The secret wonders of Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery…

Blog, Sights

Fried-egg-orchidCactus-in-Kew-Gardens

Tucked away in a leafy corner behind a pair of Victorian wrought-iron gates lies Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery. It’s a hot, misty place, filled with intriguing and bizarre wonders of the natural world, from the world’s largest flower to the tiniest lily.

The Nursery is where Kew do research, conservation work, and look after rare plants. It’s not usually open to the public, but Gavin somehow managed to wangle us a tour. Gavin has a habit of winning tickets for things – I’m not sure whether he enters hundreds of competitions or is just really lucky. Either way, we got to go and look round and find out about all kinds of crazy plants.

Kew Gardens Tropical NurseryKew Gardens Tropical NurseryCactus in Kew GardensOpen-closy-thingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now I am a nerd and absolutely love plants and learning new things. But I’m aware that a lesson on tropical plants isn’t the way EVERYONE in their mid-twenties would choose to spend a Saturday afternoon. (On that note, at what age must one reluctantly swap ‘mid’ for ‘late’ when talking about age? I’m 27 and I’m clinging on to my ‘mid-twenties’ label for at least another year.) Seriously though, some of the plants in this Nursery would fascinate even the grumpiest plant-hater.

Cafe Marron

Cafe marron, the Lonesome George of the plant world.

Café marron, is a flowering plant from Mauritius. A few years ago, the cafe marron’s future resembled that of Lonesome George – there was just one sad little plant left in the wild. Luckily, Kew Gardens saved it from extinction – they propagated a load, kept a stash in the nursery and send some back to Mauritius.

Kew Gardens is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s not just a pretty garden, it’s so important to conservation and science. Being there makes you realise how incredible our Earth and its inhabitants are, and  how we should do all we can to preserve and protect them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After our visit, we popped to see the Hive. It’s a brand new art installation that mimics a real beehive. It was designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress and has lights and music that reflect the activity in a hive located elsewhere in Kew Gardens.

The Hive is surrounded by a swaying field of wildflowers. Since the 1930s, the UK has lost NINETY SEVEN PER CENT of its wildflower meadows. This is disastrous for bees. It’s where they love to hang out and without these meadows, our poor pollinating pals are under threat. (I’ve banged on about how much I love bees and how important they are before, the post is here if you fancy a read).

After visiting the Hive we wandered around the gardens and I spent the best part of an hour scampering around in the flowerbeds trying to take a photo of a bee…

I’d really recommend a visit to the Hive, followed by a stroll through the secluded garden to spot bumbles in the bushes.

Bees in Kew GardensBees in Kew Gardens

 

Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!

Blog, Writes

bee_6_bg_042404

Photo thanks to Jon Sullivan

I think it’s safe to say I am a little obsessed with bees. I love so many things about them, not least that they make honey. (Sidenote: honey, is my go-to cure-all-ails natural medicine. When the faintest hint of a cold starts to creep up, you can find me in the kitchen, hidden behind a cupboard door snaffling honey from the jar like a tiny bear. If I’m sleepy in the afternoon, a little spoonful will perk me up, and there’s nothing better to spread on toast in the morning than a sticky slick of the sweet stuff.)1-3bYSm09lZUVhIeWTmbj6QQ

Bees are hardworking creatures. They are Earth’s most efficient pollinating insect, and many plants rely on them to reproduce. Lured in by the bright colours and promise of nectar, bees collect pollen from flowers in little pockets and in their hair, distributing it to the other plants. Pollination is needed for roughly 75 per cent of global food crops. Bees therefore play a crucial role in keeping the world well-stocked with spuds and onions. Basically they are the… (ahem) bees knees.

The fuzzy little pollinators have one of the most sophisticated forms of communication in the animal kingdom. Known as the ‘waggle dance’, a worker bee will perform figures of eight in the air to tell other bees in the colony where juicy nectar-filled flowers, or a comfy looking nest are located. Just call him Anton du Bee (sorry).

Bees do all this while dressed to kill, in a snazzy little striped jacket of an unmistakeable dandelion yellow hue.

Despite being such conscientious, well-dressed and seemingly friendly little honey monsters, the tiny fellas can stand up for themselves. Get on the wrong side of a bee (literally) and you’ll regret it.

AND DON’T FORGET THEY CAN FLY FOR GOD’S SAKE. To summarise: they are superheroes.

It’s been widely reported that bees are on the decline, and that this will have a major impact on the world and its plants. The decline is largely blamed on pesticides and changes to their habitat over the last few centuries.

While hive-dwelling honeybees can’t compete with the efficiency of wild pollinators, it’s still nice to have more of the little guys around, so I am really thrilled to be learning how to become a beekeeper in March.

One day I would love to have a hive of my own, where I can harvest vat after vat of my own honey, and have a whole gang of little bee friends buzzing around the place. In the meantime, I’ll settle for borrowing bees, attempting to plant some wildflowers in my windowbox and trying my best to buy organic food (even though it’s a bit more expensive).

I’ll leave you with a song from the wonderful and wistful Elbow.

“Come be the Queen to my lost worker bee…”

Oh and before I forget, the title of this post is a line from a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier that touches on an old European cultural tradition, known as ‘telling the bees’.