Bee Aware- Native Bee Bells at Picton Botanic Gardens

Three Native “Bee Bells” made by Ana Pollak & myself with community participation were launched as a part of Pollinator Week 2016.

The following is the speech I gave at the launch at Picton Botanic Gardens on November 22nd.   Photos by Steve Fearnley.

As we know, pollination has helped shaped diversity on Earth. Without bees the multitude of flowering plants and fruits would not exist. Understanding that simple symbiotic connection-  Bees=Pollination=Food –  is what pollinator week is all about.  This “Bee Aware” project is unique in that it has synthesised environmental education with hands-on, thought provoking art making. In so doing, the project has increased awareness of the vital role Native Australian Solitary bees perform,  in a world where human activity continues to tip the natural scales out of balance.

Sculptural Bells with hanging native bee habitat of bamboo and Xanthorrhoea (Grass tree)
Sculptural Bells with hanging native bee habitat of bamboo and Xanthorrhoea (Grass tree)

This project has seen Ana Pollak and myself guiding community members in the creation of three “Bee Bells”. Each of the works provides a different type of habitat for Australian solitary bees that we know are already present in the area. The copper clad bee bell, with it’s clay cob substrate,  provides habitat for Resin Bees, Blue Banded bees and Teddy Bear Bees. Of the two terracotta bee bells, one provides a bamboo substrate – habitat for Leaf cutters, Reed bees and Masked bees- and a Xanthorrea or Grass Tree Substrate, which we hope will attract Carpenter Bees.

The copper-clad Bee Bell holds a clay cob nesting substrate.
The copper-clad Bee Bell holds a clay cob nesting substrate.

These intriguing sculptural forms will provide habitat for native solitary bees whilst becoming a focal point which we hope will provoke questions, an impetus for visitors to the gardens to learn more about the important pollination role our native bees perform.

The inspiration for the forms is distinctly “Japanesque” . The Japanese Shinto philosophy venerates the inherent spirit in all nature, whether animate or inanimate. As bees offer a clear example of the symbiotic interconnectedness of all things, it’s no wonder that Bee Shrines – hives that are roofed with ornate Japanese tiles- are present in some Japanese Shinto Temples.

These Bee Bells combine a Japanese aesthetic with observation of the habits of native Australian Leaf cutter bees. Most people have seen leaves in their gardens with almost perfect circles cut out from the edges of the leaves. That’s the work of Leaf cutter bees, who then use the circlets of leaf to line their nesting tubes and to cap off their pupal chambers. In this project, the participants assumed the role of the leaf cutter bees, shaping leaves in copper and terracotta to clad each of the nesting substrates.

Re-purposed hardwood slabs have been used as interpretative signage
Re-purposed hardwood slabs have been used as interpretative signage


Ana and I have very much enjoyed working together on this project, guided by inspirational environmental educator, entomologist Megan Halcroft. It’s been a great pleasure to see our ideas being shaped by members of the Wollondilly community, and very satisfying  to see the works hanging gracefully within this
Casuarina grove. Thank you so much to Susan Conroy and team at Southern Tablelands Arts and to Rob Moran, at Wollondilly Shire Council , for making this project possible. A huge thanks to Podge head gardener at Picton Botanic Gardens, for his enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and hard work getting these sculptural habitats off the ground, and thanks also to Rach, his apprentice. Many thanks as well to the community members who took part in this project- these works belong to this community space because of you. Please share your experience of making them with others.

Robertson Public School children make artworks that celebrate their unique environment

The Art+Environment project at Robertson Public School, which engaged children from Mrs Campbell – Jones 2014 year 3/4 class in meaningful art making, is now installed at the school next to the main entrance pathway.

The three circular tiled panels each represent the unique flora, birds and animals of Robertson- the Yarrawa Brush.

Designs of local plants created by Robertson Public School children.

Through the mediums of charcoal drawing and clay work, the children learnt about some of the unique plant and animal species that call Robertson home. The children then transferred their drawings into clay tiles, preserving their charcoal drawings for all to see.

drawing pittosporum
Sweet Pittosporum


Working with charcoal pushes children out of the comfort zone of texta and pencil. Learning to use charcoal is frustrating at first, but year 3/4 soon learnt to modulate the weight of their lines, experiencing the way a charcoal line can be drawn lightly and finely with a gentle touch, thickly and darkly with a firm hand. Smudging charcoal line is fun and can create the appearance of three dimensions. I was particularly impressed by the drawings of plant materials that the children made. Carefully observing the samples that I provided, they made sensitive observational drawings ; the children’s lines are fresh, strong and confident yet have a naive quality. The finished tiles have the quality of a Margaret Preston wood block print .

robbo kids plant tiles

Like charcoal, clay is a tactile medium. Being responsive to touch, it has a life of its own. With clay tools the children transferred their lines into leather hard clay tiles, preserving the quality of their original charcoal drawings and making a permanent playground art work that they can be proud of.

IMG_4055 (1)   IMG_4056

It was the confident quality of the children’s charcoal drawings that inspired another project in Robertson- the carved benches in Pinkwood Park.

IMG_4054 (1)   IMG_4067 (1)

“I’m proud to be the conduit for another local community arts project. My philosophy is that moving small grains of sand can make big differences. Few of us have the time or financial resources to make grand gestures, but we can all make a difference by sharing just a little of our time, skills and knowledge.”

Bee Bell Assemblage at Cloudfarm Studios

A group of eight environmental art enthusiasts gathered at Cloudfarm Studios last Saturday to assemble three “Bee Bells” that will provide habitat for native bees in Picton Botanical Gardens. The workshop participants – Margaret, Sharon, Jake, Ingrida and Margaret, along with Susan Conroy from Southern Tablelands Arts, myself and my colleague Ana Pollak, spent the day attaching the terracotta and copper shim leaves that will protect native bee nests.

Ana wiring up the “clay cob” Bee Bell.

The clay cob that was made during the first workshop at Wollondilly Community Nursery is now dry and hanging within the copper shim bell. Clay is favoured by blue banded bees and teddy bear bees as a nesting material; guide holes were made into the clay cob to give the bees a starting point for their nesting tunnels.


Armatures hanging in the studio ready for the workshop.
Volunteers Jake and Ingrid wiring the terracotta “leaves” to one of the bee bells.

The fired terracotta “leaves” made by participants in the last workshop form a shingled cladding over the steel armature, protecting the nesting substrates from the worst of the weather. The first two armatures, shown above, will house a collection of substrates including bamboo, Xanthorea spikes and lantana. These nesting materials are favoured by reed bees, resin bees, masked bees and leaf cutter bees.

The three “Bee Bells”at the end of the workshop.

The three hanging bee habitat sculptures are visually intriguing. Apart from providing nesting materials, the works will whet the curiosity of visitors to the Picton Botanical gardens, helping to increase awareness of our local native bees.

Detail of the terracotta “leaves”
shim detail
Detail of the copper shim “leaves”

Over time the terracotta and copper shim bee bells will develop a patina, ageing gracefully within the natural environment.

The Bee Bells will be installed into Picton Botanic gardens in early Spring.

Interested in Native Bees? Follow Megan Halcroft’s Facebook pages: