How we created a haven for Croydon’s bees


By - Wednesday 31st August, 2016

Artworks and hard work have created a beautiful bee haven in central Croydon, says Ally McKinlay


Photo by Ally McKinlay, used with permission.

Croydon town centre is buzzing once again. This time, it’s thanks to bees: Bee Haven has taken over the piece of derelict land on Park Lane where last year we opened the world’s largest urban saffron farm.

Croydon Saffron Central was a great success and by the start of 2016, we’d begun to share 20,000 crocus corms (bulbs) with the twenty-four wards of Croydon. Then we were offered an extension to our tenure until the end of the summer. We decided to use the extra time to help Croydon’s bees, and the Bee Haven project began.

Concern about the health of bees is widespread. Our fuzzy friends are in serious decline globally and if they all disappeared, it’s predicted that we’d be dead within four to seven years: the pollination of plants would effectively cease and we’d have no food.

The site was strewn with broken glass, metal and stone

Making our gardens, particularly those of us who live in in urban areas, bee-friendly is key to increasing their numbers. This is where Croydon’s little-known history of growing things really helps: as well as saffron, Waddon (‘woad on the hill’) may have once been renowned for growing woad, the Romans brought lavender growing here and in 1880 Reverend William Wilks discovered a variant of European wild field poppy named the ‘Shirley poppy’. Our local historic flowers go down a treat with bees and cultivating these plants once again can really help them thrive.

Photo by Ally McKinlay, used with permission.

We also wanted to make the Bee Haven a place for the community to enjoy. There were challenges to start with: its site was the former location of Taberner House, Croydon Council’s HQ, and still littered with broken glass, metal and stone. But there was earth in the site too, and best of all, blank artists’ canvasses all around, on the plain plywood backings of the hoardings which surround it.

We appealed for help to clear, tidy and prepare the site, and all the materials we found there, including glass, marble, granite, metal, empty aerosols, wires and compost were kept for future use.

On Sunday 18th September, Bee Haven will take part in Open House London

The Croydon Beekeepers’ group offered to install and manage a hive on site. The community brought wheelbarrows, seeds, sunflowers, water butts, watering cans, paint, brushes and plants including Shirley poppies, lavender, marjoram, phacelia, borage and a variety of wildflowers. The Urban Edible Garden group created a bed out of cardboard and used coffee grounds from Smoothbean Café.

And now art works and hard work have created a joyous bee haven. The bees have many plants from which to choose nectar, the walls are alive with vibrant colours and we’re proud that the Royal Horticultural Society has endorsed the garden as part of the ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ awards 2016.

We are also delighted to announce Bee Haven’s participation in the annual event, Open House London, on Sunday 18th September, when we will welcome visitors from all over the capital to the site.

Ally McKinlay

Ally McKinlay

Ally McKinlay was born in Mayday, raised in Sanderstead and has matured in Waddon-on-Wandle for most of the 21st century. His degree in Human Geography with Urban Studies is testimony to his interests in how people interact with place and he has a keen eye on Croydon developments. Ally has worked with young people in Croydon since 2001 promoting sport and recreation, art and creativity with a particular focus on good food and healthy living. In July 2015 he dreamed up Croydon Saffron Central and has not woken up yet...

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  • Anne Giles

    I keep away from bees. Terrified of them!