Bees, Blossom and a Fat Baby Bird.

I am busy working away on some prints and other things but last week I saw the first bees in the Garden for 2015.


9th Feb: First Bees

I have a small winter honey suckle outside the kitchen door and 4 honey bees were backwards and forwards on a sunny warm afternoon. Huraahhhhh.. It is cause for much rejoicing and worthy of recording.

And then here is the first blossom from our Bird Cherry Trees which I will be making some work about this year. We have been chopping the trees back and I had brought a twig inside to hopefully draw. One week later and it is in bloom. The trees outside are poised…


On Saturday we went into Cambridge and had  look round the fascinating Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. As well as an excellent small print show (see The Power of Paper), the small museum is stuffed with fascinating and very sketch-able things.

Favourite on Saturday was the exquisite baby bird carving. It does not have a label but is in a case which invites the viewer to make up their own minds about the possible story behind the enigmatic objects it contains. It looks Japanese in its elegant simplicity.


A5 sketchbook, pencil

This gorgeous little carving with its pleasing curves and that big wide baby bird mouth reminded me so much of the baby robins we see in the spring.  It’s the sort of thing you long to pick up and hold in your hand.  There was also something of a winged flying saucer about it and it sparked an old memory of those sherbet flying saucer sweets, from a time when day-glow rice paper and sickly sherbet seemed like a good idea. Hmm.. not much has changed then… Anyway it has all made Spring seem not too far away now !

Marty’s Honey Bee and a Goldenrod stem.

Marty contacted me a while ago to very kindly ask if I could paint her a honey bee to use on her website and her publicity for Beezations her “growing apiary of treatment-free hives at the edge of the Catskills in upstate New York”.

Marty’s hives are ruled by a variety of lovely Queen bees..
Queen Camilla is a mild Italian…..Queen Marianne II is a feisty Russian with great genes from a Pennsylvania apiary….Queen Eleanor is a Carniolan mix who was bred at an apiary in Brewster, NY and Queen Kate II is the daughter of an Italian queen who was overthrown by her subjects in the spring of 2011…..” and more.

She sells shares in her hives and will reward the shareholders with gorgeous honey from their hard working bees.. A lovely idea! I sent her a couple of thumbnail roughs which feature either a Goldenrod or a New England Aster.. and of course a bee.

bee on goldenrod      bee with aster

The general feeling, via her blog and facebook votes was; the curve of the goldenrod stem and the hovering bee!
My thoughts too. It will make a versatile image for use on all of his products.
Maybe labels, cards, publicity etc etc. So the next stage is the, almost, final rough.. I will tweek it a bit more for the final painting but it’s one I am looking forward to.

b and goldenrod

I have been out in the garden again, this time giving the shed a bit of TLC. Dave my good neighbour, who is going to help with re-roofing said shed, tells me it is a summerhouse. He is a man of optimism and some imagination.

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….

My last Bee, the Dark Honey Bee “…as sweet as tupelo honey, Just like honey from the bee” …

Did you think I had forgotten the Honey bee.

How could I. 🙂

That’s where this whole bee thing started,  on a trip home just a year ago, when I found our old beehives, which made me look up my local beekeeper Joe, who gave me some bees.
I made this painting, Number Two Bee  I put it on the blog, Deborah saw it. I painted 16 bees for her, and then the exhibition came along..  and here I am, a year on about to leave for the UK again this time with my 24 bees.

The Hardy English Dark honey bee, Apis mellifera mellifera

For my honey bee I decided to paint the old English Dark  Honey Bee the original British bee that colonised northern Europe after the Ice Age. Compared with other honey bees they are thought to be more aggressive  but have thicker coats and are more robust, making it easier for them to withstand  bad weather and cold winters and there are moves afoot to make this beautiful little bee more popular again.


