Bombus hypnorum, here, there and everywhere.

The Natural History Museum list six bumblebees, “The Big Six” as being the most common bumble bees in the UK. But I think very soon they will have to add another because although this pretty bee is a relative newcomer to the UK, it is spreading fast. It’s the Tree Bumble Bee, Bombus hypnorum  which was first recorded in the UK in 2001.

It has very distinctive colouring, a ginger thorax and a  black abdomen with a bright white tail. Someone said it looks as though it has been dipped in white’s true.

b hyp

B Hypnorum colour key from Paul Williams great interactive bee identification charts at the Natural History Museum here.

I saw it last year in London and I have seen them everywhere I have been this year.
First in Dad’s garden in March.  Then at Easton on the 15th April buzzing around the plum blossom on a sunny wall.


B hypnorum Easton Walled Garden,  photo Val Littlewood

Then today I walked up to the Church in the village and saw one feeding on an arching bony cotoneaster, its flowers barely noticeable, which was crouching over one of the old graves there.

It’s a lovely and slightly unkempt churchyard. I like to wander around there. The wild flowers and unmown areas are great for bees.

hyp grafham church

The hypnorum above, accommodatingly showing its pretty white painted tail, was waving a warning leg at a little B Pratorum who had come too close.

The diminutive flowers of the cotoneaster were humming with them. They are tiny and so bright, a brilliant acid yellow as opposed to  the tawny yellow of the hypnorum. I wonder if they are newly hatched. They were very busy and whizzed about rather too quickly for me to get a good photo.

prat2      b prat

Bombus pratorum on cotoneaster, Grafham Churchyard

They are really delightful little bees. I had planned to get a painting of the Hypnorum done for this summer’s shows because people will be able to see them in many areas of the UK and they are very pretty.  I have just sketched it out for now and plan to show it feeding on the early plum blossom at Easton.

Easton Hypnorum sketch

Bombus hypnorum sketch sm

Meanwhile the Humming Cottage here is still humming, but our charming little Osmia rufa mason bees are slowing down. A few faded and balding bees are still getting into the house. I put them on the chives outside the back door.

osmis rufa faded

They bury their heads in the flowers and then, suitable revived, fly off.
I will miss them.

The Humming House..Osmia rufas everywhere

I have found a temporary home, not yet the admirable one I am hoping for, but this little cottage will be fine for now and its setting is quite lovely. It’s only a few yards from the shore of Grafham Water and the 8.9 mile cycle track which skirts the waters edge, and bounces you through woods and fields, up, down and round the reservoir.
If I was happy about the location, I was even happier when, opening the car door to unload the luggage, I was met with a hum, a very loud hum. The whole building, two cottages and the outhouse were humming. The walls, roofs and the surrounding air were thick with the hum and buzz of clouds of bees, and it turns out we will be sharing our accommodation with hundreds of busy Osmia bees.
They are just everywhere, living in every nook, cranny, crevice, nail hole, airbrick space, and in every tiny chink in the mortar. They are in the eves, in the gap between the door frame and the bricks, they are behind the fascia boards, they are in the roof.

……….and out.

and out
Watching the constant to-ing and fro-ing is dizzying with lots of jostling for access to the nest entrances. The exposed holes in the structural bricks used for the decorative inset have all been enthusiastically colonised. Optimistic spiders have strung webs between the bricks but these robust little bee are not much deterred by them and clamber over or break through the sticky strands I have only seen one wrapped up and stored for later.

Spider’s webs draped across the bricks

The bees hum all the time. We are lulled to sleep with the hum. We are woken with the hum. I hear them in my dreams and I could swear that when you put your ear to the bricks, the cottage walls are gently vibrating.
Lost bees wander into the house and have to be rescued. Mating couples had to be gently and respectfully coaxed away from footfall and from under car tyres. They are out and about early and finish work late, endlessly backwards and forwards, carrying load of pollen for food stores for the developing larvae and mud to seal up the nest cells. I watched the females collecting mud from a nearby damp rut in the road. They will carry this back to their nests in their awesome jaws and tamp it down with their strange little horns. After three days this mud source had dried up in the sunny warm weather, but by the edge of the water they will, I am sure, find more. I filled a couple of nearby plant pots with wet earth.. just in case.

osmia collecting mud
Female Osmis rufa bees collecting mud at the side of the nearby road.

