Poetry Painting and Bees at John Clare Cottage

I can’t think of a much lovelier combination. My idea of heaven with some very nice homemade soup and cake thrown in. With all my UK workshops I plan for rain, but hope for sun and we had a bit of both but were able to spend a good part of the day outside in the pretty courtyard garden, bee spotting and sketching.

Sketching in the sun

A Common Carder bee in the garden, possibly Clare’s “russet commoner”

Thanks to all who came and made it such an enjoyable day.

It really is the most beautiful and contemplative space. We looked at Clare’s poem “Wild Bees”,  talked about the possible identities of the bees he so affectionately describes, found some obliging bees in amongst the aquilegias, raspberry flowers, dog roses and herbs and made sketches and flower studies.

I am in the middle of designing a illustrated version of the poem, so more of that and his observations of bees later. John Clare was a complex and much troubled man and his poetry varies enormously but I read that one of the most-used words in his poems is “joy”. It is his obvious joy in the natural world, the keenness of his observations and the simplicity of his language which make his work so appealing to me.

His own likings for work that “breathes of green fields and open sky” and for solitude make him endearing.

Would I have liked him? I am not sure.
But he tells of things that I have seen and felt, in words I could not use.
Say it for me John.

“Sweet solitude, what joy to be alone
In wild, wood-shady dell, to stay for hours.
Twould soften hearts if they were hard as stone
To see glad butterflies and smiling flowers.
Tis pleasant in these quiet lonely places,
Where not the voice of man our pleasure mars,
To see the little bees with coal black faces
Gathering sweets from little flowers like stars

by John Clare

A Box of Bees and more…

It’s been quite busy in the Garden this last two weeks. At last some Bumble bees are out and about. Busiest have been the tiny Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) workers. They have been everywhere on every flower they can manage.  A patch of phacelia has just come into flower and because they are so small they find it very difficult to navigate the spiky stamens and have to adopt a head first, dive in strategy. Bigger bees have no problems.

A tiny Early Bumblebee worker contemplating a tricky landing through the long stamens of the phacelia. It is so attractive to them that they don’t give up easily


Head first, in-between the spikes.

This bigger heavier Carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) easily accessing the nectar of this lovely green manure plant which seeded down from last year.

And there are other bumble bees too:

A Garden Bumblebee (B hortorum) worker on the hardy geraniums


A Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) on the cotoneaster

A Box of Red Tailed Bumblebees

Just over a week ago now my very kind friend Matthew arrived at the door with a large buzzing plastic bag containing a tiny new Bombus lapidarius nest complete with about 10 cells 6 little workers and the magnificent Queen.
Matthew had been asked to move the nest and not wanting to destroy it asked if I could look after it. You bet!

red tailed nest

The nest in the new box with some extra dried grass.  You can see the large beautiful Queen at the top. They were very busy attending to the cells and so not too concerned about me and the camera. I think things might be different now!

So the nest and its few occupants have been (rather gingerly) transferred to a box which I hope will allow for a reasonable size colony and added to the bee house. It’s above the ground and hopefully out of the reach of mice.
I am very glad to report that there seems to be quite a bit of coming and going and at last the chive flowers which have been out for ages are getting some attention.

redtailed bg

Little red tailed worker on the chives, The flame red colour of these new bees in simply stunning.

Anyway I have given them the best chance I can. They have flowers, shelter and someone looking out for them.

And not forgetting the solitary bees…. The mason bees have been filling up holes in the bee house and everywhere else. The Hairy Footed flower bees are, I think all done. Their strawberry pot home now filled up for the second year. Here is a lovely little solitary mining bee which my bee guru Andrew thinks may be Andrena chrysosceles.


You can see how tiny it is by my thumb to the left. She stayed put very obligingly for a couple of photos.

And, joy of joys, at Easton last week, the so very chic female Grey Mining bee, Andrena cineraria with elegant black and white hairs on her thorax and glossy black abdomen. A little film star of the wild bee world.

From a sunny day last week at Easton, not the best photo in the world but lovely to see her.

