hypnorum!  http://abugblog.blogspot.com/

The Lovely Melissodes Bees, and Who was Melissa anyway?

I am busy with some commissioned work at the moment but for a break I have been going down to the Gardens for a bit of R&R and of course a bit of bee spotting.

If I was excited about the little leafcutter bee last week, I am even more excited about seeing the very beautiful black Melissodes bimaculata.  They are not so difficult to see but are fast, impatient bees and difficult to photograph.

If one out of ten of my photos actually has a bee in it, I count myself lucky .. to have one with a non blurry bee is even more amazing. These bees belong to the wonderful longhorned bees, the Eucerini tribe (Apidae), whose males have the exuberant long antennae.
These particular Melissodes bimaculata are a beautiful inky black with robust hairy legs.

Their back legs have bushy ivory/tan coloured hairs, a feature which reminded me very much of the striking female Anthophora plumipes. Are they related I wonder?  At the tip of the abdomen are two white spots,  the “bi-maculata”  of its name.
They have a very distinctive shape, almost fly-like in a way. I have seen them mostly on the squash flowers where you can be taken by surprise as they are right down at the base of the flower.

Stick your nose in at your peril, there is often an odd assortment of insects down there! This is the very characteristic  fly-like look of the bimaculata.


They have big broad heads..almost triangular from the front.


They love this native Firebush plant Hamelia patens.

This is my one, lucky shot…you can see the white spot on the tip of the abdomen, one of the bi-maculata spots and the pale leg hairs.


Here the bee has its head right down the trumpet of the flower and is holding onto the sides with its feet. Its rather like trying on a hat.

meliss       mellis2

This nectar rich plant is a banqueting table for many other insects, bugs and butterflies and as I approached this patch the other day there was a thrummm of hummingbird wings past my ear. I have only seen one other this year.

Below is the male bimaculata with his extra long antennae heading off to the White Cordia whose crinkled flowers are similar to squash flowers I thought.


Melissodes”… from the Greek “Melissa” meaning  “honey bee”.

So who was Melissa? The original Melissa had many guises it seems. She is sometimes priestess, sometimes nymph.  The handmaidens who served the great earth goddess Artemis were called Melissae.
In one story Melissa is a nymph who lived in the “ bee haunted cave” on Ithaca. She it was who first discovered the delights of honey and mead and it is this lovely Melissa who named the bees.  In another she is the daughter of Melisseus King of Crete.

She is one of nurses for the baby Zeus and feeds him on goat’s milk and honey. “Melissaios”,  the Bee man, is another name for Zeus The Melissae have some lovely associations with souls and spirits and the muses, honeyed words, sweetly whispered.
Unborn souls, said to arrive as bees, were called Melissa and Persephone also luxuriated in the name Melitodes …meaning the honey sweet one.

This is the tiny sketch I did last year of the ancient Bee Goddess plaque at the British Museum from 7th century Rhodes.

queen bee 2

Another “Melissa” but a plant this time is the beautiful Lemon Balm Mellissa officinalis much loved by bees and an ancient healing herb.

The “sweet” mint used for alleviating pain and soothing practically anything..  another definite addition to my imaginary garden.


Image by Richard Peterson at Shutterstock

So, I am delighted to have seen the Melissodes bimaculata. I rather like to think of them as strange little black muses, as purveyors of inspiration and ideas. I will be back down to the Gardens very soon.

A Pembrokshire Buzz; The Beautiful Shrill Carder Bee

The last Bumblebee for my British Bees set, the lovely Shrill Carder bee B. sylvarum, one of the smaller members of bumblebee family and endangered.

As with the Great Yellow Bumblebee I received some help and advice from one of the conservation officers at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Pippa Rayner.

The shrill carder bee is her baby.. lucky Pippa! .. and in February this year the trust won 30,000EURs funding towards this great bumblebee project on the Pembrokeshire Coast!..Pippa says :

We will be creating a wildflower-rich habitat to support rare bumblebees along a new 10km path in the Pembrokeshire National Park. By connecting key sites, this attractive route through spectacular scenery will help prevent the national extinction of the shrill carder bee.

The project will benefit lots of other wildlife too; Wales, like the rest of the UK, has lost most of its wild flower grasslands, so creating and restoring these habitats will benefit the plants, butterflies, bees, birds and other beasties that depend upon them. It will also create a lovely place to walk, with flowers and bumblebees along the path that takes walkers, horseriders and cyclists through areas that were previously inaccessible, thanks to the new route provided by the MOD”We’ll be bringing extra colour and ‘buzz’ to beautiful Pembrokeshire!

