Thursday 8 September 2016

Summer bees

Kew Gardens had laid out a vast herbaceous border with 27,000 mostly bee-friendly plants, and there was plenty of apine activity among the agapanthus planted around the Palm House

while two strips of the order beds in the Chelsea Physic Garden - on the Dicotyledon side - were humming

and in our friends the Van der Beeks' garden in Lacock, Eryngia were among the preferred sources of nectar.

Perhaps this is the unexpected one, though the Mayfield lavender fields are on the tourist map now: a big tourist attraction opposite my childhood haunt of Oaks Park near home 'village' Banstead.

The big one this summer has been Kew, with its extraordinary new structure the Hive.17 metres tall, made out of 169.300 mostly aluminium components and first seen as part of the UK Pavilion at Milan Expo 2015, where the theme was Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. Nottingham artist Wolfgang Buttress reacted accordingly and consulted a researcher at Nottingham Trent University who studies how bees communicate. It's now found its natural home surrounded by a meadow of 34 native wildflower species, 19 outsiders and three grasses, edged with a hedge of six other species.

The idea of accelerometers in a hive measuring the bees' activity from vibrations has been translated into 900 pulsing LED lights which react to behavioural vibrations. I imagine this would be more spectacular at night, but you can still spot the light-ups, rather bee-like in themselves

and there is sound, too. A drone bass relayed from a nearby hive of 40,000 bees (literally, what Buttress calls a 'deep visceral hum') activates musical phrases 'in C', which are triggered by the various vibrational messages. There are two levels. On the ground you can apply a lolly-stick to a panel to hear the vibrations more immediately. And you can see people above in the central panel; these kids knew it and were playing to the parterre.

I sat against the ?plexiglass? walls on the upper level for much longer than I'd intended, fascinated by the bonding experience which brought all ages together to respond to the magic.

A small Chinese boy really got it, lying on the floor contentedly for long periods looking up at the sky through the opening in the top of the Hive.

It was a good connection to be able to walk straight to the herbaceous border - gone now, I fear, , the fiery pokers of Kniphofia triangularia -

 and see the bees in action on scabious and the like.

Kew's other August stunner is the Waterlily House, where Victoria amazonica, grown from seed every spring, waxes most impressive

and all shapes, colours and sizes of nympheas put on a display.

Around the fringes loofahs (strictly soeaking, Luffas)

grow so big they have to be supported before they fall.

Next port of call, reading-wise, after my Pamuk binge is very definitely Dave Goulson's A Sting in the Tail, about the life and variety of bumblebees, warmly recommended to me by a beekeeping lady as I browsed in the Chelsea Physic Garden shop yesterday. It was a humid, grey Tuesday, nothing like the high days of summer when the bees were in full swing (though they;re still doing their stuff, albeit not so prolifically). Oh, the profusion of pollen and nectar then.

As at Kew, cardoons were a firm favourite

along with this extraordinary variety of dahlia, still going strong.

Two more, the second one another type of Eryngia, I think.

Pitcher plants, drosera and Venus fly traps in the little greenhouse by the Tangerine Dream Cafe were all in their creepy prime, too.

As for the wonders of Cantax House, Lacock, I start from the particular, as up top,

and move to the general. The garden is looking very inviting from the wall and pavement outside

though Deborah's fecund topiaried goddess was in need of a haircut, and was about to get one:

I realise I've over-extended myself here and have to postpone the wonders of Iford Manor, a performance of The Magic Flute in the cloister of which was the focus of our visit. But I can't ignore the miraculous orchid field Deborah led us to, a walk down into a beautiful valley from the village of  Biddestone. Why should all species gather in this one field, I wonder? So many names for so many similar-looking varieties - Deborah may be able to help here - but surely the Common Marsh Orchid (addendum: see DvdB's comment below) and the Common Spotted Orchid are among the range:

No mistaking this one, though, the Bee Orchid. I gnash my teeth because Deborah had promised an abundance, but they were at the end of their season. I'd all but given up when she headed south and found this representative - and I wasn't with her, but I'm grateful for the image.

Last but not least, an ordered profusion of purple at the Mayfield lavender fields. I've been here before, but they seem to have extended their territory, just as well because in mid-August the lower slopes were losing their strength. But up over the hill, there was a profusion

which also meant an abundance of bees.

It was good for me to stand in the upper lanes with apines buzzing past me and occasionally hitting me: I had to remember, you're not near a hive, it's unlikely you'll get stung. And I conquered my fear, which in any case is of wasps rather than bees, very quickly.

Couldn't begrudge the international tourists either as they were all having such a good time. Chinese especially seemed to have found their way to Woodmansterne in small groups; many were waiting by the nearest bus stop as we left. I was photographed with two Philippino women and I loved seeing the pleasure kids got out of running up and down the lanes

as well as being photographed by the phone box, another new feature to please the visitors.

A final reminder, in case I don't get round to posting more before the event, that we'll be out in nature on Saturday*, making our annual pilgrimage to 13 or so places of worship covering about 17 miles on the Norfolk Churches Walk. Raising money, as before, for the Norfolk Churches Trust: all donations welcome.

*Or Sunday - Saturday is the one day surrounded by a sea of sunshine for which torrential all-day rain is forecast. So Jill, our leader, suggests we tour the churches by car getting signatures on Saturday and do the walk on Sunday. INNOVATION: you can give via one of 'my dear walking companions' (what he said) here.


Deborah vdB said...

Not Marsh Orchid, but a rather unpyramidal Pyramidal orchid, in their thousands here. You also missed the earlier flowering Butterfly orchids which were fewer - scores, but spectacular as they are so tall.

David said...

You bear out my confusion - I did indeed think from the picture guide that it looked like an unpyramidal Pyramidal orchid...Thanks for that and for the total revelation. Never seen anything like it. Next year we must come a few weeks early to catch the Bees and the Butterflies among orchids...

Susan Scheid said...

Well done on the bee theme, loved that. You know, when I go to Innisfree, I always have in mind when I take photographs that you, in addition to taking such nice ones, do your best to know the names of things (and in that regard, I did enjoy the exchange above).

David said...

I try but so often I fumble and fail. I think of getting the names right here as a kind of fridge-magnet note to self. Deborah knows more about plants than anyone else of my acquaintance, and her garden is the biggest miracle. In this case she was lucky to make the acquaintance of a local orchid expert and his knowledge was fresh in her mind.

Anonymous said...

A very impressive structure. And it's amazing that the bees started this! :)

David said...

Indeed, kutukamus - and I'm looking forward to the chance of seeing it pulsing in the dark. What is the language on your blog? I thought I knew most going east, but yours baffles me completely.