Dark honey bees from  SICAMM an international union of beekeepers, regional and national associations,etc who support the  conservation of this threatened subspecies. see more here In 1917,  Roots famous “ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture” had this to say:

(They) are much more nervous: and when a hive of them is opened they run like a flock of sheep from one corner of the hive to another, boiling over in confusion, hanging in clusters from one corner of the frame as it is held up and finally falling off in bunches to the ground , where they continue a wild scramble in every direction probably crawling up one’s trouser leg, if the opportunity offers”

But on May 18th just last year The Independent said this:

For decades, Britain’s native black bee has been an outcast. The Victorians threw Apis mellifera mellifera out of hives in favour of more industrious foreign species. Modern beekeepers brand it lazy and aggressive.Scientists believe the insect that made honey for the tables of medieval kings could reverse the collapse of bee numbers that has imperilled the annual pollination of crops worth £165m.The Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders’ Association (Bibba) believes the black honeybee, which has a thicker coat, could be hardy enough to survive the 21st century. see here

So perhaps beekeeping in the UK is about to have a little more frisson of risk and trouser legs should be firmly tied at all times. Bibba (Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders’ Association) certainly think it is a worthwhile bee. They are champions of the “Dark bee.” This is from their article “Why The Native Bee Is The Best Bee For The British Climate”

“It is the experience of people who keep the Dark bee in this country that the bee will produce surplus honey every year, even when the summer is so cold and wet that bees of foreign origin have to be fed sugar to keep them alive. ….These characters, together with a population of long living worker bees, provide an optimum number of foragers ready to take full advantage of any short nectar flows during periods of unsettled weather.” read  more  here.

There is also another excellent article all about the origins of bees in general on their site.. “An introduction to understanding honeybees, their origins, evolution and diversity” , it’s a good read and reveals more of the  Dark Bee’s stalwart British character .. “will fly in dull and drizzly weather which would keep Italian bees indoors”..

I had to laugh!   Bibba is looking for help with their Project Discovery “Dark Bee” survey and research. See this page here if you think you can help.

Honey and Bees..a question or two?
Do we ask too much of bees sometimes ..We expect them to pollinate vast areas of produce, and we take their honey which they need for their own survival and well being.
Are we, as always, too greedy? Do we take too much honey? What do we give them  in fair return?
I am not sure and I have asked myself this many times. However my last breakfast in the USA will be fresh fruit with yoghourt and pale pale beautiful real Tupelo honey bought from my local beekeeper, Joe whose little honey bee was my first model.. I have come full circle Joe!


My little black bee Apis mellifera mellifera
perched on the lid of one of my honey jars.. I have many!…

Mellifera mellifera

Watercolour and pencil on Arches HP 8” x8”

The Superb Bee Photographer, Eric Tourneret

If you have any interest in honey bees, honey, their history and the different traditions around the world you will spend hours looking at the fabulous site The Honey Gatherers which shows the photographs of Eric Tourneret, Bee Photographer and Photo Journalist.

From different parts of the world, there are portraits of the keepers and honey seekers and of course the bees themselves, their life cycle and their history, this is a magnificent collection of photographs, all annotated.



“After a very poor harvest, the honey gatherers take off the heavy suits that protected them from stings” from the Cameroon section

L'abeille bohème du Danube.

“Constantin Cazan has come to help his father Gheorghe during the two days of harvesting and extracting. The extraction takes place in the cabin of the converted caravan” from the Romania section.

Butineuses en vol d’approche de la ruche sur un champ de colza.
Les muscles de l’abeille lui permettent de battre des ailes 400 à 500 fois par seconde pour atteindre une vitesse de 25 à 30 kilomètres/heure en pleine charge. Les butineuses font 10 à 15 voyages par jour mais celles qui sont spécialisées dans la récolte du nectar peuvent opérer 150 sorties en une journée. La durée de leur vie est directement liée au temps passé en vol pour le butinage. En été, une butineuse s’épuise à la tâche en cinq jours au cours desquels elle parcourt environ 800 kilomètres.

“Foragers approaching their hive in a colza field.The bee’s muscles allow it to flap its wings 400 to 500 times per second to allow a speed of 25 to 30 kilometers per hour with its maximum payload.” from Life in the Hive section He is meticulous in his work, here is an extract from his site about how he took the above photograph:

….the photo looking directly at the three bees in flight took a full week of work in a colza field. A hive was set up in the area that provided the desired background and a false hive containing the camera was set up just beside it.
The site was then encircled by studio flashes for improved lighting. Éric sought to capture an original shot by removing the real hive filled with bees to fool the field bees upon their return. After four days of fruitless shooting, he found it necessary to change techniques and asked a swarm-catcher for a batch of bees…
“I put the queen and a few bees in a cage in the false hive, and they immediately began fanning.
The bulk of the swarm in another, smaller hive ten meters away began to stir and then, in one dense, airborne throng, the bees moved towards my camera.
I blindly started shooting while doing my best to deal with the bees that were landing on the optics. Finally, after a week in this Camargue field and 4,500 shutter releases, the photo was in the bag. It surpassed my every expectation.
Not a frontal shot of one bee in flight in its natural environment, but three bees dancing in the air before me.”

