Lavender

On the edge of rural Plymouth there’s a ceramic plaque with a drawing of a bee that says: A beekeeper lives here. A lavender bush with flower heads on long curved stalks: a small bumble bee hovers, then swoops for a floret. The house faces east, there’s a balcony facing thick green woods on the slope across the valley, and inside a little guard dog is barking. It’s a cool blue evening, with white feathers blowing in the sky. Bill the beekeeper takes us down slate steps to the garage where he has our bees in his deep freeze: about 30 in a Spar matchbox wrapped in a plastic sleeve, he thinks there could be some drones in there too. His hives are out near Yealmpton.

I ask him what are his bees’ favourite flowers: he says that they always go for the nectar. If you have several lavender bushes in your garden, the bees will go to the one that is producing the most nectar. People thought it was the scent of flowers that attracted the bees, but new research is that the lavender bushes emit low level ultraviolet to attract bees when they’re producing lots of nectar. And then another bush will turn its lights on, and the bees will then go to there instead. That’s really interesting I say, with a picture in my mind of vibrating flowers, humming UV waves and wafting scents into the air. Back home, on Bill’s instructions, we put his matchbox in the ice compartment of the freezer: They’re dead, but just in case any wake up, you don’t want them stinging you - they’re tough little creatures, he says.