Author Archives: alison

Most expensive bug house in London?

Is this the most expensive bug house in London? This wood pile with holes drilled into the logs to provide nests for solitary bees has been created by Nick Butler, lead gardener for Grosvenor estates. And it is hidden away in a corner of Eaton Square no less.

eaton square bug hotel

It represents a shift in how Grosvenor is going to be managing its private squares and gardens in future with pollinators and biodiversity more in mind. Kanken Nick says he has wanted to introduce more flowering, pollinator-friendly plants into the gardens since he became the Grosvenor beekeeper. fjallraven kanken uk The company received hives as part of the Victoria Business Improvement District (BID) beekeeping initiative and Urban Bees trained Nick and others in the company.

“Horticultural college doesn’t really teach you about bees, but being there physically with the honeybees I thought I should help them and the wild bees out by providing better food for them and habitat for the solitary bees and the bumblebees. pegasus I’ve got the whole gardening team involved and the local residents’ garden committees. First and foremost, the gardens have to look good but there is a lot of interest.”

The bees will be very happy with all the Ceanothus , digitalis, Backpack mahonias and aliums that are currently being planted.

Wildflower meadow


Alison, Urban Bees, sowing wild flower meadow

Laying a wildflower meadow turf on a council estate in south London and sowing a strip of wildflowers around it is the beginning of a project Urban Bees and River of Flowers are doing to transform pockets of ugly, unloved green spaces into vibrant, colourful bee pastures.

This is our first collaboration to improve bee and other pollinator habitats for food and shelter.

We were asked by Lambeth council to come up with ideas for improving the environment and making it more bee-friendly after calls from residents to brighten up the place.

We will be pioneering the planting of wildflower bee pastures for wild bees, honeybees and other pollinators. We’re also creating a ‘fragrant walk’ with flowering herbs that bees love and dotting some ornamental bee favourites around the estate including hebes, Mini choisyas and wallflowers.

We’re hoping to get local school children to help us finish this bee and bug hotel.


Resident’s will be out planting in May to create the first bee pastures in raised beds. They’ll also be planting fruit and veg around the estate as part of a local residents’ food growing programme.

Thanks to Crispin and the fathers at Father Nature for doing all the hard lifting, 2012 raking and laying for the wildflower meadow. Mini Backpack (Now we have to hope for lots of rain and that people and dogs don’t trample over it.)

crispinlaying fathernature

And to our youngest helper.



The lessons we learn here will inform future Urban Bees/River of Flowers projects to make our cities more pollinator-friendly.

Curtains for neonics?

The international taskforce on systemic pesticides – a group of global, independent scientists including Professor Dave Goulson at Sussex University – has spent four years analysing all the peer reviewed studies on neonics and fipronil and has today concluded that there is clear evidence of serious harm to honeybees and other pollinators worldwide as well as earthworms and birds. There’s a good video of their findings here.

Neonics are the most widely used group of insecticides globally, with a 40% market share and sales worth more than US $2.63bn in 2011. They include imidacloprid which is also used in domestic treatments to prevent fleas in cats.

Alarm bells were first raised about this new class of pesticide 20 years ago when French beekeepers accused Bayer’s seed dressing for sunflowers, sold as Gaucho, of killing their bees. Kanken Ever since the industry has been denying the harmful effects of its products on bees, claiming that every independent piece of research is flawed in some way or another; lab tests feed too high a concentration of the pesticide to the bees; field tests have too many other variables so you can’t pin higher bee mortality on their products.

When we were researching A World without Bees to try to get to the bottom of what was causing the huge collapse of honeybee colonies in the US in 2007 and 2008, we found time and again that the relevant tests hadn’t been done by the regulatory authorities to determine the real risks the neonics posed to honeybees. So it was impossible to say that they were safe. Mochilas Big Yet they were being licensed all over the world and sold in their millions. Until the tests were done we argued that we needed a worldwide ban, using the precautionary principle. Last year, the EU introduced a two year ban and just last week President Obama set up a task force charged with saving bees from mysterious decline which could well lead to a temporary suspension while better tests are undertaken.

