Succession (Four Beehives)

Succession (Four Beehives)

This Spring I installed a permanent sculptural record of the succession of blossom in some of the species of fruit trees cultivated at the National Fruit Collection, Brogdale.

The natural order that these flora follow determines the feeding behaviour of bees. Succession is another reminder of the delicate equilibrium between species.

after Karl Von Frisch

the bee's flight-
path alters
with each tree

that has petals
come newly
into bloom



after Fabre

the flower
is shaped

for the bee
to enter

The long tongue of the bumble-bee is fitted to reach deep into the form of the peony.

In his classic study Bees: Their Vision, Chemical Senses, and Language, Karl von Frisch notes the tradition of painting beehives, to aid bees in recognizing their home colony – his studies proved the benefits of this, revealing how bees navigate with their five eyes, based on their perception of colour.

Von Frisch advised
paint your hives

blue, yellow, black
& white zinc


The artwork takes the form of 4 beehives, with a serial text. Each hive is painted in three bands of colour, true to the blossom, fruit, and leaf of the species.

At Brogdale the succession of blossom and bud goes: plum, pear, cherry, quince, apple.


   by plum


   by pear


   by cherry


   by quince

Plum orchard; Victoria

Pear orchard; Concorde  

Cherry orchard; Stella

Quince orchard; Meeches Prolific 

One of the inspirations for succession was this haiku by Basho, which perfectly captures a specific moment in Springtime.


by peach

Colour specification

I first worked with Brogdale in 2010, composing a colour wheel for 50 native varieties, using their invaluable records. The ways in which we attempt to fix and standardize varieties, using size, taste, yield, and, of course, colour, has always fascinated me.

Nearby, within and alongside the Demonstration Garden, is the bee library, an artwork consisting of twenty-one bee-nests, each made from a book. These hang in a row of ornamental trees, the nests providing shelter for wild, or ‘solitary’, bees. 

As I read these bee-themed books I took notes and composed poems, some of which have been published online, here. Afterwards, each book is converted into the roof of a ‘bee-hotel’ style dwelling, made of bamboo tubes and wire netting.

Similar bee libraries have been installed at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Janet's Foss (Yorkshire Dales), and the University of Stirling.

A single bee book nest, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, hangs in the apple orchard at Shandy Hall.

Alec Finlay, photographs by Hannah Devereux

With thanks to Luke Allan, Ken Cockburn, Kimberley Campion, Hannah Devereux and Amy Porteous.


The bee bole home page
Brogdale bee library Brogdale hanami
the bee poems