The Hive at Kew Gardens

black&white #02: bees, trees and tea

2 min steep

This week it’s all about bees and trees, with just a sprinkling of tea. But first, let’s celebrate the fact that we can now drink tea in a pal’s garden and out and about. Many of our partners are open al fresco including one of our oldest, Petersham Nurseries and one of our newest, Gordon Ramsay Restaurants. Eating food you haven’t cooked, in a place that isn’t your home? Bliss.

Friends eating and drinking in outdoor bar

Just before this thrilling prospect became real, I spent a few hours drifting through the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Early April, the main flowers in bloom are Camellias – the broad family that includes our beloved Camellia sinensis - or tea bush. Only leaves plucked from the Camellia sinensis plant count as real ‘tea’, anything else is an imposter - sorry, I mean infusion.

Still at Kew (given there was nowhere else to go) there is a wildflower meadow with The Hive, a huge contemporary art installation that recreates life inside a beehive. 1000 LED lights glow to the vibrations of a colony of bees that live in the garden. And whirring in the background, a musical symphony responds to the bee's activity – each sound played in C major, the key of the bees’ hum (of course). The message is clear: protect and celebrate the bee. They are free to fly, live in a cohesive, harmonious community and are the great pollinators of our food crops (Greenpeace say 75%). Food, freedom, friends, family - pretty essential.

Two photos from inside 'The Hive' sculpture at Kew Gardens

A reassessment of our relationship with nature is one promising outcome of the pandemic. In Somerset House, the artist Es Devlin will fill the courtyard with a ‘Forest for Change’. 400 trees native to the UK and Northern Europe will be part of the London Design Biennale in July. A bosky space in the heart of one of London’s iconic buildings which when built in 1775 forbade the introduction of any trees. Fantastic. After a devastating year, caused by a virus that sprung from our inability to respect natural habitats, Devlin’s project is simple, timely and welcome.

Left: small boat on a Japanese river underneath cherry blossom trees. Right: bee sitting on a cherry blossom flower

I had a call about new season Japanese teas with Asako Steward, official Japan Tea Ambassador and qualified Nihoncha Instructor (trust me, a serious achievement) and she talked of how early the tea harvest is this year. That figures as this year’s cherry blossom season in Japan is the earliest since records began in 812 AD - yes 1,209 years ago. Climate change writ large. Cherry blossom has huge cultural importance as the flowers represent spring, hope, beauty and new life. Which may be why circles of blossom trees are being planted in different UK cities to commemorate those who died in the pandemic. The first of the circles at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London features 33 blossom trees (one for each London borough) including cherry, plum, hawthorn and crab apple. And circling back to bees, they love the colourful blossoms of these fruit trees because they can collect both pollen and nectar from them.

- Jennifer Wood, Founder

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