The US have been looking into bee die offs since they were first reported on a massive scale seven years ago. Beekeepers pointed the finger at the neonics straight away but the US department of agricultural didn’t want to know. It blamed poor beekeeping, parasites, such as the varroa mite, and poor nutrition. All of these play a major part in bee health, but the role of pesticides should not be underestimated.

Response from the pesticide manufacturers to the latest report, called the Worldwide Integrated Assessment report on the use of neonics and fipronil, is entirely predictable. It fails to acknowledge the report on its website. But Nick von Westenholz, chief executive of the industry lobby, the Crop Protection Agency, told the Guardian: “It is a selective review of existing studies which highlighted worst-case scenarios, largely produced under laboratory conditions. As such, the publication does not represent a robust assessment of the safety of systemic pesticides under realistic conditions of use.”

He added: “Importantly, they have failed or neglected to look at the broad benefits provided by this technology and the fact that by imising yields from land already under cultivation, more wild spaces are preserved for biodiversity. The crop protection industry takes its responsibility towards pollinators seriously.

Community bulb planting for bees

Urban Bees and River of Flowers’ spring bulb planting weekend on Clapham Manor Estate went a treat last month. tn requin pour femme The bulbs had been carefully chosen for their attractiveness to bees and other pollinators, to provide food in the spring and throughout the year.

Jim, 10, helped to plant round headed leaks (Allium sphaerocephalon) and Ruby Giant crocuses in raised planters, and masses of native English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) with mum Nina in the more shady beds. He said it was better than doing his homework…. internationalist and he’d learned a lot about botany and planting from Kathryn at River of Flowers.

makingholes plantingbulbs

jimandninabluebells kathrynplantingbulbs

On Sunday more residents, including Rosemary and Tammy Sharma and her two lovely children, Alex 8, and Shanti, 4 , were out in force clearing a large L-shaped bed that was overgrown with Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum). chaussures 2017 Greg Thompson from Lambeth Living, which manages thousands of council homes in the borough, was very popular when he came down with a large bag of cultivated bulbs that the kids enthusiastically planted in the now bare soil.

The L-shaped bed was also the perfect place for some larger shrubs that the bees will like; Dogwood (Cornus), which produces small, creamy-white flowers in May and June, and St John’s Wort (Hypericum) which will have masses of yellow butter cup like flowers which the bees adore from July to October.

Fragrant Walk

We kept the Fragrant Walk free of bulbs. The bay trees, Lavender and Rosemary bushes looked good once we’d done a huge amount of weeding so you can actually see them!

weedalert fragrantwalkafterweeding

Bee Pasture

The Bee Pasture (which was certainly attracting bees with its wild flowers) was also attracting the ire of some residents who clearly felt intimidated by the far too tall sunflowers and thistles that needed pulling out.


To keep residents on side, beds need regular weeding and any green rubbish this creates needs to be disposed of quickly. tavas But for this project to work long-term residents themselves will have to nurture the flowers beds and maintain them….

Plant Locks


Six Plant Locks, two on Brayburne Avenue and four on Victoria Rise were cleared of rubbish and ‘weeds’ and planted with white Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), ruby Crocuses and purple/bue harebells (Campanulas). There was a giant nettle in one of the Victoria Rise Plant Locks – great for butterflies but not so good for passersby!

Plant Locks need regular maintenance so hopefully the school on Victoria Rise will take could care of the ones outside its gates.

Unfortunately, the Plant Lock at the junction of St Rule Street and Wandsworth Road was also full of weeds and rubbish.

Bees’ choice at Chelsea

beeatchelsea2 BeeatChelsea

The bees’ choice at the Chelsea Flower Show 2014 was this lovely crimson thistle-like flower that was all over the show gardens. Backpack Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum‘ or plum thistle. It attracted all the bees, Backpack including this honeybee, when I visited on Tuesday.

It usually flowers in July and August so not to late to order some for a sunny spot in the garden.

