More Joy Than I Can Imagine

That’s what the first Bumble Bee in the garden brings me.

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Busy Buff Tailed Queen

Add to that the creative brain exercises that that the course requires and the arrival of a heater for the freezing garage/print room making the realisation of those exercises more possible. And I am slowly getting more and more familiar with prints and their endless and fascinating variety.


A few trial prints.

It’s all trees, grasshoppers and the surreal world of the garden.

More to come when something is more resolved. This term is rushing by.

Birds and Bees

Black Headed Gulls
Yesterday I went to Perry for an afternoon walk and stopped at the bird hide which overlooks the reservoir looking north. Right in front was a gang of black headed gulls perching on the wooden posts. There was much preening and primping, sleeping and occasionally squawking. Some have their dark brown heads and some are in grey headed winter plumage.They have a very attractive white eye border which gives them lots of character.


It was calm, very quiet and very peaceful. It’s a good place to make a few sketches with a bench and ID guides.

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Some balance on quite small posts and have to keep shifting their weight.



Some find larger posts and sleep.


A little Goldeneye swam past too. I have been working some more on the woodcut this week and am thinking how these birds might work as prints.


Black headed Gull A washy watercolour sketch :

I like this relaxed pose where they tuck their head back. His post is just slightly too small though. :).There was quite a bit of shuffling.

Bumble Bees!

Back in the garden I have seen lots of Bombus terrestris now. I am wondering if they are queens from the rescue colony, because last year they were not so numerous. I would like to think so. They are on the bird cherry, winter honeysuckle, crocus and surprisingly to me on the little violets. I had not seen them on the violets before but it seems they are a good nectar source. This bee spent quite a while on each flower.

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A gorgeous bee on equally gorgeous flower..some nice complementary colours there! It’s great to see them.

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.

Big Bee Value at B&Q

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The DIY store B&Q sometimes have some very good plant bargains, (US readers think “Home Depot”)  Yesterday in Huntingdon a stand of marked down heathers were basking in the early afternoon sun and were covered with bees!

I counted 12 x B terrestris, 2 x B lucorum, 1 x B pratorum, 3 x honey bees and had my first sighting of a solitary bee this year. (Hopefully ID to come.) Some were busy feeding and some tucked in between the flowers, sleeping. For once I happened to have my camera with me so took a few quick snaps.

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2 Buff Tailed Bumble Bees, B terrestris

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B pratorum, The Early Bumble Bee

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

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

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which I guess is an Eristalis, a Drone Fly.

Heather is brilliant for bees and there were reports on BWARS, of bees on the heather in Windsor Great Park all through the winter. See Winter Bumble Bees thread on the Forum.

On a neighboring stand, high up, were some small narcissi being visited by both B terrestris and this gorgeous B Hypnorum.

B hypnorum, Tree Bumble Bee.

I had not really thought of daffs as a particularly good bee plant but I guess these early bees will just find nectar and pollen where they can. They were also visiting primroses, and big flowered pansies.

It is quite a small plant department at Huntingdon but does demonstrate the advantage of having lots of flowering plants all together, making it a worth while stop off for the bees. My three crocuses are not quite doing the job!

Bees in your Bonnet

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

I had to gently shake the heathers so as not to inadvertently take home a sleeping bee and I also had to shake my hair because, as well as the heathers, the large drowsy bees are also partial to my hair, which is, to put it mildly rather fluffy and unruly.

Although I seem unable to fight off the inevitable slide into 3rd age eccentricity, I am just not ready to arrive at a shop counter, albeit to buy plants, with bees in my hair .. no, really, not yet.
Perhaps I should take it as a compliment that these lovely creatures find me a reassuring resting point.
I remember years ago waking up one spring morning having slept with the window open, to find a large bumble bee next to me on the pillow. It was snuggled up in my hair, buzzing softly and was rather grumpy when asked to move.

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

Easton Bees, my first 2012 bee photos

My first 2012 bee photos! Hurrah.  After a great drawing workshop at Stamford Arts centre with my lovely students I went up to Easton Walled Gardens to catch their Snowdrop event.

I am so very fond of this beautiful tranquil place and the gleaming snowdrops were everywhere,  and so many  different varieties, some tall and stately and other low growing and shallow cupped.
Their beauty for me lies in their delicate little nodding heads and  that pure whiteness set against the dark background of winter trees. I may get down to a sketch or two next week. In the class today we were looking at working with pen and ink and this would be a perfect subject.