I hope all your bees are buzzing and things warming up for summer and, yes,  I have been working as well as bee watching…honestly…more of that soon…

Little Big Feet

I am nearly back to my own work, it’s just been very busy with 4 very enjoyable drawing and painting Workshops and getting ready for Louth’s Festival of the Bees tomorrow. I will be there with the Buzz paintings and talking about bees and flowers etc.

It’s an excellent week with speakers and exhibitors and I really hope that everyone who can, will go along and support all the hard work put in by Biff Vernon and the organisers.

louth festival

Listening to the report on our diminishing wildlife today just reinforces how important it is for us all to do a little bit to plant more bee friendly flowers, keep a little bit of wild garden for hedgehogs and birds and to stop killing things.
David Attenborough  talked about our “extraordinary expertise in destroying and poisoning things” and I watch my neighbour spray and dig in order to obliterate every weed or disorderly plant in order to maintain the depressingly uniform bright green “lawn”. I guess the tarmac will be along soon.

We who care think the message is getting across because we generally talk to each other. “Everyone knows about the bees” my friends tell me but that is just not true and there are acres and acres of the self obsessed, the ignorant and uncaring. However we keep going, trying to inform without preaching and I keep talking bees to anyone who has ears to listen and a few of those who don’t.

Little Big Feet Meanwhile there are coot in the lane and of course on the reservoir. They are delightful and potter about near the stream on their enormous feet. I don’t think they are endangered. It’s on my list for a “good” painting …meanwhile a sketch…

coot bg

Coot in the Lane, Grafham watercolour

The Boys are Back

I had a really lovely day today with a few of my group at Easton Walled Gardens. The sun shone and everything is growing. I came home and went out into the Garden and for the first time this year saw my bee house springing into life. Just a few beautifully coloured male Mason bees coming in and out of the tubes. Their newly hatched colour glow. I am so very pleased to see them.


Mason Bee in……


Mason Bee peeping out, his distinctive white moustache clearly visible.

And to add to that a sighting of foxy little female Tawny Mining bee prospecting around the base of the lavender and a few days ago I saw another beautiful dark russet and black bee which I now think just might be an Osmia cornuta… no photos yet..

And of course having seen the male Hairy Footed Flower bee.. the females have arrived they have to be one of my very favourite bees. What busy and purposeful girls they are. Not easy to photograph as they barely stop at each flower.


Hopefully better photos of all to come. But my joy is unconfined to see them back! Wild things …you make my heart sing! 🙂

Tuesday Walk and the Humming Pollen Tree

The morning is glorious, new corn shoots mist the rolling fields with pale green. There are tiny flitting chattering birds who fly alongside me, white, yellow and multicoloured butterflies, more and more bees, many beeflies and tiny dancing black flies. In one of my favourite secluded sun drenched spots I find a willow, heavy with pollen laden catkins covered with bees and butterflies. I stop for a while to watch.

To watch and listen, to the bees collecting pollen, to an owl in the nearby wood, to see the drifting shape of a buzzard pass overhead, to watch a flame tailed bumble bee collecting moss, to see the delicate long-nosed beeflies hover and dart.


A pollen drenched honey bee


A high flying buzzard


Bombus lapidarius collecting moss


A Peacock Butterfly


A little solitary bee at the field edge   It’s a much loved place of mine, on an old road. In its summer flora it reveals odd traces of cultivation and there is a stand of ancient oaks nearby.


My sketch of the Humming Willow Tree on the old path, with its glowing catkins set against the dark leafless hedges and trees. There are a few hints of green appearing in the nearby hawthorn branches. Watercolour 5 x 7 inches.

I might choose this willow to be my main tree this year. Willows become more and more fascinating the more you learn about them. But today is a day to be out, to forget your troubles, to be warmed by the sun and cooled by a spring breeze. On the way back I passed the place where a big dead tree fell across the path last year. It has now been chopped back leaving a waving stump. From one angle it looks like a cheery waving figure.. Old Man Tree we call it.