These pretty bees will not live to see their offspring develop into bees. The larvae stay in the nest, eating the pollen supplies, getting larger and larger, eventually spinning a cocoon in early autumn.
The bizarre and wonderful process of pupation sees them develop from grub to a little bee and they spend the winter hopefully safe and secure in their cocoons to emerge in the spring. Females may make make 5 or 6 nests of 6 to 9 cells. By the look of all the activity outside here there will be many more bees next year!
Below: I found a lost female bee looking wistfully out of the window this morning. You can see her little horns very clearly.

osmia at window
On being offered my helping hand, she happily climbed on board, after waving a worried leg at me.

I took her outside and she flew away. If you do have mason bees there is no need to fear them at all..they don’t sting.
Observing these bees now poses more questions than it answers. How far do they go to find water, mud and food? Why are so many bees using one hole. I know these are solitary bees but I have watched and counted ten bees using the same entrance. I suppose the wall is just full of individual nests. It must be honeycombed with nest tubes, It’s an odd thought that the fabric and insulation of the cottage is partly made up of sleeping bees.
According to the owner of the cottages the bees have been here for years. I wonder how much of the existing nest material they re-use and does that mean the nests are prone to parasites?

bee nest holes

A little yellow bottomed bee carrying pollen in her scopa is disappearing into the mortar. Some of the construction holes in the bricks are semi blocked. Is this old or new building? There is one at the top left of the photo.

Go to Paul’s Solitary Bee Blog where he has been recording his “beekeeping”(in as much as you can “keep” wild bees) for 6 years. His recent post “ Thank you solitary bees” details some key facts about these wonderful helpful friends of the gardener and pollinator of our fruits.
I wrote about, and painted, the red mason bee in my There will be Apples post last April. I am so delighted to be sharing some time and space with them here in Grafham…. a few sketches tomorrow!

Homeless, some bees (and me)

We have, over the last few weeks, been trying to find somewhere to live, so I found myself feeling somewhat sympathetic towards this rather handsome bee I found in the garden the other day.

melecta sm1[1]       melecta 2 sm[1]

It’s Melecta albifrons one of the cuckoo bees. Here from the informative Essex Field Club site is a concise explanation.

“It is a cleptoparasite or cuckoo bee of Anthophora – this means that the bee (female) goes into an Anthophora burrow and lays its egg with the pollen food supply gathered by Anthophora. When the Melecta egg hatches the larva feeds up on the food supply intended for the Anthophora larva, pupates and emerges next year instead of the host.”

I have known about the cuckoo bees but this has been my first encounter with a live one and I, like others, was struck by its rather relaxed behaviour. It was just drifting about the flowerbeds, quite unlike the darting, purposeful flight of its host.
It stopped to feed on the muscari and was not unduly bothered by my close proximity which enabled me to photograph it with my rather basic camera.

To read and understand more about this curious bee go to Blackbird’s unfailingly  excellent “A Bug Blog” and read her post “Melecta, a cleptoparasitic bee” and get a better look at the bee itself.

I have recently got hold of a copy of Edward Step’s 1932 “Bees Wasps Ants & Allied Insects”.
In the fascinating chapterHomeless Bees”, he mentions 2 Melecta species but takes issue with the name……… 

“…we have to take exception to the scientific name. Melecta signifies a gatherer of honey, but as this bee has no cells in which to store it, she can be at most, a mere sipper of nectar for her own refreshment!”

Its perhaps easy to feel rather disapproving of these lazy bees but I guess they still perform crucial pollination tasks so are not all bad and are very beautiful.