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And then I saw just two big fat glossy Buff Tailed Bumble bee queens, Bombus terrestis, both on the crocus flowers.

Here’s a short sequence of one bee as she moves from one flower to another, almost disappearing before backing out again.

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Crocus are a very important early food source for all early bees and so are snowdrops.. but in all those acres of snowdrops I saw only one bee, yet two bees on the relatively few crocus.

I am wondering if, when a choice is available, they prefer a crocus? It seems particularly appropriate and auspicious that I should photograph my first bees at Easton where, in June, I will be showing my hopefully expanded “Buzz” show, as part of their Meadow Days Celebrations,  and this time with a two day workshop. It is a week I am looking forward to immensely.

Catching up …Some Bee News

It was foggy, damp and very cold when we arrived back in the UK and has not improved yet and after New Orleans things are a little quiet in rural Lincolnshire. But Spring is on its way. It is light at 7 am and for the first time in many years I am seeing the snowdrops and aconites which carpet the garden in February.

I am delighted to see the squirrel has survived the winter and my favourite rooks are still here, sitting hunched and squabbling on the bare branches of the weeping ash or listening to worm music. ( see Rooks post )

No bee sightings yet, any sensible bee would surely be lying doggo in this weather, but I see from the BWARS forum that there have been quite a few early reports.

Apart from honey bees,  Buff tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus terrestris) Queens and, newcomer, the pretty Tree Bumble Bee (Bombus hypnorum) which is to be one of my next painting subjects, are out and about.

To cheer us up from lack of sun, here is my friend Jane Adams’ beautiful photo of pollen covered B terrestris from 22nd Feb 2009 taken in her garden.. exactly 2 years ago today! See her wonderful bee photos on Flickr here .

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Exhibitions, Talks, Residencies, Commissions and BUZZ Vol 2.

This week I should also be back to my bee work.
I have two new commissions, orders for prints and Volume 2 of Buzz to work on as well as taking “Buzz” the Exhibition,  to Easton Walled Garden for a May Bank Holiday show, and The Lost Gardens of Heligan in June, 16th- 30th.

Then the first week in August,  2nd to 7th, the bees and I will be doing an art/ bee residency at the beautiful “Nature in Art “Gallery in Wallsworth Hall, Twigworth in Gloucestershire.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to work in the studio, and also to talk about my work, the bees and meet some of the visitors to this great Wildlife Art Gallery.

I will also be with my bees in person at Heligan for at least the first week of the show and again hope to give some talks or workshops. I will post some more details as they are available.

Next week on 3rd March, to start things off and get my “head full of bees” again. I will be talking about my work to the local Gardening Club in the village. I am so looking forward to it. I know there will be bee enthusiasts and beekeepers amongst them who are probably much more knowledgeable but it will be fun.

“BUZZ” in BEECRAFT Magazine And I have a big thank you to say to one of my lovely blog readers Lyn, who follows the blog and not only bought a “Buzz” book but recommended it to Beecraft magazine who very kindly reviewed it in their January edition.
Thank you all. I hope to get Vol 2 done fairly soon!

Bees in Transit
While in the USA I parceled up my little bee specimen collection and, not very optimistically, posted them here. They had been sent to me by various very kind and helpful people over the last year and it seemed a shame to have to leave them there till God-knows-when.
After two very bad recent experiences with customs I was rather resigned to never seeing them again but today they arrived. I was amazed.. it has made my day!

Life on the Elegant Ivy.

Yesterday on a beautiful sunny Sunday I spent a good hour just watching the comings and goings on one of the ivy bushes which grow on waste ground near the railway tracks. These scrubby bits of land are a tangle of brambles and ivy and both yesterday and today the ivy was alive with happy insects. Here are a few: Ivy bee sunning itself,

Honey bee and ladybird,

Bombus lucorum I think,


Drone hoverfly I think and lucorum..

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A very sleepy and slow B terrestris. I wondered if this lovely big bee was getting close to the end of its days?


As well as bees, wasps, flies and ladybirds, the bushes were covered with butterflies but just the one species, the pretty Red Admirals and so many of them. All were so intent on feeding that I could get quite close.


There was one huge hoverfly. I think the biggest in the UK and another insect mostly found in the South. Sometimes called the hornet mimic hoverfly, (you can see why), this is the splendid Volucella zonaria.


