Transforming a rooftop into a bed & breakfast for bees
Watch the Lush video here
On a freezing cold day in February, 2018, Urban Bees installed more than 20 hexagonal wooden planters on the London HQ of cosmetics company, Lush, in Soho.
Winter-flowering Mahonia, heathers and hellebores provided immediate bee food, and we also planted lots of perennials and shrubs that would flower in spring and summer, along with a Malus Evereste (Crab Apple) tree.
By late spring, the tree was in full blossom. We attached bee hotels to it to provide tubes for cavity-nesting solitary bees like Red Mason bees (Osmia bicornis) to lay their eggs in. By the end of summer tubes were sealed with mud, proof that the bees had checked-in to the hotels and laid their eggs.
We chose hardy, bee-friendly plants that can cope with exposed, dry conditions but an outside tap was fitted with an expandable hose so that staff were able to water every day throughout the summer heatwave which lasted from June right through to August.
We added a few hanging baskets and a bee pond (a shallow tray of water full of stones that the bees can stand on when having a drink).
The trick is trying to get a range of different bee-friendly plants flowering throughout the year. And where there is bee food, there are bees. We saw honeybees, bumblebees and a variety of solitary bees.
Staff used the terrace a lot during the summer as somewhere to hang out and have lunch (when it wasn’t so hot). They loved seeing and hearing the bees buzzing around. The bees didn’t come too close. They made a bee-line for the flowers.
In the autumn, we planted hundreds of crocus bulbs to provide much-needed spring pollen and nectar for early flying bumblebees.
In May 2019, a journalist from the Sunday Telegraph paid a visit to the transformed Lush roof and wrote a lovely article showing readers how to help solitary bees.
Covid, lockdown and the garden
All went well until Covid hit in 2020. The national lockdown prevented us from getting access to the rooftop for over a year. This meant the planters were only watered by infrequent rainfall during the spring and summer. When staff returned to the office in April 2021, we were expecting the worst. Indeed many plants had died from lack of water, including the beautiful crab apple tree, a cotoneaster and heathers, but others had flourished. The drought survivors included:
- Echium vulgare (Vipers bugloss)
- Centranthus ruber (Red valerian)
- Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane),
- and wild flowers, from dandelions to sow thistle and Black Medick, closely related to clovers which bees love.
We set about removing the dead plants and replacing with new bee-friendly perennials. And this time we installed a watering system.
By the summer, the garden was coming back to life and many wild bees were returning.
In July, I gave a talk to staff who were working in the London HQ about the creation of the rooftop garden and the bees who use it to feed and nest.