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RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Meet Dr David Lawson

With only three days to go until RHS Chelsea Flower Show kicks off, the excitement here at McQueens is palpable as we prepare to reveal two original installations - both aiming to raise awareness around bee conservation. The first,
Honey, I'm Home has been devised by our McQueens Flower School team - an impressive wooden hive structure will act as the hub and visitors will be invited to create honey bees out of craspedia that will then become part of the installation. By the end of the week, the hive will be covered in hundreds of the clever species - reflecting a honey bee colony! The second installation, Per Oculus Apum invites you to see the world as a bee sees it - the large flower-filled tunnel will immerse visitors in a sensory world of beautiful scent, soundscapes and bee-friendly blooms. Instrumental to this thought-provoking design has been Dr David Lawson - Behaviour Ecologist at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol, McQueens Flowers. This week, we were delighted to meet with the bee expert himself as we launched a collaborative menu with Marcus Wareing, inspired by these pivotal pollinators...

On the idea inception and approaching Dr Lawson, McQueens CEO, Richard Eagleton explained -

“Simply put, without bees we wouldn’t have the flowers we love. Having been invited to create two large-scale installations at the prestigious and internationally renowned Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show - we knew we wanted to use the platform to not only showcase our commitment to thought-provoking and ambitious designs but one that carries a significant message. We were incredibly excited to discover inspiring articles by Dr Lawson such as ‘‘Clever bees can identify different flowers by patterns of scent’. With his specialism in floral displays and their effects on insects we knew we had to make contact - and brilliantly he responded with equal enthusiasm, bursting with brilliant ideas. It was from here that Per Oculus Apum came to life."
Dr David Lawson
You have a wonderful job title, could you elaborate a little on your career and how you became a Bee Behaviourist?

Having always been an animal-nut, I was naturally drawn to biology and the study of the natural world. I’ve always had a fascination with social insects and during my undergraduate degree at the University of Gloucestershire, I chose to do my final year dissertation on leaf-cutter ants and how these busy insect societies manage their waste, which was as glamorous a subject as you can imagine. After my degree, and at the time not quite knowing what to do with my life, I did some stints in both the Ecuadorian Amazon and Mexican rainforest doing conservation. This involved all sorts of different surveys monitoring bats, birds, mammals, lizards and amphibians. It was a biologist’s dream! Throughout that time, I never lost my love of social insects so when I saw a PhD project at the University of Bristol investigating Bumblebee foraging behaviour floral displays I jump at the chance! I’ve been messing around with Bumblebees and flowers ever since.

How did you come to be involved in the McQueens Flowers Project?

I first got involved after receiving an email out of the blue from Richard Eagleton and Gina Hardy from McQueens Flowers. They mentioned that McQueens were planning an installation at the RHS Chelsea Flower show and wanted to know if I had any advice in terms of incorporating different sensory experiences into the artwork. I’d always wanted to communicate the hidden aspects of floral displays to the public, so I was more than happy to get involved and send over some ideas. Luckily, McQueens liked the sound of a few and since then we’ve been bouncing ideas, images and sound files back and to make the installation as multisensory as can be
McQueens CEO, Richard Eagleton
Tell us your favourite bee fact?

I think my favourite fact has to be that a typical bees’ brain is the size of a sesame seed. This is amazing when you consider the incredible behavioural repertoire of bees. Whether it’s organising their complex societies, learning and remembering different flower displays or timing their visits to maximise nectar rewards, there’s so much that bees can do. All of this with a brain smaller than a grain of rice. How can you not be impressed by that?

You were involved in an exciting lunch at Marcus (Marcus Wareing’s restaurant in Belgravia) - tell us a little about it?

I feel very lucky to have been invited to the dinner with dishes designed by Michelin-star chef Marcus Wareing. Even better as it was inspired by bees and flowers, which I’m already biased towards. There was course after course of honey, pollen and flower-featuring goodness. It was fantastic talking about bees with such a lovely group of people.

You will be attending Chelsea Flower Show - what will you be up to there?

Alongside some of McQueens’ fantastic crew, I will be manning the Per Oculus Apum (Through the Eyes of Bees) installation and communicating some of the science that’s inspired different aspects of the display. Much of which was undertaken by different research groups at the University of Bristol and I’m very lucky to get the chance to speak to the attendees of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show about this exciting research.

Meet Dr David Lawson

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