I wish her well and what a very good reason to visit one of the most beautiful parts of Wales. It takes quite a while for things to happen though doesn’t it! Back in 2006 at the launch of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Professor Dave Goulson told the Independent newspaper this:

“UK nature reserves are simply too small.The only way to provide sufficient areas of habitat for bumblebees is if the wider, farmed countryside, and the vast areas covered by suburban gardens, are managed in a suitable way. To do this we need to educate people, and encourage activities such as the planting of wildflowers and traditional cottage-garden flowers in gardens, the replanting of hedgerows, and the recreation of hay meadow and chalk grassland habitats..

This echoes Buglife’s wonderful vision of the “Rivers of Flowers” earlier this year.










Bombus sylvarum from James Lindsey’s Ecology of Commanster Site, via Wiki here. (**James’ site is wonderful)

A Greenish Bee

From Sladen: “ The prevailing colour is greenish-white, often with ayellowish tinge.” From the Natural History Museum: “Fresh pale B. sylvarum are almost unmistakable in Britain with their ‘greenish’ yellow hair.” From Arkive It has a distinctive combination of markings, being predominantly grey-green, with a single black band across the thorax, and two dark bands on the abdomen. The tip of the abdomen is pale orange.”


The Flower: Devils Bit Scabious Succisa pratensis

I asked Pippa about which flowers this bee favours and she told me it likes several plants in particular, including red clover Trifolium pratense, yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor, common bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus , common knapweed Centaurea nigra, red bartsia Odontites verna. But,
I would suggest devil’s-bit scabious would be ideal as this is an important plant at Castlemartin in Pembrokeshire where it provides forage for the shrill carder later on in 

the summer”


from Shutterstock by Andrey Novikov .

So the lovely little Devils Bit Scabious it is.
The curious name coming from the root form which looks cut off, or bitten off. Legend says the Devil found it in the Garden of Eden but was envious of the little flower’s many good and helpful properties so bit off part of the root, but the plant survived.
There is a curious little piece in the Edinburgh Review’s 1809 review of J. E. Smith’s “Introduction to Botany “1809 . Smith is talking about root systems and quotes Gerards of herbal fame.

“ old Geralde is quoted ‘ ‘The great part of the root seemeth to be bitten away; old fantastick charmers report that the divel did bite it for envie, because it is an herbe that hath so many good vertues and it is so beneficial to mankinde.’: And the Doctor facetiously adds that “the malice of the devil has unhappily been so successful that no virtues can now be found in the remainder of the root or herb.’”

However Culpepper has the plant curing plague, pestilence, external and internal problems alike, plus snake bites and wounds. Another useful plant to have around, not only for the bees! Let’s hope it get on well in Wales without the Devil’s interference. It’s the prettiest pale lilac little thing.. quite beautiful.

The Painting

A few roughs and on with the painting. The grey-green pile looks more grey than green against the white paper but a simple mix of Payne’s grey and yellow was a good colour for it. It’s a very pretty hairy little bee!

syv sketch 2


The Beautiful Shrill Carder Bee, Bombus sylvarum zooming in at full throttle to the Devils Bit Scabious

shrill carder sm

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP 8 x 8”

***PS.. there is a super little Bumblebee film here by Jamie-Lee Loughlin http://vimeo.com/11758948.

The Long Horned Bee again.. Eucera, Ophrys and Vetch.

Eucera longicornis

The gorgeous handsome Long Horned bee Eucera longicornis with his wonderful long curving antennae had to be included in the British Bee set although they are quite rare. In the UK you may catch a glimpse of one depending on where you are.
Go to the BWARS great interactive maps to see which bees you can see where in the UK. Here are Jeremy Earley’s notes from the excellent “Woodland and Hedgerow bees” part of his Nature Conservation Imaging Site:

“Eucera longicornis is scarce and was made a Biodiversity Action Plan priority species in 2007. They are seen from May to July in various locations including coastal grassland (the Isle of Wight is good) and heathland as well as open woodland rides. They use only the Pea family for pollen collecting.“

So you might be lucky! It would be wonderful. I did see a small bee with very long antennae here last year which could have been a squash bee.. but of course no camera at the time.
I painted this bee before back in December for Deborah’s set “Eucera the Curiously Goat-Like Longhorned Bee. Eucera nigrescens

There is another longhorned bee Eucera nigrescens which is even rarer in the UK but can be found in Europe and has been chosen as the Swiss conservation group Pro Natura’s “Animal of the Year “ for 2010. From an excellent article on Swisster.ch here :

“By choosing this particular bee as its animal of the year, Pro Natura has highlighted the fragile balance between the world’s flora and fauna. Part of the reason for this is the lack of suitable accommodation. Wild bees such as Eucera nigrescens build their nests in the ground, typically in meadows, gravel pits, fallow land and orchards.”


