Jess Albarn's Devon meadow, a carpet of Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor
Artist Jessica Albarn came over to our railway arch in Bermondsey last week to pick up some of our new Amber Pharmacy Glass Pure Beeswax Candles, which we are delighted with, not least of all because they feature one of Jess's beautiful bee illustrations on the label. Jess told us more about the flower meadow she has been developing with her family down in Devon, to support the bees and local wildlife of the area.
Artist Jess Albarn with the London Honey Company beekeeping dog Teal.
Near the coast in South Devon Jessica and her family have been working for the last three years to establish a wildflower meadow. Keen to encourage the rare Shrill Carder Bumblebee Bombus sylvarum and equally scarce Bilberry Bumblebee Bombus monticola, Jess sought advice from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust on how to go about establishing a flower meadow.
Three years ago they marked out a quarter of an acre hexagonal patch, an old south facing sheep field sheltered in a clearing between trees and began by chopping back the grass and scarifying the earth. The difficulty, as they have found, with establishing a flower meadow is that the grass can easily out compete many wildflowers until they become more established. Reluctantly they followed the advice to use some herbicide to knock back the hold of the grasses, but have also left a test patch without to experiment.
They chose a general purpose wildflower mix from Emorsgate Seeds with over 12 different species to replenish the seed bed. Another weapon in their armoury has been Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, so called because the seedpods rattle when ripe. Being semi-parasitic to grass this flower is a valuable tool in establishing flower meadows and is best sown in September. The bees also love it. However the battle against the grass can take time, as Jess is well aware:
"...that chocolate box image - we haven't quite got there yet! I think it will take 10 years."
Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, in bloom in the Albarn's Devon meadow.
The best of the meadow might yet be to come, but the bees and other insects have been quick to enjoy the buffet laid on. Jess has spent many hours in their company, pencil in hand, capturing the wildflower visitors in her delicate drawings. Later in the studio she studies found dead insects in minute detail, her fascination never tiring. Jess also uses geometry in her work, giving her drawings a feeling of sacredness and wonder at the composition of life.
Jessica Albarn's honeybee illustration, as featured on our new Amber Pharmacy Glass Pure Beeswax Candle
The meadow was mowed short in August and will receive another cut in February to help manage nutrient levels and competition, ready to spring into life again next summer.
Jess Albarn's work will be exhibited in Jealous Gallery, London in May 2018.
Want to find out more about gardening for bees? Check out London Honey Company founder Steve Benbow's book Letters to a Beekeeper written with Guardian gardening writer Alys Fowler.