Another Nomad

Another tiny cuckoo bee I recently came across is, I think, Nomada goodeniana which until a year ago I would have confidently thought was a wasp. A small cloud of them were inspecting an old stone wall on a brilliantly sunny Friday afternoon at Easton Walled Garden,  where I was doing a bee recce. They are very delicate and very flighty, constantly popping in and out of successive holes but not settling for long.

N g 1[1]     Ng2[1]


They are really tiny. Sometimes without something to judge the size by it’s difficult to get an idea of how small some bees are. Here below one is inspecting a hole near a rose bush tag.

What has also interested me is that, the day before, I had seen this wall busy with these tiny bees (below) which I had thought might be mason bees. The day after they had gone and had been replaced by the I am not sure what they were? .. or what was going on.


Info tells me the Nomadas are parasitic on Andrena species.  Perhaps they are Andrena nitida .. but would they nest in a wall?? I am asking for help on BWARS. Describing these nomads of the bee world Edward Step admits,

“it is, perhaps, not strictly correct to class them as Homeless Bees because during the earlier stages of existence they have admirable homes in cells that were never intended for their use: but the most considerable genus was named “Nomada” by Fabricius, indicating pastoral, unsettled habits and it seems well to adopt the spirit of his name for all those without homes intended for them”

Hmmmm….  all  this is sounding uncomfortably a bit close to home. My father’s house is a wonderful and welcome stopping off point but Nomada valeria here is so looking forward to having an “admirable home” of her own quite soon!

Bright Little Blue “Berry Bee” Osmia aglaia

A thoughtful lady commissioned this little blue bee painting for her bee enthusiast partner.  We had discussed what might be most relevant for the area of the USA where she lives and I knew he was keen on mason bees so the beautiful little Osmia aglaia came to mind.

It is the blue “Berry bee” and not only are they the most beautiful colour and very dainty, but I also have 4 little specimens here to help me.  They had been sent to me last year by  Dr Karen Strickler who is the Queen of “Bobs” (Blue Orchard Bees) in the USA.

See more about her here at Pollinator Paradise. Here I on my hand are three little female bees, shimmering blue/greens in the light and with the characteristic large heads. There is one smaller male on the left who is distinguished by size and his nice white moustache.

osmia sps

The Osmia aglaia is another member of the most charming Osmia family of bees, they are in turn members of the Megachile family of leafcutters..

Oh, and an interesting little fact is that “megachile” means “big jaws”,  for cutting away at those leaves and carrying mud etc. I guess.
I know it is bad science to attribute human traits to insects but when you watch megachiles  for a while, they seem particularly pert, very business like… and very very charming!

Apart from being gorgeous, these little bees are extraordinarily useful to us because they pollinate many fruit crops amongst them the cane “berry” fruits particularly in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. They may be metallic blue, green or rust/bronze in color and nest in tunnels in wood,about 3/8 – 1/4 inches in diameter.

Sometimes these will be old holes left by beetles or woodpeckers (a bit dangerous I think as woodpeckers are rather partial to a bee grub or two ) or just hollow woody twigs  You will see them out and about as adults in the late spring, when the  Rubus is in bloom… but only in the USA. (We do have our own very beautiful Osmia bees here in the UK just not quite so colourful).


Image of osmia aglaia from USAD Raspberry Page. Photo Credit Steve Werblow, Homestead Magazine

Osmia aglaia are particularly partial to raspberries and are becoming more and more important to berry growers as the honey bee population is in decline. Jim Cane from the Bee Lab at USDA Agricultural Research in Utah and Karen have been seeing how useful they might be to local raspberry farmers in Oregon.

Read more about the Oregon Berry Bee project, here. Do your best to encourage these sparkling little bees into your garden. Plant some delicious soft fruit to give the bees some pollen and then enjoy the produce they help to create for you. Keep in mind that they seal their nest tunnels with mud, so a mud source nearby is handy.

