The absence of Monty Don meant BBC television’s Gardeners’ World programme did not come from Longmeadow, the garden that is the programme’s usual home in Herefordshire. Instead, the broadcast was moved eastward to the Cambridgeshire garden of Adam Frost, the presenter of the weekly programme during Monty Don’s visit to the United States.
Adam Frost’s garden has bee hives which provided an opportunity for him to talk about the diversity of bees and the diverse conditions in which they lived.
Bee hives seem to add another dimension to a garden, give it a quality that it would otherwise not possess. Bee keepers seem to have an approach to life, a philosophy of human existence, very different from that of most people.
In his book The Wild Garden and the Honey Bee, the bee keeper Michael Duncan writes:
We live in an ailing, troubled, treadmill of a world. But another does exist parallel to it – largely unnoticed. A world of light, colour, sweetness, tranquility; of external rhythms and harmonies. Step over into it each day, however briefly. Hold it in some secluded corner of the heart. Saving our bees can save our sanity.
The idea of bees representing a different philosophy of life, of them challenging our attitudes and assumptions, is familiar. Lionel, a friend in Co Laois was a bee keeper. He was a man unimpressed by material wealth, a man who valued company and conversation above anything else. Lionel was the same person, whether he was talking to the Taioseach at a reception in Dublin, or to a poor bachelor hill farmer whom he would drive to hospital check ups, because there was no-one else to do so. Bees were a passion for Lionel. He would talk of the ways they worked, the ways they co-operated, the mysteries that sometimes surrounded their activities. If I had quoted the words of Michael Duncan to him, Lionel would have been whole-hearted in his endorsement of the idea that bees could save our sanity.
In recent times, with the awareness of our growing ecological crises, the vital place of bees to our survival has been realised, but perhaps there has always been an awareness that bees were somehow linked to our welfare. Bees helped create a vision of heaven, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Perhaps honey is an appropriate product of a garden filled with tranquility and beauty. The bees calling restless humans to step over into a parallel world.