Updated: Aug 13
Thursday 6th August 2020 was a big day for me for a couple of reasons; I'd not left my flat in 21 weeks so it was my first interaction with humans other than delivery drivers, and it was also the date of my first visit to a Livery garden.
There are 110 Livery companies, not all of which have premises, let alone gardens or courtyards. Pollinating London Together was formed with the aim of working with the Livery companies to help make London a greener place for our pollinators, and we decided that we'd offer an 'audit' to any Livery interested. The idea is to assess where they are now with things like planting and use of pesticides, and give suggestions to increase their score next year. We are also looking for 'bee champions' to take on custodianship of the bee hotels we will be donating to them. We'll be adding more detailed case studies on these visits in due course, but we wanted to give a sneak peek to those interested...
Our intrepid team consisted of me (Tree Thuis, Volunteer Ambassador for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and amateur bee blogger), Sherry Watson (Wax Chandler, with an interest in sustainable finance), Gill Perkins (the CEO of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust) and Heather Barrett-Mold, the Master of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners without whom these visits would not have happened.
I would be remiss if I did not then go on to make special mention of Paul Burnage, of Grasshopper Displays, who is the garden contractor for various sites in London. His passion for his work was very clear and it seems that any site employing him will have a head-start with the pollinator audit scoring as he was already doing so much to tick our boxes. He looks after two of the three sites we visited and we were fortunate to have him as our guide.
Worshipful Company of Drapers, Throgmorton Street
Founded in 1361, the Drapers have moved with the times and we were impressed by their responsible and organised approach to the current circumstances. After having given our contact details for potential tracing purposes, we were taken through a corridor giving us a sniff of an insight into the history of this institution.
Stepping into the courtyard garden, we were stunned by an array of colours. I think some people hold the misconception that you cannot have a 'neat' garden whilst trying to make it wildlife friendly. As the space is used for functions it obviously cannot be made into a 'mini meadow' but the planting here shows that if you put in the effort, you can indeed have your cake and eat it.
Despite the morning being overcast, we were bee-lighted to see a number of pollinators visiting. London has many rooftop hives so of course there were a multitude of honeybees, but we also saw wasps (minding their own business, just enjoying the flowers), hoverflies (so very pesky to get pictures of!), flies (yes, these are pollinators too) and a couple of different types of bumblebee.
Worshipful Company of Barbers, Monkwell Square
We were hugely grateful that the Worshipful Company of Barbers let us take a peek at their physic garden, despite being all hands on deck within Barber-Surgeons' Hall. Those who popped out to see us were very welcoming. A physic garden is one which focuses on growing plants and herbs used in medicine for centuries. The design of this garden aims to present a broad view of the way in which plants have been used, from the earliest times to the present day, in relation to both the practice of medicine and surgery and to the use of plants in domestic and civic environments.
I think the phrase 'small but beautifully formed' definitely applies to this garden, tucked around the back of the hall and nestled into crumbling wall (surely there must be a masonry bee or two in there?)
For more information on the garden's history and details of the planting, do look at this document, by the Barbers Company; it really is a fascinating read.
In this garden we saw a range of bees - some too small and speedy for me to photograph. There were of course honeybees (apis mellifera), and common carder bees (bombus pascuorum) as well as our only red tailed bumblebee (bombus lapidarius) of the day. It was also where we saw a bee that baffled us, and of course, all the photos of that particular specimen were blurry.
Cannon Bridge Roof Garden, EC4
This isn't a Livery garden, but it is the second of the sites we were shown by Paul Burnage. It is an acre of simply stunning rooftop lawn and garden with views over the Thames, St Paul's and Tower Bridge. It is a multi-award winning location, with accolades including that it was recently selected by the Master Gardener to win their personal award. Heather really wanted us to see this garden to help us see what could be achieved in London.
Paul explained to us that there's method in the planting, so we'd see areas with more exotic looking plants and then turn a corner to be greeted by more familiar flowers. One of my personal favourite areas was the cactus / succulent section - there were some stunningly coloured flowers with happy bees snuggling into them.
I'll admit, as soon as I saw the green lawns I thought 'oh that's a shame, more artificial grass'. But I was wrong in my assumption. The grass is real. Who would have thought that beautifully manicured real lawns could exist in London's rooftops?
It really makes you think, if a lawn this size can be maintained on a city roof then there are very few justifications for replacing lawns with artificial grass. There are alternatives such as moss, sedums and chamomile, and I'm sure other things which may be more environmentally friendly.
Understandably, given the larger area of the site, we saw even more pollinators here. Of course we had the usual honeybees (apis mellifera) probably over from the Nomura hives, and a beautiful fresh buff tailed (bombus terrestris) queen, as well as a mint moth, some cabbage whites, a thick legged hoverfly (syritta pipiens), and tiny bees which I believe may be types of lasioglossum. There were also a number of bombus pascuorum, living up to it's name of 'common' carder bee - it was the most prevalent bumblebee of the day and was second only to honeybees overall.
Did I run out of battery due to taking so many pictures? Yes. Do I have any regrets? Gosh no. We visited some inspirational locations in London and I was bowled over by the possibilities. There are already projects working towards making London a greener place and I'm looking forward to doing my bit. There's so much wonderful work to build on, and so much potential.
Although the Pollinator Audits are aimed at Liveries with some outside space (do get in contact if you'd like to book in your audit), others can still make a difference and can engage with Pollinating London Together at a range of levels. We'd love to welcome more on board.