There were many other little hoverflies, and two sorts of wasps, this one was having a brush up.


and on some nearby brambles, what I think is a ruby tiger moth caterpillar

which will, with a bit of luck, turn into one of these,

Wonderful picture by Ben Sale of the Ruby Tiger moth Phragmatobia fulginosa from the

*Update…I found one in my garden in Grafham in 2016…beautiful

Everything seems to like this ivy bush much more than other varieties in the town. I wonder why? Perhaps the nectar is different. But this particular bush was covered with life whereas other were largely unvisited.

This one has very elegant deeply lobed leaves. I put a leaf on the windowsill to sketch it (the dead fly has now gone..). This is my only available surface at the moment so I sit with my sketchbook on my knee, but the shadows are lovely.

Elegant Ivy Leaf….

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Pencil sketch 6”

Bees and Herbs

Bee and herbs seem to go very well together don’t they?  Together they conjure up the  quintessential summer afternoon, sweet scents and the gentle hum of bees, tea and cakes, and a comfortable chair in the sun.

I don’t think that bees have a real preference for herbs,  they are only really interested in the pollen and nectar content, but three things that sit very happily together are bees, honey, herbs, all linked somehow with wellbeing and feeling good. Herbs for health, for just smelling nice, for making our food more delightful, honey to sweeten our lives and just a lovely word in itself and bees of course for making the others possible.

The Herb Society The UK Herb Society has a Bee Aware Campaign this year and Debs Cook, (see also her wonderful herb blog Herbal Haven) their tireless webmaster and herb/ bee enthusiast has posted some excellent herby/honey/bee related articles, and also provided this great photo for the cover of their March magazine.


See these pages and more for garden/bee/food ideas.

Herbs To Attract Bees Into The Garden
Honey & Herbs – Syrups & Infused Honey
Honey & Herbs – Pills & Lozenges
Honey & Herbs – Elixirs & Electuaries

and I am delighted to say they have a page about my BUZZ  exhibition so here is something I wrote for them about bees and herbs …

It’s interesting that many of the flowers that delight the bees also delight us and the connection between bees and herbs is well documented. Rev. L L Langstroth, apiarist clergyman and teacher who was considered the Father of American Beekeeping, said “If there is any plant which would justify cultivation exclusively for bees, it is the borage”, and borage is just one of many herbs that they visit.
The tiny solitary bees like umbelliferous plants so angelica, fennel and dill will attract them. The bunching together of all those tiny flowers into one inflorescence makes them easy for small bees to access. Dill and fennel will also attract pest eating lacewings and ladybirds too. Daisy like flowers and of course the humble dandelion have similar closely bunched flowers which give bees a nice big banqueting table making the next nectar and pollen stop a very short hop. Mints, sages, thymes, basil and oregano will all attract bees too but of course you must let them flower.
I have read that letting herbs flower will reduce the intensity of the flavour but maybe there is a compromise somewhere or just grow twice as many! In fact you can also let a few vegetables run to flower too, especially early salad greens. Bees, like herbs, like sunny sheltered spots.
Strong wind can blow little bees off the flowers, even though they do have 6 feet.
Another great advantage to having bees around is just the sound of them! I have a lovely memory from last summer of a particularly drowsy afternoon, sitting in the sun and watching the Red Tailed Bumble bees and the Carder Bees drifting amongst the lavender and chives. I painted both of them for the show.

Their site is fascinating and I hope to be attending their conference this year in June which will focus on bees ….and if you are a member you can knit this bee!


I am going to join! I just love what they do. Everything about herbs presses all the right buttons for me!

Bee Flowers,  Herbs

Today was my deadline to get the first eight flowers roughed out and assembled on Photoshop, just to see what they will look like framed.  There will be a few changes but it’s a start!

As always I am in two minds . The designer in me wants a more stylised approach like the chive.. yes  the pink lollipop is a chive 🙂 ….the naturalist in me wants them to be more as you might see them growing.

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I also decided to paint an additional B. Terrestris, just to get the much loved herb Comfrey into the show. (It’s is one of the above too) The structure of its curling flower head is very beautiful and elegant as are the two rabbits ear leaves that curve up from the stem..

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Bombus Terrestris and the beautiful curving flower head of Comfrey Symphytum officinale

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Watercolor on Arches HP 8”x 8”

The Buff Tailed Bumble Bee and Clover

I had to include clover in one of the bumble bee paintings because the bees  are such crucial  pollinators for this important crop.
Bombus terrestris, the Buff Tailed Bumble Bee must be one of the most common bumble bees we see in the UK, recognisable (as you might expect), by the Buff coloured section of the tail and its two yellow stripes which are a deeper yellow that those of the B hortorum.