4,500 shutter this is the most beautiful stuff I have seen for a long time.

A Short Break….

We are going away for a couple of days so I won’t be blogging now till next week.

Jungle Island

We are heading down to the south of Florida and amongst other things, will be stopping by Jungle Island in Miami to meet up with Jeff who is in charge of horticulture there.

Jeff contacted me months ago when I wrote about The Wonderful Sausage Tree and the Perilous Bench and had linked to
They have quite a bit of information about Sausage trees on their site but also the fascinating history of how  the “Jungle Island” site was developed after the old Parrot Jungle and Gardens were devastated by Hurricane Andrew back in 1992.

It’s so encouraging to realise that a major tourist attraction was planned with such care and consideration, from the plants, the subsoil, mulch, compost, choice of trees, irrigation, to the enjoyment of the visitors.

Read more here.

That was all in 2004 so it will interesting to see how it has all survived and what the ongoing issues are. Here I am, in my rather attractive vest thing, on my last visit to see the parrots.
Yes, it’s a few years ago now. I am so looking forward to seeing them again!


and a reminder of the Sausage Tree from another old Miami postcard


images from the wonderful site “Florida Memory” here

While I am there I will be keeping an eye out for my lovely euglossa bees who came to stay with me back in December (see my post Entertaining the Euglossas).

They live near Miami and if the article that Patricia so kindly sent me from the New York Times is true If You Swat, Watch Out: Bees Remember Faces”,  I will be expecting a tap on my shoulder from my little iridescent friends and a fond greeting.

Exhib  progress

Meanwhile, today I have been busy putting together a written proposal for the exhibition and making some tiny thumbnail sketches of the various bees.
If you have the luxury of planning an exhibition, it is as well to think about how it will look, the mix of images and the “story”, if there is one.  Having been a book illustrator I love to plan a narrative, in whatever form, and am used to putting storyboards together which is so useful for seeing the whole picture, as it were.

They won’t mean much to anyone else but it sorts out so much for me in my head, so here they are..


They are tiny but you would be amazed how much time went into them and what a help they will be! The finished things will probably vary quite a bit but it’s a start.  More next week ..

Flowers need Bees and Bees need Flowers:Bee Flowers 1 to 10

I have been out the last couple of days enjoying some sunshine but also seeing the terrible frost damage at Leu Gardens. I know it will grow back but seeing so many brown and leafless trees and shrubs is quite depressing.

There are not many flowers and fewer bees, but I always seem to find the indefatigable honey bee. Here is one enjoying one of the few camellias that survived the frost.

honey bee

who was then joined by a tiny ant..

bee and ant

When writing about bees at some point you do have to think about plants too.
They all need each other.
I have started keeping a notebook about the flowers that bees really like, so when I do eventually have a garden again I can plant a bee heaven.

There are of course many bee friendly flowers and I have a long long list, but here are the first ten, very rough, colour notes in a small moleskine.

Knapweed Centuaurea and Californian Poppy Eschscholzia

Cornflower Centaurea and Fleabane Erigeron

Dandelion Taraxacum and Forget-me-not Myosotis

Globe Buddleia Globosa and Grape Hyacinth Muscari

Hollyhocks.. Alcae (a real favourite with me) and Indian Blanket Gaillardia

They are simply notes, but useful quick reminders for me and could be developed into a nice complementary series to the bees… if I ever have enough time.

USA readers !! Flowers for your bees..

Scott at Hometown Seeds is offering a discount of 10% to blog readers “By entering the coupon code “thanks”, 10% will be reduced from the total cost of any order. The code will be good through February 28, 2010.” see Survival seeds, or Wildflower seeds..

Get some veg for the family and flowers for the bees…and let some of the veg run to flower, the bees will thank you!