Glad to say the foxgloves were out in force so plenty for the bumblebees to feed on. flyknit lunar And there was a wild feel to many of the smaller gardens so fairly bee-friendly with favourites including Nepeta and Anchusa Azurea ‘Loddon Royalist’,

Buzzing bees – out already

Have spotted bees out enjoying the mild winter in London.

At the weekend, two large and very loud bumblebees were on a mahonia bush in my neighbour’s garden in Hackney collecting pollen from the yellow flowers. Mini I’ve yet to master the art of bumblebee identification, but from their white bottoms, I’d guess they were either white-tailed queens, buff-tailed or garden queen bumblebees. As my BBC Wildlife pocket guide chart helpfully informs me that the white-tailed bumblebees (Bombus lucorum) are one of the earliest species, flying in February, I will plump for them. The other early species I could see in the garden at this time of year, according to my guide, is the aptly named Early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum), but as that clearly has an orange backside, it wasn’t her.

I’m afraid I’ve also yet to master how to take good photos of bees on my mobile phone! But you get the idea…




Today, I had the pleasure of spying honeybees out on a white-flowered shrub in south London. femme bordeaux If anyone knows the name of this early flowering shrub please let me know. kwazi Again, it’s not easy to see the bee in my photo, but there were a number of them buzzing around, collecting pollen.




I have had an answer from the Guardian’s gardening editor @janeperrone. She has tweeted me @alisonurbanbees to say it looks like Lonicera purpusii, winter honeysuckle. chaussures 2017 “The bees love it! Nice scent too.”

I think she’s spot on.

Planting edible bee pastures and fragrant walks


Chloe watering the Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) plugs she has planted on the Clapham Manor estate as part of the bee-friendly planting day organised by River of Flowers and Urban Bees on Saturday.

The day was a great success. 2012 The weather was perfect and some 50 local residents and children came out to help plant three raised beds on the estate to create one end of a ‘river of flowers’ . The three beds each had a different theme:

Chloe’s at the Food and Flowers bed, where edible wild flowers including tufted vetch, red clovers and wild carrots are planted in clumps to create swathes of tasty forage for bees and other pollinators.

kendifoodflowers Kendi, 6, was another budding gardener. roshe run He came with his grandmother and said he really enjoyed getting his hands dirty and learning about bees and plants.


Sid and his 3 year old daughter, Rose, are helping to plant up the Bee Pasture bed with a mixture of wild flowers such as white campion, yarrow and lesser knapweed, with one of my favourite bee and butterfly ornamental plants Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’.



Two enthusiastic young helpers on the Fragrant Walk, a long planter filled with ornamental plants that smell divine and are hugely attractive to bees and other pollinators. Backpacks The two best bee-friendly varieties of lavenders: Angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and ‘intermedia Grosso’ are accompanied by rosemary, mint, and marjorams, with bay trees down the middle.


As well as transforming what was a dark area on the estate to a much brighter, open space , this bed will provide much-needed forage from June to September. And residents can use the plants for culinary purposes. This bed also needs less watering as the plants are used to a dry Mediterranean climate.

Each of the wildflowers and garden plants were carefully selected for pollinators and people so we hope they will be enjoyed by both immensely.

josh,kathyrn, alison, kerry

Some of the happy organisers at the end of the day’s planting: L-R Josh Kerry (Lambeth council), Kathryn Lwin (River of Flowers), myself Alison Benjamin (Urban Bees) and Kerrie Mckinnon (River of Flowers). Kanken Thanks to Josh for inviting River of Flowers & Urban Bees to participate in the Clapham Greenways project and for getting the water butts on site, and to Kerrie for her invaluable planting plans for each of the beds.

Other thanks go to Crispin at Father Nature, whose volunteers and workers cleared each of the beds of tired old bushes and shrubs and prepared them with top soil. And all the residents who came along, including the aptly named Rosemary, and especially to Nina who galvanised a lot of support.