Waving Cheerfully on this lovely day.. Old Man Tree

The White of Blackthorn

Things are beginning to blossom. White magnolia in the garden, white wild cherry blossom and in the hedges the white splashes of Blackthorn. It has to be one of the most beautiful sights of English spring country lanes. Dark leafless hedges decorated with a froth of white blossom. The leaves will come later. I walked by the reservoir today and along with pussy willows and first green shoots was a patch of blackthorn, one ball of white flowers against dark spiny branches.


Monday …White blackthorn flowers.. Watercolour 6” x 6”

Further along the track is a big oak tree.. leafless so far but lovely in its skeletal form. There is a large nest box. I have yet to find out what it is for!


And back in the Empty Garden good wildlife news, the hedgehog has reappeared, along with 4 different butterflies, yellow, white, a peacock and a comma, more  redtailed bees and the lovely black female hairyfooted flower bee.

Yes! A Hairy Footed Flower bee, BBKA and more bees

A couple of days ago I saw my very first male Hairy Footed Flower Bee of this year.. and actually the first in this garden. Last year I bought some pulmonaria, one of the HFFB’s favourite flowers.

This year it struggled into bloom and sure enough here comes this very lovely little bee, darting in with his characteristic flight and unmistakable high pitched buzz. This evening he was back and I rushed to get my camera and luckily was able to get a couple of shots. It was 5.30 pm.
You can see his handsome white moustache and in the second shot his white face.


I wonder if the colony in the strawberry pot survived the winter and I look forward to seeing the smart females, all black with ginger legs, whose flight is so purposeful and who look like little black bombs as they zigzag from flower to flower.

Paint a Bee Workshop for the BBKA

Last weekend I was at Harper Adams Agricultural University for the British Beekeepers Association annual conference. It’s a huge event with lectures and demos and  teaching. I was there to give  2 “Paint a Bee “workshops. Bees are really not the easiest things to paint, and it was wonderful to have 2 fully subscribed classes. Thanks to all who came and made the day so enjoyable.


I talked to many beekeepers, some with just one or two hives and some with hundreds. It was fascinating to hear about their experiences successes and failures. They are a welcoming and inclusive bunch of people. We are lucky to have them. How well the bees came through this bad winter is not yet known. I think many of them are just keeping everything crossed!

More Bees Here in the Empty Garden I have not yet seen a honey bee but I am pleased to report lots of big Bombus terrestris queens. Today I also saw a beautiful Bombus pratorum queen and the funny little bee fly.

The colours of the new queens are so vivid. At the weekend though I found a sad and bedraggled bee struggling to keep going. She was just about moving but a long way from any food. It had been raining and was very windy which must be tough conditions for bees.
The only thing I had in bloom then was a patch of winter heather and that’s where I put her, after  warming her up on my hand. Bees are often reluctant to leave a safe warm hand but she had to go and get some fuel. It was nice to watch her finding food and eventually being able to fly away. I wish her well.

bee on my hand bg

There is definitely a bit of an Ahhhh factor to this photo! I hope all your bees are beginning to buzz wherever you are.

A Bee Print and Buzz News

Did you think I had been neglecting my bees? 🙂 ….now would I?
While there has not been much of a buzz on the blog, in the background there is quite a bit going on. I am planning some more bee paintings for next year and will be doing more workshops, another residency at Nature in Art (whooppee!!!) some more exhibitions and talks etc, including a lovely one day workshop at John Clare’s Cottage on June 15th and the wonderful Festival of Bees in Louth, Thursday, 23 May 2013.

One very interesting weekend, first in the diary, will be with the British Beekeepers Association, the BBKA at their annual meeting. I shall be there with my BUZZ paintings and a couple of short drawing/painting workshops.
That will be Sat 13th April.  I will be posting lots more details on the blog as the events are finalised. So for the shows and talks I am preparing a few more prints, booklets, cards etc.

Here is a simple two plate lino print which I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks.  I have just printed the first few which I will then develop a little more, with different backgrounds, papers and colours and other additions. The possibilities are really endless.

image       image

My lino print of “Waving Bee”,  my logo, printed on a background of a beehive and the word “BEE”.. Grey and Ochre on Blue Grey paper. Image 12 x 9.5 inches
One of some new bee images for next year’s shows.