Eucera nigrescens and another of Nico Vereecken’s wonderful photos from another short article at Swissinfo.ch Read more here.

“Eucera nigrescens , is described by Pro Natura as a “furry pollen taxi”. It plays a vital role in pollinating the Ophrys holosericea orchid.”The orchid fools the insect by imitating the shape and smell of the female. The male bee comes along to mate, and receives a load of pollen instead, which it passes on to the next plant it visits.”


The Ophrys orchids, often just referred to as the “Bee orchids” are the bizarrely beautiful orchids whose flowers have developed to resemble the furry bodies of bees and other insects (reproductive mimicry).
Some emit pheromones which are attractive to male Eucera Andrena, Anthophora, and Colletes, bees, who are tricked into trying to mate with them.
We do have the Bee orchid O. apifera in the UK and you might think it would be a good place to spot a long horned Eucera bee but apparently they have become self pollinating .. how curious?
Is this because of a lack of suitable bees? I had hoped to be drawing a bee orchid for this exhibition.. another time. This is from Dr. Alan J. Silverside’s excellent page on the British Bee Orchid on the University of Paisley’s Boidiversity Reference site here

“The genus Ophrys is a large and predominantly mediterranean genus, with just a few species reaching Britain. O. apifera is much the most widespread and frequent of these. It has to be admitted, however, that O. apifera is not a good example of reproductive mimicry, as it is predominantly self-fertilising. It is visited and pollinated by bees of the genera Andrena and Eucera (Lang, 2004), but only rarely, and these are mining bees, similar in general appearance to honey bees (Apis), and so at least visually quite unlike the flower of O. apifera.”

Bee / orchid …orchid / bee? You can maybe judge if you think the plants do a reasonable job, compare the female bee below with the orchids.


These again from Gordon Ramel’s great solitary bee site earthlife.net

470px-Ophrys_scolopax_ssp_scolopax_b     image

Ophrys scolopax Portugal by Carsten Niehaus at Wiki and the UK Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera by W Fricke also from the University of Paisley’s Boidiversity Reference site here.


The Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora …no ribald comments about the name please : )  with its enthusiastic pollinator Eucera longicornis photographed in the North of France by Eric Walravens from the super Belgian Orchid site www.Ophrys.be.

The Painting

It seemed a gift that the bee with these wonderfully curving and exuberant antennae should like the pea family Fabaceae with its curling tendrils.
I did wonder if there was any connection? Probably just a coincidence. So here is the gorgeous little furry male Eucera longicornis poised on the curving branch of the Common Vetch, Vicia sativa which can be used for livestock fodder or green manure or just a pretty wildflower. Horses like it too! A few roughs to sort out the curves

sketch 1 sketch 2 smsketch 3sm


The Longhorned Bee Eucera longicornis


eucera sm

Teasels for Bees & Birds, Use & Ornament and some more bee flowers.

Teasels Dipsacus fullonum and Dipsacus sylvestris, are one of my very favourite wild flowers. Those of my generation will remember the advent of gold and silver spray paints which we used enthusiastically to suffocate poor teasels for Christmas decorations.
You can still see teasels growing in the verges and on the banks of the dykes around Linconshire but not so many as I remember. It’s an overlooked plant now but with such a fascinating past.

To Tease Out
The teasel is where we get the phrase “ to tease out” from. It was the most important carding tool for the wool industry in the UK certainly since medieval times.
To achieve a fine finish on woolen cloth, the surface of the cloth was “raised” using teasels, then close sheared. It was so important to the trade that it was imported to America and grown as a crop.
There is a really interesting article here from Old Sturbridge Village site which tells about the teasels importance and introduction to the USA. Here are a couple of snippets

“Samuel Deane’s New England Farmer of 1822 wholeheartedly endorses its introduction ( from England) : “This is a plant which ought to be cultivated in this country, in order to facilitate and improve the manufacture of woollen. And from some trials that have been made it appears that it may be done without difficulty.”” How are teasels used? Volume 14 of The New England Farmer (1836) asserts that “no satisfactory artificial substitute for the teasel has ever been invented, though many have been tried. It is used … for raising a regular nap upon cloth; its long barbs being drawn over the cloth repeatedly till they have combed out all the knots, and made it perfectly smooth.” The Country Dyer’s Assistant (1798) praises the plant for its plethora of hooked tips that are “strong enough to pick up the fibers, but not strong enough to tear the fabric. Although many attempts have been made to substitute metal wire for teasels, there are still certain woolens which require napping by the teasel.”