Residents involvement is key. Now the beds are planted, two of them will need constant watering during this dry, hot spell.

It’s the first community planting days that Urban Bees has been involved in. With forage such an important issue for all bees, we hope to do many more.

A second planting day on this estate will be held in June. Dates tbc …

Honeybee survival rate greatly improves

Honeybee colony survival rates over this winter are the best they have been since the British Beekeepers’ Association started its annual survey six years ago. Hurrah…

This winter an average of just one in 10 hives perished according to the BBKA survey of close on 1000 members across England, compared to more than a third dying out the previous winter (2012/13)and an average of around 16% not pulling through across each of the previous four years?

So does this mean that bees are out of the woods and no longer need our help? It’s not quite as simple that. Backpack The threats to honeybees – the varroa mite, lack of forage and pesticide use – have not diminished. soldes The big difference during last winter was the weather. Big We had an extremely mild winter and spring came early which allowed bees to get out and collect available forage early preventing starvation and allowing them to build up their strength to deal better with their foes.

In addition, many weak colonies were wiped out during the long winter and late spring the previous year, so the ones that made it through to summer 2013 were strong going into last winter.

The good weather conditions this spring and summer have encouraged much swarming and brood development. Since varroa feed and breed on honeybee brood we could see a build up of the mite in our hives which could weaken our colonies going into this winter.

Tedx and River of Flowers video

Watch this delightful animation video from River of Flowers which explains why we need more wild flowers in our towns and cities.

This was the theme of a Tedx talk, Mini the Urban Buzz, that Urban Bees gave recently at Warwick University.

Thanks to everyone who supplied photos for the talk who I wasn’t able to credit. They include River of Flowers, mercurial (urban meadow in Hackney, east London, 1 og and the tree pit planted with flowers); Melissa Cooper’s Out Walking the Dog blog which tracks nature in NYC and captured that greedy squirrel; Matthew Cohen of who took the fantastic photo of Vivian Wang with the Empire State in the background; and Silvia at Global Generation for her great photos of young beekeepers in the Skip Garden on the King’s Cross development site.

The pioneer of conservation in the US John Muir sums up what my talk is all about.
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Thanks to illustrator Danielle Callagham for including the quote in her beautiful book The plight of the honey bee and for Jana Levitt, at LGA Architects in Toronto,

Gardening for butterflies and bees

Really enjoying Jan Miller-Klein’s book, Gardening for Butterflies, Bees and other beneficial insects. It’s got loads of fantastic colour photos of plants and the pollinators they attract and the large format makes it so easy to use. Backpack It shows you what flowers to plant for spring, summer and autumn pollen and nectar and includes a combination of British wild flowers, garden plants and shrubs. Now I know which hebes to plant – “midsumer beauty” and “great orme” were found to be the most attractive to butterflies. So as you can see, it’s not just honeybees I am planting food for in my garden.

Honeybees have opened up a whole new world of wildlife. In addition to the bumblebees ( I must plant Vipers bugloss for them) and solitary bees (knapweeds and stachys for some of them) , this spring and summer I’m going to try to make the garden more butterfly-friendly as well. They loved the verbena bonariensis and the Erysium Bowles Mauve wall flower I planted last year.

I didn’t know that the larvae of many butterflies only feed on one specific plant so for example the larvae of the Common blue butterfly needs Birds-foot Trefoil, the wild, yellow pea flower that’s in bloom in June/July. Big It also provides food for adults and what’s more it has a higher pollen content than many other flowers so it’s also important for bumblebees. And the same goes for Red clover – it’s pollen has a high protein content.

Jan gave a talk a few weeks ago at a local gardening club I’ve joined.

Feeding the bees together

Kathryn's loving our wildflower meadow

Kathryn’s loving our wildflower meadow

Two months after laying wildflower turf and sowing wildflower seeds on Clapham Manor estate in south London, this is the glorious result. Mochilas Fjällräven Kanken Tienda Not only is Kathryn Lwin from River of Flower ecstatic but the bees love it too.


