Saturday, September 02, 2006

Back to Vacation, or More on Gardens and Bees

scan of TimeOut articleWhen we got to London last month, it was as if the city had been arranging a festival of beekeeping to greet us! Magazines, gardens, and public markets all gave us fantastic tastes of the local honeybees.
TimeOut, the magazine guide to all that is buzzing in London, published a feature on the city's beekeepers just as we arrived! The London Beekeepers are headquartered at a youth garden center, with whom they cooperate on educational programs. I made an appointment to visit and got very excited!

map of Chelsea Physic Garden with Beehives highlightedBut I was late for my meeting, because there's another magic place in the middle of London, four acres in Chelsea with a rent of 5 pounds sterling per annum, with 400 years of history and several beautiful beehives. It's The Chelsea Physic Garden,", and even people who don't like bees (or plants) very much should go. If for nothing else, the gift shop sells the most wonderfully exotic seeds, like papaver somniferum and belladonna, though they had to stop offering hemp.

The garden is full of the most wonderful assortment of medicinal, dye, flowering, agrucultural, poisonous, exotic, and mystifying plants, and the plants are full of bees! The guides give terrific tours, and you really should take a walk with them. While we were standing next to a huge belladonna, the guide told us that every part of the plant — root, stem, leaf, and flower — is poisonous, yet I saw bee after bee dive into and emerge from the blooms. You know, a flower has very little evolutionary incentive to offer up toxic pollen and nectar: after all, the whole point it to get little animals to help in your reproductive process. It made me wonder whether the people who test plants for poisons really take a look at the things that matter to bees and other bugs, or whether we are stuck in our own concerns even there, even after 400 years in an apothecary garden.

The gift shop advises that honey from the garden hives — kept by a beekeeper named Fiona, for whom I left a note — is in terrific demand, and is rationed, one jar per customer. I put myself on the list, but I intend to follow up with emails, etc. They say it is not available until "some time in September," but that time has arrived, my friends! You simply cannot imagine the incredible variety of plants the bees were visiting, and I myself am willing to take the risk of tiny traces of nightshade in my tea.

My visit to Chelsea caused me to be late for my second bee garden of the day, where I met the director of the Roots & Shoots urban youth garden, Linda Phillips. She gave me a tour, and promised that, if I visited next day, I could meet the beekeeper featured in "TimeOut," so that's what I did, poor husband in tow! Lindsay Wright was there, and we chatted about bees a bit. Most interestingly, he showed me some interesting abodes he had developed for osmia and leaf cutter bees. He also told me that Britain had lost all its native bees, and that beekeepers are basically holding back the tide for the honeybees that remain.

Finally, he encouraged me to visit his booth at The Borough Market, that Saturday AM. The market is right next to Southwark Cathedral and Shakespeare's Globe, and is a phenomenon to behold. If you need antelope meat and hard cider, pistachio chutney and cheese, here is the plaace to find it. Londsay's booth was on the southwest side of the market, so we (heh heh heh) had to walk completely across about a hundred booths to get there from the Tube. Like every other beekeeper we have ever met, he tried to give me most of what he had for free, and finally took just a little money and a donation for "Roots and Shoots." He also showed me how to make a beautiful marbled honey and fruit product that will be the subject of a later post.

Finally, and you are not going to believe this, he told me that the folks who run the Borough Market apparently think that honey does not belong at a farmer's market and he is petitioning to keep his table. Can you imagine this? Are they mad? If you are a honey booster, and cannot get to London to sign Lindsay's petition, please drop a (polite and beekeeperly) line to Chris Denning, Market Manager to let him know how disappointed you would be if no beekeepers were present.

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