Chelsea — a honey bees’ eye view

Thomas Hoblyn's garden

After being cooped up for weeks and wondering if the British climate is right for us, finally we could get out and truly forage. We love this warm weather and all those flowers from which usually we’d have drunk by now have revealed themselves en masse. It is a smorgasbord, a veritable feast. The rain has ensured that the plants can make good nectar. This weather after a dry spell would not provide such bounty.

We’re not interested in fashion but Chelsea does provide some rather special plants for us on occasion. This year was no exception with particular gratitude to Thomas Hoblyn’s garden full of Mediterranean salvias.

We were told of a clover roof but as it wasn’t in flower we weren’t sure whether it was the white clover which is our bread and butter or the red whose nectar we can’t reach. However presumably it could be white clover, that’d be fab!

We saw many examples of meadow style planting or plants that would be considered weeds in the best gardens. These were used to great effect in Cleve West’s garden for example Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’ beside love-in-a-mist (which we love) – simple and yet so pretty.





Sarah Price pushed the weed boundary furthest with buttercups as feature plants and we spied plantains, corncockle and speedwell carefully tweezered into place. Humans are strange. We like all these plants but would prefer a mass of one of them, Sarah, if you’re listening?


There was some planting in swathes, Martagon lilies (not our bag) with cornflowers which we enjoy in Prof Nigel Dunnett’s Blue Water garden.  In Joe Swift’s garden there were decent numbers of irises, always at Chelsea because they do actually bloom at this time of year but no good to us, and verbascums which we can access only after a bumble bee has punctured a hole through to the nectar, otherwise we can’t reach.

We saw Geum rivale and Aquilegia ‘Chocolate Soldier’ in a few gardens (is there garden design espionage?) but neither of these excite us. Cow parsley and its relatives from the Apiaceae (carrot) family proliferated at the show and although we can sup from the flat umbellifer table it isn’t really for us. We’re glad that so many of the other flying insects will enjoy this natural, field edge style of planting and wonder if one year the style will gear to our tastes, wouldn’t that be fun!

Meantime we notice mixed messages from the RHS whose ‘Plants for Pollinators’ labelling incentive we thought was a step in the right direction for the insect world. Their plant of the year however is a sterile foxglove: Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’ (or romantically ‘Tmdgfp001′). Very pretty but years of plant breeding energy has gone into a plant that offers no food to our kind and can’t reproduce itself.

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
words without thoughts never to heaven go “ Claudius the king, Hamlet

Well nice talking to you but must dash, it’s a very busy time of year….

2 Responses to “Chelsea — a honey bees’ eye view”

  1. Sue on

    Thank you for the tip about the sterile digitalis. I will think twice about getting one now, though they are very nice.

  2. admin on

    I know, I’m particularly partial to some of the double dahlias and it’ll be hard not to allow one or two cactus varieties into the border. Other doubles I find a complete turn off!

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