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I still have the small disintegrating sample which I brought back from the UK last year, which has been useful.

I sketched and wrote about it before, in regard to “nectar stealing” here.   I won’t repeat myself but will shamelessly re-quote this delightful extract about bumble bee behaviour from the wonderful, which seems quite apt, given the date and may well strike a chord with some.

“I get a huge number of emails from people asking me why their bees are sick, when in fact they are just males who have spent the day chasing queens and drinking nectar and then stayed out all night. Sometimes it rains and they get soaking wet, but they will recover once they drink or get warmed up by the sun. Sleeping inside a disk or bowl shaped flower is a good strategy for these bumblebees as research has shown that the temperature at the base of the bowl, near the source of nectar, can be as much as 10 °C higher than the surrounding air temperature.

Happy Valentine’s day all! I hope the sun shines on you. It’s damn cold here I can tell you and not the weather for either man or beast to be sleeping off a hangover in a flower..

Good news for Bumble Bees in the UK .

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has just been voted the most worthy eco-project 2010, from the ‘Live For the Outdoors’ website  and its  Pembrokeshire path project, will now be funded with EUR30,000.
Pippa Raynor, the Conservation Officer who will be working on the project explains what they will be doing:

“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 wildflower grasslands, so creating and restoring these habitats will benefit the plants, butterflies, bees, birds and other beasties that depend on 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.”

Sounds wonderful…Lucky  Pembrokeshire! I am looking forward to the possibility of seeing and painting a Shrill Carder bee, they are really pretty! Meanwhile back to Bombus terrestris, 2 early sketches: In the second one I bent the clover head over a little more than the first.

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And in the end I tilted it over a bit more still… these are fairly substantial bees after all. I may add the leaves later when I look at the set as a whole. No more time left today!


Bombus terrestris: The Buff Tailed Bumble Bee and Clover

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Watercolour on Arches HP 6 x 7 inches

Red Tailed Bumble Bee and Chives.

The beautiful and very handsome queen Bombus lapidarius, the Red Tailed Bumble Bee or “Stone” Bumble Bee, from its habit of nesting under stones or in walls.

I sketched this one in November. This is the bee that Thomas Belt back in 1896 felt would be the preferred pollinator over B terrestris for the New Zealand clover crop, mostly because of B terrestris’ naughty nectar robbing habit.
Belt also has a nice account of  B lapidarius’ bad temper.
Read more in my previous posts The Beautiful but Grumpy Bombus Lapidarius and Floral Larceny and Nectar Robbing.

The queen is large and a glossy black with the flame red tail. The workers are much smaller with similar colouring and the males still have the red tail but have 2 yellow stripes on the thorax.

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male, left and female/worker right, from my ID sketches.

Because of its rather short temper it might not be the hot choice as an aid to pollination unless perhaps you intend to grow fields of onions, because although these are relatively short tongued bees they do like chives and the allium family in general.

They will spend time clambering around the flower head, which is comprised of many small florets, gathering a sip of nectar at each stop.

Chives Allium schoenoprasum

Surely every garden must have chives?  When I was home in the summer they were very alive with bees and hover flies. But even without any interest in bees they are so pretty, easy to grow and wonderful to cook with.
I would lift a few potatoes, simply boil them and serve them tossed with butter and fresh chives… delicious..


Image by V. J. Matthew from Shutterstock.

Good companions

Chives are also very good companion plants, sow them amongst your carrots, tomatoes and brassicas, to help not only to repel bad bugs, but improve both flavour and growth. I wonder how?

I was also interested to read that they seem to help prevent scab in apple trees. The ancient unnamed apple trees at home are full of scab so I will have to send my father some seeds.

Just like cornflowers in my last post, you can add the florets to salads, for both prettiness and flavour, and of course if you happen to be plagued by evil spirits, hanging up a bunch of chives will do the trick.

The Wing Problem.

Deciding the position of the wings is always a problem. Sometimes they can cover too much of the body and therefore the pattern and colours of the bees.

I don’t put too much detail in because they can look much too solid if you paint every vein.  As you can see I still had not decided, even when I started painting.

There had been some of those nasty “bad painting” spirits around yesterday morning,  the ones that make your hand shake when you are poised over that tiny detailed bit, but after I hung up the chives everything went just fine, (I wish).

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Finally, I settled for the forward wing position

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Red Tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus lapidarius,  and Chive  Allium schoenoprasum

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watercolour and pencil on Arches HP, 6 x 8 inches