Originally the teasels were set in a frame and worked across the cloth by hand. ( The images below are from an article about cloth raising from Trowbridge Museum in the UK )

image        image

A Handle of teasels for cloth dressing.

The job then became more mechanised with the invention of the labour saving“teasel gig” which according to the Witney Blanket Co site was known in some form since the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553).

image      image T

he Teasel Gig which was set up with specially adapted Handles of Teasels


You can see a working Teasel Gig at the The Dunkirk Mill Centre in Nailsworth Glos. see Stroudwater Textile Trust .

I read that they do still use teasels today for some fine cloth but I can’t find any specific reference to that. It seems a shame that after such a splendid and valued part in the textile industry the lovely teasel is now relegated to dreary dried flower arrangements or perhaps the not so dreary craft possibilities.

Teasels art and craft
The teasel is another beautiful and inspirational plant for artists and contemporary designers with its strong silhouette and prickly robust seed head.


Monica Pooles beautiful wood engraving from the GAC UK’s Government Art Collection

. image

Karl Blossfeld’s Dipsacus fullonum, Fuller’s teasel, capitulum, 6x see more here.


And I am a big fan of Jane Sassman’s gorgeous textiles here is “ Teasel and Lace” from her super inspirational blog Idea Book.

Teasel mice and hedgehog crafts are still alive and well, and a bit more sophisticated than my childhood efforts. I couldn’t resist this bee from Teazles.com http://www.teazles.com/catalog/t-bumblebee.jpg


Teasels and Wildlife

Wildlife likes teasels.. lots of different things, here are a few:
In both the USA and the UK bumblebees love teasels


The Redtailed Bumble Bee (it needs a fairly long tongued bee to access the nectar) by Martin Dyer from the photographers Martin Dyer and David Courtenay’s blog Wildlife across the Water. A very nice cross Atlantic Blog


Six spot burnet moth by Brian Maudsley from Shutterstock

The lovely Gatekeeper butterfly on Teasel by Andy Horton from his really excellent website Glaucus .org which is full of wildlife notes, photos and observations from his home ground in West Sussex.

shutterstock_36786502     shutterstock_36786505

Siskins and Goldfinchesboth by Martin Pateman at Shutterstock


Thorburn’s beautiful painting of Bluetits on teasel.


A UK Red Admiral Butterfly by Bill McKelvie from Shutterstock For those in the USA, Nina, over at her lyrical Ohio blog “Nature Remains” has some beautiful teasels, here with the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Silver Spotted Skipper

. image       image

Monarch butterflies love them too and many other insects.. It’s another plant for my bee garden.. despite its status in some places as noxious weed!

Wild Flowers for bees Just a few more bee flower sketches..ones that fall more into the weeds/ wildflowers category.

It’s those same families, the umbellifers, the asters, thistles, composite flower heads that offer lots of small nectar stops on one flower head.. you can see the logic and of course the pea family, more of which tomorrow.

My last post mentioned the Knapweed which is here again , as is Reseda luteola and both of these flowers also have interesting connections with the cloth trade as both are old dye plants.

vetch     reseda

Vetches and Dyers weld

cow parsely     dandleion sm

Cow parsleys and Dandelions

plantain      teasel copy

Plantains and Teasels

daisy copy      hawkbit copy

Daisies, dog or moon or ox eye.. and the Knapweeds.

There are lots more of course and I may get a few more done before next Friday… well maybe ..

The Great Yellow Bumble Bee and the Machair.. (a Bee for Esme)

It’s always nice to have someone in mind when painting things and this bee came about due to a note from my friend Esme who lives way up north on the Isle of Lewis. She wrote to me saying that they had seen quite a few of these big and beautiful endangered Bumble Bees while walking on the “machair”.

I have never seen the machair but judging by the photos, it is a sight to behold! Swathes of flowers starting with yellow hues in May,( is it like that now Esme?) changing to pinks and purples with both the month and the underlying soil composition. It must be very beautiful and has to join my long list of “things still to be seen”

“The principal remaining strongholds for Bombus distinguendus are in the Scottish machair grassland. Photo © D Goulson” from the Natural History Museum, read more here.

What is the Machair?

This is from a short but very informative article by Jennifer Young here

‘Machair’ is a Gaelic word, usually taken to refer to an area of low-lying fertile land. Over the years it has come to be used by ecologists to refer to a specific coastal habitat, related to predominantly west-facing coastal areas backed by sand dunes, which is found only in some areas of northern and western Scotland and western Ireland.