Bees are few and far between now but my bee house is dry and safe and I am still seeing one or two bumble bees and honey bees.
I am hoping for a good, kind, winter for the hibernating bumble bee queens and for the baby woolcarders and masons, who I hope will safely snooze the chilly months away, tucked up in their leafy, woolly nests.

Buzz at Yewbarrow House in Cumbria

This Sunday 5th August, my Buzz bees and I will be up in Cumbria at Yewbarrow House Gardens.

I am so pleased to be able to show the bees at this wonderful venue which will be open from 11 to 4 as part of the National Garden Scheme. Here is a plan of the gardens from their excellent website.

I do hope I have time to  wander round the Gardens especially because the owner Jonathan Denby has an interest in bees!
In July 2009 he exhibited his award winning “Beekeepers Garden”at the Hampton Court Flower Show.

Jonathan, like many others, is concerned about the plight of bees and  kept a blog about, The Beekeepers Garden, and here he explains what was behind the planning and design.


“We want to encourage every gardener either to keep bees or to grow plants which are attractive to bees. The Beekeeper’s Garden is filled with plants which are attractive to bees- plants of all kinds: flowers, fruit, vegetables and herbs.
The garden is entered via a wrought-iron pergola which, most unusually, is completely enveloped in climbing vegetables. A path leads to the central feature of the garden, which is an Apiary, which was inspired by a sketch in Victorian garden writer Shirley Hibberd’s journal.
The Apiary is fronted by a pebble-mosaic by Maggy Howarth and is flanked by espaliered apple trees and an apple orchard. Apple trees have been chosen as a central feature of the garden as the apple crop is dependent upon bee pollination and is under threat because of the decline in the bee population.
The theme of the garden, to echo the words of William Morris, is that it will contain nothing which we do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

You can see a film of the BBC’s review of the garden on the Yewbarrow website here.

Beekeepers G shoot

A shot of the finished garden from Shoot Gardening Website. Their excellent review also has a plant list.  Go here to see and read more more Part of the Beekeeper’s Garden is now at Yewbarrow.  Here is the relocated apiary.

apiary bg

and Maggie Howarth’s wonderful pebble mosaics will be there as well.

. MH mosaic detail

I have been wondering about a bee mosaic here at the Ugly Bungalow….. another lovely project to dream about!

Do come along on Sunday if you are in the area. It’s all for a good cause too!

Yewbarrow House
National Gardens Scheme
Hampsfell Road, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, LA11 6BE
Opening dates and times: Sundays 5 Aug 2 Sept (11-4)
Admission:Adm £4, chd free

National Pollinator Week USA and Time to Stand and Stare.


They are celebrating National Pollinator Week in the USA!

Do go to the Pollinator Partnership site for a huge amount of excellent info about pollination, the pollinators and how to help them. I know this is slanted at the USA but many of the plants and principles apply here.


You can download this wonderful bee poster which has info about some of the over 4400 USA native bee species.
I see some old friends here from my early bee watching days.

Their excellent regional PDFs give overviews of habitats, plant lists and the species of pollinators specific to each area. Reading through the advice to gardeners they remind us to “Tolerate a little mess”..
Unruly bits of garden are good for pollinators and to “provide safe access to clean water” It’s about caring, isn’t it? About them, not what the neighbours think of the garden or getting the next must-have hybrid flower that has neither scent nor nectar.
It’s about doing just a little bit to help.

Then, in big bold letters at the end of the PDF is this “NOTICE THE CHANGES THAT YOU HAVE HELPED TO CREATE”
Having done your research, raised your pollinator friendly plants, dug the pond and slogged away at the planting and digging, do take a moment to stop and look.

William Henry Davies’ lovely simple poem “Leisure” may now be considered a slightly jokey piece of writing but taking the time to just stand and stare at your garden, at all the strange and wonderful things that are going on there, is infinitely rewarding.

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.”

There are some sheep just down the lane from us, we watched them doing nothing the other day, they were just staring and chewing.
Today, I intend ..sheep-like.. to go and stare for a while at my now not-so-empty garden.

Yes, William “A poor life this is ” indeed,  if we make no time to stand and stare.