We’ve just had our second planting day on the estate, where Lambeth council has invited River of Flowers and Urban Bees to work with residents to improve forage for bees and other pollinators.


Here are some of the children planting a new raised bee pasture.




and with the Mums


There’s a lovely combination of native, wild flowers including black knapweed, hedgerow cranesbill and purple betony, with bee-friendly ornamentals such an early flowering clematis armandii to trail along the wall, a winter flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) and a Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) which should flower in the spring and again in the autumn to provide the bees and other pollinators with year round foarge.

After just a few hours of digging, planting, watering and mulching, adults and children had transformed the empty raised beds into a haven for pollinators.


And here is one we did early…


The food and flowers square that we planted at the end of April was teeming with Horseradish, wild carrrot, wild red clovers and more. These photos don’t really do it justice. It looked so much more beautiful than the sterile bedding displays that local parks and civic offices still go in for.


We also filled a Plant Lock with wildflowers. This is probably a first. More will follow across the estate. Each will be adopted by a resident.

Thanks to everyone who made the day such a success, particularly to Tammy Sharma and her family. Sonny’s DIY skills were invaluable for putting up the trellis for the clematis, Shanti’s skill with the watering cans ensured no plant went thirsty – and she’s only 41/2, and Alex, 8, was keen to learn about the plants.. until the snacks arrived. And to Crispin at Father Nature and his family crew who supplied plenty of hands, bunting and music. sb And not forgetting Rosemary and Alison for getting their hands dirty, not least weeding the existing beds (which is really important) and for adopting the first Plant Lock. And as always to Nina for publicising the event and having the extra long hose at hand. Oops, nearly forgot Josh at Lambeth council, without whom non of this would have been possible.

River of Flowers and Urban Bees will be back in the autumn to plant bulbs that will give bees early spring food next year, but I’m sure we’ll pop along next month just to see how it’s all looking….

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Our successful four year partnership with the Co-op Group’s Plan Bee came to an end this year when we completed a year-long teaching course for the final cohort of 20 new beekeepers at the Camley Street apiary in King’s Cross. 97 We also used Plan Bee funds to set up a new community apiary at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and taught 20 aspiring local apiarists, some of whom have formed the THCPbees group.

We continued work with the Honey Club in King’s Cross, pegasus teaching young people and business people about bees at new hives in the Skip Garden and taking part in many bee-related events.

A bee-themed pub quiz was one of the highlights of the year at Victoria Business Improvement District where we continue to help to make their environment more bee-friendly. Mini We are also talking to a number of businesses across London about improving habitats and forage for bees and other pollinators.

We took part in the London pollinators’ forum which is feeding into the government’s national pollinator strategy to be announced in 2014.

We think trees have a huge role to play in making towns and cities more bee-friendly, so we have produced the Urban Bees’ Tree for Bees guide

We hosted visitors from around the world including architects in Toronto who are looking to London for inspiration to create bee caring communities, Mini Backpack and Urban Bees’ work with Sir John Cass School in the City was featured in a photographic exhibition at the United Nations in Geneva.

Our taster days at Camley Street proved as popular as ever, as more and more people want to learn about bees. Training and education about honey bees and other pollinators will remain core to our work as we engage with more companies and organisations in the exciting year ahead. We will continue to work closely in 2014 with the London Wildlife Trust, who host our Camley Street training apiary, we will be teaming up with River of Flowers to try to create sustainable wild flower forage throughout the capital,

The last supper

The bees are busy foraging for the last pollen and nectar of the season before the winter arrives. requin There is a surprising amount of colour still in the garden from the never-ending cosmos, geranium rozanne and verbena bonariensis, plus the later flowering rudbekia, Big penstamens and echinacea and the newly acquired bushy blue caryopteris and magenta, tavas daisy-like osteopermum trescos. While these flowers are still attracting the odd bumblebee and hoverflies, the honeybees are elsewhere. They are on walls, railway sidings, any forgotten nook and cranny that is covered in ivy, because at this time of year, mature ivy is in bloom,