“Most of the plants found on the machair are not rare (there are exceptions, such as orchids and lady’s tresses). It is the extraordinary abundance of flowering plants which makes it special. Lady’s bedstraw, bird’s foot trefoil, harebells, clover, tufted vetches, daisies and many others, benefiting from a traditional absence of chemical herbicides, form a carpet of flowers in spring and summer. The crofters who farm the machair have also traditionally not used pesticides, so that the land supports a strong and varied insect and invertebrate population. SNH identifies the two most notable species to be found here as the great yellow bumble bee, which is threatened by habitat loss, and the belted beauty moth.”

It’s another sobering example of how pesticides do so much harm to those creatures we really need. There is plenty of info about this very special habitat on the internet and more details about the flowers here from Virtualheb.co.uk.

The Great Yellow Bumble Bee Bombus distinguendus

For the painting I contacted the Bumble Bee Conservation trust for some more info re the bee and its flower preference. You can read much more about the BBCT’s work to protect it here and Bob Dawson, who is the conservation officer in charge of the project also has a blog here. Bob’s photo of the GYBB .. the colours are always brighter the younger they are .. this is, in Bob’s words “a fresh worker”

GYB fresh worker







The Great Yellow Bee is just that, very big and very yellow! They have a body length of 12-21mm, and the yellow is a bright lemon rather than the softer orange yellow of other bumble bees. It is a relatively late bee, emerging in May, so takes advantage of the flowers of the machair and likes legumes, yellow rattle, marsh woundwort, knapweeds and thistles and many others and is not a particular specialist.

Its survival in the machair particularly is thought to be partly due to its relatively long tongue which enables it to feed on the long petaled flowers such as the vetches, knapweeds, and clover, many of which have disappeared from other UK habitats. USA readers!!!!

Don’t worry you too have a couple of very similar beautiful bees, the closely related Bombus borealis and Bombus appositus. Bombus borealis by Mardon Erbland from Bugguide






Bombus appositus by
Lynette Schimming also from Bugguide

Black Knapweed Bob suggested that I draw Black Knapweed Centaurea nigra to accompany the bee, which is rather nice because although not quite the magnificent Scotch Thistle Onopordon acanthium, it is a relation and has a Scottish air about it but without the thorns. (I have lots of Scottish blood so a nice thistle makes me feel at home!) Photo by Anita Gould from Tree of Life Web Project here







The knapweeds are a very interesting group of plants in general, with both dye and medicinal uses. The dreaded Spotted Knapweed Centaurea maculosa (branded noxious and invasive in the USA) was thought to have a curious defence mechanism, and that by producing a natural herbicide “catechin”, it could rid the surrounding ground of competing plants.
It’s called ‘plant-plant allelopathy’ and is quite a feat for a plant. It is a defense mechanism used by other plants but not entirely clear if it’s true of knapweed or not .. read more here. It’s fascinating

The Painting

I knew I wanted an indication of the “carpet” of the machair flowers running along the bottom of the image and my initial roughs had a more or less standard side view

sk sm.jpgsketches 2

but after some thought I decided to tip the perspective a bit and have more of the worms eye view of this beautiful big bee, hovering over the black knapweed.

sketchgreat yellow

So here is the brilliant

Great Yellow Bumble Bee Bombus distinguendus .. (thank you Esme.) What a shame it would be if these magnificent creatures died out.

great yellow bumble bee sm

Watercolour and Pencil on Arches HP 8”x 8” approx

Late Summer Bee Flowers

Bees in general emerge at different times of the year and it’s easy to think they are just around in the summer when there are plenty of flowers but many species will need food in early Autumn. In September last year there were many bumble bees, honey bees and solitary bees still busy in the garden, so, in planning the bee garden some late flowers are essential. “Late” can depend where you are of course, but here are just a few:

amemone     sea holly copy

Japanese Anemone, the most beautiful and elegant of plants, and Sea Holly.
I think the Eryngiums are particularly beautiful and there is very striking one called Eryngium leavenworthii which is worth seeking out

sunflower     aster copy

Bees love Sunflowers and particularly Michaelmas Daisies. A great plant to watch bees on, as they are too busy foraging to notice you!

ivy copy      fuschia copy

Ivy and Fuschia, Let the ivy bloom for the pretty Ivy bee and the bumblebees seem to love the endlessly flowering shrub fuschia in my Father’s garden.

heathersedum smjpg

Heather and Sedum. Heathers will bloom all season for bees and plant any of the many fascinating Sedums, or “stonecrops” which look so lovely in late summer and are great for green roofs!


I will get around to making the notes on the sketches soon! It’s very hot here this weekend and not conducive to work at all!

Hot Sloth

hot sloth