They will look for food close to their nesting sites so they need flower and water sources to be close to hand.. or rather wing! Foraging is a hard work and uses up lots of energy so they don’t tend to venture too far from home. See a recent article about native bee pollinators in the USA here from


Osmia aglaia. The Berry Bee, approaching Raspberry flower

osmia sm

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP … 9×9

I had an anxious nail biting wait of two weeks for the parcel to arrive in the USA. It’s sometimes hard, when you have spent a long time on a painting, to entrust it to the vagaries of the British and US postal services.
But eventually it arrived and I am so pleased that the little bee has found such a very appreciative home! I always tell my clients that if they are not happy they can return their bee to me!.. but they never do.
Somehow bees just creep into your heart somewhere.. sounds a bit soppy but it’s true…. 🙂

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:


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.

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 doesn’t 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?

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.


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 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 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.


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

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.
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 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.


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

A Broadside for A Beekeeper, “A Swarm of Bees in May”

I know it is a while since I posted but trying to relocate to god-knows-where in just 8 weeks is a bit daunting.
In between packing our few small boxes for the move, selling everything else and coping with incredibly stupid buyers on Ebay, I have not had a great deal of time for very much else.
But of course  that’s just a feeble excuse for not getting on with things. I am in the middle of putting my British Bee Book together… (well, Volume 1 of probably 3) and a couple of nice commissions which I won’t be putting on the blog right now.

But also I am  beginning a series of black and white bee related prints, my “Beekeepers Broadsides”. Long before Deborah’s Bees my plan was to produce some prints which would eventually form a small book or a set of some kind.. all based on a beekeeping theme. Yes honeybees..!!

I know, I am the wild bee champion but I’m also very interested in the honey bees and particularly all the lore and legend  which surrounds them. My mother would go and tell our bees all about the family ups and downs as bee lore demands, and there are many sayings, old wives tales and superstitions surrounding them.
But for Broadside No 1,  I decided on the very well known rhyme…(well known in the UK anyway)

“A Swarm of Bees in May is worth a load of Hay A Swarm of Bees in June is worth a Silver Spoon But a Swarm in July isn’t worth a Fly”

The premise is that May and June swarms are good because the new colony has time to establish itself with many, good, honey making flowers to be had.(it’s all about the value of the honey you understand!) It’s an old saying whose origins are as lost and as clouded as a swarm of bees itself One interesting reference is in Richard Jefferies “Wild Life in Southern County” 1879.

They tell you that’ a swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly’—for it is then too late for the young colony to store up a treasure of golden honey before the flowers begin to fade at the approach of autumn.

His lovely books which describe the natural history of his Wiltshire home were written in the late 1800’s, and the previous lines of this passage tell of how a farmer would  leave his work in the fields to come and deal with a swarm of bees.

“he hurries home himself; for although in these days bee-keeping is no longer what it used to be, yet the old fashioned folk take a deep interest in the bees still.”

How interesting that in back in 1879 Jefferies was perceiving a waning interest in bees.

So my Beekeeper’s Broadside No 1 is the rhyme, with scraperboard illustration printed on 8.5 x 11 and, yes, they are available for sale!$14 plus P&P..

They will be on Waving Bee Press and Etsy,  but do drop me a line if you are interested. I thought they would make rather nice gifts for beekeepers?

A Swarm of Bees in May…..

a swarm in may

image     image     clip_image002

The prints are on nice quality watercolour paper and I am printing a limited edition for the USA of just 100.

They will all be numbered, signed and dated. The limitations are all to do with the imminent move to the UK where the paper and sizes are different so will doing another run there.. yes,  life is a bit complicated!

A “Broadside” in old printing terms is an announcement, poem, some music, or a statement that is printed on one side of a sheet of paper. From the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries they were the cheapest way to disseminate printed information, gossip, scandal and political ideologies.
You will perhaps be familiar with the old “Broadside Ballads” sold by musically inclined travelling salesmen who would sing you the song then sell you the printed lyrics. The nice thing about this project is that all the broadsides in the series can be different… and probably will be… but they will still make a lovely set.

My little Adana press is waiting for me in the UK, as is my beautiful book press, so there will inevitably be some hand pulled prints of one kind or another, I cant wait! It’s also a lovely project to have running alongside my ongoing bee species paintings which are…well…ongoing….

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 )

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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

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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


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

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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 ..